Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sermon: John 10: 1-18 The Good Shepherd

In our Bible reading tonight, Jesus describes himself in two ways - the door, and the good shepherd. As you’ve already noticed, the chapter is full of pictures of sheep, and how the sheep relate to the shepherd, and tonight we’re going to look at the good shepherd to see why he is the good shepherd; and what it will mean for us to have him as our shepherd.

Chapter 10 doesn’t stand in isolation, rather it continues on from the end of chapter 9, so let’s get the background right first. Jesus has healed a man who was blind from birth; given him sight. But some of the religious leaders didn’t like this sort of thing happening, and threw the man out of the synagogue because he had put his trust in Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus is speaking against these religious leaders, these Pharisees, contrasting himself with them, showing us what a good and true shepherd will be like. In verse 1, he regards them as ‘a thief and a robber’; later they’re described as strangers; as ‘the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’

Throughout Israel’s history, they had been portrayed as the flock of God. Just think of Psalm 23, or those words from Psalm 95 ‘For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.’ (Ps 95:7) The people of God were his flock, and God appointed shepherds over his people. Whether they were kings or religious leaders (priests), these shepherds failed in their task. They were too interested in their own position; they would exploit the flock for their own gain.

Ezekiel 34 is the key condemnation of these false shepherds: ‘1The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.’

What will God do? ‘ 11"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out...22I will rescue[b] my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.’
These religious leaders, the Pharisees are still leading the flock astray; they’re still out for their own power and prestige and position. And what Jesus is saying here is that he has come - just as God promised in the Old Testament - the good shepherd is here.

Jesus is the good shepherd, and we’re going to look at three ways in which he is the good shepherd: 1. Jesus cares; Jesus saves; and Jesus calls.

Jesus cares. In verse 12, Jesus gives us a picture of a hired hand. They’re happy to take the money; will do the job so long as it’s fair weather, but once danger comes along, then they’re out of there. When a wolf comes to attack, the hired hand doesn’t care for the sheep; he just wants to save his own life, so he escapes, and leaves the wolf a tasty dinner of lamb.

In contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd because he cares for the sheep; he lays down his life for the sheep. He didn’t have to - remember the intense agony in the garden of Gethsemane as he resolved to obey the Father’s will and go to the cross. Jesus knew what lay ahead - the scourging, the mocking, the agony of the cross - he could have fled. Yet he chose to go through those pains, to lay down his life for his sheep.

Jesus died on the cross for us, his sheep who had gone astray. Jesus died because he cared for us, because he loved us.

Jesus cares; and because Jesus cares, he lay down his life in order to save us. In verse 9 Jesus says ‘I am the door’. In other versions it’s translated gate. But what does he mean? If you imagine a sheep pen, Middle Eastern pens were an enclosure of stone walls, but there was a gap to get in and go out through. The shepherd lay in the gap - he became the door, the way in and the protection for the sheep. As Jesus continues: ‘I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.’

Jesus is the only way of salvation - as he declares in John 14: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ To enter by Jesus, is to find safety, shelter, salvation - while the thieves and predators lurk outside. It really is the difference between life and death:

‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.‘ Abundant, overflowing, never-ending life is on offer if we will but come in, if we have the Lord Jesus as our shepherd.

Perhaps you’re longing to experience this salvation, this abundant life today. You’re only too aware that each of us face death, you have no hope beyond it. You hear those words of the Apple Boss Steve Jobs, who died this week and think that’s just the way things are - you live, you die. Could there be this abundant life available; could you have your life turned around by having the good shepherd as your shepherd? How is it possible?

It’s all about hearing the shepherd’s voice, and following his call. Jesus gives us another picture of the shepherd, as he takes the sheep on towards the good pasture. But how does he move the sheep?
The Shepherd
Does he jump on his 4x4 quad and whistle for the sheepdogs and drive the sheep along from behind? That may be how the farmers do it these days, but that’s not how the middle eastern farmer did it. Rather than going behind, the shepherd goes out in front:

‘The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.’

The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and they obey it. I wonder if you’ve ever noticed the logo of the music shop HMV. It’s a dog sitting beside a gramophone, listening intently, because it’s an exact reproduction of His Master’s Voice. It must be the same for us Christians, the sheep of the good shepherd. We listen out for and obey the Master’s voice as he leads us on.

Have you heard the good shepherd’s voice? Perhaps even tonight as we’ve been looking at this chapter you’ve heard the voice of Jesus, telling you of his care and love for you that took him to Calvary to die on the cross for you; the salvation he offers to you, life in all its fullness. Jesus is calling to you to come, follow, listen, and find life.

But it’s not just about to be Christians or new Christians who need to listen. The whole Christian life is about listening to the good shepherd’s voice and following him, not just today, but every day; for the rest of our life. Even though it’s hard - and I know it’s hard with lots of different voices trying to entice you in lots of different ways: keep on listening, keep on hearing the Master as you read his word, as you hear his word taught, as you grow closer to him.

O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou guardian of my soul.

Jesus, the good shepherd is calling. Are you listening? Are you following? Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving service in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 9th October 2011.


  1. I love the HMV logo illustration!

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