Today’s Reading: Matthew 18:12-14; John 10
It was the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) and Jesus was preaching about how he is the Good Shepherd. I was unfamiliar with the significance of this Festival and so I decided to read through the notes of my study Bible to see if there is a reason that Jesus chose to speak about sheep at this Festival. What I found was very interesting and good timing for where I am at in my spiritual journey. Isn’t God wonderful like that?!! He creates in us a desire to know more and then He faithfully guides us into an understanding of the Scripture that helps us take next steps in our faith walk with Him.
The Festival of Dedication commemorates the rededication of the Temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus IV. At this Festival, the priests would do some self-examination, considering their own commitment or dedication to the ministry to which they had been called. They would reflect on Ezekiel 34, so I went back and read Ezekiel 34. In that passage, the Lord was upset with the “shepherds” or leaders of Israel. He accused them of abandoning the flock and taking care of themselves first, leaving the sheep to starve.
God said, “I myself will search and find my sheep…I will find my sheep and rescue them…I will bring them back home…I will feed them…I will give them good pastureland…I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace…I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak…You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34: 11-16,31
Most of us have a ministry of some sort, whether that is a full-time paid job or a volunteer position at Church or at a ministry in town. Many of us are also parents who have been given a ministry to our children. How are we caring for the sheep? Are we still putting forth our best effort? Are we concerned about those who are spiritually starving or wandering away? Have we become comfortable and begun to worry more about ourselves then about caring for the sheep? Are we feasting on what God provides without sharing the abundance of God with others? Perhaps today is our Festival of Dedication, a time to examine our service to God. Let’s consider this as we hear what Jesus had to say at this Festival long ago.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice…
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep” (John 10:1-13).
After learning about the Festival of Dedication and after reading through Ezekiel 34, I see this passage differently today. I am the hired hand, given responsibility over some of the sheep by the Good Shepherd. Am I working only for earthly gain or am I working to please the Shepherd? Do I run when things get tough or do I listen for the voice of the Shepherd, realizing that I, too, am under His care? Do I still care about the sheep or is my focus on myself, as it was for the leaders in Ezekiel 34?
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.” – Matthew 18:12-14
God, strengthen my call this morning. Give me a fresh desire to serve you by serving others. Lord, I am listening for your voice, a voice I know so well because you are my Shepherd. What do you want me to do with this day you have given me? Help me to see all of your sheep through your eyes – that I would never abandon this responsibility that you have given me, that none would starve while in my care. Amen.