Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

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The Good Shepherd

The Lord Jesus said: “… I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I Am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

In chapter ten of the Holy Gospel according to the Apostle John, the Lord Jesus summarizes the ultimate purpose of His divine incarnation. He sheds the light on the noble mission of His divine dispensation in the flesh. For He, glory to His name, made His mission known for the first time, when in Nazareth "He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”. Then He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21). With this declaration, Jesus affirmed that, what Isaiah prophesied about Him eight centuries earlier, was fulfilled in Him. Because He is the Only One Whom God the Father has sent to the world to save mankind from the slavery of Satan, death and sin. The Lord Jesus clarified this later when He told Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Concerning the false prophets who preceded Jesus, each of them claiming falsely that he is the Christ, Jeremiah, seven hundred years earlier, spoke for God, saying: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 23:21-22). This statement clearly applies to those evil prophets and false christs who came just before and during the Lord’s dispensation in the flesh, who conducted bloody rebellions that caused the death of many people faithfully longing for the coming of the true Christ. The people were misled by these false christs who followed the teachings of some misguided Jewish teachers claiming that the coming Christ would be a political liberator, thus they were fooled and misled others. Hence, Jesus called them thieves and robbers. Moreover, Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled in them, saying: "Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock (Ezekiel 34:2-3). Yea, those evil christs and shepherds did destroy God’s sheep physically and spiritually. In contrast, the Lord Jesus, the True Christ and Good Shepherd, spoke rightly about Himself, saying: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I Am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

Undoubtedly, Jesus is the Eternal Word of God about Whom John wrote in the opening of his Gospel, saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14), for He is the Desire of Ages and the Hope of Nations; He is the focal point of the Holy Bible, from A to Z and from Genesis to Revelation; He is the hub around Whom all prophecies, signs and symbols revolve, all of which were predicted by the true prophets, sent by God, and were recorded in the books of the Old Testament. These prophecies were completely fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ at the set time which God the Father has ordained from the beginning, concerning the incarnation of His beloved Son, second person of the Holy Trinity Who was born by the Holy Spirit and of the Holy Virgin Mary according to His appointed time. St. Paul describes it as the Fullness of Time (Galatians 4:4). This is what the angel Gabriel did reveal to the prophet Daniel about five hundred years earlier in the 70 week prophecy, saying: “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy” (Daniel 9:24). And when the angel Gabriel gave the good tidings to Mary, concerning the miraculous birth, he referred to Him as the Holy One and the Son of the Most High. St. Paul describes Him, saying: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Now, the purpose for the Lord’s divine incarnation was to save mankind from the clutches of Original Sin, and rekindle us with the spiritual life lost in Paradise due to the cunning of Satan that deceived Adam and his seed, in the fall. St. Paul, says: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). St. Paul continues, saying: “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many… For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15,17).

Our Lord, glory to Him, did explain the purpose of His mission, in saying: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Also, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Our Lord Jesus is the only true Savior Who left His heavenly glory, came down to earth, became man like us and thus reconciled heaven with earth. The Lord Jesus represents heaven and earth at the same time because in Him all the conditions of atonement were met. For He represents The Godhead unto Whom Adam sinned. He also represents the fallen man and all his descendants that inherited the original sin. He became our atonement:" He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). On this subject, St. Paul says: “For He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”(2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, by His own will, the Lord Jesus became the atoning sacrifice on behalf of mankind through which He justified and sanctified us; hence those who believe in Him became worthy to receive the grace of adoption. Therefore, as children of God by grace, they became worthy to inherit His heavenly kingdom. These are the believers in the Lord Jesus, accepting Him as their Savior as well as the Savior of the world. St. John, in his gospel, says: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

Indeed, the Lord Jesus shows us the way to heaven; for He declares that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And He proved the truth of His divine mission by His heavenly teachings and amazing miracles thus showing His divine power over nature and man. To the crowds that followed Him to Lazarus’ grave, He declared: “I Am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). By this, the Lord Jesus revealed His power over death in all its forms. Spiritual death is the separation of man from God, yet through repentance and the return to God, man is restored from death into spiritual life. This became evident when the Lord Jesus accepted repentant sinners, granting them forgiveness. He also demonstrated to us His power over natural death; the separation of body and soul, when He raised dead people by restoring their souls to their bodies. But the Lord delivers those who believe in Him from the spiritual death, eternal punishment in hell, because He grants eternal life to whomever He chooses. This becomes obvious since Jesus describes Himself as the Bread of Life which came down from heaven and that this bread is His Holy Body: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54), this means that Jesus will give us eternal life that saves us from eternal death.

Yes, Jesus died on our behalf on the Cross. He destroyed death by His death. He was buried in a new tomb, then rose on the third day from amongst the dead, by His own power, triumphantly and granted us victory over Satan, death and sin. St. Paul elaborates, saying: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), that is eternal life.

What is needed to deserve life in Christ is to die with Him on the Cross, St. Paul uses himself as an example, saying: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Lord Jesus desires that we, in this world, emulate His life, the life of purity, holiness and self denial. If Christ truly lives within us, then we ought to please Him in everything which we do, just as St. Paul urges: “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). This kind of living requires us to study the Holy Bible on a regular basis, and to meditate on the words of the Lord Jesus and His earthly life as recorded in the Holy Scriptures; to learn His divine will; to obey His holy commandments and statutes, such as fasting, praying and giving of alms to the poor. To do so, we must ask ourselves, in every action and decision, be it spiritual or physical, what would Jesus do? If we act according to His will, only then, we will be sure that He truly lives in us, we abide in Him and He in us. Thus, we have to “Love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:37-39), following the Golden rule established by the Lord Jesus, Who said: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

Our Lord Jesus came down from heaven to our world that we may have abundant life, declaring to us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Hence, it behooves us to walk the way that He ordained for us; to believe and adhere to the truths of faith which He has handed down to us, though our human understanding may not comprehend. He is the “True Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He truly did sacrifice His own self for us, redeeming us by His precious Blood. O how blessed are we for having the Lord as our shepherd Who looks after us, makes us to lie down in green pastures and leads us beside living waters. He also guards us so that we may not fall prey to the vicious wolves symbolizing the Devil and his demons along with all evil people. May we all proclaim confidently with David, saying: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want .. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Psalm 23:1, 4). For lo, He is Emmanuel, which translates: God is with us.

Beloved, Lent season is our opportunity to repent and return to God; regretting the sins and transgressions we committed that resulted in our separation from God and His mercies. Let us henceforth repent and persistently pray, helping the poor and the needy that God may shower us with His blessings, forgive us our sins, restore us to our original glory and put in everyone’s fingers the ring which the compassionate father gave to his prodigal son when he came back to him in repentance. (Luke 15:11-23). Similarly, when we sincerely repent, God will give us back our robes of righteousness and holiness; that we may be counted among His rational sheep which recognize His voice and follow Him. The Lord Jesus is the True Shepherd Who knows the name of each one of His flock, protects them, and goes searching for the lost sheep, finds him, carries him on His shoulders and brings him to the fold, then, “there will be rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

May God accept your fast and prayers. May He be pleased with your offerings and true repentance. May He make you worthy to celebrate the Holy Day of His Resurrection in holiness and purity. May He have mercy on your faithful departed loved ones.

Our Father Who art in Heaven…

Issued at our Patriarchal Headquarters in Damascus, Syria, the 25th day of February in the year of our Lord of 2005, the 25th year of our Patriarchal reign which is, by the Grace of God, Our Patriarchal Silver Jubilee.

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