Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflections on the Greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ by Hugo Bouter (Part 4)

The Great Shepherd
Hebrews 13:20

Christ is superior to Moses
Christ is not only the great High Priest (cf. Heb. 4:14; 10:21), but also the great Shepherd whom God brought up from the dead (Heb. 13:20). No doubt this verse in Hebrews 13 (a chapter which, among other things, deals with the role of those who rule over God’s people), alludes to the fact that the Lord Jesus is superior to Moses, that great leader and shepherd of the people of Israel. Although the letter to the Hebrews emphasizes Christ’s priesthood and, as a result, extensively deals with the contrast with Aaron the priest, the contrast with Moses the lawgiver is not forgotten.

The subject of Christ’s superiority to both Aaron and Moses follows on the introductory chapters, which present the Lord in His deity and humanity. Although He is the Son of God (Heb. 1), He is also the Son of man who entered into the glory of heaven along the pathway of suffering and utter humiliation (Heb. 2). This twofold character is the basis of both His unique priesthood (the role of Aaron) and His leadership, His task as the Apostle of our confession (the role of Moses).

Therefore Hebrews 3:1 exhorts us to consider Christ Jesus, “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession”. With the eye of faith we see Him crowned with glory and honour, the true Moses and the true Aaron. He is superior to Moses, who indeed was faithful as God’s servant here on earth (Heb. 3:3-6). Our Lord is more than a Servant. He acts as Son over God’s house, and He has spoken now from heaven (Heb. 12:25).

Moses tended the flock of God by giving instructions to the people of Israel concerning their worship and their journey through the wilderness (cf. Ex. 3:1,12; Ps. 77:20). But Christ is the great Shepherd of a heavenly people. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, from the power of the Prince of this world. And He has brought us into God’s own presence, just as Moses delivered Israel from the hand of Pharaoh and led them to the mountain of God. He gathers His own from Jews and Gentiles alike, and He leads us as one flock in green pastures. He goes before us and He shows us the way by His Word and His Spirit. In this way He leads us all the days of our life — in order that we might even now enjoy God’s presence, and “dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (Ps. 23:6). He is coming quickly to take us up and introduce us into the glory of heaven, which He has won for us by His death as the good Shepherd (John 10:11).

From Egypt to Canaan
Hebrews 13:20 hints at Israel’s passage through the Red Sea. The bringing up of Moses as the shepherd of God’s flock out of the waters of the sea serves as an illustration of Christ’s resurrection. Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, has been brought up from the dead (cf. Isa. 63:11-13). By the power of God He was brought up from the waters of death, that bitter death which He really tasted for us to grant us new life.

Moses, having come forth out of the sea, led a large throng of Israelites who followed him. Likewise, Christ is the Leader of a heavenly people who are linked with Him in His resurrection from the dead. Delivered from the power of sin and death, we sing the song of salvation together with Him (cf. Ex. 15:1). Thanks to His guidance we shall safely reach the end of our pilgrimage, the holy hill of Zion (cf. Ex. 15:17). He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He is our Leader who has delivered us from the power of the enemy and now guides us towards our heavenly home.

As the good Shepherd He once laid down His life for the sheep so that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly (John 10:10,11). After having been brought up from the dead, He acts as the great Shepherd of the sheep. In connection with this subject we should compare also the order of Psalms 22 and 23. While Psalm 22 shows us Christ laying down His life for His own, and receiving a glorious answer to His sufferings by His resurrection from the dead, Psalm 23 then shows us how He leads the sheep on their way through the wilderness.

Although our Lord was declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead, this is not what is emphasized here in Hebrews 13:20. It is the point that God the Father raised Him up again. It was the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6:4). God is presented here as the “God of peace”, a title that is used in the New Testament in connection with sanctification and complete victory over the power of evil (cf. Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:8,9; 1 Thes. 5:23). In Hebrews 12:14 peace and holiness go together. Christ’s resurrection from the dead by the God of peace created a new situation of peace and harmony, a state of holiness which cannot be disturbed by sin or by the power of the evil one.

Christ died to sin once for all, thereby solving the problem of sin for ever. The life that He now lives, He lives to God in the holiness of heaven, in the presence of the Father by whose glory He was raised from the dead (Rom. 6:10). The glory of the Father, the inner excellence of all that the Father is, demanded that Christ, who died to glorify the Father and to bring all His excellence to light, be raised from the dead and be received up in glory.

So here the activity of God the Father is emphasized. It was the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep. And it is added that God was able to do so “through the blood of the everlasting covenant”. The resurrection was founded on the blood of the Lamb, the blood of atonement which met all God’s righteous demands once for all. The Lamb who was slain was the good Shepherd, who gave Himself for our sins. And He was slain to redeem us to God by His blood, to protect us from judgment.

This is yet another reference to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt on the basis of the blood of the paschal lamb that protected the Israelites from the destroyer. Both the death of the paschal lamb and the passage through the Red Sea typify the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The blood of the lamb safeguarded Israel from the wrath of God — the righteous Judge who demands the sinner’s death. At the Red Sea, however, God acted as the Saviour, the Deliverer of His people. He brought to light His full salvation in that He delivered His people and destroyed the enemy.

Thus the blood of the paschal lamb constituted the basis of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the bringing up of the people out of the waters of the sea. In the same way, the blood of Christ on the one hand shelters us from God’s righteous judgment, while on the other hand it is the basis of our deliverance from this present evil age and the power of the evil one. The latter aspect is shown in type in the passage through the Red Sea. We have been brought up out of the waters of death together with our great Leader, and so we have been delivered from the power of the adversary and from the world of which he is the ruler. We should walk now in newness of life, and follow Him wherever He goes as the great Shepherd of the sheep.

One flock with one Shepherd
For the believing Hebrews it was not all that easy to walk in the footsteps of Christ, as it involved breaking away from Judaism and separating themselves from the religion of their fathers. Henceforth, their place was with Christ, “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:13), outside the established religious system which had cast out the Messiah. They were to share with Him a place of reproach and rejection outside the Jewish sheepfold, and to dedicate themselves to the Christian worship around Christ Himself as the new Centre of attraction.

In John 10 the Lord had already announced that He was going to lead His sheep out of the fold, the fence of Judaism. He also had other sheep which were not of this fold — Gentile believers — and them also He was to bring. And there would be one flock with one Shepherd (John 10:3,4,16). The Church that is gathered from the Jews and the Gentiles is one flock, led by one Shepherd.

All former distinctions have disappeared. Christians make up a new fellowship with Christ as their only Leader. He gives rich blessings to His sheep: salvation, life in abundance, true liberty, protection from the enemy, guidance, and green pastures. So He leads us on our way to the Promised Land.

It is important to know this Shepherd very personally: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). We also know Him as the one Shepherd, and the good Shepherd (John 10:11,14,16). Besides, He is the great Shepherd and the ChiefShepherd of the flock of God (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 5:4). He uses others to tend His sheep, but all these shepherds are under His authority; He is the Chief Shepherd. When He appears He will reward all those who cared for the sheep, by giving them the crown of glory that does not fade away.

My Shepherd is the Lamb,
The living Lord, who died:
With all things good I ever am
By Him supplied.
He richly feeds my soul
With blessings from above;
And leads me where the rivers roll
Of endless love.

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