Sheep aren’t the smartest animals. Have you ever seen a sheep act at a circus?
Now, they aren’t completely dumb. I read about one study that shows they can recognize faces and voices. They have excellent hearing but very poor eyesight, so they tend to mindlessly follow wherever the sheep in front of them goes.
Sometimes they’re stubborn and won’t budge. Usually they’re peaceful, but sometimes they try to bump into you with their head when they’re mad. But usually they’re afraid and timid, so they prefer groups of sheep for protection.
They’re defenseless. They can’t outrun predators. They have no fangs or claws, so they’re only defense is their pitiful head-ramming.
And they get lost if not penned, they can’t find they’re way home. While they’re lost, they tend to fall into rivers and bogs. Even when rescued, they might fall back into the same river.
And God says we are like His sheep. That’s not exactly a compliment. Sometimes we’re stubborn, won’t budge, bump into each other when we get road rage. We don’t have any teeth or claws to defend ourselves, so we usually have to resort to name-calling. And even when the Lord rescues us from our stupidity, sometimes we fall right back into the same stupidity.
I know you can relate. I certainly can.
We’ve been going through the 7 “I am” discourses of Jesus.
- I AM the Bread of Life
- I AM the Light of the World
- I AM the Door
- I AM the Good Shepherd
- I AM the Resurrection and the Life
- I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life
- I AM the True Vine
Each discourse from Jesus is meant to bring us a deeper understanding, both of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and our relationship with Jesus, and each statement echoes the “I AM WHO I AM” statement God said to Moses. This week, we’re going to examine Jesus’ statement from John 10:11a that begins with His statement, “I AM the good shepherd.”
The imagery of sheep goes back a long, long way. Probably the most famous of those is Psalm 23, and I’m going to read the whole psalm because it’s so amazingly applicable to our study today in John 10 –
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We may be sheep, but we have a shepherd that loves us, protects us, comforts us, gives us joy and eternal life. Our cup should overflow every day because of this amazing promise. We’ll come back to Psalm 23, but first, let’s back up to the beginning of John 10, when Jesus begins,
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.”
To appreciate the message of Jesus, it’s important to understand who Jesus is speaking to. He’s not talking to Israelites or His followers. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the people.
And I know already this is going to be a stern message. Jesus is full of lovingkindness and mercy, but He often had a stern word for the Pharisees. The Pharisees enriched themselves at the expense of the people. The Pharisees imposed rules on others that they themselves did not follow. And the Pharisees misrepresented God to the children of God. I don’t recall ever where Jesus rebuked Jews, His followers, or even the gentiles. But He had hard words against the religious leaders.
God’s words against bad religious leaders goes back a long, long way. Here’s Ezekiel 34:1-4 –
The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
What happened in the days of Ezekiel continued through the days of Jesus, and indeed, still happens today. God’s people can be led astray by false shepherds who are not about preaching the justice and mercy of God, of preaching the gospel, of preaching the only way to salvation. These false shepherds enrich themselves. They only care to the extent that they’re able to take more. And 2 Peter 2:1-3 puts in this way –
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
Jesus says these aren’t even pastors, they’re just hired hands. And God promises in the same book of Ezekiel that He would send a solution, v 11-16 –
“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
One of the many ways you can identify a false pastor is listen to how many times he says “me me me me” or even “you you you you.” In this verse from Ezekiel, God says it’s not you, it’s me. God says I will look after, I will tend, I will rescue, I will gather, I will search and I will bind and I will shepherd. If the pastor’s message doesn’t continually point back to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, he’s not a pastor. He’s not a shepherd. He may be a wolf.
Then God says in Ezekiel that He will send and place one Shepherd over all, verses 23-24,
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
In contrast to the many false shepherds, this will be the one true good shepherd. In Israel’s history, David was a good shepherd, a man after God’s own heart. But David lived around 1000BC, and Ezekiel writes this nearly 400 years later around 590BC. So Ezekiel is not speaking of David himself, but the root and offspring of David. This is the coming messiah that the Jews were expecting.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. We’re supposed to be studying the book of John. So let’s get back to John 10:11a,
I am the good shepherd.
This is the English, but it wasn’t really written this way in the Greek. A more literal translation would be “I am THE shepherd, the good one.” Jesus is saying, “I am THE Shepherd you have been waiting for.”
And not even the word “good” here is a thorough translation of the Greek. The word in Greek is “kalos” and it means beautiful, excellent, surpassing, precious, magnificent, praiseworthy, noble, preeminent, morally good and honorable. I’m guessing that putting all of that in front of the word “shepherd” doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well as “the good shepherd.”
So John 10:11a, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd,” but the Pharisees heard, “I am THE shepherd, the coming Messiah, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock… from the likes of you.”
And that is why, later in this passage in John 10:20, the Pharisees responded,
Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
Jesus continues by telling the Pharisees how the Messiah differs from all those who came before Him and how He differs from the Pharisees, John 10:11-13,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
The religious leaders that misled the people are like hired hands. They’re paid by the hour. When times get tough, they abandon the sheep. It’s because they do not own the sheep, the sheep do not belong to them.
Jesus is different. He has purchased the sheep. He owns the sheep. He has invested in the care and well-being of the sheep. If one sheep is lost, Jesus will leave the 99 to seek the one that is lost. He is the good shepherd, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock.
IV. Not Just Israel, But Gentiles
When we looked at Ezekiel, the prophecy of the coming messiah was for Israel. The same prophecy, by the way, is in Jeremiah 23:1-3,5,
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number… The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”
This promise is for Israel, God’s chosen people. But many Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 6, foresaw that Israel would reject the coming Messiah due to spiritual blindness. For thousands of years, Israel had been the one nation that looked to God while the Gentile nations generally rejected the light and chose to live in spiritual darkness. Israel and the inspired prophets revealed the one true God who was personally interested in mankind’s destiny of heaven or hell, the path to salvation, the written Word with the Ten Commandments. Yet Israel would reject the prophesied Messiah, and the promises of the kingdom of heaven were postponed. Paul tells us in great detail from Romans 9 through 11 about this hardening on the part of Israel led to the blessing of the Gentiles who would believe in Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus makes one of the first references in His ministry that this is occurring, that the promised Messiah would not be limited to Israel in John 10:14-16,
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
We are those sheep that are not of this sheep pen. We are the gentiles that are not part of the nation of Israel. And the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd laid down His life to rescue us. He rescued us while we were but sinners.
The Pharisees responded by saying Jesus was demon possessed.
Some time passes; Jesus has been speaking during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, and John 10:22 says now is the time of the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, so about 2 months have passed. These Pharisees and other Jews have probably had time to ponder the words of Jesus that He is THE shepherd, the good shepherd, and now they ask in verse 24,
The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus responded in v 25-26,
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”
Amazing. Jesus has been doing miracle after miracle, healing the lame and the sick and bringing the dead back to life, all the while saying, “believe in the miracles that you may know that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” quoting the Old Testament prophecies and demonstrating the fulfillment of those prophecies, and then saying directly to their faces, “I am THE shepherd, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock,” and the Pharisees response is…
Um… what are you trying to say? I don’t get it.
It reminds me a few years ago when I was teaching apologetics, and it seems to me that untruths spread rapidly and non-Christians believe the lies, and the truth spreads far more slowly. One year it’s “there is no such thing as truth.” Of course, the proper response to that is, “is *that* true?”
Another year, the untruth spreading was “Well, Jesus never said He was God.” I’ve heard this repeated by non-Christians, that Jesus never made that claim. It’s baloney. Jesus made it perfectly clear that He and the Father were one, that he was the only begotten son of God, and that He is God. Jesus said, “I did tell you, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”
If you seek Him, you will find Him. Is it any wonder that if you don’t seek Him, you won’t find Him?
V. The Sheep
Jesus continues with His response in verses 27-30,
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
One thing I’m really starting to appreciate after these bible studies over the years is the shear amount of information that Jesus can impart in just a few words. Let’s start with this first statement –
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Who is a Christian? Here’s a complete theological explanation. Christians listen to Jesus. Jesus knows a Christian intimately. Christians follow the instructions of Jesus.
There are many people today that claim to be Christian but are not. I would also hazard to guess that many of them don’t even know they aren’t Christian.
So who is a Christian? Do they follow Jesus? Do they know what Jesus says? Do they read the bible? I don’t know any other way to hear the voice of Jesus. Do they have a personal relationship with Jesus so that Jesus knows them intimately? Do they follow Christian, biblical principles?
Now, I don’t want to swerve into a political swamp, but often I read a news article about Christianity that I know is false. These people will paraphrase one word Jesus said out of context and use it to leverage an entire heathen livestyle. True Christianity follows Christ, we’re good citizens until the state infringes on the church, we love our neighbors in service and words but not to the point were we’re enabling them to jump off a cliff of non-believers. Far left is definitely not Christianity.
But neither is far right, judgmental Christians, setting rules and laws for other people. We may know the law and we may know what Jesus says, but instead of telling people who Jesus is, we tell them what to do. We become judgmental hypocrites because we are all sinners, too. We become the Pharisees. We become just like the hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep, and we only care about the pen they’re kept in.
No, a Christian listens to the voice of his savior and develops a relationship with Jesus, and does their best to live a way pleasing to God but not man. That’s what I believe this verse means.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Eternal life is a gift. Every religion in the world is the story of man trying to earn his way to God. But Christianity is God working His way to man. No one is worthy of God, no one can earn his place in heaven. We have all sinned, each and every one of us, and fallen short of God’s glory.
This rescue is freely available, but we have to admit we need it. I was thinking this week it was like walking down to Galveston Beach and saying, “You know, I think I’ll swim to Australia.” And then I walk into the waves and start swimming, having no idea how far away it is. The Coast Guard will send a boat to rescue me, but I just keep swimming. I keep telling myself, I can do this, I don’t need any help. I’m only rescued if I recognize I can’t make it on my own and then get in the boat.
And then I imagined the Coast Guard asking me, “Where were you going?” And I answer, “Swimming to God.” And they say, why are you swimming to Australia? You should swim toward the sun.
Jesus says if you’re seeking the Son, you will find the Son, and He will give you eternal life and you will never perish. And your eternity is secure, never to be lost. No one will be able to snatch you out of the hand of Jesus. Not the devil, not the riots, not road rage, not even yourself. We can’t be partially saved. Either we get in the boat, or we drown. And once we’re rescued, we are rescued forever.
Does that mean there won’t be challenges? Of course not. Even Psalm 23, which we read earlier, recognizes we walk through a valley of death and we are surrounded by evil and enemies. But our eternal salvation is the one thing we don’t have to earn, we receive it as a gift, and we never have to fear losing.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
Jesus has been given all authority, and He has always had all authority. In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And our eternal security in Jesus is secure in the Father as well. There is no higher power, no higher authority. God is the Alpha and the Omega, and He holds our eternal life in His hands securely. If God is for us, who can be against us?
And verse 30,
I and the Father are one.
If someone ever tries to claim that Jesus never said they were God, then then haven’t studied the words of Jesus. The Pharisees say, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
A Christian who listens to the voice of Jesus and has an intimate relation with Jesus and follow Jesus, knows that He is the great I AM. He is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the True Vine. He is THE shepherd, the coming Messiah, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock.
Psalm 95:6-7a –
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
To God be the glory.