John 10:1-30 The Good Shepherd
One of the most memorable
scenes in Israel is the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road cuts a
giant gash through the Judean Wilderness. The hillsides are covered with open
fields, bare, dry and parched, dotted with herds of sheep and goats, and lonely
shepherds leading their flocks. As the road descends with dozens of hairpin
bends from 1000 feet above sea level to nearly 1000 feet below you catch a
glimpse of many Bedouin encampments just off the main road on the hill sides.
Their life style has changed little in a thousand years. They look very poor,
little different to the residents of the Palestinian refugee camps nearby,
large rickety marquee tents, made of old sacks, animal skins and cardboard. so
poor. Actually many of them are very wealthy. You can tell by the size of their
herds. We might think it odd measuring wealth in terms of animals. But they
would probably think we are strange, measuring wealth in quantities of little
pieces of coloured paper. You can't eat bank notes... Sheep and goats provide
them with nourishing drink, with food, clothing, and even friendship....
As we pick up the story in John 10, it may be that as Jesus conversed with the crowds he turned His eyes to the hillside of the Mount of Olives and saw the familiar sight of shepherds busy, as the afternoon waned to evening, folding their flocks preparing for the evening. This may have been the setting, the visual aid, Jesus used to teach another lesson about himself and his mission.
1. The Clue to the Story 10:1-6
2. The Character of the Shepherd 10:7-18
3. The Condition of the Sheep 10:25-30
1. The Clue to the Story - Enigmatic 10:1-6
The nearest most of us come to sheep is the frozen meat counter at Sainsbury's so lets begin to think about what this story would have meant to the crowd around Jesus. First a word about sheep.
1.1 The Sheep
If you are thinking of giving up commuting for the farming life, let me read you some advice from an official Australian Guide to Sheep Rearing.
1. Herding Instinct. They tend to stay together.
2. Reproduction. They are quick growing and multiply easily.
3. Can be trained to obey.
1. Not adapted to heat and dryness.
2. Can't survive without adequate food.
3. Fragile. Their rough appearance deceptive.
4. Naturally defenceless.
5. Susceptible to parasites
6. Must be watched continually.
7. Need protection at night.
8. Short sighted. They can only see 6 feet ahead.
Thats enough on sheep, now a word about shepherds.
1.2 The Shepherds
There is very little
similarity between Palestinian shepherds and their British counterparts. In
Britain sheep are reared largely for their meat. In Palestine they are kept
mostly for their wool. That means they tend to live a whole lot longer. It also
means a personal relationship develops between shepherd and sheep. The sheep
are given names and respond to his call.
If you've watched sheep trials you will know how difficult it can be to get sheep to go in the right direction. That's because British shepherds tend to drive their sheep from behind. Its a bit like pushing a bicycle down the road backwards. Its hard to keep it in a straight line. In Palestine its a lot easier because the shepherd leads the sheep from the front. H. V. Morton in his book "The Steps of the Master" has a moving description of the way in which the Palestinian shepherd leads his flock.
"On the hills behind Jericho no sooner had the shepherd spoken than an answering bleat shivered over the herd and one or two of the animals turned their heads in his direction. But they did not obey him. The herd gave a laughing kind of whinny. Immediately a goat with a bell round his neck stopped eating, and, leaving the herd, trotted down the hill, across the valley, and up the opposite slopes. The man accompanied by this animal walked on and disappeared round a ledge of rock. Very soon a panic spread among the herd. They forgot to eat. They looked up for their shepherd. He was not to be seen. They became conscious that the leader with the bell at his neck was no longer with them. From the distance came the strange laughing call of the shepherd, and at the sound of it the entire herd stampeded into the hollow and leapt up the hill after him."
What was this picture Jesus was painting? Where was he headed with this illustration? I found a book recently by Rolf Harris on "how to draw". You know why he is popular as an artist? He has this incredible knack of concealing what it is he is painting until the very last moment when it all fits into place, and those previously obscure lines take on meaning.
Jesus is doing something like that here. He was carefully gaining their confidence, setting up the framework within which he will later reveal fully His Deity. Read 10:6. Because they hadn't got the picture yet, Jesus moves in with one or two key brush strokes, "I am the Door" and "I am the Good Shepherd", and suddenly the whole illustration makes sense with devastating clarity. The Clue to the Story - Revealed.
2. The Character of the Shepherd 10:7-18
What kind of leader was Jesus? How would you describe his leadership style? One of the most popular books on management and leadership available today takes as its model a man born a little while after Jesus but also within the Roman Empire. Written by Weiss Roberts, it got these rave reviews. "A great book... the principles are timeless" Ross Perot. "A rare volume, I have read it a dozen times and every re-reading has given me more insights" Paul Zalecki - vice president General Motors. "One of the most original and inspiring books on leadership I've encountered", Robert Schuller founder of the Crystal Cathedral. So what was the title? Who was the inspiration behind this new book on leadership styles. The title is "The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun".
The cover goes on to say "Its the story of how one man centuries ago shaped an aimless collection of mercenary tribal nomads into the undisputed rulers of the ancient world." It promises to reveal all the vital management principles that lead to success for the aspiring modern business executive or corporate high flier. Now before you rush out and buy it let me give you a glimpse of the Attila the Hun leadership model. Chapter 1 deals with necessary leadership qualities like the desire to influence people and the importance of competitiveness - the essential intrinsic desire to win important contests, choose your enemies carefully, and defeat all your opponents. But its Chapter 2 that gives the key to successful leadership. Its simply called "The Lust for Leadership -you've got to want to be in charge."
So how do you make a
success in the modern business world and become a dynamic leader?
"Above all other traits, one who desires to lead must possess an intrinsic desire to achieve substantial personal recognition. You must recognise and accept that your greatness will be made possible through the extremes of your personality - the very extremes that sometimes make for campfire satire and legendary stories."
So there you have it. The sure fire way to success, power and influence. You must want substantial personal recognition and greatness bad enough to become known for it. There is something of that drive in all of us. It was indeed what motivated some of the disciples. "Teacher, we want you to do for us what ever we ask.... Let one of us sit on your right hand and the other on your left in your glory." How does Attila the Hun rate alongside Jesus Christ in terms of leadership? There could not be a greater contrast.
Jesus said "I am the
Door to the sheepfold." "I am the Good Shepherd". Lets discover
what Jesus meant. First the "door". What a strange thing to call
yourself. Or was it? Do you know what a sheep fold is? It is an enclosure open
to the elements, more importantly an enclosure open to the scrutiny of the
owner. It is not covered in or roofed over like a barn or shed, it has no door
either, just an opening. Its walls are open to the sun, the sky, rain and
wind. They are often made of rough stones with a layer of thorn brush along
the top. They can be quite dirty, smelly places but their main purpose is to provide
protection. At night, after the sheep are in, the shepherd just lays down in
the doorway. He becomes the gate. If a predator tries to enter, the shepherd
would be disturbed. There is no legitimate access to the sheepfold except
through him. So anyone who tried to climb over the wall to get in was
obviously up to no good. Jesus is saying He is the only way to be safe and
secure. Read passage from Helen Hosier page 80-81.......................
Jesus is "the" Door. Secondly Jesus calls himself the "Good Shepherd." They are one and the same because a good shepherd proves himself by being an effective door. Throughout the Old Testament Almighty God describes Himself as a Shepherd, as a kind and caring Shepherd. The people therefore knew full well what Jesus was claiming when he called Himself The (definite article) Good Shepherd. Jesus draws out four aspects of the relationship between shepherd and sheep. Four things we can observe about Jesus the shepherd from these verses.
2.1 The Shepherd Owns the Sheep 10:14
They are "My sheep", he says. Wild sheep do not last long. Lone sheep do not survive. Sheep need protection, they cannot fend for themselves. The Good Shepherd knows what is best. Where to lead his sheep to safe places where the grass is fresh and green, and the water is sweet and shallow. As the day wears on and the sun gets hotter, or storms brew, he leads them to shelter. He does the choosing for them, and brings them back safely to the sheep fold at night. So when my faith is tested and I'm tempted to complain, I remind myself that there are no insurmountable problems for my shepherd. He is higher than me, he can see further, he knows what is ahead. I am His, He owns me, therefore I can trust Him. The shepherd owns the sheep.
2.2 The Shepherd Knows his Sheep 10:14
"I know them." As we have discovered, Palestinian sheep are reared primarily for their wool rather than for meat. So the shepherd gets to know his flock over many years and through several generations. Think about it, Jesus knows you. He knows you by name, personally, intimately. He knows what is best for you. So trust Him. The shepherd owns the sheep, and he knows his sheep.
2.3 The Shepherd Protects his Sheep 10:12
Read 10:12 "the hired hand abandons the sheep" He cares more for himself, than for the animals. Holman Hunt was a Christian, famous for his painting of Jesus "The Light of the World", completed in 1854. It hangs in St Paul's Cathedral. But two years before that he painted a less well known work entitled "The Hireling Shepherd", which now hangs in Manchester City Art Gallery. Its a challenging picture for those in some kind of pastoral ministry. It shows the flock getting into trouble while the hired shepherd is enjoying a picnic with a pretty girl in his arms. Underneath the painting is a letter from Homan Hunt to the curator of the Art Gallery. Holman says he was trying to portray those who only pretended to pastor Christ's flock. Sheep instinctively recognise the voice of their shepherd. They trust him and him alone. The shepherd owns the sheep, knows them, protects them, and if necessary,
2.4 The Shepherd Sacrifices Himself for His Sheep 10:11
Robbery was a common occurrence, and stories of desperate fights with wild animals and even murder at the hands of thieves would have been well known. Four times Jesus repeats that the ultimate test of a good shepherd was his willingness to sacrifice himself for the sheep. The implication was obvious. Jesus would demonstrate that he was the Good Shepherd in laying down his life for the sheep. It gives added meaning to the phrase, "over my dead body."
So for people outside the fold Jesus is the Door. To those within, he is the Good Shepherd. He is as a door shut, to keep out thieves and robbers, and as a door open for passage and communication.
The Clue to the Story - Revealed; The Character of the Shepherd - Good.
3. The Condition of the Sheep - Secure 10:25-30
Read 10:25-30 In these verses we are told more about the sheep - What they do, and what they have.
3.1 What the Sheep do 10:27
Hear His Voice, Trust His Motives, Follow His Lead.
Sheep quickly become
accustomed to their masters voice. They know its sound and inflection. They can
distinguish his voice from every other person's. This is because over a period
of time the sheep come to associate the sound of their shepherds voice with special
benefits, the luscious grass, the clear running water, the feeling of
security. He calls to lead them to fresh pastures, or to shelter from an
approaching storm. He calls them to carefully examine them for parasites or
injuries, to count them and ensure not one is lost. His call then is an
expression of his loving care.
How do we hear Jesus voice? or follow His lead? Through the Bible, as we allow Him to speak into our experience. Like sheep we also learn to hear Him and to follow Him through his presence in one another, and through his assistant shepherds, clergy, pastors, House Group leaders, Sunday school teachers. In one sense we all share a responsibility in shepherding, in pastoring or caring for one another.
And if you ever feel Jesus seems far away, ask yourself whether you are listening for his voice? Listen to His voice in the Scriptures, trust His motives and follow His lead every day. The security of the sheep, what the sheep do.
3.2 What the Sheep have 10:28-30
Read 10:28-30. This is one of the greatest promises Jesus ever gave, and its as true for us as it was for them. How do we know? Read 10:16
Lets look at what Jesus is saying and take in the enormity of this great promise.
We have a Secure Position
Read John 10:28-29. When I used to read this verse as a young Christian I had a mental picture of a little boy holding onto his Daddy's big hand, but then I thought, OK, so Jesus has saved me, He's got hold of me, but what if I let go of His hand?" But that's not what Jesus is describing here. The picture is of a shepherd holding the sheep in both arms. The sheep isn't hanging on, it couldn't let go if it wanted to, it doesn't have hands. Its simply trusting.
Sheep can do nothing about their safety. They are defenceless. They rely totally upon the Shepherd every moment of their lives. Its the same with us. If you were to die tonight what would happen to you? On what basis do you believe you would go to heaven? Our security rests solely in the hands of Jesus. No where else, not our church affiliation, not our good deeds, not our baptism certificate. Story of chief cashier at Barclays. “The Lord’s my shepherd...” Nothing else and no one else can save us, but Jesus.
We have a secure position.
We have Peace of Mind
No one can snatch us out of Jesus arms. Jesus repeats this picture to doubly reinforce it. We rest safe in Jesus arms. We have a secure position, and peace of mind because,
We have Eternal Life
Read 10:28-29. Jesus said "I give them". That means eternal life isn't a reward, its a gift. Do you have peace of mind about your eternal destiny? You can, because Jesus say's its based on your relationship to Him, the Good Shepherd. So where are you? Bleating around lost in the wilderness, or safe in the fold? The only way home is through Jesus. He is the door.
A colleague of mind tells of an after dinner prose and poetry recitation in which his guests read various pieces with great erudition. My friend chose to read Psalm 23. Afterward he apologised for his performance. “Don’t apologise” said one of his guests, “you recited the psalm as if you knew the shepherd.” Do you know the shepherd? If you still find it hard to imagine a sheep fold and Jesus being the door, then remember the last time you visited a large supermarket, and the way the door automatically opened for you when you approached. As it opened it revealed more food than you could ever eat, let alone carry.... A foretaste of heaven?
Jesus is the door, the door that separates time from eternity, separates earth from heaven, separates man from God. Jesus alone has the unique authority to admit entrance to heaven. Jesus is the door; Jesus is the good Shepherd.
The Clue to the Story - Revealed
The Character of the Shepherd - Good
The Condition of the Sheep - Safe