I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
For us raised in church and in Sunday school, we often shake our heads at how slow Jesus’s disciples were to understand Jesus. But to their credit, and certainly because of God’s grace and the work of the Spirit, they hung in there. And the Pharisees who were considered among the most religious Jews of Jesus’s day, and in fact are considered by scholars to be the group within Israel that were most like Jesus, were divided over Jesus, but the majority of them it seems were obstinate against Jesus’s message. We think they should have known better. And we wonder why they didn’t understand that Jesus had to die for their sins, as well as the sins of the world. And we shake our heads, thinking that they just didn’t understand God’s grace, and sought salvation by works. After all, that’s what we were taught from the cradle, so we take it for granted. And there is actually a grain of truth in it.
But reality was that what Jesus said did not line up with their teaching at all, not in the least. And what the disciples had been taught did not prepare them for Jesus’s teaching, either. At least not very much. Sometimes we pick up from some sources like in the Apocrypha, that there was a bit of what Jesus would bring seeping in. But by and large it made little sense against the backdrop of their Judaism. Though if one took their scriptures, they could find hints of it throughout, that something different was coming. Their view of God was not complete, in fact one might argue even off track to some extent. Jesus did tell the Pharisees that they didn’t know the Father. It’s interesting how the NIV (click link above) begins this section with Jesus addressing these words to the Pharisees.
John 6 is another more stark example of Jesus’s message making no sense to his disciples, so that many of them no longer followed him.
We don’t read the scriptures well enough ourselves, if we don’t see the difference between Jesus’s teaching, and what had come before him. Jesus was bringing in a new covenant which in some respects fulfilled the old, but often cancelled out what was in it. What the New Testament tells us about that is a mixed bag, actually reflecting what had been said in the Old Testament prophet. The Law given through Moses was of a covenant which was not perfect, and not the end. A new covenant was to come, something which would fulfill the words and aspirations of the old covenant, but in a new way. Jesus is the one who brought that, and fulfilled it in and through his death. The resurrection following in which the new life of the new covenant is ultimately to be lived in the Spirit and by the grace of God.
Jesus’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection, with the ascension and promise of his return following is what marks us as Christians, no less and no more. We read and treasure all of scripture, but we find where we fit in the story in the New Testament, particularly after the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world of that time, and even then into remote places.
And hence just a hint of the difference that the faith through Jesus brings. And why we should no longer be surprised at how unprepared anyone was during Jesus’s time to make any sense of his ministry and words, particularly his death on the cross. Yes, hints were in their scripture, those hints teaching us to read those scriptures differently, even as we see them interpreted quite differently in the New Testament.
All of this in and through Jesus.