Living for Eternity
The Work of the Good Shepherd
Turn to John 10:1-16. I do not give many analogies when preaching about such things as say farming or hunting or fishing because you folks who know about these things would soon think to yourself, this guy knows nothing about any of this stuff. And you would be right! When Anne and I moved up to Blind River, so much of the talk was about hunting and fishing. I was a poor excuse for a northern guy. So, I admit, I know nothing about fishing, hunting, or farming. I have a wide range of interests. It includes hockey and I have a rose garden. That’s it! So now we come to a passage about sheep and shepherding. My brother used to camp all the time every year down in Myrtle Beach, as he enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle of the Southern states. And he used to talk about packing up with his family and becoming a sheepherder in South Carolina. He just thought it would be about the most relaxing thing you could do for a living, just to sit back in the pasture in the sun with the sheep. Well, after moving here and hearing about shepherding, the lambing, keeping the sheep clean, the great amount of care and time, the early mornings, sometimes the all-nighters. I realized that my brother knows as much about shepherding as I do, zero. So, Michael, I will not be giving any shepherding analogies, only what is needed to help us understand our passage this morning!
In our passage there is a very familiar phrase that many of us have known for years. End of verse 10, Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” Now this verse has been abused over the past number of years in Christianity, as “abundant life” means prosperity, health, and success. Now we know this is not true in the sense of meaning that if I serve Christ, that I will be materially blessed and will be healed of any health issues. I will be promoted at work and everything in my life will fall into place, though this has been the message of the prosperity movement, which fortunately has lost some of its steam over the last number of years, though it is still around with men such as Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen. And still a great lie to much of Christianity around the world, especially outside of the Western world. However, I would suggest the remnants of that false teaching remain in much of evangelicalism, not to the extent of much of what we might see on TV, but we who lived through that, may still believe that serving Christ means some sort of blessing. And so, though we may not expect health and wealth, we can expect great contentment out of life, as our minds have been programmed to think that things should go generally well for the Christian. That I would be blessed at work, that my family would thrive, that I would get the lower interest rate at the bank, and that the Lord would keep my car going when it shouldn’t.
We can talk like this sometimes, we seldom never say things like boy, when I bought my house, we just missed that lower mortgage rate, the Lord must be doing something powerful here in my life. We never say things like the other guy got the promotion, boy, God is really working, isn’t He, at my workplace. No, we usually only include God with the good things that seem to happen, and much of this is centred around the words that Christ has come so that we would have abundant life. So, what we need to do this morning is to see in this passage the context around these words, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” and how this really relates to us and what Jesus actually means here.
I find it interesting that the Lord has chosen to identify us as sheep. Verse 6, Jesus says He is using a figure of speech, identifying Himself as the (vs 7) the door of the sheepfold, and (vs 11) the Good Shepherd, and of course, we are the sheep. We have had collies all our lives and their long hair picks up many things. Sheep are much worse, as their wool picks up everything, it gets tangled and it gets dirty. Sheep are also so defenseless against enemies. And therefore, to protect sheep, the shepherd must be willing to defend against those who might steal sheep, and against wild animals who might kill the sheep. And of course, God is often identified as the Shepherd, (Ps 23) the Lord is my Shepherd. And therefore, the Lord has the role of caring for the flock and protecting the sheep. In Ezekiel 37, God promised that someday He would send one Shepherd, and here we see this prophecy fulfilled in John 10:16, they will become one flock with one Shepherd.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.”
John 10:1 (LSB)
The analogy begins with Jesus saying that only the one who enters through the door can be trusted and He speaks about those who enter any other way as thieves or robbers. We also need to remember that this is on the heels of John 9, where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for they saw the healing of the blind man, yet they denied it and would not believe. So, I believe we can understand that these enemies of the sheep can be those who are obvious enemies and those who are more like the Pharisees who may be less obvious. Those who break into the sheepfold and kill the sheep. Those who break into the sheepfold and steal the sheep. And those who come in quietly and deceive the sheep. These are all dangers. Those who are a threat to the sheep who come in uncontrolled, Christians who are martyred for their faith, and through no fault of their own are killed by wolves. Then there are those in the world who steal, who through their message may offer something attractive to the sheep: worldly things, sexual things, and material things. Things that are so attractive that the sheep just would give in to what they offer. And then there are the more subtle ones, the deceivers, those who come with a biblical message that is not really that biblical. And the sheep are fooled, they are led away. So, these are the dangers. But the One who comes through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
Now this passage has often been used to speak to the dumb sheep. It has often been preached to warn the sheep of these dangers and those who are against them. But the more we read this passage, it seems to give a much different message. I believe to understand this passage, we must understand that those within the sheepfold are sheep. Now there are other passages in the Bible that speak about wheat, true Christians; and tares, false believers. And they dwell together and it is hard to distinguish between them. But the assumption here is that these sheep are true sheep, they are true believers. Therefore, this passage is all about the work of the Shepherd, the good Shepherd. For look at the positive truths that are given in these verses: (vs 3) the sheep hear His voice, He calls them by name, He leads them; (vs 4) the sheep follow Him, for He walks ahead of them; (vs 9) if anyone enters through the Shepherd, he will be saved, and will find pasture; (vs 10) they will have abundant life; (vs 11) the Shepherd will give His life for them; and (vs 14) the Shepherd knows His sheep and they know Him. Do you see this, there is no deception here. Yes, there are those who come to kill, there are those who come to steal, and there are those who come to deceive. This is all apparent in this passage. But there is no danger mentioned here for the sheep because look again (vs 4), they know His voice, then:
“A stranger they will never follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
John 10:5 (LSB)
Again, we could turn to many passages that will address some of the dangers of Christianity, and the many who will try to deceive the Christian. However, this passage speaks about those dangers, but the emphasis of the passage is the comfort of the sheep in knowing that the Shepherd will not allow His sheep to be killed, harmed, or deceived. In fact, when I read this passage after realizing that this is not about threats to the sheep, my next thought was that it was emphasizing the resolve of the sheep. In other words, let’s hear it for the sheep! For (vs 4) they follow the Shepherd; (vs 5) they will never follow a stranger; and (vs 8) they don’t even listen to the thieves and robbers. But upon greater study, the only reason all this is true is because of the Shepherd. For how could we ever applaud the sheep if not for the Shepherd. How long would these dumb sheep last without the Shepherd? In Matthew 9, Jesus says:
“And seeing the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.”
Matt 9:36 (LSB)
This passage is overwhelmingly about the work and care of the Shepherd. Many of you know that this past June, Anne and I were camping at the Pinery. We took Ted for a walk, and a white boxer was at a campsite. Usually, when I see a dog not tied up, my first thought is that he must be a kind dog. Then Anne screamed and I turned around and this boxer had Ted by the neck. I was punching, Anne was punching the dog, and the owner was punching the dog. And Ted’s head by my leg, three minutes, and just stood there like a lamb. Then bleeding and starting to yelp, and I thought we had lost her. Ted eventually bit my leg, and the boxer ran, and I think Ted still thinks she bit the boxer and he took off. And why he left I don’t know, just grateful! Anyway, Ted survived, but my overwhelming instinct was to protect Ted. Kidding aside, this passage is all about the wonderful work and protection of the Good Shepherd.
- The Shepherd Owns His Sheep (vs 14)
This is where we need to start as it places the emphasis on all the work of the Shepherd here towards His own.
“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.”
John 10:14 (LSB)
The Shepherd is intimately involved with His sheep. This is something that you cannot get away from if you truly know Christ, and that is His desire to exist intimately with you. We often say how a mother will know the cry of her child among the many cries in the nursery. I am sure a shepherd if he had a number of sheep, that there may be a few that he would know by some unique marking, character, or sound. Some of you who have chickens, of all the crazy things, you have names for them and can tell them apart, even when they all look the same. Well in relation to Christ, the Christian is known intimately, many times greater than we could ever know our own chickens or sheep or pets or even our own children. For He knows the hairs on your head. He knows every desire of your heart, every thought you think. He is a shepherd who watches you all day and all night long. Everywhere you go, He never will leave you.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Ps 23:4 (LSB)
You are His, you are owned by the shepherd. This is where verses such as “we are His workmanship” are so significant. Or the verse (1 Cor 6) “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” Christian, you cannot escape this.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I lift up the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.”
Ps 139:7-10 (LSB)
- The Shepherd Calls His Sheep (vs 3-5, 16)
Verse 3, the sheep hear his voice, he calls his own sheep by name. Verse 4, they know his voice. Verse 16, they will hear My voice.
“A stranger they will never follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
John 10:5 (LSB)
The Shepherd calls to each sheep and they hear His voice. There is a sense here that the sheep respond immediately when they hear the voice of the Shepherd. I like to say that Ted is obedient but sort of what I would call passive obedience. The good part is, is that she never really does anything wrong. And if she is way out the back and you call her, she comes but often quite slowly. Unless you say, come get a treat Ted! But this passage speaks as if there is such a dependency of the sheep on the Shepherd, that they may be doing what they are doing, but as soon as they hear His voice they come. And it is not just obedience to the voice, but it is also the comfort of His voice. A voice that knows everything, that is concerned with the well-being of the sheep. It is similar to having a great relationship with a Mom and Dad. That as a child you know that your Mom and Dad care deeply for you. And therefore, their voice reminds you that they are present and that they love you. It is like you do not have a care in the world if the Shepherd is close so that you clearly hear his voice.
- The Shepherd Loves His Sheep (vs 3, 14, 16)
Verse 3, He calls His own. Verse 14, I know My own and My own know Me.
“And I have other sheep, which are not from this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
John 10:16 (LSB)
The great love of the Shepherd for His sheep as Christ emphasizes here one flock and one shepherd. There can be no more security in Christianity than this thought, the Lord’s great love for His own. I have mentioned before that there are certainly degrees of love in the Bible and within the godhead. Imagine the tremendous love of the Father for His Son, and the love between the Trinity, between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And how the Lord has placed His love on the people of Israel, and has now extended that deep love to other sheep, the Gentiles, His church. That we have also been grafted into that one flock.
“But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Eph 2:4-7 (LSB)
If you do not know Christ as Saviour and Lord this morning, there is no greater love that you could ever experience than to be part of this one flock. That the God of the universe who loves the world and cares for the world, yet He would intimately place a greater love on you, those who are part of His flock.
- The Shepherd Leads His Sheep (vs 3, 5)
Verse 3, He leads them; and verse 5, and they will never follow a stranger. Frankly, I do not know how the world lives. I really don’t. How they can survive, rest, relax, and truly laugh without the Lord’s leading. For the Shepherd leads His sheep. Therefore, the sheep have such a purpose in life. They are not doing what they would normally do as sheep, to wander aimlessly. Without the Shepherd, where would we go? Who would we follow? As our world is full of fear of the unknown, nothing is certain. Everything people have grown up with is being questioned. Sometimes we can place our faith in a political leader, but even honest leaders, intelligent leaders. It must be so hard to navigate the landscape. It reminds us of some of the mighty prayers of government leaders over the years to God, crying out to the Shepherd as a nation saying Lord, we need Your help. As George W. Bush once prayed only 20 years ago:
“For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord.
The Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us; so that we may incline our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways… that all peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.”
George W. Bush
Sometimes I think of what I would do if I was a leader in politics. What would be my priorities? How would I deal with enemies? The First Nation issue? The economy? Poverty? The drug issues? The pornography industry? Abortion? Marriage? And how would I bring ethical issues back in line with the Bible? Where would I even begin? We need the Shepherd. Lord, may the world understand they need the guiding of the Shepherd. The perfect Shepherd who knows all things and who leads us, and therefore, the importance that we would follow Him, that we would follow Him in the clear teaching that he has given to us in His Word. And important that the church does not get sidetracked on issues that are not clearly defined. That we do not become disunited over things that can be preferences or personal opinion. That we do not get too heated by our own thinking. For the Lord has given us so much clear direction in the Bible to transform every one of us here this morning. If each of us here today was obedient to His clear leading, I submit that we would be such a significant work here at Elim.
- The Shepherd Saves His Sheep (vs 9, 11)
Verse 9, “I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.”
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
John 10:11 (LSB)
Anne can sometimes be a little nervous if we are up north somewhere where there are bears. And I always tell her that she never has to worry for if a bear ever came up to us, I would just rip that bear apart! Here we have the ultimate Shepherd who is willing to give His life for every one of His sheep, who literally laid down His life so that you and I might live. Graham Kendrick sings:
“My Lord what love is this That pays so dearly?
That I, the guilty one May go free
And so they watched Him die Despised, rejected
But oh, the blood He shed Flowed for me
Amazing love, oh what sacrifice The Son of God given for me
My debt He pays and my death He dies
That I might live That I might live.”
- The Shepherd Secures and Comforts His Sheep (vs 9)
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
John 10:9 (LSB)
Such a great verse. The true believer, the true sheep will go in and out and find pasture.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.”
Ps 23:2 (LSB)
This is why Paul could say things like, in every situation I am content, whether he was free to preach, whether he was being persecuted, or whether he was in prison. Because any of these situations, any of these circumstances did not take him from the presence of the Shepherd, did not take him from the green pastures and away from the quiet waters. You can be sitting in your backyard. You can be at some fancy resort sitting by the beautiful aqua-green waters, but be far from the green pastures. But when we sit in the biblical green pastures, we may, from the world’s perspective, be in a very difficult place. Yet God’s green pastures, though at times hard, the Shepherd’s green pastures bring security and comfort. For nothing can happen to you, that is outside of the Shepherd’s care. For if you are trusting the Shepherd, nothing can take you away from His watch care, His comfort, and His security. Father, we thank You for the green pastures and the quiet waters. May this be where we, your people are found, amen. One final point:
- The Shepherd Brings Joy to His Sheep (vs 10)
Verse 10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 2 Corinthians 5:17:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
- Cor 5:17 (LSB)
For the Christian the source of joy has changed dramatically. For what marks a true believer is something that happens in the heart. For we are known by what we love and by what brings joy to us, and that is the joy that comes from Christ, from the Shepherd. It is a welcomed gift from God. And the certainty of being part of the Lord’s flock is that we now find joy in the Shepherd. If you are trying to live the Christian life and find joy elsewhere, it may be that Christ is not your Shepherd. For Jesus speaks so confidently about those who He has called to be His sheep. Verse 16, “I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” Because Christianity is a change, a change of the heart. For a Christian is known by the things he is affectionate about. A joy from the heart for the Good Shepherd. For the sheep are always with the Shepherd, and though we may be at various times on different pastures. We are all part of the flock, all the time, always with Him.
You know, many in our world might claim to be Christians. Some great athletes, great movie stars, maybe a singer that says, yeah, I’m a Christian. But many of them do not believe in God, they have only created their own Shepherd. Many today say they believe in God, yet they do not hold to God’s Word, they do follow the leading of the Shepherd. Because only the true believer, the true sheep listen to the voice of the Shepherd, and the leading of the Shepherd through His Word. As His leading, His calling, His voice brings joy to all His sheep, every one of them. We do not tell the Shepherd what we believe. No, the Shepherd tells us what is the true, He is the One who leads, and His truth and His leading bring to us every joy.
“Ten thousand joys, sweet Son of God you came to me
And my heart sings, because I know that You are mine, in you I find
Ten thousand joys, enough to last through all the years
And joy to shine through all my tears … ten thousand joys.”
Father, how could we ever praise You enough for Your love and care to Your flock, to know Your leading and wisdom and truth. May we live as sheep who depend completely on the Good Shepherd. Who never stray from Your voice, and who find our every joy in You. And all God’s people said, amen.