This thought of "The Good Shepherd" is so powerful and so encouraging that it is uplifting to all of us, most of us having never seen a shepherd in our whole lives. We still know that there are truths here that are so important to our eternal hope that the picture of Jesus as the good shepherd is precious to us.
There are good reasons why we love this passage so much. One, it tells us that our Lord came to make it possible for us to have life, and for it not to be just a "squeak through" type thing, but for it to be abundant life. For another thing, this passage reminds us of the Lord's friendship with us, his relationship with us in which he does hold our hand each day and does help us to walk through life. And then there is the picture a little later in this chapter in verses 28 and 29 of him holding us in his hand so that no one is able to snatch us away. That reminds us of the assurance and the security that we have as God's children. All these points are extremely encouraging and uplifting.
But there is another side of this. This passage and the picture that we consider to be so positive had a powerful impact in the other way when Jesus said it. In verse 6, notice that those people who heard Jesus speak this illustration did not understand what he was saying to them. They were puzzled by it. A little bit later in verse 19, there was a division which arose among the Jews because of Jesus' words. And still further as the discussion continued, verse 31 says they picked up stones to stone him. Do you realize that for any truth to have the power to uplift us and encourage us it has to also have the power to challenge us? And the responses of the people who heard what Jesus said that day certainly indicate that they were challenged by what he said.
I wonder what there was in these sayings of the Lord which had such a point to it that really made the people have to respond in one way or another. As I read through it there are three or four things that stand out.
One is that Jesus' reference to himself as the door of the sheep was certainly a challenging thought, both encouraging and admonishing. It might help us just to remember for a moment that in their world the Palestinian shepherd was really the entire life of the sheep. They depended upon him for everything. He led them out to pasture and water. He watched them to keep them safe from predators. He would go seeking after them if they wandered astray. He would bring them back in at night and inspect them carefully to be sure they were alright. He would then put them in sheep fold. This pen could be made out of rocky walls or brushy walls, and there would be an opening where someone would have to watch. Or, it could be a situation where there might even be several shepherds who would keep their flocks in one sheep fold at night, and then a doorkeeper would stay there to keep that entryway for all of the flock. In the morning the shepherd would come out, and with his own unique call would call for his flock. They would come and he would lead them out to pasture where he would watch them again that day.
What Jesus is saying to these hearers of his as well as to us is that he, himself, is the door to the sheep. He applied it in two ways. In the first place he is saying that he is like that doorkeeper who keeps the entryway into the sheep fold, and that he will only allow the shepherd to have access to the sheep. For someone to try to come to the flock in some other way except by him, the door, would be to become a thief or a robber. For someone to try to climb the wall to get in to take the sheep away, for someone to try to overpower the doorkeeper to go and rob sheep and to lead them astray would be a terrible crime. Jesus might have been saying to the Pharisees and the others of his day that they were acting as thieves and robbers by claiming for themselves a role to which they had no right. He is challenging them to see that he is the door of the sheep and no one else can give the access that he can grant. That unique place of Jesus to be that door is a thought that sets him aside from everybody else. He is the owner. He is the gatekeeper. He is the door.
The other application that he made is to suggest that there is no other access to life. There is no coming in and coming out in safety and in liberty and having all of your needs satisfied, there is no abundant life, except through him. If Jesus is the door of the sheep, then what he said in verse 9 about entering by him and being saved is one of the thoughts that drew such a strong response. I have heard people talk, and you have, too. Our world wants to believe that there are many ways to heaven. If you talk about the way, then somebody brings up that there might be other ways. But when Jesus says, "I am the door, anyone who enters by me will be saved. He will go in and out and find pasture," then he is saying that if I don't enter by him, I am not going to find life. I am not going to be saved. I will not discover the abundance that I am looking for, and there won't be going out and coming in in safety and in peace and in wholeness and wellness without going through the door.
The one thing about a door is that it must actually be entered. I can see a door to some where, and if I don't go through that door, then it has had no affect on my life. When Jesus is saying, "I am the door," he is calling for someone to actually enter through him. People who do that are going to love him and appreciate him and rejoice in him. But people who resist him and reject him, are going to find that thought of his being the door offensive. They are going to try to respond in the opposite way, which is what some did in this passage.
Secondly, what Jesus said about his being the good shepherd was an encouraging and a challenging thought to people who heard him that day. The shepherding that Jesus talked about here involved first, ownership. He is claiming for himself the right to the sheep. He is saying, "I can put my sheep whom I own out of the sheepfold, and I can lead them, and they will be under my ownership and guidance as they go in and out to pasture and safety." That kind of a statement is one which could not have helped but remind his hearers of great Old Testament passages which spoke about the Lord being the shepherd. You and I know Psalm 23 so well, and it has encouraged us so many times. It talked about what the Lord could do for his people. For somebody with that fresh in everybody's mind to stand up and say "I am the good shepherd" -- you can see what they would have heard and what they would known that he meant. There were also great Old Testament passages which spoke of the Messiah's coming, and predicted that God would send a son of David to be the shepherd. Ezekiel 34 is one great illustration of that. And when Jesus gets up and says, "I am the good shepherd. I own the sheep," they knew what he was claiming. He's claiming to be the one God sent to be the shepherd of the people. And if you believe that, you are going to rejoice. But if you reject it, then you are going to want to try to get rid of the one who said it.
Not only is there that ownership in the background of this, but the authority implied in that picture is an important and powerful theme. Jesus says two things about his authority here. He says first, "I call my sheep." You and I care called through the gospel of Jesus, according to what Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica. That call is Jesus saying, "Come and follow me." And you notice in this passage that he also says, "My sheep, hear my voice." They recognize me, in other words. The great prophecies of the Old Testament that had told of his coming, the tone of the ethical teaching of the Old Testament and the wisdom of the Old Testament that had talked about what God could do in the lives of his people made it possible for people who sought after the heart of God to recognize the voice of Jesus, to listen to him, which meant to obey him and to follow him, to submit to his leadership.
The Lord's authority is also clear in his statement that the voice of a stranger they won't follow. I have read many stories of people who have seen shepherds in the near east working their flocks, and they say that several times experiments were used where someone else would put that shepherd's clothing on, and would go out to the sheepfold and try to call the sheep of that shepherd. And the sheep would, hearing his voice, raise up their head and become very nervous, and then actually run. A stranger could dress up like a shepherd, but he wouldn't be the shepherd. His voice would give him away, and his sheep would flee from that stranger. Jesus is claiming the authority to speak to his people, to expect them to listen, and to have them be in such relationship to him that they will run from a stranger.
Down in the country in north Arkansas some years back, there is a small congregation. One of the leaders of that congregation was an older fellow, very common and uneducated in many ways, but so well respected by the people in the community and in that congregation. A sophisticated fellow came there to speak. He was dressed so fine, and had quite an education, and was pretty well known. He got up and said some things that were kind of pet theories of his about the Bible. It was so impressive a presentation. The only problem was that it wasn't true to the old paths and it wasn't true to the New Testament gospel. The fellow made his presentation, and then this old brother got up, turned to the congregation, and he said, "I've listened, and what this fellow says is not what the Bible says." The people heard him. That whole congregation was saved from error and division because somebody could recognize whether something was the master's voice or not.
I have mentioned the door and I have mentioned the shepherd and the claims that are involved in that. The third thing that makes this illustration here so powerful is what Jesus had to say about his flock. A shepherd has to have a flock. But in this passage in verses 16 and following, Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold." What did he mean by that? Of course, he is talking to people of the Jewish background. Some of them, according to chapter 9, had become pretty proud and pretty self-righteous about things. They thought they were "it." They were the only objects of God's concern in this whole world. But Jesus says to them, "I have other sheep who are not from a Jewish background." The story that unfolds in the New Testament tells how those Christians who were scattered from Jerusalem by persecution went everywhere preaching the word, and that soon there were people at Samaria who obeyed the gospel, and then finally in Acts 10, they go as far as Caesarea to the household of a man from a Gentile background. That fellow also becomes a brother in Christ. What Jesus says, then, is that people everywhere will listen to my voice, too, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
The idea that there is one of anything is a challenging idea to people. We are a pluralistic society. We have been convinced that everybody ought to be able to choose what he likes. For someone to say, "there will be one flock and one shepherd" is another one of those challenging ideas. If you believe that and if you are willing to submit to Jesus and listen to his voice, then you are going to rejoice in having people that you recognize as your fellow members of that flock - your brothers and sisters. But if that idea of oneness is a problem to you, then you are going to resent it, you are going to argue with it, you are going to get angry about it, and it will continually be a problem. Jesus wasn't presenting himself as a shepherd in order to cause problems. But he wanted us to see the truth of the matter. If there is one shepherd and if we become his sheep by listening to his voice and obeying him, following him, trusting him, then there is going to have to be one flock.
In Acts 20:28 in the New Testament, Paul taught that the Lord has purchased a flock with his own blood. What he was talking about is the church of the Lord in that passage. What Jesus is referring to here in John 10 is a kind of a prophecy of the church. It has one shepherd and there is one flock.
Then the fourth thing about this illustration that really either encourages or challenges, depending on your perspective, is what Jesus had to say about his relationship with God, the Father. He claims that he is God equally as much as the Father, and that his relationship with the Father is such that they can be called one thing. They are of the same nature.
In verses 17 and 18, Jesus claimed the ability and the willingness to lay down his life and to take it up again. He was not like a hireling, who because he had no care for the sheep, would run at the first sign of personal inconvenience or danger. He, instead, loved the sheep and cared about the sheep to the point that he is willing to lay down his life. I read that in the Mishna, the Jewish commentaries on the law, that it was said that if a shepherd ever lost any sheep, he had to give strict accounting for it, and that their way of applying things was that if one wolf came against the flock and was destructive to the flock, then a real shepherd would have to answer. But if two wolves came, then that was an unavoidable accident and he would be excused. Jesus is saying, "I am the kind of a shepherd who, when the wolves come, I will lay down my life and I will take it up again. I will give myself in behalf of the flock, but I have authority to take it up again, too. And I have received this commandment from my Father."
Down in verses 27 and following, Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. And no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." And they picked up stones to stone him! The idea that Jesus is the divine Son of God is either the thrilling truth or a blasphemous lie. What is it?
What is it about this that is so encouraging but also so challenging? That Jesus is the door, that Jesus is the shepherd, that Jesus has a flock, and that Jesus is one with the Father.
The picture of a good shepherd appears in three senses in the New Testament. One is in the crucifixion here in John 10:15 where he lays down his life for the sheep. A second is in the resurrection. Hebrews 13:20 makes the point of the fact that God has brought the great shepherd of the sheep up from dead by the blood of an eternal covenant. He will be able to bring us home, too. And then the third picture of the shepherd in the New Testament is in connection with his coming again. His death, his resurrection, his coming again. I Peter 5:4, "And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."
How do you stand this morning in relation to the good shepherd? What a privilege it would be this morning to leave this building having heard his voice from scripture and having followed him. It can happen if you enter in through the door!