John 10: 1 - 18
"Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." John 10: 1 - 18
1. INTRODUCTION TO THE METAPHOR OF SHEPHERD AND SHEEP
Jesus uses metaphors; figures of speech, because they communicate ideas easily and clearly. The idea communicated here is that Jesus is our Leader who feeds, protects, guides, saves, loves and knows the sheep. You are a Christian leader and can benefit from examining how responsibly, unselfishly and carefully Jesus cares for the sheep. We can learn from and try to follow His example. Otherwise we would only be like the hireling.
In verses 1 - 6 Jesus used a figure of speech about a shepherd when speaking to the Pharisees, but they did not understand Jesus. Maybe they did not want to understand. He spoke broadly, in generalities to those who did not know Him. However, as often illustrated in the Gospels, He spoke more clearly and intimately with those He knew. First consider these general thoughts.
Use the gate or you are a thief and a robber. The gate is the right way. The shepherd uses the gate; it is the right way and therefore the more natural and easy way. It is difficult to climb over the wall. It is difficult to be a thief.
The sheep listen to his voice. When you hear a familiar voice on the phone or in a crowd, how do you react? You like it. Jesus' sheep like to hear His voice. Do you like to hear His voice? Do your followers like to hear your voice? What can you do to make certain that your followers (the sheep who follow you) like to hear your voice?
He calls the sheep by name. Your name is important to you. You like to hear your name. Jesus knows your name—and He uses it. Do you know and use the names of those God has placed in your care? Are they, their feelings and your relationship with them important enough to you that you have taken the time to get to know them and their names?
He leads them out, going ahead of them and they follow because they know his voice. Jesus leads the way; He has gone before us. He does not send us where He Himself has not traveled. He has experienced life here on earth. We can trust Him because He has gone before us. Do you lead your followers on the way they too should travel? Can you say this is how I do it; follow my example as I follow Christ as Paul did, or must you say to them this is what you should do, even though you, yourself, do not do it?
They will not follow a stranger because they do not know the voice of the stranger. Just as you do not want to follow anyone else but Jesus the true and good Shepherd, your followers do not want to follow either you or your example unless your example is exemplary. You are an example of some kind; it is your task as an under-shepherd to be an exemplary example.
2. JESUS IS THE GATE
From verse 7 on the figure of speech changes —Jesus Himself is now the gate. The gate is the way in and out. You may easily come in and go out if you know where the gate is. Either on the inside or on the outside, you need to know where the gate is, who the gate is, in order to go out for pasture or come in for safety. Come in and be safe; go out and find pasture. God will bless your coming in and your going out. "The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore" Psalm 121:8.
There have been others, but all except Jesus—the true gate—are thieves and robbers, however the sheep did not listen to them. The spirit of God can bear witness with the spirit of mankind so that mankind can discern the voice of the true and loving Shepherd. That same Holy Spirit can give people (sheep) discernment so that they can determine what kind of shepherd you are. Be like the good Shepherd, giving yourself for the sheep God places in your care and they will follow you confidently. If you are a truly good shepherd and some sheep decides not to follow you any more, let them go, they do not deserve you.
I am the gate; enter through me and you will be saved. Safety is a very important need felt by people. A psychologist named Abraham Maslow in the 1940s determined a list of human needs and prioritized them. Lower, more basic, needs have to be satisfied before one can think about a higher need on the scale.
"According to Maslow, basic physiological needs, such as airway, breathing, circulation, water, food, and elimination are the priority. These basic physiological needs are followed by safety and then the psychosocial needs, including security needs, love and belonging needs, self-esteem needs, and then self-actualization needs, in that order." Safety is the first need after the physiological needs are met. Jesus gives us safety.
"The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" Proverbs 18:10 You and the sheep who follow you are safe with Shepherd Jesus. The question for you now as a Christian leader is: "Do your sheep feel safe in your care?"
3. AMAZING CONTRASTS—STEALING, KILLING, DESTRUCTION VERSES FULL LIFE
The thief steals, kills and destroys, but Jesus gives life—to the full.
Stealing is taking something that does not belong to you. Satan is glad to do that. You do not belong to him and your sheep do not belong to him, but he will take you and your sheep away from Shepherd Jesus if he can. And if you as an under-shepherd take sheep away from Shepherd Jesus—if you make them follow you rather than follow Jesus—then you are a thief. You are Jesus' under-shepherd, the sheep are His, and you must do everything in your power to help your sheep stay loyal to Jesus.
Killing is taking the life of another. Inanimate things can also be killed. Satan wants to kill our joy, peace, security, love, faith, hope and confidence. Satan wants to kill us, but He is often more successful at killing these qualities and in doing so reduces the quality of life Jesus came to give.
Destroying is so unkind. It does not benefit the destroyer; it just reduces the quality of life of the one destroyed. Satan is a destroyer; he destroys us or part of us in his attempt to fight with God who loves us and wants to give us good quality of life. It does not at all benefit satan to destroy us; it only is hatful fighting against God.
Giving life is what Jesus wants to do. A good quality life on earth and an even better quality of life in heaven for eternity. Some people's body is physically alive, but their soul and spirit are dead. They are like the married couple who still cohabitant, but there is no joy or love in their relationship; no life in the romance. Jesus wants to give us life. What kind of life?
Life abundant. What a contrast with the destroyer! Jesus wants us to really live. What does abundant life look like? Is it totally free from difficulties, pain or disappointment? No. Rather is has energy, lives above circumstances, maintains hope for all that God has for us in this life and in the permanent life to come. Only Jesus can give us abundant life. Only He knows us better than we know ourselves and is able to give to us that which He knows is surly most good for us—better for us than the things we imagine. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. (See Ephesians 3:20) How can anyone improve on that kind of promise—that we will experience immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine? That is abundant life. Think about the times you have been surprised by something good God has done for you. He is simply giving you something you did not ask for or imagine. This is what our Shepherd does for us.
Can we follow Jesus' example and do our best to give our sheep—really God's sheep—things that are even better than what they have asked for or imagined? The Master-Shepherd does this and we under-shepherds can have the posture that this is what we too want for God's sheep. When our sheep are blessed, rather than being jealous of their blessing, we under-shepherds can be happy for them and celebrate God's goodness to them with them.
4. SUBSTITUTION. JESUS' LIFE FOR OURS, THIS IS STRONG LOVE
I am the good Shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep. I lay down my life for my sheep of my own accord and the Father loves me for this. I, no one else, controls this. I volunteer. I have authority to do this. The hired hand does not own the sheep, abandons them and runs away; he cares nothing for the sheep.
Pastors today should probably take a hard and honest look at their priorities and compare ourselves with the Master-Shepherd. Are we concerned about our own convenience or the safety and welfare of the sheep God has committed to our care? There is no way any one of us can judge another pastor (shepherd) on this point. Each of us must examine ourselves and our motives and ask the Holy Spirit to discipline us so we become good shepherds more like The Good Shepherd.
There are many ways and opportunities for us to give ourselves for our sheep. Few of us will ever be required to give our lives for our sheep as Jesus willingly did, but we can give our attention, time, interest, concern and love to them and for them. When we work hard to prepare a good sermon so that we can feed the flock something nourishing, encouraging, affirming, protective, gently corrective and up-building, we are giving ourselves to our flocks. We pastors should not be lazy when we prepare to feed our flocks. Prayer and sermon preparation are the major disciplines of the pastor. Let us be diligent to give our lives in this practical way to and for our sheep.
5. BEWARE OF THE BIG BAD WOLF
The wolf attacks and scatters the flock. We should not be surprised when we or the sheep in our care are under attack. When all is well with the flock it is much easier to be a shepherd. But Jesus, our model Shepherd, was aware of the wolves that want to destroy His flock and we under-shepherds should be too. Jesus was willing to give Himself for the sheep. Are we?
And certainly we under-shepherds should exercise extreme caution so that we, ourselves, do not unknowingly become the wolf that destroys God's sheep. We are to correct, even rebuke wrong when we see it. It is our responsibility, but we must do so in love, not to shame or belittle God's sheep, but to build them up. The Holy Spirit can help each of us know how to to be the strong and gentle shepherd we need to be in order to correct sheep with dignity, love and tenderly care for them—not for us.
6. THE JOY OF KNOWING EACH OTHER
I know the sheep and they know me just as the Father and I know each other. God's sheep are beautiful when we see them with loving eyes. When Jesus, by His example, shows us He knows the sheep and the sheep know Him, and we seriously consider the application this principle to us under-shepherds, then we can realize that when sheep and shepherd mutually appreciate each other, the shepherd's job is easier and the benefits the sheep receive are richer.
Do you love your sheep? Do you spend time with them? Are you relaxed when you are with them? Do you hold them at a distance or do you allow them to be your friend? Do you think you are superior to your sheep? You may know God's Word better than they do—you had better if you intend to lead them into greater riches of His truth—but that does not make you superior to them. There are undoubtedly ways in which they have skills or abilities that are greater than yours. With reference to our relationship with God's sheep, may the Lord grant to us the ability and desire to know and be known in joyful and mutually beneficial ways. It is not wrong for a pastor to be a friend of the people in his or her church. We can be approachable and humble. The sheep will not look down on us for this; to the contrary they will appreciate our honesty and transparency.This is the stated position of the Master-Shepherd. Let's seek to follow His example.
7. OTHER SHEEP
Other sheep must also brought to the one sheep pen. It is wonderful to be included among the sheep in Jesus' flock, but we must not forget that there are other sheep that also need to be brought into the fold.
This lesson ends with a rather curious statement. What did Jesus mean in referring to "other sheep?" Possibly there is nothing here other than simply a statement that as the Gospel message goes out, missionaries are called and sent, evangelists share the good news, pastors counsel, preach, teach and communicate the message of Jesus the Savior, new believers are added to the church. If this is what this statement means, then both under-shepherds and sheep should make sure that the new sheep are loved, received, accepted and welcomed to associate in good fellowship and friendly relationships with us. Instead of expecting a level of holiness and righteous living that we ourselves as older Christians are striving to maintain, wouldn't it be more proper to welcome new believers without criticisms? The same Shepherd who laid down His life for them so that they too could be safe in the fold, is well able to help them gradually change their life style and gradually become more holy. We should not expect that new and baby Christians will behave like mature and experienced believers.
In missiology we refer to this as "starting point and process." New converts are not expected to straighten out every wrinkle of their lives in order to qualify by their own efforts to be called Christians. They come as they are and not only the Master Shepherd, but also all the rest of us should be prepared to receive them even if they are not like us.
It is possible that Jesus was aware of the human propensity to reject those who are not like us. He wanted to protect His "other sheep" from judgmental long-term believers who may have developed the opinion that the way to be a Christian is the way they live. Jesus loves His "other sheep" and we should too. Especially under-shepherds should follow the Master-Shepherd's example and love the "other sheep" they way He does.
A final question for each of us to ask ourselves is: What am I doing to bring "other sheep" to Jesus? There is a great deal of variety in the human race and it is not difficult to see or meet people who are unlike ourselves; people who are not only not yet Christians, but people who are ethnically very different than ourselves. Anyone who is concerned about the "other sheep" would be willing to accept, and welcome, yes, even invite folks unlike themselves into the fold. Lord lead us to the "other sheep" so that your body can be made up of every Christian you want to see become a part of your wonderful family.