The Shepherd, The Sheep, And the Church
I believe that of the many images that Jesus identifies Himself with in the New Testament, one that brings solace to many is that of the shepherd. Many stained glass windows in our churches portray Jesus as the Good Shepherd, often surrounded by children. The 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd’s Psalm, has been used by countless pastors to provide comfort to families who have lost loved ones. The shepherd’s description is so appropriate, as the Good Shepherd offers us a safe refuge, from a world filled with thieves, robbers and wolves who are trying to destroy us. The Great Shepherd is our constant protector, always on guard and who does not sleep (Psalm 91:1-4; Psalm 121:1-4).
We live in a world which, on so many levels, thinks on a very negative level. One of the chief reasons for suicide today, is not that people want to die, but that they can’t find a reason to live. Very seldom, in the home, at the workplace, or at the school, is emphasis placed on the things that we do right. At home my wife can do 100 things right, yet often the one thing I focus on is the one thing done wrong. Sometimes she may be having a great day, and instead of just enjoying the good things God has shared with her, I find I often act as a wet blanket by telling her of my bad morning.
In the midst of this negative attitude, God gives us the picture of our Great Shepherd, who tells that we will not be in want, to have the best of pastures and water, and be restored in our souls. We have the peace that He is our guide because He loves us, and will not leave us. There is the certainty that this shepherd walks with us all of our lives, and that when we breathe our last breath in this world, He is there to walk with us through the portals of Glory, and be with Him forever. He views us as royalty, by annointing our heads with oil, and promises us that we will dwell in His house forever.
Here in this passage in John 10, Jesus is attempting to teach to His disciples, the type of relationship that He desires to have with Christians. We are going to look at this today as we consider the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, and as we look at the other characters in this account, the hireling, the thief and wolf, the other sheep, the sheep pen, the watchman, and the jews. It is my hope that you will see the sacrificial love that the Great Shepherd has in sacrificing His life for us, but also His Lordship as He takes it again. My prayer is that if there be anyone within the sound of my voice, not in God’s fold, that this will be a moment of decision for you.
Jesus is in the midst of a controversy with the Pharisees over healing a blind man on the Sabbath. Oddly enough the controversy is initiated by His own disciples, as they asked Jesus who had sinned in order that this man was born blind. In this culture it was felt that previous sin in the person’s family was the cause for the condition, in this case blindness. Jesus answered them by saying that the man was blind not by the power of someone’s sin, but rather to show the healing power of God. With that Jesus went on to heal the man.
The man was then brought to the Pharisees to investigate the healing. The Pharisee’s were hoping for a way to get something, anything on Jesus. The issue thus became an issue of healing on the Sabbath. The healed man was eventually thrown out of the synagogue for defending Jesus.
Jesus then comes to his aid again. First He leads the healed man to have a personal faith in Him, then He turns His attention to the Pharisees. The account here in chapter 10 is all part of Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees.
This passage can actually be divided into two parts, John 10:1-6 and John 10:7-21. Much of the content is similar. What is of most importance are the characters that Jesus uses. Today we are going to study many of them, and one that is incredibly important for the church, that I would dare say that many of us have not given much consideration to.
Jesus response to the Pharisees was very confusing for them as He has to go over it twice with them. This should not be surprising though, for two reasons. First, is the biblical principle that light and darkness cannot mix. You can have one or the other but not both. Jesus states in John 8:12 that He is the light of the world and that whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness. 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, is very clear that light and darkness cannot mix. It is our responsibility, not as Baptists, but as Christians to make sure that we have no spiritual association with those who do not look to God’s Word as their final authority on all spiritual matters.
Second the Pharisees were listening with a closed mind. They were not seeking the truth from Jesus, but they were seeking answers to suit their own agendas. We know this because they threw out the blind man who Jesus healed, because he defended Jesus in their presence. A mark of true spirituality is the fact that as a Christian we follow a different "Master" than ourselves. Our lives are not our own. Gal. 2:20 tells us that we have been crucified with Christ, and that it is no longer my body, but Christ’s who lives in me. The hard lesson from this is that it means that we are to live our lives in obedience and submission to the Lord, and one of the ways that we do this is by submitting in obedience to the direction of His Word. In this passage we have the Pharisees, who have already decided not to follow Christ, so anything He says they will not understand or do.
What can we learn from the Pharisees? The missing ingredient is the Holy Spirit. Seven times, to each of the churches in Revelation John states "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." It is the Spirit of God that convicts and illumines and allows us to understand those things that God knows we are ready for. It will be the Holy Spirit that will guide us as we walk with the Lord, showing us what we have to change in our lives, areas that we have to submit to Him. In times of crisis the Holy Spirit in our lives will lead us to understanding, guide us with patience, and in those very special times where nothing makes sense and all we can do is give it to God, the Holy Spirit will literally surround us with a peace that can pass all understanding. The Pharisees wanted power, Jesus came offering peace and so was not accepted.
There are two types of shepherds mentioned in this account, the Good Shepherd, and the hireling. The hireling was just exactly that, a hired hand, paid to be a shepherd. He had no connection with the sheep, no relationship with the sheep. The hireling thought of himself first and the sheep last. If a sheep was attacked by a wolf, or lost, it was too bad for the sheep.
In the church today there is a hired hand that we need to avoid. It is not a person, but rather an attitude. That attitude is legalism. I am not saying that we are not called to be people of the book, we are, but we are also called to be people of compassion, and that is the missing ingredient in legalism. The religious leaders of Jesus time were legalistic. They knew the law, and they used their knowledge to lord over their people, and maintain their power. As a result they were among the most hated, and the most feared people of their time. The legalistic person in the church does the same thing often with the same results.
The second type of shepherd is the good shepherd. The good shepherd is the owner of the sheep. He has a special relationship with them. Most owners did not own a lot of sheep. They owned enough that they could call each by name. They could recognize them on sight. They knew each sheep’s different sounds, there was nothing about their sheep that the good shepherd did not know. Carl Haak in his sermon "I am the Good Shepherd" states:
A shepherd, in order to know his sheep and care for them, has to live among them. He has to be close to them. Jesus not only came from heaven to earth to be near His sheep, He actually became like them. The Shepherd became a sheep, took on our nature, and lived our entire life (except without sin). This is why He is the good Shepherd, perfectly qualified to know us and care for us. He is like us in our flesh. There is no shepherd like this Jesus.
The distinguishing mark between the hireling and the good shepherd, is that the good shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep. He was their protector. David recognized God as his protector in Psalm 121. David was trained up in his faith by God to fight Goliath, by fighting a bear and lion as they tried to attack his flock (1Samuel 16:32-37).
The sheep pen had only one opening in it. After the sheep were in the pen, the shepherd would lay down for the night across the opening. Nothing could get into or out of the pen without him knowing it. Anyone who went over the walls would automatically be known as a robber. Many a good shepherd laid down their lives for their sheep.
Jesus however offers us unique words as our good Shepherd. In verses 17-18, Jesus informs the people that he was not only laying down His life for His sheep, but that he had the authority to take it up again. No other shepherd could do this, only the Son of God could do it. John Piper in his sermon "I Have Authority to Lay It Down And I Have Authority To Take It Up Again", states:
When Jesus laid down His life for the sheep He saved us from three destroying wolves: sin and death and judgment. He saw them coming, He went out to meet them, He drew them away from the flock and gave His life to kill them and take away their power so that they will not destroy the flock.
But now, if the story ended here there would be a great problem. If a flock of sheep lose their shepherd because he laid down his life to save them from a pack of wolves, they are now shepherdless. And if no more wolves come, they will soon run out of green pasture and wander away into the desert valleys of death and perish. And in the end they will not be saved. And the death of the shepherd will have been in vain.
But the story doesn’t end with a mangled shepherd lying dead among these three dead wolves, and sheep scattered thirsting and starving in the desert. Verse 18 tells us why: No man has taken [my life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
The sheep now have a shepherd. Christianity is not merely being saved from sin and death and judgment; it also means having a living shepherd to guide you and feed you and heal you and protect you and help you love. The words of verse 14 are astonishing, if you ever dreamed of a deep, deep, deep relationship: I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father." Jesus took his life back again from death so that he might have that kind of personal relationship with all His sheep: I know them and they know me; and the relationship that we enjoy is like the relationship between God the Son and God the Father." And there is no deeper, nor more satisfying, relationship in the whole world than the eternal relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Now we come to the part of the account that we can relate to, the sheep. The sheep had a relationship with the shepherd. They knew his voice and would follow only him. They learned to depend on the shepherd for everything they needed. According to Ray Stedman in his sermon "The Shepherd and his Sheep":
In the East, shepherds brought their flocks into one central sheepfold every evening where half-a-dozen flocks gathered together and were guarded by a porter or gatekeeper behind locked doors. In the morning the shepherds returned and each called his own sheep. Although the flocks had been mingled together, each flock knew it’s own shepherd’s voice, and each would follow it’s own shepherd and no other.
Two different groups of sheep are mentioned here, those that are in his flock, and in verse 16, there are other sheep that will hear my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. Its a beautiful description of evangelism, the shepherd going out and bringing other sheep in, the church reaching out and bringing others to Christ. Alexcenah Thomas and William Ogden penned the words of their hymn so well:
Hark! ‘Tis the Shepherd’s voice I hear, Out in the desert dark and drear,
Calling the sheep who’ve gone astray Far from the Shepherd’s fold away.
Who’ll go and help this Shepherd kind, Help Him the wandering ones to find?
Who’ll bring the lost ones to the fold, Where they’ll be sheltered from the cold.
Out in the desert hear their cry, Out in the mountains wild and high;
Hark! ‘Tis the Master speaks to thee, "Go find my sheep wher-e’er they be.
Bring them in, bring them in, Bring them in from the fields of sin;
Bring them in, Bring them in, Bring the wandering ones to Jesus.
The use of sheep to describe Christians is outstandingly accurate. Davon Huss speaks of a 3-D view of sheep: Dirty, dumb, defenseless. In our minds, we brainwash ourselves to believe that the mental picture that we have of the sheep and the shepherd is always a tiny little lamb, resting peacefully in the Shepherd’s arms, or at his feet, or possibly being carried on the Shepherd’s shoulders.
The real picture is not so rosy. Yes the sheep starts each year clipped short, white, and very pretty to look at. But as the year goes on and the wool collects on his body, so too does all of the impurities that surround him. And this continues until the sheep is shorn. One by one, before they can enter the sheepfold, the shepherd would shear the sheep, lest the impurity would enter into the sheepfold and infect the clean sheep.
In 1 Peter 2:1-3 we are told to rid ourselves of sin, and we can’t do that on our own. Nor can we in all reality rid ourselves of sin on a permanent basis. Our morning prayer always contains a section of confession. Folks what I am saying is this. Just as the sheep need to be shorn of their impurity so they can be clean again, so too do we need to be shorn of our sin by the good Shepherd. Consider Mark 7:20-24. With our confession and repentance we can claim the assurance of Hebrews 9:14-15.
I believe that one of the unobserved characters of this account is the sheepfold. Consider it for a moment as we relate it to the church. The sheepfold has only one way in. The entrance is not determined by the sheep but by the shepherd. To be a part of the "true church" there is only one way, and that is through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Now some will tell you that we can go to God in many ways, or that there is more than one way to go to heaven. Let me make this perfectly clear. If you have not accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour, then you do not have a spiritual walk at all. We can’t determine the rules of acceptance for Heaven, anymore than we can put strings on God and call Him our puppet. It is He who has set down the criteria. It is His Son who made the great sacrifice. It was He who showed His love to us a long time before we showed any love to Him. There is only one way into the eternal sheepfold of Christianity, and that is through acceptance of Jesus, who is the good Shepherd standing in the gate calling for you today.
The sheepfold has walls of protection around it, and so does the church. The passage tells us that anyone who goes over the walls of the sheepfold is a thief and robber. Incidentally, this is where we get the idea of "Sheepstealing". So the walls were built for the protection of the sheep. While the walls of the church were not built solely for our protection, we can find protection, and a place of temporal retreat in them. It is very difficult for Satan to penetrate the walls of the true church. Isaiah 60:18 makes us the promise that our walls will be called salvation. We are protected by the assurances of salvation.
The walls of the sheepfold provided a boundary for the sheep. The spiritual walls of the church provide a boundary for the Christian. This is not a boundary of limitation, but a boundary of safety. As long as the sheep remained within the walls they were safe from the wolves. When we live our lives within the boundaries of Scripture, we will not need to fear the wolves of Satan.
The sheepfold provided fellowship for the sheep. They would often group five or six different flocks in one fold. As a church we need to see the power of unity with other churches. Yes we have differences, but there are several common points as well.
Lastly, the sheepfold is where the sheep and the shepherd commune with each other. He can study his sheep, learn their different sounds, get them to trust him. They also learn from him, different hand signals, word commands. He pets them and scratches behind their ears, or rubs their belly. God knows where His people will be as well and He seeks the pleasure of a relationship with you. He wants to know you by name, (Isaiah 43:2, Luke 19:5; John 1:48; John 20:16) . He desires you to know all that He can do for you. God longs to hold you in His arms and surround you with peace. God knows, and His people that the place we can meet together is in the church. When we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, it is not so much an authoritative command, which says do it or else, it is more a request and plea, come together and see how special our time can be.
THE THIEF AND ROBBERS:
Even while in the fold, we must be aware that there are those who would like to lead us astray. They come in subtle ways though. You won’t see the person all dressed in black with a small flashlight, wearing a hood. You are more apt to see them wearing a two or three piece suit and tie or a nice dress. They will not attack you with weapons of war, or clubs that can do you physical damage. No, these grace and blessing robbers come armed with weapons much more vicious than these. Physical wounds heal, spiritual wounds are a different story. Consider the weapons of the thief in 1 Peter 2:1-3, Eph. 4:31-32, and Galatians 5:19-21. Legalism is a weapon of the thief. These thieves and robbers may come very well intentioned, but in their process, they steal the blessings God has planned to give the Church. Beware the telltale sign of negativity that is always around this form of thief and robber. You will hear little or no positive statements or see little or no positive actions from them.
The watchman character is the keeper of the fold. He recognizes the shepherd when he comes and turns the sheep over to him. Our good shepherd had a watchman as well. His name was John the Baptist. Mark 1: 4-8, speak of John’s ministry, and that he was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah.
We see in this account that Jesus is teaching us what the church should be. We need to be a people who will :
1. Recognize the good Shepherd and follow Him.
2. Recognize that we as sheep need not only to follow Him, but look to the good Shepherd for cleansing from the filth of sin, and be allowed to go into His fold holy and pure (Heb. 12:6; Jer. 31:34; Psalm 103:12).
3. Recognize that we must seek those sheep who are not yet in the fold of Christianity, and that we must seek fellowship with sheep of other faiths.
4. Recognize the negativity of thieves and robbers, along with the fact that their voice, or their teaching, will be different than that founded in Scripture and avoid them.
5. Recognize that we need a time and a place to commune with God and His saints. We need a sheepfold and the defences it affords.
6. Recognize the legalism of the hireling and not bow down to it.
7. The last conclusion that we must come to the conclusion and accept the fact that the Jews in verses 19-21 could not come to. We must believe by faith that Jesus is the good Shepherd of the sheep. We must believe that He laid down His life for us because He loved us, and accept His as Lord and Saviour. If we do not do this, then we have no hope of ever entering into His fold, or claim the great promise of Revelation 7:16-17.
Benediction: Hebrews 13:20-21