In today’s society, not many of us have experience as shepherds. We many have seen shepherds in movies or while on holiday somewhere, but shepherds aren’t a part of our every day life here in Dubai. Reading John 10 and the way Jesus’ teaching centers around the sheep fold and the role of the shepherd might be as confusing for many of us today as hearing Him speak about applied physics or advanced calculus. Shepherding isn’t the field of expertise for many of us and so we must approach John 10 carefully to understand what Jesus was saying to His first century listeners.
Looking back over John 10, we’ll be thinking about four things as they relate to Jesus as the Good Shepherd....
The Good Shepherd Knows His Sheep
The Good Shepherd is the Door for His Sheep
The Good Shepherd Dies for His Sheep
The Good Shepherd gives eternal Life
But, we’ll start with a little background on what it means to be a sheep.
Background on being a Sheep
Unless you grew up in the country somewhere, you probably don’t know a lot about sheep, but due to the fact that Biblically God’s people are referred to as sheep, it would be helpful for us to have a basic grasp on what it means to be a sheep. If you do a quick search online for what sheep are like, you’ll find the following truths - sheep tend to wander off, sheep need to be led in order to find food, sheep have no innate protection mechanism, and this fact was particularly interesting, when a sheep falls down on its back it cannot get back up on its own. In essence sheep are dependent creatures.
In Scripture we see these ‘sheepish’ truths come out in descriptions of God’s people over and over again.
~ Psalm 78:52 says that God led His people out of Egypt & into the wilderness like sheep.
~ Psalm 79:13 and other places call us the sheep of His pasture.
~ Isaiah 53:6 says we have all gone astray like sheep.
~ In Jeremiah 50:6 God calls His people lost sheep who have been led astray by bad shepherds.
~ In Ezekiel 34:6, God’s people are scattered sheep.
~ In Ezekiel 34:11, God says that He Himself will come and seek out His sheep.
The references to God’s people as sheep go on and on. This was the language that the people of Jesus’ day were familiar with and reading and hearing these verses about sheep we too should be identifying ourselves as sheep.
When I look into my own life I see the many times that I have wandered off on my own desiring to find my own way instead of following the shepherd. Right off the bat when we think of ourselves as sheep we are brought face to face with our own sinfulness. Just focussing on Isaiah 53:6 (“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...”) we see that there isn’t a single one of us who could honestly claim to have never gone astray. We see over and over throughout Scripture that going astray is the norm for each of us. We all have an innate sinful nature that leads us to put ourselves first and go our own way instead of following the lead of our good and great shepherd.
Thankfully that’s not the end of the story, or even the end of what the Bible says about us as sheep. In our passage for the day, we add the following truths of what it means to be a sheep.
~ John 10:3 - the sheep listen to the voice of the shepherd
~ John 10:3 - sheep are known by the shepherd and called out by name
~ John 10:4-5 - sheep will only follow the shepherd whose voice they know, not the unknown stranger
~ John 10:26 - if you are His sheep, you will believe
So, how are you doing as a sheep? Are you aware of your waywardness? Do you realize that you have gone astray? Are you aware that apart from the Good Shepherd you are lost in your sinfulness and separated from the Holy God who created you to worship Him? Have you heard the voice of the shepherd calling your name? Are you following Him to green pastures?
All of that background on ‘sheepiness’ is crucial to help us get a good understanding of what it means that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. As we look at John 10 and Jesus’ explanation of Himself as the Good Shepherd let’s keep that background in mind.
The Good Shepherd Knows His Sheep
In these verse in John 10, we find Jesus once again explaining to the people who He is. He knows that most of the people around Him have sheep, so He uses sheep in His example. In Jesus’ time, most people lived in little homes in small villages. Most homes had a small courtyard with a wall around it and most families kept a few sheep in their courtyards. Several families together would share one shepherd and each morning he would walk down the path between the homes and stop at each home and call out the sheep to follow him to the pasture to graze for the day. The sheep would only follow their shepherd because they knew his voice. The shepherd’s job was to lead his flock out to the pasture, lead them to food and water, protect them from wild animals, keep them safe, and lead them home again.
So in John 10:3-5, Jesus says... “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."
This is a reminder that it isn’t by chance that we come to Christ, but that we are chosen and called individually to follow the Shepherd. This is the same reminder that we see in 2 Timothy 2:19 which says “the Lord knows those who are His.”
To be known by God is to be known in our sinful, ‘sheepish’ ways and yet still be loved and called to turn from our own ways and follow the Good Shepherd.
What Jesus is getting at here is the deliberate choosing and calling of His people. As John Piper said in His book Think, “Being known by God is another way of talking about election—God’s freely choosing us for himself, in spite of our not deserving it. It the kind of knowing referred to in Amos 3:2 which says, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth.’ God had chosen Israel as his people, though they were no better than any others.”
And, in the same way that God chose Israel to be His people, He has chosen each of His people throughout time. He has chosen His people and called them by name. He has called His people out of sin and death and called them to follow Him to life and life abundantly.
Being known by God points to His making of us and His sustaining of us, but it means so much more than that. Being known by God points to the truth that we see in Revelation 13:8 - the truth that from the creation of the world the names of His people were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The Good Shepherd is the Door for His Sheep
Jesus spoke of Him calling His sheep by name and them following Him, but the people didn’t understand what He was saying to them, so He explained and expounded on this truth.
In John 10:7-9, Jesus says that He is the door for the sheep and that any who enter through Him will be saved. The NIV translation uses the word gate, but a door is more what Jesus wanted His hearers to understand. He was imagining not a meadow with a wooden fence and gate that can easily be climbed over or through, but instead the courtyard mentioned earlier. It’s has a tall wall and only one way in and one way out....through the door.
Jesus was saying that He is that door. He is the only way to get in. The only way to be saved....the only way to have a relationship with God. If you asked any kid who regularly hears me teach in Fort SAND, what my favorite verse in the Bible is and what this truth in John 10 makes me think of, they would point you to John 14:6. In just a few chapters we’ll hear Jesus says that He is THE way, the truth and the life. He isn’t one way or a way...He is THE way...He is the only way.
Jesus was making clear here the truth of the gospel. The truth is that each of us needs to be saved. Each of us is lost in our sin and headed for eternal death. None of us can pay the price for our sin. None of us can attain life on our own. None of us can make our own way to the Father. Jesus is clearly telling us here that He is the only way to be saved.
This Biblical truth is hard for many of our friends to hear. We’ve all been in the situation. A friend of a different religious background or even someone from a nominal Christian background says something like- we all believe in the same god or there are lots of paths to the same place or what you believe is good for you, but I’ll find my own way. How we react in that situation shows what we believe to be true about Jesus. Do you smile and nod and maybe even think that this friend could be right, or do you remember the words of Jesus here in John 10 and John 14 and insist that Jesus is the ONLY way. Jesus is clear on this truth when talking about Himself and we should be equally clear when we talk of Him.
The Good Shepherd Dies for His Sheep
As the door for the His sheep, how did Jesus open the way to the Father? What we’ll see is that He did it by dying for them.
Let’s think back to the sheep fold/ courtyard illustration that Jesus has been using. In the villages, the sheep were kept safe behind the door in the home’s courtyard. But, out in the field in the summer months, the situation would have been different. In those days, and in some parts of the world today (I saw this in Tanzania), the shepherds in the field would build a temporary structure with bushes or sticks or whatever they could find and would leave an opening or a gap. They would lead the sheep in and then they would build their fire and sit or even lie down in the gap. The shepherds would physically become the door.
That’s the picture that Jesus gives the people of Himself in John 10:11 when He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The people would have been familiar with a shepherd laying in the gap for his sheep, but Jesus took this truth a step further by telling them that as the Good Shepherd He would lay down His life by dying for His sheep.
Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus came to give His life as a ransom (a payment) for many. Jesus would lay down His life for His sheep by dying on the cross in their place. The just punishment for sin was death. The people knew this. In the Old Testament a sheep or other animal would die and it’s blood would cover up and make atonement for their sin. But now, Jesus was telling the people that He would die, He would lay down His life for His sheep. His blood would pay the price for our sin.
Jesus didn’t just say this once in our passage, but again in verse 17 He says that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep...but He doesn’t stop there....He says, “I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."
Did you catch that? Jesus told the people that He would lay down His life. Jesus said that He would die. Then Jesus said that He would take His life back up again. Jesus was telling them that He would come back to life. He also told them that when He dies, no one will be taking His life, from Him, but He will be laying it down. Jesus willingly went to the cross in our place. Jesus willingly paid the price for our sin.
By laying down His life, Jesus fulfilled His duty as the Good Shepherd. He protected His sheep from the punishment due us because of our own ‘sheepiness’ - our wandering away and our sinful hearts - and He did it by taking our punishment on the cross.
The Good Shepherd Gives Eternal Life
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus calls His sheep by name, He opens the way to the Father and He does this by dying in the place of His sheep. But, once again, that’s not the end of the story. Our text doesn’t end in verse 21.
The fourth truth about Jesus as the Good Shepherd is that the Good Shepherd gives life. Jesus mentioned this truth in verse 10 where He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” But, He expounds on this truth in the rest of the passage.
This truth of Jesus giving life has been clearly seen throughout the book of John. Jesus keeps reminding the people (like He did with Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the well in John 4 and with the people He gave bread to in John 6,) that He is the source of life....He is the only way to live.
In the final portion of this text, once again the Jewish leaders are trying to trap Jesus and they approach Him in verse 24 and ask, “if you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Let’s read Jesus’ response in verses 25-30.... 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Jesus responds to the Jewish leaders by telling them that the reason they don’t know Him is that He doesn’t know them - they are not His sheep. He tells them that if they were His sheep they would believe, but because they aren’t His sheep they don’t believe.
He also tells them what the result of belief is and on the flip side what the result of unbelief is. If you are His sheep, you will believe. If you are His sheep as the Good Shepherd He will give you life. He will give you eternal life. At the beginning of John, in John 1:4, we see that in Him (Jesus) is life. In John 3:16 we saw that belief leads to eternal life. And here, once again Jesus is explaining that life- life eternal- comes through Him alone.
How is Jesus able to give eternal life to His sheep? Because He is God Himself and because He died to pay the price for their sin.
Jesus also continues in this passage by explaining to the people that it was for this reason that He had been doing all of the signs and miracles. His signs, His miracles were to cause people to believe and by believing they would have life in His name. (John 20:31)
This teaching of Jesus about Himself as the Good Shepherd is a summary of the whole story of the Bible. God’s people have wandered away in their own sin and need a Shepherd. Jesus, the Son of God, and God Himself, stepped into His creation as the Good Shepherd for one purpose. He did it to lay down His life for His people, redeeming a people for God and giving them eternal life. That is the story of the Bible.