The good shepherd John 10:1-6
There was a young man by the name of Hamish from Scotland and he couldn’t seem to get a job anywhere, so he told his parents he was going off to London to make himself some money. Well, he was gone for a few weeks and his mother hadn’t heard from him, so she started to get worried. She called a few friends she knew that lived in London and through them she got a phone number where she was told he could be reached. So, she called him up and said how much she had worried about him.
He said, “Don’t worry ma, I’m doing fine. I really like it here. I’ve got a job and I’m making plenty of money and as a matter of fact, I even bought myself a new car.” He said, “I’ve also got a nice apartment and everything is going well. The only thing that bothers me is; I’m having a hard time adjusting to the people.” He said, “My neighbors make an awful lot of racket every night and it’s really hard to get any sleep. The guy on one side walks around screaming half the night, while the guy on the other side always bangs on the wall whenever he can’t sleep.” His mother said, “What do you do when all this is going on?” Oh, he said, “I just sit there and quietly play my bagpipes.” Well, I’m sure that we all do a few things that bug people that we’re not aware of as well.
Now, just before we get into chapter 10 I want to touch on a few things that I missed the last couple of weeks. I guess the truth of the matter is, every time I go back over any passage of scripture there are things I could add. For instance, when Jesus healed the blind man you remember how I spent a lot of time talking about the method He used or the way He did it. The scripture says that Jesus just mixed dirt and spit and made clay, and then He put it on the blind man’s eyes and told him to go to the other side of town and wash it off. And we might wonder, “Why did He do it this way?” I mean, was Jesus just showing the Pharisees that He could do these things without breaking the Sabbath law or was He causing the blind man to exercise faith by doing what he was told to do, by walking halfway across town with muck on his face in order to get healed.
Well, both of these things are true, but I also think He did it this way just to be different, in the sense that Jesus was always changing His methods of doing miracles whether it was healing, casting out demons or anything else.
I mean, sometimes He just said the word and the sick person who was standing right in front of Him was healed and there were times when He healed someone who was as far as twenty miles away. And there were times when He touched people like lepers that no one else would touch for love nor money. And in the case of the deaf man, He poked His fingers in his ears. It almost seems like Jesus never used the same method, the same way for a very long time. And I think He did this to show people that the power He displayed had nothing to do with the way He did the miracle. In other words, it wasn’t how He did what He did that made the difference. It was Him.
We see an excellent example of this in the book of Acts 19 where unbelievers try to copy the actions of Jesus and those of His disciples. It’s in Acts 19:13-16, and it says, “Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them who had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, we adjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was, leaped on them and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” So, you see this shows us that the results had nothing to do with the method. And I believe that’s why Jesus constantly changed the way He did the various miracles.
Now, another thing, you remember how I said that the Jews had taken the law and defined it to the point where it no longer meant what it was supposed to mean. For instance, they had all kinds of little rules, like a man couldn’t carry a handkerchief from upstairs to down because that was considered to be carrying a burden or you weren’t allowed to light a lamp or blow one out. You couldn’t cut your fingernails or pull a hair out of your beard and you certainly couldn’t do any manual labor like making clay or healing someone.
So, why did Jesus continually break their man-made rules? I think He was trying to get them to see that even though they felt good about doing these things, they were still living in violation of the law of God. You see, they convinced themselves that since they had kept all these rules that now God owed them a place in heaven and since they figured they earned it, they didn’t need His grace. As a matter of fact they felt that they were not only good enough but that God should be grateful for how good they were. And Jesus was trying to get them to see that they were still sinners and they needed to be saved. And let’s face it; the people we’ll never reach with the gospel are those who feel they don’t need to be saved because they think there’s nothing wrong with them. And that was the problem with all these religious people.
In a column in Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly tells the story of a tragedy that happened on a climb to the top of Mount Everest. There was a man by the name of David Sharpe who was a teacher from England and he was almost at the summit when exhaustion and a lack of oxygen began to take a toll on him and he died. But, as he lay dying, forty other climbers passed him on their way to the peak. And one coldly said, “He was effectively dead, so we just kept on going.” And the writer said, “I think their sense of morality was effectively dead.” And that’s the way the Pharisees acted, they felt they were on their well-deserved road to heaven and the whole world could simply go to hell and they couldn’t care less.
And we have to understand that these Pharisees were appointed by God to look after His flock but instead of feeding his sheep they were too busy feeding themselves. For instance, instead of trying to turn the woman in chapter 9 away from a life of sin they were using her to entrap Jesus. And rather than sympathizing with this blind man who had been healed, they persecuted and harassed him. I mean, they were not only offended that Jesus had healed him but they were offended that he had allowed himself to be healed.
Now listen, it’s easy for us to look at the number of times Jesus rebukes these guys and come to the conclusion that He didn’t want anything to do with them but I think just the opposite is true. He’s constantly rebuking them with the hope that a few of them would eventually wake up. And do you know what the strange thing is; a few of them do. And we have the apostle Paul as one example, but history tells us there were many more who left the synagogues and temple and came to faith in Jesus Christ.
And the second thing I want to point out before we leave chapter nine is that when this blind man was healed and then brought before the Pharisees you’ll remember how they asked him how this miracle happened and he simply said, “One thing I know, I was blind but now I see.” And what I want you to see is this, it wasn’t that he wouldn’t explain what happened but he couldn’t explain what happened. He simply didn’t know how or why he was healed. All he knew and all he could tell them was that he was healed.
Now listen carefully and see how this applies to us. Every one of us is called to be a witness. And that means that all we have to do is tell people how Jesus changed our lives and then trust God to do what He wants to do with our testimony. I had someone say to me, “I could never talk to someone about the Lord, I might say the wrong thing.” And I said, “They’re already going to hell. How could any mistake you might make possibly ruin their day.”
So, we have the responsibility before God to present them with a decision and believe me, a decision will be made. Some will decide for the Lord and many will decide they don’t want anything to do with Him but they will decide. And do you know what the good news is, you are not only, not responsible for their decision but any decision they make has nothing to do with you. Their response is between them and God. So, we have nothing to complain about if they refuse to accept the Lord and nothing to brag about if they do. We are simply passing on a message from God.
And just before we leave this chapter I also want you to notice that there was some preparation that took place in this man’s life before he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I have no doubt that since his parents were members of the temple he would have been exposed to the word of God in his home ever since he was a young fellow. And then there was his healing. I mean, he had experienced a genuine miracle from God. One day he was blind and the next day he could see. But on top of all that, he also experienced the rejection of the religious system of his day as he was kicked out by the Pharisees and not because he violated the word of God but because he wouldn’t go along with their plan which was to somehow make Jesus look like the bad guy in this situation.
So, on one hand he had experienced the touch of God and on the other he realized that God wasn’t just the system or the buildings. And I believe he also realized how shallow his parent’s religion was, because it was dependant on people more than it was on God Himself. And all these things were preparing him for the meeting with Jesus when the Lord actually revealed Himself to him.
And just like He was doing with this man I think God was working in a lot of us before we actually came to the point of salvation. A friend of mine told me he had come to Jesus because of a natural curiosity about the Bible. And when I asked him why he began reading the Bible in the first place, he said that his dad had died the year before and he felt he needed some answers for his own life. And I think that, even though he didn’t realize it, God had used the death of his father to soften his heart. So, God was working long before he was even aware of it. And I’m sure there are many here today who could share how God had used difficult circumstances to break up the fallow ground of their hearts so they could receive the seed of truth.
So, now as we come to chapter ten where there’s a change in the tone of the book of John because here we see Jesus turning His attention away from the antagonistic religious crowd and He focuses for a couple of chapters on His disciples. But I want you to notice that Jesus begins talking about shepherds and sheep right after this blind man was healed and thrown out of the temple and so, I think the thieves and robbers He’s referring to must have been the religious leaders who are portrayed as the false shepherds of Israel.
And just like these guys, anyone who offers a plan of salvation today that doesn’t include the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are deceivers and listen, there are plenty of them around today. I think the healing crowd is the worst of the worst. I mean, they stand there and claim to be doing God’s work but they are constantly violating His word. Their focus is on the needs of the body while they ignore the very souls that are headed for hell.
I think it’s a good thing that we’re sheep by nature because those of us who are saved would no more listen to that crowd than a sheep would listen to a shepherd that was not their own.
Now, listen very carefully or you’ll miss something very important here. This story all revolves around a sheepfold and it’s not referring to heaven because thieves and robbers can’t climb up into heaven. And it doesn’t always refer to the church either because the shepherd doesn’t have to lead his flock out of the church. So, this must refer to the Jewish system where God is calling people to leave, just as it also says He will call other sheep from other folds to leave them as well and become part of His church. And the problem we have is that sometimes He refers to the sheepfold as the Jewish system and other times it’s the church. And so, we have to examine the context to see which one He means.
Now, I want to give you a little information about the way things were done back then in order to help us understand how all this applies to us. And there are two kinds of sheepfolds that are mentioned in this passage. One is the kind, they used in the town and this is the type where several shepherds would lead their flocks into an enclosed space where a porter would care for them during the night and then in the morning each shepherd would call his sheep by name and then the sheep would follow him to the pasture. The flocks were small enough that the shepherds knew each one by name and we’re told that the name given to the sheep was usually associated with the appearance of the animal. You know they might call one fluffy, another big ears or something like that.
The second sheepfold was just a circle of large rocks with briar bushes on top and these were found in the countryside where the shepherd would use his body as the door and he would either sit or lay across the opening during the night. And that way his flock were both kept inside and protected. In that land at that time there was a danger of both wild animals and the thieves and robbers that the shepherd had to keep an eye out for.
We are told that the two terms thieves and robbers referred to the ways these guys worked. The thief would sneak up and steal something at night while the robber would just confront the shepherd and take what he wanted by day. And of course anyone who was ever seen going over the wall where the sheep were kept was always considered to be guilty.
I heard a story about a guy who was visiting Toronto for the first time and he was really awestruck by the size of the buildings. And while he was standing in a crowd by the side of a street some guy stuck his hand in his pocket. Well, the man was shocked, he jumped back and said, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” The guy said, “I was just looking for a match.” And the man said, “Well, why didn’t you ask me then?” And the guy said, “My mother always told me, never to talk to strangers.” But, I think if anyone was in the sheepfold who was not supposed to be there, he was obviously there for the wrong reason.
And due to the nature of sheep it’s easy to say that the life of a shepherd would be difficult simply because he was never off duty. Someone always had to watch over the flock. And since grass is scarce in the Middle East the sheep were always bound to wander. And considering the lay of the land the shepherd always had to keep his eye on the flock to make sure they didn’t fall and get hurt or even get lost. I mean, needless to say, it was a difficult and thankless job.
Years ago there used to be a show on TV called “Candid Camera” with Alan Funt. They were always doing something to make the people look and feel stupid. One program was filmed at an exclusive prep school where all of the students were well above average and they all knew it. The camera crew posed as career consultants who were going to advise these students about where they would fit in as far as business was concerned.
The tests and interviews all seemed authentic and then the students were brought in for an interview. And I’m sure that most of them felt they were about to be told that they would be a college president, the head of a bank or maybe a research scientist. And you should have seen the first kids face when the counselor told him that he would make a good shepherd. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. After all, who in their right mind would want to spend their days and nights watching sheep.
As I said, it was a thankless and difficult job and it not only describes the way the Lord protects his followers but it also conveys the idea that if anyone or anything ever wants to harm us they have to go through Him first.
I think it’s also interesting for us to know how each member of the flock is chosen. You see, a shepherd didn’t just go to the market and buy himself fifty or a hundred sheep but each and every one is selected individually. I remember when we were on the hillsides of Israel there was a young boy with a small flock of sheep. And I think he might have had about twelve or fifteen. After all, most shepherds didn’t have a large sum of money so they were very cautious when they were adding to their flock. And then once the sheep were chosen the shepherd would brand each one by marking their ears. And the markings or cuttings were considered to be a sign of ownership.
It’s also interesting to see the way the shepherd cared for his sheep. For instance, did you know that sheep are near sighted and they can’t see more than three feet in front of them? And because they can’t see very far they’ll chew on roots while there’s fresh green grass just a few feet away. So the shepherd has to continually lead his flock to the good stuff. And because of their poor eyesight they can easily get lost because they have a tendency to just follow the one in front of them. So, if the sheep in front finds a hole in the fence and walks through, the rest just follow right behind. And since they are followers by nature, they’re also easily influenced and that’s why the verse says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” because just like sheep we follow one behind the other.
In the Old Testament God is often pictured as the shepherd and the people are portrayed as His flock. In Psalm 23, it says, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” In Psalm 77:20 it says, “Thou didst lead thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. And then in Psalm 79:13 it says, “We thy people, the flock of thy pasture, will give thanks to thee forever.” And then in the New Testament Jesus is called the good shepherd and we read in the gospels where He has pity upon the people because they’re sheep without a shepherd. He also refers to His disciples as His little flock and we are told that when He the shepherd is smitten the sheep are scattered. In 1 Peter 2 it says that He is the shepherd of the souls of men and then in Hebrews 13:20 He is called the great shepherd of the sheep. And these are just a few of the references that are used because the terms sheep and shepherd are used a total of 247 times in the Bible.
So, looking at this passage the first thing we read is where Jesus says, “He that does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs up some other way the same is a thief and a robber.”
So, as I said before the term sheepfold had referred to the Jewish worship system and here He says that those who try to get in any other way other than the door is a thief and a robber. And where were they trying to get in? They’re trying to get into the kingdom of God but they’re not using the door.
And since He’s using the illustration of a sheepfold then it’s obvious that there was only one door. And as He tells us later on Jesus is the door and that tells us that He is the only way to God. It’s like He said in John 14, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”
So people can join the church for many reasons. I think, most people join the church because they want to identify with and fellowship with others of the same faith. But according to Jesus we have to realize that there are some who claim to be saved when they know they’re not and then there are others who join the church thinking they’re saved when in fact they’re actually trusting in their good works or they assume they’re saved because they were born in a Christian home. But, no matter how you look at it, there will always be a mixed congregation of the saved and the unsaved until the Lord comes back and sorts it all out. And those who are unsaved are referred to as the thieves and robbers.
A thief is someone who quietly shoplifts and probably wouldn’t hurt a fly where a robber is someone who would stick a gun in your face and kill you if he had to. And both of these terms portray the unsaved as either secret sinners or those who are as bold as brass.
And in the religious world we see Satan using both types to turn people away from the truth. The first one is the quiet intellectual approach that he used when he approached Eve in the garden and said, “Hath God said?” and in this group are all those who raise doubts in the minds of others. And these can be the liberal crowd, the pseudo-intellectuals and those who refer to themselves as agnostics. You know, these are the friendly types who just say, “Well, no one really knows for sure, so I’m just keeping an open mind.” Of course I always say, “If you keep your mind open long enough your brains will fall out.”
And the second type, are those who occupy positions of authority in the church and demand that others follow them. I’ve seen a few of these guys who pastored churches and the people who attended never seemed to grow in the things of the Lord. And this is because sheep are to be led and not driven.
And so we could look at verse one and say this is a person who won’t get into heaven because there’s only one way and that’s through Jesus and this guy is trying to get in his own way or on his own terms.
And then Jesus refers to the saved in verses 2-4 when He says, “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.”
This is a bit awkward to understand but let’s just take it a verse at a time. “But he that entereth by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” This door is referring to Jesus who came the proper way. He had been born of a virgin according to Isaiah 7:14. He had been born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2. He had come in the fullness of time according to Galatians 4:4. He had been called out of Egypt according to Hosea 11:1. And His arrival had provoked the rage of His enemies according to Jeremiah 31:15. So, He was the right person, born in the right place at the right time and then he was called out of the right country and attended by the right sign which was His rejection. And as the door He is an opening to those who repent of their sins but also as a door it’s locked to those who refuse.
And then it says, “To him the porter openeth.” And this porter has been identified in two ways. One was the John the Baptist whose job it was to introduce Jesus by his message and his baptism and then there’s the role of the Holy Spirit who opens the hearts of people and allows Christ to enter. Both are used by commentators and both of them are true.
And then it says “the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. You see, it was common for several shepherds with small flocks to use the same enclosure for the night. And then in the morning each shepherd would call his sheep either by name or with a flute and the sheep would follow him. And it’s interesting to see that when people who believed in Jesus heard His voice they recognized that this was the voice of God.
And then it says, “He calleth his own sheep by name.” And it’s like, not only did they recognize Him but He recognized them as well. And the best part is, He never forgets any of us. And then it says in the last part of that verse, “And leadeth them out.” And we tie this together with the next verse that says, “And when He putteth forth his own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him: for they know His voice.” And remember this is describing the work of a shepherd. He didn’t round up the flock by sending a sheepdog to drive them but He led them. He went before them and they followed Him because they knew and trusted Him.
And in all this we see a sense of intimacy between the shepherd and his sheep. And it parallels the kind of relationship that we have with the Lord. He chooses us, He cares for our needs, He’s always watching over us to protect us from those who would destroy our faith and He leads us day by day.
And I know it’s hard for us to grasp it, but Jesus was about to lead these people out of Judaism and into the church which for them didn’t even exist yet. But like the blind man who was healed this was good news since he wasn’t welcome back in the temple anyway.
And then verse 5 says, “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” And if you’ve ever been around sheep you know that they’re very suspicious of strangers and they simply walk away from those they aren’t familiar with.
And then in verse 6 it says, “This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which He spake unto them.” And we’re always amazed at the dullness of those who heard Him every day. But listen, what were you like before you became a Christian?
I remember buying a Bible before I was saved and trying to read the New Testament. I almost read the entire book of Matthew and it was as boring as reading a government report on the need for better quality of landfill. And when I think of that, I can understand why the disciples didn’t get too excited about what He was saying. They weren’t saved yet. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit to help them understand. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that none of it made sense. I guess what really surprises me is that they hung in as long as they did. Later on, when they received the Holy Spirit they really got on fire for God because the word came alive and it all began making sense. I’m sure that’s what happened to them because that’s what happened to me.
Let me just read another section of scripture where Jesus talks about sheep. It’s over in Matthew 18:11-13, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more over that sheep than over the ninety and nine which went not astray.”
I think this passage reminds us that we are all part of one flock and we are to love one another because of the love the Shepherd has for each and every one of us and we realize that His love is both personal and individual. But as we look at this parable we might be tempted to think, well, what’s the big deal if one sheep gets lost, I mean, after all, the shepherd still has ninety-nine left. But you remember how I said that each and every one of them had been bought individually, so, a shepherd would never say something like that. The youngest, the weakest, the sickliest of his flock is as dear to him as the strongest. And when Jesus sees us, He doesn’t just see animals, He sees his flock and He never rests until we’re all safe in the fold.
And second, we also see that His love is patient. Sheep can be foolish creatures. As I said they can wander off and get themselves in all kinds of trouble and the shepherd has to go, find them and bring them back. And people can be like that, we see people wandering away from the Lord and it’s easy to think, “It’s their own fault. There’s no sense in me wasting my time chasing them around.” But listen, thank God that He doesn’t think like that. He loves even the foolish ones who have no one to blame but themselves for the pain they suffer because of sin.
The good news is the shepherd is never content to wait for the sheep to come home because sheep don’t come home and he always goes looking for those who are lost. And I’m sure that those of us who have blown it once and a while are grateful that He does.
His love is also a seeking love. Do you know something strange, the Jewish mindset has always stumbled at this view of God. They said that God would only forgive the sinner who came crawling home. And we wonder where they got this idea? Because it certainly wasn’t from the Bible.
Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? In that story Jesus portrays the prodigal as someone who was preparing what he was going to say all the way home but when he got there he found that his father came out to meet him, and then his father interrupted his little speech by sending the servants for clothes, sandals and a ring, and then he told them to go get the food ready. His father said, it was time to have a party. He wanted to celebrate his son’s homecoming. What a contradiction to what the Jews were expecting.
And yet think of what their Bible tells them, in the garden of Eden God went looking for Adam, at Haran God came and spoke to Abraham, at Bethel God appeared to Jacob and then it says God came to Joseph in a dream. At the burning bush God came to Moses and at Jericho God came to Joshua. And when we come to the New Testament we find Jesus came looking for the Jews, the very people who want nothing whatsoever to do with Him. Listen, God always comes looking for us even though we’re the ones who turn away and act like we want nothing to do with Him.
This morning as we close we saw where Jesus spoke about two different people, those who try to go over the wall and those who go in through the gate. There’s the saved and the lost. And the strange thing is they can look so much alike that the human eye can’t always tell the difference. But God can. And I believe He’s more than willing not only to reveal where each of us stands but to make any changes in us that are necessary. And all we have to do is ask.