I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
The Lowest Place Give me the lowest place: not that I dare —Christina Rossetti, Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
Ask for the lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share
Thy glory by Thy side.
Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.
Give me the lowest place: not that I dare
—Christina Rossetti, Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father.”
These verses show us, for one thing, the great object for which Christ came into the world. He says, I have come that men “might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
The truth contained in these words is of vast importance. They supply an antidote to many crude and unsound notions which are abroad in the world. Christ did not come to be only a teacher of new morality, or an example of holiness and self-denial, or a founder of new ceremonies, as some have vainly asserted. He left heaven, and dwelt for thirty-three years on earth for far higher ends than these. He came to procure eternal life for man, by the price of His own vicarious death. He came to be a mighty fountain of spiritual life for all mankind, to which sinners coming by faith might drink; and, drinking, might live for evermore. By Moses came laws, rules, ordinances, ceremonies. By Christ came grace, truth, and eternal life.
Important as this doctrine is, it requires to be fenced with one word of caution. We must not overstrain the meaning of our Lord Jesus Christ’s words. We must not suppose that eternal life was a thing entirely unknown until Christ came, or that the Old Testament saints were in utter darkness about the world to come. The way of life by faith in a Saviour was a way well known to Abraham and Moses and David. A Redeemer and a Sacrifice was the hope of all God’s children from Abel down to John the Baptist; but their vision of these things was necessarily imperfect. They saw them afar off, and not distinctly. They saw them in outline only, and not completely. It was the coming of Christ which made all things plain, and caused the shadows to pass away. Life and immortality were brought into full light by the Gospel. In short, to use our Lord’s own words, even those who had life had it “more abundantly,” when Christ came into the world.
These verses show us, for another thing, one of the principal offices which Jesus Christ fills for true Christians. Twice over our Lord uses an expression which, to an Eastern hearer, would be singularly full of meaning. Twice over he says emphatically, “I am the Good Shepherd.” It is a saying rich in consolation and instruction.
Like a good shepherd, Christ knows all His believing people. Their names, their families, their dwelling-places, their circumstances, their private history, their experience, their trials,—with all these things Jesus is perfectly acquainted. There is not a thing about the least and lowest of them with which He is not familiar. The children of this world may not know Christians, and may count their lives folly; but the Good Shepherd knows them thoroughly, and, wonderful to say, though He knows them, does not despise them.
Like a Good Shepherd, Christ cares tenderly for all His believing people. He provides for all their needs in the wilderness of this world, and leads them by the right way to a city of habitation. He bears patiently with their many weaknesses and infirmities, and does not cast them off because they are wayward, erring, sick, footsore, or lame. He guards and protects them against all their enemies, as Jacob did the flock of Laban; and of those that the Father has given Him He will be found at last to have lost none.
Like a Good Shepherd, Christ lays down his life for the sheep. He did it once for all, when He was crucified for them. When He saw that nothing could deliver them from hell and the devil, but His blood, He willingly made His soul an offering for their sins. The merit of that death He is now presenting before the Father’s throne. The sheep are saved for evermore, because the Good Shepherd died for them. This is indeed a love that passeth knowledge! “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John xv. 13.)
Let us only take heed that this office of Christ is not set before us in vain. It will profit us nothing at the last day that Jesus was a Shepherd, if during our lifetime, we never heard His voice and followed Him. If we love life, let us join His flock without delay. Except we do this, we shall be found at the left hand in the day of judgment, and lost for evermore.
These verses show us, lastly, that when Christ died, He died of His own voluntary free will. He uses a remarkable expression to teach this: “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 have power to take it again.”
The point before us is of no small importance. We must never suppose for a moment that our Lord had no power to prevent His sufferings, and that He was delivered up to His enemies and crucified because He could not help it. Nothing could be further from the truth than such an idea. The treachery of Judas, the armed band of priests’ servants, the enmity of Scribes and Pharisees, the injustice of Pontius Pilate, the crude hands of Roman soldiers, the scourge, the nails, and the spear,—all these could not have harmed a hair of our Lord’s head, unless He had allowed them. Well might He say those remarkable words, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels. But how, then, shall the Scripture be fulfilled?” (Matt. xxvi. 53.)
The plain truth is, that our Lord submitted to death of His own free will, because He knew that His death was the only way of making atonement for man’s sins. He poured out His soul unto death with all the desire of His heart, because He had determined to pay our debt to God, and redeem us from hell. For the joy set before Him He willingly endured the cross, and laid down His life, in order that we, through His death, might have eternal life. His death was not the death of a martyr, who sinks at last overwhelmed by enemies, but the death of a triumphant conqueror, who knows that even in dying he wins for himself and his people a kingdom and a crown of glory.
Let us lean back our souls on these mighty truths, and be thankful. A willing Saviour, a loving Saviour, a Saviour who came specially into the world to bring life to man, is just the Saviour that we need. If we hear His voice, repent and believe, He is our own.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.