For the next few issues of the Standard Bearer we will write on such Scripture passages that speak rather directly of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. This will give us a little change in menu and will at once afford a wonderful opportunity to write on the matters of Scripture which may be considered the very heart of the gospel in Jesus Christ. For what else is there to preach but Jesus Christ and Him crucified? 

The passage to which we would call attention in this essay reads as follows: “Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I leave power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” 

When Jesus speaks these words He is in Jerusalem, the city that killeth the prophets and stoneth them that are sent to them. At this very moment there was a decision in effect, that if any man would confess that Jesus is the Christ, such a one would be cast forth from the synagogue. And, wonderful to relate, Jesus performs such a miracle and sign upon one that is born blind, that this one believes, confesses Him to be the Christ, and is forthwith cast out of the communion of Israel! But the Lord knows which are His own sheep and He calls them by name and they follow Him. He preaches to these the glad tidings of the kingdom. For when the blind receive their sight and the lepers are cleansed and the lame walk and the deaf hear and the dead are raised to life, then it is with the intent that this should stir up in us that faith which looks unto Him who will give His life for us that we may live and have life more abundantly. 

Such concern the evil “shepherds” do not have for the sheep. They do not seek the well-being of the sheep, but they come to destroy the flock. The flock is there for these “shepherds?” which at bottom are nothing else but thieves and robbers. They do not enter in through the door of God’s appointment, but they are self-appointed usurpers of the things in Israel for their own imaginary personal interest. They cannot and may not and will not bring about the salvation of the sheep. 

On this background we see the real shepherd. He is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. He is the good shepherd that giveth His life for the sheep. Unto this he has been commissioned and He faithfully fulfills this commandment. And in so doing He merits the Father’s love, receives the divine sanction. 

Of this receiving of the Father’s sanction, that is, the Father’s final and authoritative confirmation, Jesus speaks in our text. He fully merits the Father’s love. 

Let us notice what this implies a little more in detail and take notice of the several elements in the text. In the first place we should notice that Jesus’ dying is very unique. It is indeed the only death of its kind. It has absolutely no equal. For this death of the good shepherd is such that it is wholly a free act of His will and mind. Life was not taken from Him. His dying was wholly act, a freewill sacrifice. And the sacrifice which He brings is His own “soul.”

What is the implication of “soul” here in Jesus mouth? The term soul is the translation of the Greek “psuche.” We see this Greek root in our English termPsychology, psycho-analysis, psychiatry and other similar combinations. The term is not wholly strange to us. In holy writ the term allows for more than one meaning and viewpoint. Sometimes it refers especially to the physical soul of man, his bodily soul as this is seated in the blood. It then indicates that man is a living soul. However, the term may also refer to the spiritual soul, and then it is almost synonymous with “spirit.” It is then the conscious life of our spirit as we live in relationship to God and all things. And it is, in our opinion, in the “soul” that man is especially distinguished from the angels, who are ministering spirits. Jesus has a human soul. He had human sorrows and human joys and had a human body, but most emphatically had a human soul, was like unto us in all things, sin excepted. He not only had a human body but most emphatically had a human soul, a human mind and will and all human affections. Wherefore He could say: my “soul” is exceedingly sorrowful even unto death!

This “soul” this entire human life in relation to God and all creatures Jesus lays down, he simply gave it. It was in no sense of the word taken from Him. He gives his life in view of taking it again. Thus He tells us in the text. Says He: I lay down my life that I might take it again! And this “take” it again” does not simply mean that Jesus will die to simply return again into our midst as a “living soul” but it means, as is evident from the text and all of Scripture, that He will take His life again as the resurrection life in eternal glory. The Son of man must suffer and thus enter into His glory, the glory of grace in all the saints. 

The uniqueness of this dying is exactly that it is a dying to live. It is to bring forth life out of death, and honor out of shame, power out of weakness and incorruptibleness and immortality out of corruption and death. 

How is this unique suffering to be, explained? What is its secret? What is the Mystery of godliness here that is great? 

We answer: the mystery of this unique dying is in the fact that the good shepherd has the power to lay down His life and has also the power to take it again. None of the evil shepherds can match this power, can they? Is He not the Lord of glory?

What is this “power” of the Christ? 

To understand this matter we must bear in mind that Christ is here speaking as the Son of God in the flesh. He is here not speaking as the Son in the inter-Trinitarian life in relationship simply to the first person in the trinity, but He is speaking as the good shepherd, the servant of the Lord. As the servant of Jehovah He is empowered to this work. 

This implies, first of all, that he has received the rightful commission to perform this task of dying in order to live. Thus says Jesus: This commandment (commission) have I received of my Father. And no one else has ever or shall ever receive such a commission. To have such a rightful commission is very important. It is important even in civil life. Should anyone put on a policeman’s uniform without being officially commissioned he would soon find out that he is judged an imposter without power. For the power and the strength of soul is with those who are in the right. The wrong are never strong. This is also true of officebearers. Not might makes right, but right makes might. This is clearly evidenced when Moses prays that his name may be blotted out of the book of life for Israel’s sake. The Lord does not hear that prayer. For Moses is not appointed to be a mediator who will give his “life” a ransom for many. This is a task assigned to a greater than Moses, to one who is the “builder of the house.” This latter is Christ’s commission. Through Him grace and truth must become a reality. This is the great commission of Christ.

Secondly, this implies that Christ also had the necessary strength and energy to perform this task. This also belongs with the power, the exousia! He had the power of mind and will, the strength of soul. It is the strength of soul which is strong enough to be sorrowful even unto the death of the accursed tree! For this good shepherd has all the qualifications too. He received the Spirit without measure. Great gifts of wisdom, meekness, love and justice were imparted to Him. He alone has more of this in His human soul than all the prophets which were before Him. The stature of all the prophets together does not measure up to Him. Theologians called these gifts the Communication Charismatum. Then too there was the great qualification of this good shepherd in that it was the Person of the Son, who suffers in the Human soul. So really was the person of Son united that often the human Christ is called the Son of God. Theologians called this Communicatio idiomatum. Finally there was also the aid of the divine nature of Christ supporting the human nature, so that both natures united in the person of the Son work together for the bringing of the perfect sacrifice. This has been denominated Communicatio Apotelesmatum. 

Such is the power of Christ. 

For this reason he has the “power” to lay down His life in order that He might take it again. 

And when He takes this life again He does not simply take this life as an individual, but he takes this life as the shepherd of the sheep. This “taking again” of His “life” refers to the resurrection from the dead, to His glorious ascension on high at God’s right hand, and to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and to the gathering of the saints into the final glory of the New Jerusalem. And for being a faithful servant, builder of the house of God, becoming the chief cornerstone of it, He is the object of the Father’s love. Says Jesus: Because of this the Father loves me. This love of the Father is the satisfaction of the Father with the work and labors of the soul of the mediator, shepherd of the sheep. He merits the sanction of the Father. For the Father loves the sheep with an everlasting love. And He wills to manifest this love unto us in His Son, who, although He is the Son, must nevertheless learn obedience from what He suffers. And in so doing He merits the Father’s sanction. 

For this son was made from a woman and madeunder the law

That He is under the law implies that he is under the rule: the man that doeth the same shall live thereby!Galatians 3:12. And, again, we read in Galatians 3:13, “Cursed is everyone that remaineth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to perform it.” Under this law Christ is born. Here He is loved by God upon condition of obedience. Here is the prerequisite unto life. It is obedience unto the death, the death of the Cross. And Christ lays the foundation under His own feet. He fulfills all righteousness, that is, the righteous demand of the law! Rom. 8:3, 4. And that which is so often erroneously presented as being applicable to the believers is here of full force to Christ. Sanctions of the law? Indeed, but only to Christ in His mediatorial labors. The obligation of perfect obedience to law is placed upon His mighty shoulders. He takes up the sins of the world and carries them away. And in this He does prudently. He receives the approval of God each step of the way. The Father loves Him. 

How concisely Jesus speaks. He does not work with duplicity. That is the field of the lie and of the liar from the beginning. But He who is the way, the truth and life speaks the truth without duplicity and ambiguity. It is exactly as he states it. He is loved because He is obedient. From the viewpoint of Christ’s labors salvation is a matter of merit. Christ earns it. 

This is a beacon light in darkness. We need not suffer doctrinal ship-wreck because the Scriptures are not clear and concise. We can interpret the less clear passages in the light of the more clear passages. And such a clear passage we have here. He is the offense of the cross, yet it is the wisdom of God. The shepherd gives His life for the sheep and for this the Father loves Him. Christ finds the ground, the basis and not merely the evidence of the Father’s love for Him in His works! 

His work is the solid rock; all other ground is sinking sand! 

(to be continued)