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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Good Shepherd

John 10

In today’s passage we meet one of the great metaphors of the New Testament: the Good Shepherd. It is a tribute to the enduring nature of this metaphor that so many churches have it in their name. Perhaps the 23rd Psalm has something to do with this as well.

(John 10:1-18 NIV) "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. {2} The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. {3} The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. {4} When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. {5} But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." {6} Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. {7} Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. {8} All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. {9} I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. {10} The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. {11} "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. {12} The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns 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. {13} The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. {14} "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- {15} just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. {16} 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. {17} The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. {18} No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."

The Character of the Shepherd

Let us examine first the character of the Good Shepherd. The metaphor is so enduring because it says so much; let it speak.

Legitimate Authority

It is interesting that Christ comes in through the front door. Christ is proclaimed in this world through open preaching. No one sneaks around in the night with a trench coat stocked with illicit Bibles. Others may imitate the approach, but it is worth noting that Christ comes in the manner of, and claiming to be, the legitimate supreme authority in our lives. Even during the Roman persecutions, the Gospel was proclaimed openly, even at the price of death.

We, in our own lives, often listen to that which is surreptitious. There is an appeal to things which come in secret. This is a symptom of our rebellion against God. We prefer the darkness to the light. It also gives us a clue to the light of the world – he comes in by the front door. It is one test we can use to ask of any religious leader, “Are you here by legitimate authority?”

The thief by night

The leader without authority always has the air of one who is stealing in. There is a great truth in this for Christian leaders. No one appoints himself to God’s posts. It is not sufficient for you to imagine that you’d make a great teacher; even if you have all the qualifications for a teacher’s position, you still must have the appointment of God. Generally this is expressed in our everyday terms. The elders will ask; you will succeed – and God will humble you in the process. If the position “smells of God” it is likely your own. Take it, no matter how great or humble it might be.

We need to be aware of the fact that the false prophet is always with us. This is one of the great dangers of “speaking in tongues.” Many people consider that blasphemy is nothing but foul language. It is foul, but that is not what makes it blasphemy. Blasphemy is taking God’s name in vain. A good example is the one who claims to be speaking in tongues – even in self-deception – and tells another Christian to go outside the Word. If I claim to be speaking in tongues, and tell you to commit adultery, it’s just possible you might see the inconsistency. It is also possible you might not. It is blasphemy in either case. Pay no attention to the prophet of his own imagination. Anyone can dream what God might say.

There are some tell-tale signs of the false prophet:

·         You often see the sanction of some particular sin, or the twisting of Scripture to provide an excess of one thing to the lack of another.

·         Given enough time, such a person will ultimately deny that Jesus is the Christ. Sometimes, even in their own lifetime.

·         “By their fruits” you shall know them. What is the result of their ministry?

·         And, as verse 10 points out, their motives will give them away. Do they work for money? For prestige? Or the glory of the Lord, however imperfectly they understand it?

As 1 John 4:1 enjoins us, we must test the spirits.

He calls by name

Christianity is not a system of religion. It is a personal relationship. Jesus calls you by name; he knows you personally. It is one thing if my logic is such that I persuade my congressman to act as I wish. It is entirely another if he knows me on a first name basis. Persuasion is a greatly different art in that case.

He leads

Most of us have been the victim of a manager who would not be willing to do what he orders his people to do. Jesus is not like that manager; he is a true leader. He sends you nowhere that He has not shown you He is willing to go Himself, for He went to the Cross for you.

Indeed, even when He sends us to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel, He tells us that He will be with us – to the end. You can go nowhere that Jesus cannot go with you, even death. He has been there too – and back again.

His motive

Lyndon Johnson once remarked that if you knew who a man’s father was, and what he was trying to make up for, you could make him do anything. The remark may show more about Johnson than men in general, but there is a truth in it. If you know a man’s motives, you understand him well enough to “get what you want” from him. Jesus’ motive is clear: he came that we might have abundant life. The word in the Greek means biological life (zoe, from which we get our word “zoo.”) It is a picture of the Resurrection to come. That is why He came! To do this he had to lay down his life at the Cross on Calvary. It was for that exact purpose he came.

He knows us as the Father knows Him

(Mat 11:27 NIV) "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Note two things about this kind of knowledge:

·         The knowledge is complete – he knows everything about us, just as “all things” are committed to Him.

·         That knowledge is exclusive. Christ is the Way; there is a difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Christ.

Response of the Sheep

The Watchman

The watchman in this story is the church leader – the pastor (which means shepherd) or the teacher, for example.

·         The watchman must always be receptive to hearing Christ’s voice on behalf of the sheep he watches. There are at least two ways in which this can be seen:

·         Is he receptive to the correction of our Lord?

·         Is he receptive to new ideas from the Lord? (Often the “truth” of childhood must be broken to receive the Truth indeed.)

·         The watchman opens the gate for the sheep.

·         This means that the watchman’s objective must be that the sheep hear the voice of Christ and obey Him – not the watchman. If someone leaves my class because Christ better speaks to him through another voice, then I should rejoice that Christ is heard.

·         The watchman does not so much herd as open – it is not the watchman’s faith that counts, it is the sheep’s. His job is to open the gate to the Savior.

The hireling

It does still happen that the hireling is encountered. It is not just for money that such exist. People will do things in the church for the prestige of being someone; for the inflation of the ego; for the pride that comes with being respected or many other things. What that motive is does not matter. What it is not, matters. It is not the love of God’s flock. Nothing else will do.

·         How do you tell the hireling? Wait until times of trouble. Then the hireling is nowhere to be seen.

·         Sadly, the sheep led by the hireling will be scattered. And who could wonder at that, for if the leader cannot stand the tribulation, how can the follower?

The Sheep themselves

Most of us are not called to be watchmen; we are merely sheep. Even there we may detect three characteristics of the true Christian:

·         He listens. Rather than “I’ll figure it out myself,” the Christian listens to His Lord. In this, the Christian displays a consistent inconsistency to the world. The world can’t figure out “what make him tick.” None of the usual motives work; the Christian is inexplicable.

·         He listens to Christ. It is not sufficient to have good advice; the Scripture and time of prayer must be an essential part of his life.

·         He listens only to Christ. He “runs away” from the stranger, for he discerns that this voice is not that of the Master.

That brings us, then, to the response of His hearers.

Are you the Christ?

The most important of question is this: who do you say that Jesus is?

(John 10:19-42 NIV) At these words the Jews were again divided. {20} Many of them said, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?" {21} But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" {22} Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, {23} and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. {24} The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." {25} Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, {26} but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. {27} My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. {28} I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. {29} My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all ; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. {30} I and the Father are one." {31} Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, {32} but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" {33} "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." {34} Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'? {35} If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came--and the Scripture cannot be broken-- {36} what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? {37} Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. {38} But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." {39} Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. {40} Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed {41} and many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true." {42} And in that place many believed in Jesus.

Evidence

It seems surprising to us that the Jews would ask such a question. But to that question Jesus brings a series of answers. We may discern three of them:

·         His own words. (See, for example, John 5:17-43). Jesus explicitly claims, over and over, to be the Christ. That does not give us the option of believing him to be “a good man.” Christ, Satan or a lunatic – nothing else fits the evidence.

·         The miracles. Your friends may lie for you, but even his enemies were forced to admit the miracles.

·         The Scripture itself (which “cannot be broken.”) The testimony of the Old Testament should have been sufficient. Why wasn’t it?

The hardened heart

One of the great mysteries of the faith is this: why do some believe and others, presented with the same evidence, fail to believe? Some believe this to be predestination. For myself, I think it more a case of “character counts.” If you are so cynical or so wrapped up in your own pride that you cannot be humbled, you cannot see the Christ. He is the stumbling stone, and over him you must stumble to be made whole. The test of the heart is, will you hear his voice?

Eternal security

Christ makes it clear in this passage that those who trust him cannot be taken away from him. As Paul later puts it,

(Rom 8:38-39 NIV) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Some hold this to be “once saved, always saved.” Others say no; it is possible to lose your salvation. But one thing is certain. No one else can come between you and Christ; there is no power anywhere which is so strong as to pry anything out of the hands of God Almighty. He may, however, allow you to depart, but only with tears.

End Time Implications

There are some clear implications in these passages about the end times:

·         That he has “other sheep” implies the salvation of the Gentiles – a thing of which the disciples had not yet dreamed.

·         When he has “brought out all his own” – when the harvest comes – the end of all things come. He will lead them to the New Heaven and New Earth.

·         When we get there, we will be of such character that, compared to our bodies today, we will be gods. (See, for example, Daniel 12:3 and of course 1 Corinthians 15).

Finale

I must end with this. The metaphor we have used most is that of the Good Shepherd. There is another metaphor in this passage, that of the gate. Later on Jesus will tell us this:

(John 14:6 NIV) Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The question for those listening today is this: what are you doing about it? Do you ignore him? Do you take him half-heartedly, saying “religion is all right in its place, but…” Or do you take him as Lord and Savior?

In this life, and in the next, He is the gate. The question is, are you entering by it – or just dawdling outside?

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