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Our Good Shepherd

In our journey through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ – we now find ourselves somewhere in the middle. We made it through the birth and early childhood of Jesus some time ago, we saw his baptism by John and his subsequent temptation in the wilderness… We saw how Jesus began his earthly ministry by choosing 12 disciples and and inviting them to follow him. We’ve also seen Jesus do some amazing miracles like turning water to wine and feeding the 5000 and even healing a variety of people.

And of course, while Jesus is doing all of this, He’s constantly preaching and teaching the Good News about the Kingdom of God. As we’ve mentioned before, Jesus’ ministry wasn’t all about performing signs and wonders to amaze the crowds of people – but rather, His purpose was to communicate vital truths about God.

Sometimes he would do that through preaching – the sermon on the mount is a good example of that. Sometimes he would do that through telling parables – like that of the sower and the seed or the Good Samaritan. Or sometimes he would just use teachable moments – as he walked along and experienced life with his disciples, he’d often use everyday objects or events to teach about life in the kingdom of God.

And since teaching and preaching was such a key part of what Jesus did, I thought it would be important, as we journey through his life and ministry – to take a moment to sample some of his teachings!

And so that’s what I want to do today.

Of course, there are a whole variety of teachings that I could chose from to share with you this morning – the Gospel are full of examples of what Jesus taught and preached. But I’ve chosen the first part of John chapter 10 to go through this morning because I think it really is an excellent summary of the central message of Jesus. Even if we had no other record of anything else that Jesus said or taught – this passage would still give us a good, clear understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Now as we’re going to see, this passage isn’t really a sermon per se or even technically a parable. But it is very similar to a parable. The Gospel of John actually doesn’t include any parables (you’ll only find those in the other three Gospels), but John does include what he calls a paroimia. 

A paroimia is like a parable, but it’s less of a story (like the Good Samaritan for example) and more of a word picture. It’s almost like an object lesson – where Jesus uses a common, familiar item to explain something about Himself. It’s a figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, but it helps us understand more about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

But like His parables, these paroimias are always shrouded in a bit of mystery – it’s a bit of a riddle. And, like with his parables, many people simply did not understand what He was trying to say. And we’ll see that in our passage today.

But hopefully, as we take some time this morning to consider these paroimias in John chapter 10  – and as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and minds, and speaks to us through the Scriptures – I trust that we will be able to understand and apply what Jesus is communicating to us.

So John chapter 10, starting at verse 1. It begins like this:

 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

John 10:1-5

So in these verse, Jesus is describing some basic principles of shepherding in the first century. And although everyone in his audience would be familiar with what he was describing, some of this is probably a bit foreign to us in our modern, industrialized world. Most of us probably aren’t too familiar with modern sheep-keeping practices – let alone ancient ones, so let me see if I can give us some background.

In those days, sheep weren’t normally kept within a fenced-in pasture like our livestock today. Instead, they would be led around the countryside by a shepherd – going to new green pastures on a daily basis. These shepherds would spend their days leading, caring for, and just hanging out with their sheep and so the sheep would become very familiar with their particular shepherd – even being able to recognize their shepherd’s voice. And this was actually the key way that the shepherd gathered and led his sheep – simply by calling them.

Now at night, all the shepherds in the area would bring their sheep back to the town or village and everyone would keep their sheep in a common sheepfold – just one sheepfold for everyone. This sheepfold was basically a walled corral – often made of stone or even set in a cave or something like that. But all the sheep would go in there for the night so to stay safe from any wolves or lions or even thieves. There would be just one gate – just one way in or out and that gate would be guarded by a hired gatekeeper. That way all the shepherds could go home and sleep for the night – and the gatekeeper would make sure the sheep stayed safe until morning.

Now if you’ve every had to sort out livestock before, you might think this would be a terrible pain to try to sort out everyone’s sheep the next morning! After they’ve been all mixed together, how would you ever get them all sorted out into the right herds again?

Well, this is the beauty of the ways of the ancient shepherds… in the morning, the gatekeeper would open the gate for the shepherds as they came – and each shepherd would call out his own sheep by name – and that sheep would recognize the voice of his shepherd and would come to him – ready to follow him out to pasture for the day. The sheep would basically sort themselves – each going to his own shepherd without having to be wrangled or coerced.  They just followed the voice of their shepherd. It was a pretty slick system. And so that’s the basics of shepherding back in the first century!

So with all of that in mind, our passage now seems fairly plain and straightforward. In fact, let’s read through it again, now that we understand how shepherding worked back then and I think we’ll see that Jesus really seems to be just stating the obvious! He says:

 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

John 10:1-5

So really, There’s nothing really new or revolutionary here….Jesus is simply stating the facts about shepherding. The question is, why? What does this have to do with anything?

Well, this is where we need to back up and look at the context for this passage. If we flip back to chapter 9, we see that Jesus had just healed a blind man on the Sabbath. Not of course, the Pharisees immediately got up in arms because Jesus had been ‘working’ on the Sabbath as he healed this man. 

This caused quite a stir at the synagogue – causing the Pharisees to interrogate the man who had been blind – as well as his parents – asking them repeatedly what had happened to the man so that he could see. Well, it all ended in a pretty fiery exchange between the Pharisees and the blind man – ultimately with the Pharisees throwing the man out of the synagogue. 

The chapter concludes with the blind man worshipping Jesus and professing faith in him – while Jesus denounces the Pharisees as those who think they can see, but they are actually the ones who are blind.

And so chapter 10 is continuation of that conversation. Jesus’ explanation about sheep and shepherds, gatekeepers and thieves is all somehow tied to these blind Pharisees… 

And to find that connection, it might be helpful to jump back to the Old Testament and look at a prophecy from Ezekiel.

It’s quite possible that Jesus was thinking of Ezekiel chapter 34 as he said all this – because God had used this analogy of shepherds and sheep before. Take a look at what God said back in Ezekiel chapter 34 – starting at verse 1:

Then this message came to me from the Lord: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3 You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4 You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5 So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6 They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. 9 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.

Ezekiel 34:1-10

God has some pretty harsh words for those leaders of Israel who were supposed to care for his people – but instead cared only for themselves. Israel’s leaders were supposed to be good shepherds for God’s flock, but instead, they only took advantage of the flock for the own benefit – not care about the flock at all!

And this is the very same reason why Jesus so often has such harsh words for the Pharisees. As the religious leaders, their job was to care for and feed God’s flock. They were supposed to be good shepherds. But Jesus describes them as anything but. If you look at Matthew chapter 23, it’s an entire chapter of Jesus condemning the Pharisees for being blind guides – for being hypocrites – for not only refusing to enter the Kingdom of God themselves, but they also kept others from entering too!

And this is what Jesus is illustrating in this paroimia. 

Although the Pharisees see themselves as the shepherds of Israel, in reality, they are the thieves and the robbers who sneak over the wall. They are they strangers that the sheep won’t follow. As the spiritual leaders of Israel, they are supposed to be the ones to care for Israel and point the people to God, but the Pharisees have just done the exact opposite. Specifically here, they have not cared for this blind man and have just thrown him out of the synagogue – keeping him away from God – trying to convince him to reject Jesus!

And so this is what Jesus is trying to illustrate. But as we are about to see, no one seemed to get the point, and so Jesus explains himself a little further. He uses two more paroimias to contrast Himself with the thieves and the robbers. He explains that He is both the gate to the sheepfold and the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Let’s look first at the gate. Verse 6

6 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, 7 so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. 9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 10:6-10

So here Jesus explains what he was talking about in his first paroimia – contrasting himself with the Pharisees and the other “so-called’ shepherds of Israel of the past. 

And there are two absolutely key, foundational truths for the Christian faith in this little illustration.

The first foundation truth is that Jesus is the gate – the one and only entrance to the sheepfold. It is only through Him that anyone can gain access to the place of rest, safety and security. He’s not just the gatekeeper – but He is the gate! He’s the only way in!

Jesus would say this same thing again just a few chapters later… He would say:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus is very clear about this. Just like there is only one entrance to the sheepfold – there is only one way to gain access to the Father – and that’s through Jesus.

And this is quite an unpopular statement in our world today. In our world of tolerance and diversity, we may be accused of being narrow-minded and bigoted to say that Jesus is the only way to heaven – the only means of salvation. The world would much prefer us to say that Jesus is one of many ways to God – but that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Jesus said, “I am the gate.” Anyone else who claims to have a different way to God is actually a thief and a robber.

And that leads us to the second key, foundational truth in this passage – and that is, in contrast to the thief who came to steal, kill, and destroy, Jesus came to give us a rich and satisfying life.

The NET translation says:

“I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”

John 10:10b NET

Notice that Jesus isn’t promising abundant stuff – he’s not saying he came so that we have an abundance of food, wealth, or pleasure! No, He came to give us abundant life! Lots and lots of life! Life that will never run out! Life that bubbles up within us – filling us with joy and peace – a life of complete satisfaction in God.

You know, how we say someone is the “Life of the party”? That’s the person who just energizes the room, they fill the place with laughter and joy, they make the party exciting and enjoyable for everyone…

Well, Jesus came to be the Life of our… Life! He came to fill our lives with joy and laughter! He came to energize our lives with meaning and purpose! And even when we go through hard times, He fills our hearts with an amazing peace and contentment – knowing that He’s going to get us through! That’s the kind of abundant life Jesus came to bring us!

But there is only one way to experience that kind of life – and that’s by going through the gate – through Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, and the life!

For the blindman, he was not going to experience that kind of life simply by following all the rules of the Pharisees! For us today, we’re not going to experience that kind of life by simply going to church or trying to live a good life! We only experience that true, abundant life by entering into a relationship with our Creator through faith in Jesus Christ. And of course, that’s only possible because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And that’s exactly what Jesus goes on to explain in his next paroimia! After saying how He is the gate to the sheepfold, Jesus goes on to say that He is also the good shepherd. Take a look at these next verses:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

John 10:11-18

One of the key, repeated elements in these verses is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, sacrifices his life for His sheep. Which, really when you think about it, is pretty crazy!

Maybe I’m just not a very good farmer, but I sure wouldn’t sacrifice my life for my cows or chickens! I mean, I like my animals, but I’m sure not going to die for them!

And maybe that’s part of the point! How crazy is it that the God of Heaven – our Creator – would be willing to die for us! That kind of care and concern is far beyond a farmer’s care for his animals! This is the kind of love a parent has for their children! Which I think is what Jesus is getting at in verse 14 when he says…

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15

Jesus relates his relationship with the Heavenly Father to our relationship with Him. Just as Jesus has a loving, intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father, so Jesus has a loving, intimate relationship with us – so much so, that He was willing to sacrifice his life for us.

And this was the plan since before time began. Jesus points out that God the Father commanded that Jesus lay down his life for us – and to take it back up again! Jesus says…

18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

John 10:18

And I think this is important to note: Some time later, when the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross – they did not take his life – He voluntarily gave it up for us. God gave him the authority to lay it down – and also to pick it back up again! And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He died for us to take the punishment for our sin – and then three days later, rose to life again – just as God commanded. 

He is our good shepherd who loves us and cares for us – and provides everything we need – including the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life with him.

And actually, this is pretty much what God said back in Ezekiel chapter 34. After condemning the leaders of Israel for being worthless shepherds, God continues by saying that He Himself will take on the role of being a good shepherd for this people. He says in Ezekiel 34:11….

11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak.”

Ezekiel 34:11-16a

God has always desired to be that Good shepherd for his people Israel. To care for their needs – to provide good things for them –  to bandage the wounded and strengthen the weak – to give them a place to rest in safety and peace. This is exactly what we see Jesus doing throughout his earthly ministry – caring for the flock of Israel – even to the point of sacrificing his own life for them.

And by the way, he didn’t just do that for Israel – but he did that for you and I too! You might have noticed back in John 10:16, that Jesus said…

16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

John 10:16

That’s us! We may not be Isrealites, but God invites anyone – any sheep who listens to his voice – to come and join the flock! He is eager to care for us, to provide for us, and to welcome us as his people. His gift of salvation is available to everyone who listens to his voice.

And I love how he ends with “There will be one flock with one shepherd.” That seems to be such an echo of Revelation 21 when John sees the future day of Christ’s return. John writes:

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Revelation 21:3-7

Or to come back to our sheep analogy – God will be our Good shepherd – and we will all be his flock for eternity! Praise the Lord for the hope that we have through Jesus Christ – our Good shepherd!

To close this morning, I just want to read one last passage of Scripture – Psalm 23. I know this is a familiar passage, and we tend to zip through it pretty quick – but I’m going to try to read through it a little more slowly – so we can really stop and think about and appreciate what it says. In light of everything we’ve talked about this morning, this Psalm is such an encouragement and such a reminder of the goodness of our Good Shepherd. As we read through this this morning, I’d just encourage you to reflect on how God has been the Good shepherd in your life. Let’s close with this:

1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.

2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.

3     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.

4 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.

5 You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.

6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23

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