“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because 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.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
In July of 2005, two shepherds in Turkey took a break from their shepherding duties to have some breakfast.
There were hundreds of sheep in this flock, owned by more than two dozen families.
As the sheep grazed, one of them wandered to a small cliff with a 30 foot drop…
400 sheep lost their lives at the foot of the cliff that day.
Another 1,100 went over the cliff but had their fall broken by the wool cushion that had been formed by the sheep who had gone before.
The moral of the story is: don’t be a sheep without a shepherd.
Or you will fall off a cliff and die.
In our passage this morning, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd.
There’s something naturally comforting about pastural imagery.
A shepherd tends to his sheep. It’s imagery we can understand.
The Bible has several illustrations about sheep, shepherds, the innocence of sheep, the meekness of sheep, the fact that sheep are easily led.
Sheep are the most commonly referenced animal in the Bible. Sheep are mentioned over 200 times. And if you also count lambs: baby sheep; and rams: male sheep, it’s another 365 mentions.
To put that in perspective, cats are mentioned…0 times.
In preparing for this week’s message, I actually thought a lot about sheep, especially in trying to really capture the essence of the metaphor that Jesus is using. I read about sheep, I watched youtube videos of sheep.
I even tried to think like a sheep.
I think a little bit of background is important.
We see shepherds throughout the Bible.
Abraham was a shepherd. So was Moses. So was David, before he became a king.
God is also referred to as a shepherd, most notably in one of the most familiar and beloved passages of the Old Testament, Psalm 23:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Part of the backdrop for our passage this morning is Ezekiel 34.
In that chapter, it calls the leaders of Israel the shepherds. The people are the sheep. But the shepherds, that is, the leaders, have been corrupt and that they’ve taken advantage of the sheep.
2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.
The shepherds have plundered rather than cared for the flock.
The text continues to discuss the failings of the leaders. But God makes a promise that it will be him who tends to the people.
10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
God talks of what he will do in tending to his sheep.
14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
And while the Lord will intervene, he also gives a promise that the flock will be rescued by a servant.
22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
Now, an important note. Ezekiel is written after the life of David.
And so what it’s getting at is someone from the line of David being the shepherd.
And it is with that background that Jesus says “I am the good shepherd.”
He is the promised shepherd.
He is the promised leader.
This morning, we’re going to look at Jesus as the shepherd who sustains us and the shepherd who saves us.
One final comment before getting into the passage.
I keep talking about Jesus’ “I am” statements.
This passage has two of them.
First point, Jesus is the shepherd who sustains us.
In Jesus’ day, most of his audience would have lived in small villages and it was common for a family to own a few sheep. And oftentimes, several families would have one person who would be a shepherd for their sheep. The families would often have some sort of pen or enclosure where they kept the sheep. Each day, the shepherd would go either to the home where a sheep belonged or a few families might share a pen where all of their sheep would stay at night. But in the morning, the shepherd would come and take the sheep to a place to graze.
Sheep need shepherds. Domesticated sheep can’t survive without their shepherds.
Sheep follow their own shepherd.
They learn their shepherds voice. Shepherds have a unique call that their sheep recognize.
Verse 2-3 of our passage:
But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
Jesus continues the metaphor.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
The sheep won’t respond to another shepherd.
A follower of Jesus responds to the good shepherd’s voice.
It can be tempting to want to listen to another shepherd. To want to follow another leader, aside from Christ. Perhaps it’s wanting to go another way that we think will lead us to life, and protection and sustenance.
We are called to listen to the Good shepherd.
Jesus calls his sheep out by name. The good shepherd knows his sheep personally.
There might might be some of us who don’t even know everyone’s name in this room. But Jesus knows all of his sheep by name.
Shepherds protect sheep from predators. Coyotes, wolves, foxes, dogs, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and even large birds like eagles prey upon sheep.
In our passage, Jesus uses protecting language for the flock.
That’s actually how the passage begins:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
When people kept their sheep in a communal pen, there would most likely have just been one gate for entering the pen. At night, either the shepherd would stay near the pen or they would hire someone to work the evening shift and keep watch of the sheep.
So if a person meant harm to the flock or tried to take sheep, they would have to find another way in.
In this passage, it seems that the focus is on those who would want to lead God’s flock astray or who don’t have the best interest of the flock at heart.
12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
But Jesus is the good shepherd. And for our Spiritual health and safety, we need to live following the good shepherd as closely as we can.
Shepherds lead sheep to food and water.
Sheep are not known for being resourceful animals. They’re not going to hunt down some food. They graze. It’s the shepherd who must lead the sheep to pastures where they can eat and drink.
To make sure that the water is clean and that the sheep aren’t exposed to poisonous plants.
Shepherds also look out for the health of the sheep.
For instance, if a sheep gets onto its back, it’s like a turtle. It’s hard, if not impossible, for a sheep to right itself. The shepherd must flip the sheep over.
I think it’s important to the Christian life to recognize our total dependence on Jesus.
He is our shepherd who leads, guards, protects, and sustains us.
And it’s a challenge, because that is not our natural mode.
Because we’re sinful. We don’t want to be sheep led by a shepherd.
We want to be mustangs. Wild and free.
We want to do things our own way.
But to get out of the pasture, that dooms us to the predators.
We need to trust Jesus as the good shepherd who’s protecting us.
It is only the good shepherd who is totally keeping our best interest in mind.
The shepherd and sheep metaphor is meant to show us that being a follower of Jesus is not something that we do in only some areas of life, in part of our lives. Our relationship to Christ is meant to be a focus of every aspect of our life.
It is to our Spiritual downfall if we have certain areas where we’re sheep but other areas where we’re mustangs, or wolves. We aren’t called to be under the protection of the shepherd in some situations and on our own in others. We are always called to be under the care of the good shepherd.
Sheep are always sheep.
Sheep do what sheep do.
We need the shepherd but we also need the rest of his flock.
It’s the shepherd’s flock following the good shepherd.
We need the Lord’s church.
Half hearted commitment to the Church is an epidemic in American Christianity. We are to be part of the good shepherd’s flock. Not just for our own well being and protection but also for the good of the rest of the sheep.
We aren’t in the flock just for ourselves.
We don’t go to church just for us. For what it does for us. For how the sermon blesses us. For how the music makes us feel.
But the church is the people of God serving together for the purposes of God.
The second thing we see in this passage is that Jesus is the shepherd who saves us.
In verse 6, John tells us that the people didn’t quite understand what Jesus was saying. And so he elaborates and expands his ideas further. He stays with the sheep metaphor but here Jesus compares himself to the gate of the sheep pen.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
ESV uses the word “door.” Some translations say “gate.”
Honestly, gate is probably a better word with the sheep pen metaphor. It’s another “I am” statement.
Jesus is the gate through which we get to God.
He’s the only gate that brings us to God. It’s not like there are a bunch of gates that are equally good and true.
“I am THE gate,” not “I am a gate.”
If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
In verse 8: All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
Verse 10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Jesus is contrasting himself between those who abuse the flock, who fleece the sheep.
Jesus didn’t come to plunder. He gives the abundant life.
This verse is a popular one among proponents of the “prosperity gospel.” The health and wealth gospel.
There certainly can be martial blessing that the Lord gives. But the heart is really in Spiritual blessing.
The abundant life that Jesus came to give is so much bigger than the things that we have, the accomplishments we achieve.
He came that we may have an abundant life of knowing the Lord.
He came that we might have an abundant life of purpose in pursuing and living for God.
To have a life of contentment, joy, and harmony.
Are you living the abundant life?
Sin keeps us from living the abundant life.
A heart that doesn’t find joy in the God and in his goodness and blessing keeps us from living the abundant life.
Follow the shepherd. Let him lead you into the abundant life that he came to bring.
Then we come to verse 11.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Now in the ancient world, shepherds would protect sheep. Just like today.
But a shepherd doesn’t lay down his life for his sheep.
12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Jesus lays down his life for the sheep.
Clearly this is a picture of the gospel. The good shepherd who dies for his sheep.
Jesus gives his life for all who believe in him and trust in him.
God became a man so that men could be with God.
There was no other way.
He’s the gate.
The shepherd became a sheep so we could be with him.
The Old Testament had a complex sacrificial system where animals were sacrificed for various sins.
But they couldn’t just be any old animal. It had to be one that was perfect and spotless.
Writing about this, the Apostle Peter said.
you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
The shepherd also became a sheep.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah looked forward to Jesus as the perfect and spotless lamb.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
Back in John 10, Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection in verse 17.
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because 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.”
Thinking through this passage is interesting, because it has a number of significant theological themes. Being a disciple of Christ, the leadership of Christ, the exclusivity of Christ, the sacrificial death of Jesus. His resurrection.
But it also uses imagery that is so easy to grasp and understand. It’s a quaint and familiar passage.
For today, I think the place to focus is on the simplicity of the message.
For some of us, understanding the theology is easier than actually living like a sheep to the good shepherd.
And again, we might have varying reactions to that. Jesus is the good shepherd who always leads us to greener pastures. Let him lead.
It’s easier said than done.
We might want to pursue other sources of joy, but Jesus is the good shepherd who leads us to the abundant life. Follow him to life
We might think we’re strong enough on our own to withstand the various attacks and predators that the sheep face.
We’re not. And we don’t need to be.
Instead let us live lives following the good shepherd as closely as we can.