Getting Lost Among the Particulars – The Shepherd and His Flock (2)
In Part 1 of this series, I attempted to show that God’s particular plan in redemption for his Church is displayed in the loving and merciful work of Christ as our great High Priest, namely that he intercedes and sacrifices for his people. The doctrine of “limited atonement” or “particular redemption” is historically the most difficult of the doctrines of grace to accept, yet I would want to argue that is the sweetest of them. For God has a people whom he has effectually called and has a particular people whom he has come to save – a people whom he has great affection and love for. A people whom he desires to save and preserve for himself. As in Part 1, I want to argue that this view of the atonement is a much more robust grasp of God’s work in the death of Christ.
John 10 gives a portrait of the relationship between Christ and his Church as a Shepherd and his sheep. There is a deep-seated fellowship and communion portrayed within this picture, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15, italics mine). Here we have reminiscence of John 17 where Christ prays for his Church to take part in the “intra-Trinitarian” love of the Father and Son, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26) and also “the glory that you have given me I have given to them” (John 17:22). The communion that we have with the Son is of eternal greatness and joy that is portrayed in the communion between the Son and the Father. Eternal satisfaction, complacency, and rest is found here in this communion. This joy is highest and can only be witnessed to by the Son and by the Father, because they have it in themselves from all eternity. And now, in grace immeasurable, this eternal, joyous communion is given to his sheep.
But as shown, this is a blood-bought communion. The fellowship and communion we have in Christ is one that is suffered and died for, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:15). But who is the sheep? Interestingly, Jesus, in speaking to the Jews who questioned his message, says, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” Who is the flock? Jesus answers this in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” God the Father draws us by his grace, effectually, into the fold of his Son Jesus, our great Shepherd. His sheep are people whom God has drawn by his love into the grace of Christ Jesus. Those whom the Father has drawn he will not lose: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). As Paul so famously argues in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” The work of calling, justifying, and glorifying is so effectual that Paul describes it in the past-tense – accomplished when the Shepherd died for his sheep. The sheep are those whom the Father has drawn (John 6:44) and given to Christ (John 10:29). The communion the sheep have with their great Shepherd is solely reserved and bought the sheep whom the Father has drawn in his great love and grace in Christ.