We have all been on a journey that never seems to end, and that the longer it goes on, the more wearisome it becomes. As I sit and write this, I am mindful that we are a year on from all this Covid-madness began. As I find myself reflecting, I think what I find most amusing is how I so underestimated the scope of it all. Looking back to last March, I find it almost humorous how back then, I thought this season would last a few weeks, and amazed how I seemed to enjoy the novelty of it all. Then that it would be a few months. Now, there is nothing novel about it, only weariness.
We are all tired, we have weathered difficult days, the darkness of winter, and as we come into the newness of spring, there seems to be little new about life! We find ourselves unable to trust the guidelines and time frames coming from the government, unwilling to put too much hope in a ‘normal’ summer because we do not want to disappoint ourselves. COVID-19 is a journey that we have all been walking together; there have been moments when paths have been different. Collectively we find ourselves on a road that does not seem to end, wearied by the surface and dulled by the scenery. We find ourselves longing to go back, yet we know that we have no choice but to persevere and keep going forward. This is the reality for every person who is going through COVID-19. Furthermore, it is the reality of life; there is no choice but to keep moving and hope that we are on the right road and going the right direction.
We are all moving forward, but what is different for the Disciples of Jesus is that we have one who goes before us. For those who have placed their faith in Christ, in every season, on every road, we have the hope and assurance that the one who made all things, knows all things, and holds all things together goes ahead of us, calling our name and guiding us. So whether we find ourselves walking through the Dark Valley, we do so insight of the Shepherd King, who walks ahead of us and whose voice guides us. That is what I love about our passage, the Image and hope of Jesus as Leader (v3) and guide (v4). We are all travelling, and as we travel, we all trust something to lead and direct us on this road of life through all the ups and downs and seasons. Let us consider why we must look to Jesus and make sure that he is our guide.
Passage: John 10:1-18
“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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his 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 recognise a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They 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 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. 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 accord. I have the authority to lay it down and the authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
The Good Shepherd has Come
Shepherd Imagery can seem quaint to us; we always associate it with Jesus. Yet, for the Jewish people in the context of which Jesus was teaching, it was imagery that was familiar and had certain connotations. Firstly, it was an agrarian society, so it was a role that lots of people did and understood. Additionally, it was a role that people knew to be dangerous and require commitment. Sheep did not stay in a settled and fenced field. They roamed barren lands looking for patches of grass and greenery, and where they went, so did the shepherd. Finally, it was Imagery that had connotations of leadership for the Jewish people. God in the Old Testament presents himself as Shepherd, and God in the Old Testament called those in leadership in Israel to be Spiritual Shepherd of his people. Yet, their history proved them nothing but frauds. Hence, in Ezekiel 34, God declares that he will shepherd his people because those who claimed they would do not:
’‘ Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! 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 those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord.”1
‘‘ “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord : ‘ “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. ‘2
The people who should be leading and feeding God’s chosen people were more interested in leading and feeding themselves. Thus, the Lord said that he would take on that responsibility himself. John 10:1-18 declares to us who that Good Shepherd is and why we must look to him. Jesus is the consummation of that promise, so we look to him and listen to his voice as he guides us down this road of life to known the fullness of life with him.
The Shepherd We Can Trust and Follow (1-6)
As much as Jesus is teaching about himself here, he is also rebuking the Jewish leadership for failing to fulfil their God-given mandate. Thus, the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd is contrasted with the Imagery of the Pharisees and the Jewish leadership as bad shepherds who failed to give Gods’ chosen people proper spiritual guidance.
We know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the true Shepherd because he does not sneak into the sheep via over means, he is honest and open and comes to the Gate, and he is recognised and welcome in. The gatekeeper may be a reference to the changing of the baton with John the Baptist, regardless Jesus is the true Shepherd and the one to whom his sheep must look, trust and follow.
His sheep trust Him because he knows them. He is not like some hired hand who cares nothing for the animals he has been called to protect. Jesus is not one who will abandon them at the first sign of trouble. He is committed to his sheep because they are his. He has bought them for a price (we will see later). Thus, his sheep trust his commitment and listen to his voice as he guided them. In a world of noise, there is one sound that we must listen to and follow. Notice the thrust of verses 3-5, the sheep know his voice, and it is by his voice that he leads them. In all the chaos of our humanity, of all the voices shouting for our attention, there is one that remains constant and guides: the question is, can we recognise it?
It is by his voice that he calls us to himself, and it is by his voice that he directs us. Notice that again, his voice leads the sheep out, then as he goes on ahead to make sure the way is safe, he is still speaking,, and his sheep are still following because Jesus is the Shepherd that we can follow and trust, and it is by his example and voice he leads the way. Even today, he is still speaking loud and clear amid all the chaos of the world, amid all the confusion of Covid and life. How? Through his word.
The word of God is the voice of the Shepherd and a light to our feet, so as we follow Him, we must be clear that it is him we follow by knowing his voice through the word and the work of the Holy Spirit. We know his voice and trust his voice because he knows each of us, and by knowing his voice, we also know which voices to avoid. These sheep are not aimless animals following whatever speaks loudest, notice verse 5: “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” Do you know his voice? Jesus is the Good Shepherd we can trust and follow, so let us make sure we know his voice speaking today via his Word through the Power of the Spirit at work in us after we have first responded to his voice, then let’s make sure it is him we are listening to.
He Knows the Way and is the Way (7-10)
Jesus declared a few chapters ago: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” now he speaks again with the same thrust and power as he declares that “He is the Gate.” The Pharisees have not quite understood the parable’s imagery so far, so here Jesus changes the imagery to make clear what he means. His point is simple, his sheep trust him and follow him not only because he knows the way but because he is the way! To follow him is to walk the right way and to be assured of your destination in the end.
His sheep known him, his voice, and the assurance of all that he offers; thus, they walk with him. Furthermore, his sheep know that it is not by their walking that they will arrive but by his work (on the cross). The Sheep follow and walk the road of life, not hoping they will soon arrive, but in the certainty that they have already arrived through faith. Jesus’ reference of himself as the gate seems to allude to a messianic reading of Psalm 118:20: “This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.” The point is clear — he is the Good Shepherd because he is the Way to eternal Life. It is not the strivings of humankind that will save them, not the acquisition of possessions, the solicitation of power, nor the schemes of success. It is not by our effort, our walking, or our goodness we will know the good pastures: it is by faith in Christ.
He is the gate of life and the only gate of life! Thus, all who offer an alternative are thieves and robbers because there is no other way but Jesus. Yet, his sheep know this because they know his voice, and they trust his voice; hence they do not listen to the lies of the world. His Sheep know him, and his sheep trust him, and they recognise that only He is the way. Furthermore, in recognising him, they are wise to the schemes of those who might oppose him, as much as they know that in him is life, and life to the full; they to know to be wise to the schemes of all who might oppose him because they are bent on death and destruction.
What voice are you listening to? His voice beckons you to him, and through him – it offers salvation and green pastures through nothing but him. All the other voices whisper promises of glory but are lies of deceit and destruction; his sheep are wise to his voice; hence the go in and come out and enjoy the assure of trusting in him. Are we listening to him? Because he knows the way, and he is the way!
The Shepherd Who Loves His Sheep (11-18)
There have been good Shepherd before, leaders who have most lead as God had called them to King David, King Solomon, Moses, Joshua. Yet, even though they were faithful, they all stumbled and fell. They were not really good shepherds, but they tried to be. Yet, Jesus is the good Shepherd, not only because he was always faithful and obedient to God – even on to death. As he begins to conclude, Jesus reminds us why he, as the good Shepherd, is unique among all the Leaders of humankind. I live in a context that has a somewhat romantic notion of a Shepherd, some nice old farmer roaming the mountains with his sheepdog in tow, checking his sheep grazing a nice well-fenced field. Idyllic, yet not the idea here. Jesus is not painting a nice picture for your wall. He is painting a picture that captures the reality of life and the reality of his love, loyalty and uniqueness. The word Good (Kalos) used here could equally mean noble. The Shepherds job was not an easy one. It carried with it risks and exposure to the hazards of the wilds. It was relentless because it was 24/7. In Summary, a Good Shepherd was hard to find!
Jesus employs a contrast to highlight his Goodness as he teaches about the reality of the hired hand — the bad shepherd. The hired hand has no commitment to the shepherd; he has only taken the job for payment; thus, he will not risk himself for the Sheep. He does not love the sheep. When danger comes, he will flee because he would rather save himself than the sheep he agreed to protect. The hired hand is the selfish leadership of Jesus day, those who by their demeanour and position would suggest themselves’s as good. However, they were no better than hired hand as they used their positions not for the Glory of God buy to glorify themselves; As they advanced their cause and not His; as they built their own Kingdoms at the expense of the true King. They represent all human leaders who oppose God. The Good Shepherd contrasts to their ugliness because he owns his sheep, highlighting Jesus commitment to his Sheep. Furthermore, his sheep have been bought with a high price – his own blood.
How good is this Shepherd? He is so good and committed to his sheep that he is willing to die to protect his sheep, and of his volition, will lay down his life for them. He is so committed to the flock under his care that to protect them, he will die for them. It is not that he will suffer death because he is unable to protect them, or because he can be overcome by an opposing force, no he wills to live and project: yet, it is his by his death that he offers his flock the utmost protection because it is by his death they can live forever. This is perhaps the most important feature of understanding Jesus as Shepherd. He will lay down his life for the sheep. It is so important that Jesus repeats the point some four times (verses 11b, 15,17,18. The word ‘to die’ used by Jesus is the same one that is used in Johns Gospel in a sacrificial context, specifically Jesus sacrificial death on behalf of the elect. The point is the same here, Jesus is a good shepherd who we can look to and follow not only because he knows the way, is the way, but because by his death (and resurrection), he makes the way. Jesus is committed to his sheep, even to death, in obedience to the call of God in his life. The wonderful thing is that this love and commitment is not limited to a select group, as Jesus mentioned his other sheep from another fold, he is making clear the reach of his voice and the extent of his call – he is referring to all outside of the nation of Israel who responds to his voice! For the first time in Johns, Gospel, Jesus highlights the extent of his saving and the scope of his reach. Jesus is the good shepherd we can trust and look to because he is a generous shepherd who has room for all in his flock. All who have faith in Him known his voice and respond to it.
His death was always the plan. It was not some scheme of a man that caught him out. It was always the way! He would give life to all who follow him by his Death, and he would prove his authority over death by living – this is why he is the GOOD shepherd. Thus, the final and greatest attribute of Jesus goodness, that which is unique to him alone, is his authority over life and death. It was by his authority that he willingly laid, and it was by his authority that he will take it up again. Jesus is the good shepherd that we can look to and follow in every season because not only does he know how to lead us through this life, but through his death and resurrection, he leads us into eternal life. He leads in life now and will lead us into the fullness of life to come — enjoying the presence of God forever. On behalf of his sheep, the death he embraced on Good Friday is vanquished as he takes his life up again come Sunday. This is the message of Easter, and this is why we trust him as the good Shepherd and listen to his voice as he guides us now through covid or whatever we face into all that is ahead. The question is: What voice are you listening to?
Conclusion: Listen to His Lead
John has made clear that the Sheep of Jesus listen to his voice, and that is the assurance and wisdom as they follow him. They listen to his voice, and they know to trust his voice even when the world might say other. In the verses that follow this passage, the worth of that listening is highlighted by the crowd’s follow as John tells how they were divided by what they had just heard. The inference was that some were wise and listened to Him, yet most were fools and convinced themselves that their way was the right way to live and said of him: “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”3 A reaction that reminds us when it comes to Jesus that there is no middle ground, we will either listen to him, trust in his voice as he leads us his way or something else. Consider the challenge of CS Lewis
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
– CS Lewis, Mere Christianity.
So here is our choice in this journey of life, we either listen to and trust the voice of the Good Shepherd as he leads us out and along the way of life, certain in the knowledge that he knows the way and is the way, that he gives us life not by our effort, following or finishing; but by grace through faith and the price he paid on the Cross, or we listen to the whispers of the world and put ourselves at the mercy of their deceit and destruction. Jesus makes clear that despite what seems his sheep do, listen to him. So, are you listening to Him as He leads us not through Covid, but every season of life until we can enjoy the fullness of Life?