Last time we were in John chapter nine where the man born blind was healed by Jesus. Because he would not vilify Jesus before the Pharisees, but accepted Christ as the Messiah he was put out of the synagogue. Jesus found him and ministered to him when the Pharisees would not. In Israel leaders were often called shepherds. That was true of their kings and political leaders as well as their prophets and spiritual leaders. Even the Pharisees were called shepherds, responsible for the “flock” of Israel. Shepherds and sheep were ubiquitous in Israel. Jesus takes something very familiar to His audience and uses it as a metaphor to describe His ministry and what every true shepherd or pastor should embody. We must not miss what is understated in Jesus’ teaching: the Pharisees were false shepherds and their ilk is still with us in the religious realm today.
From Jesus’ teaching we see the personification of the Good Shepherd (1-10). Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The sheepfold was usually a stone-walled enclosure or a cave with an opening for a door. Either a shepherd or a doorkeeper would lie down at the opening to keep the sheep from leaving in the night and to keep wild animals or thieves from stealing the flock. Often several flocks belonging to various shepherds would be sheltered together. In the morning the shepherd would come to the door to assemble his flock and take them out to graze. To separate his sheep from the others he would call out to them. Sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice. They will not respond to a stranger’s voice. False shepherds cannot lead the sheep, so they must steal them away.
When Jesus came to Israel, He came the appointed way, as Scripture promised. Every true shepherd must be called of God. If he truly speaks God’s Word, the sheep will hear his voice and not be afraid to follow him. A true shepherd will love the sheep and care for them. Pharisees and false teachers exploit the sheep for their own benefit. False teachers bring a false gospel which blinds men to the truth.
Jesus is also the only door (7-10). Twice Jesus states that He is the door, by which His sheep to go out and graze and then return to rest. The picture is one of safety, peace and provision. In contrast, the Judaism of the Pharisees stifled the sheep, penning them in with no liberty or satisfaction. As the door, Jesus delivers sinners from bondage and leads them to
freedom. Salvation can only be found by entering through the door. ‘Saved’ (9) is a Bible word–we don’t need to be ashamed of it. It means to be rescued and delivered, safe and sound. When we are saved, eternity is secured, but we can also enjoy an abundant life (10) in Christ right now.
Next, we see the descriptions of a true shepherd (11-21). The true shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Under the old dispensation the sheep died for the shepherd, but now the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep. Three times in this section Jesus affirms the sacrificial nature of His death (10:11, 15, 17-18). Jesus died for His sheep including the nation of Israel (11:50-52) and the world (3:16, 6:51). The blood of Christ is sufficient for the salvation of the entire world, but it is efficient only for those who will believe. The hireling (12,13) flees from danger, he is not about to sacrifice his life for sheep! If it weren’t for shepherds, sheep would probably be extinct. By nature, they are defenseless, clumsy, easily scared and prone to wander. That’s why in the Bible people are often compared to sheep!
The true shepherd also knows his sheep personally (14-16; 27-28). ‘Knows’ speaks of more than an intellectual awareness; it speaks of an intimate relationship between God and His people. An Eastern shepherd would know the names, natures and needs of his sheep. You are not a nameless, faceless cog in the wheel to God. He knows your nature, what makes you afraid, what makes your heart prone to wander. He knows your needs: the challenges you face, the areas that you need to grow in, the people you need to forgive. There was the “fold” of Israel, but Peter and Paul would take the gospel to the “fold” of the Gentiles. In the Church there may be different “folds” but there is only one flock and one Shepherd.
Then the true shepherd communes constantly with the Father (17-21). Jesus’ voluntary death was followed by His victorious resurrection. From a human viewpoint, Jesus was executed; but from a divine viewpoint, He laid down His life willingly. Then He voluntarily took His life up again. The Father gave Him this authority in love. As a result of this teaching there was again a division among the Jews. Because Jesus is the “Door” some people are shut in and some are shut out! It is impossible to be neutral about Jesus Christ.
Remember three truths we need to embrace as sheep. First, listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Many voices fill the air and it is easy for some sheep to have the wool pulled over their eyes. Discernment is critical. Then, enjoy the Shepherd’s care. We have life and life more abundantly in Christ. The Christian life is not to be endured but enjoyed. Lastly, love the Shepherd’s sheep. There are other folds in Jesus’ flock. We need to love men and women into the flock and within the flock.