The Good Shepherd

Back in the 1980s, a congressional panel, led by Claude Pepper, revealed that thousands of Americans might be receiving treatment from doctors who lied on their medical school loan applications, and then used the money not to go to school but to pay a broker for fake documents signifying the completion of school and training.

The one-time dean of admissions for the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted that she had lied on her resume and had never received even an undergraduate degree. The person responsible for admitting some students to advanced degree programs, and turning others away, had falsified her own degree.

There are false doctors and false academics and false lawyers. But the Bible never speaks about them. It does, however, have a good deal to say about false teachers and pastors. We have seen our share of them in the last few years. Jesus saw his share of them, too.

John chapter 10 chronicles a time in Jesus’ ministry when hostility had increased. In chapter eight we see people calling Jesus names and coming to the point of physical violence. In chapter nine we learn that those who administered the synagogues had voted to excommunicate all the followers of Jesus. By the end of chapter 10, people actually tried to kill Jesus.

If you think that would subdue him, or tone down his teaching, or cause him to be more cautious, you don’t know Jesus. He continued to tell the truth, even when it was unpopular. He spoke out against false teachers and pastors in no uncertain terms.

We see that in chapter 10. By means of two analogies (or proverbs) Jesus compares and contrasts himself to the religious leaders of the time. He talks about their motives and his, their character and his and, what is of central importance to us, why they came and why he came.

He did not come, as he once he said, to bring peace. Many people assume that is why he came: to bring them peace and everything that goes along with it – comfort, security, prosperity – but Jesus refused to be received on those terms.

Nor did Jesus come to abolish the law. His intent was to fulfill it. He utterly rejected the idea that his followers have some kind of diplomatic immunity from righteous living. He came in order that the law might be fulfilled in us, who live according to the Spirit.

So, there are two reasons why Jesus did not come: to bring peace and to abolish the law. John 10 gives us a reason he did come. Look at verse 10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” More in a moment.

Jesus uses what verse 6 calls a “figure of speech” (or, as the Greek reads, a “dark saying”), one that requires insight to understand the point.  We may miss that point, perhaps not from lack of insight, but from lack of cultural familiarity. Jesus’ teaching here is clothed in a figure of speech, but it was very familiar clothing to Jewish people of the first century; it is not to us.

For one thing, it is about sheep, and everyone there and then – unlike here and now – knew something about sheep. For another, Jesus talks about shepherds, and not only did everyone know about shepherds, the Old Testament often used the word shepherd to refer to teachers and national and religious leaders. In this figure of speech, the sheep represent people like us, the robbers represent the religious leaders of the day, and the Good Shepherd represents Jesus.

I would rather be classified among the sheep than the robbers. It is not, however, a compliment to be compared to a sheep. I remember an old truck driver telling me that sheep are about the most stupid animals he had ever hauled. If allowed, he said, the sheep will congregate so tightly in a corner of the truck trailer that some of them will be suffocated.

The old Scot preacher, Andrew Bonar, once told how sheep in the Scottish Highlands wander off into the rocks and get into places from which they cannot escape. The grass on those mountains was sweet and the sheep would sometimes jump down ten or twelve feet to reach it, and then be unable to get back out. They would stay there until they had eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress. But he would have to wait until they were so faint that they could not stand, and then he would put a rope around himself, and go down and pull the sheep up out of the jaws of death.

Someone asked, “Why don’t they go down when the sheep first gets stuck?” And Bonar answered, “The sheep are so foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed!”[1]

Being compared to a sheep is not a compliment, and yet, are we not like them? How often people won’t go to God until they have lost everything and have no friends left. Before he can bring us back to himself, the Good Shepherd must wait until we have given up trying to save ourselves and are finally willing to let Him save us in His own way.

Jesus opens this teaching with an analogy. The man who sneaks into the sheep pen is a thief (the Greek word is klepths), while the man who comes by the designated way – through the gate – is the shepherd of the sheep. Jesus came by the way designated, promised in the Old Testament. He, verse 11, is the Shepherd.

Notice that the sheep, verse 3, listen to (or hear) his voice. They know his voice, verse 4. But they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

My wife and I frequently walk down our road. A couple of our neighbors have German Shepherds, and one of them is sometimes outside without a leash. Her name is Dakota. Dakota will come rushing at us, barking and growling as if she wanted Looper for lunch. When she does, I say something like, “Dakota, stop! You go back home.” She never listens to me. She doesn’t know my voice.

But when her owner says, “Dakota!” she pulls right up. She knows his voice. She follows his voice.

Jesus says that his sheep know and follow his voice. And note that word follow in verses four and five. The shepherd does not merely speak to us: he leads us. He is going somewhere, and he wants us to go with him. We may think that the Good Shepherd only speaks to us while we are sitting stationary in church. Certainly, he may speak to us then, but his intent is that we follow him into the world, into action, into service and noble sacrifice. He does not call us to vegetate in comfort but to follow in obedience.


[1] D. L. Moody shared this story

About salooper57

Husband, father, pastor, follower. I am a disciple of Jesus, learning how to do life from him. I read, write, walk, play a little guitar, enjoy my family.
This entry was posted in Bible, Sermons, Spiritual life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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