The Good Shepard

The Good Shepard

 

For the past few months in my church, we’ve been going through the “I am” statements of Jesus in John. “I am the Bread of Life.”  “I am the Living Water.” “I am the Light of the World.”  “Before Abraham was I AM.”  Jesus has been revealing how we are to relate to Him.  Faith isn’t just acknowledgement its digestion, the “Bread of Life” must become apart of us.  The “Living Water” as the true source of life must be similarly drunk.  “The Light of the World” must be seen and expose the darkness.  Jesus MUST be seen as very God, not just “a good man or great teacher” for there to be saving faith.  However, Jesus up to this point has been using abstract metaphors and analogies.  In other words we relate to these things they don’t necessarily relate to us.  Bread, water and light exist, weather we partake and perceive them.  Also the relationship of the Father and the Son as persons of the Godhead is a fact completely irrespective of us or our acknowledgement.  Yet in John 10 Jesus reveals how He relates to us, personally and individually.  He is the Good Shepard.  To get the full weight of what all is happening in chapter 10 of John, you have to go back to chapter 9.  Both 9 and 10 are one long story.  In chapter 9 you have the story of a man born blind that Jesus heals, then is brought to trial to explain this miracle and eventually is excommunicated from the synagogue. 

You have to know how serious this was, to be “cast out” of the synagogue was to be treated as if you were not a Jew.  To be treated as a “gentile”.  The Greek translation of the Hebrew word for “gentile” in English translates, “stranger”.  You don’t talk to a “stranger”.  You don’t invite a “stranger” into your home.  It could be argued that now this formerly blind man was now worse off than he was before Jesus healed him. 

 

The Shepard’s Heart in Action:  Upon hearing the news Jesus immediately seeks out this man.  I can imagine, “What!  That’s it no more miracles, no more teaching.  You all go that way, you go that way.  I’ll take Peter and John.  Find this guy!”  Upon finding this man note the tenderness of Jesus, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [2] 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” Jesus looks into the eyes of a man born blind and tells him, “You are looking at the Messiah.”  Verse 39, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”  “I came so that you might see me. And those who “see”, (Those “teachers” who cast you out?) might be “judged” as blind. (Remember this guy just went through a trial and was “judged” and cast out. “You were born in utter sin, and you would teach us?”)

            At this point…  Some Pharisees nearby decide to interrupt.  Sigh…  Yep.  Folks I believe Jesus is being VERY purposeful in being vague in vs. 41- 10:5.  When you’re the Word of God you have to choose your words carefully so as not to pronounce judgement.   “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; [3] but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. 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. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  Jesus is directly confronting their legalistic self-righteousness.  Can I take some liberty and give you (hopefully informed by the rest of the chapter) what I think Jesus was actually saying to these Pharisees?  I can see Jesus interposing Himself between the Pharisees and the formerly blind man saying, “It’s because you say you see that you are blind.  Because you think you can get to God through your “righteousness” you are thieves and robbers.  And it isn’t enough that you don’t see me, that you steal my glory, that you rob My Father of His Holiness in your arrogance.  You steal from, kill and destroy those you lead.  How dare you!  I’m calling one of my own to me, do you mind?  He recognizes me for who I am.  Oh and just to be clear, if there are any “strangers” here?  It’s you.   And nobody’s listening to you.”   (If you think I’m painting Jesus in a “harsh” light read Matt. 23:13-33) At this point the Pharisees are confused.  Note: they aren’t talking.  A moment ago they were snidely interrupting, now strangely silent.  Again I’m reading in here but I don’t wonder if the Pharisees reaction isn’t the same as ours when someone reacts personally to a seemingly innocuous statement.  “Whoa!  Why so personal?  What’s it to you?”  Jesus’ explanation, “I’m the Good Shepard, it’s very personal.”  The Good Shepard Keeps His flock, the Good Shepard Cares for His Flock, and the Good Shepard is Committed to His flock.

 

The Good Shepard Keeps His flock:  “To get to them you have to go through me.”  “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus contrasts the “Good Shepard” with the thief.  What I believe Jesus is getting at is this, I wonder how shocked we would be if we really knew how comfortable we are with disappointment.  Let’s face it, nothing we’ve ever experienced ever quite lived up to what was advertised.  Be it relationship, things, jobs, power, position, etc.  Nothing has ever offered us the “life” it promised.  But here’s the real catch.  At one point we fell for it.  At one point or another we really believed.  The end result was that something was stolen.  Something inside of us was killed.  Something was destroyed.  As a result there is a fearful skeptic and cynic in all of us that either slowly doesn’t expect anything from anyone anymore.  Or that, so places our expectation on something that we’re bound to be disappointed.  It’s this little skeptic that looks at Jesus and says, “There’s got to be a catch somewhere.”  That one part of our lives that if we entrust to Him we’re afraid He won’t give us better.  That somehow if we give up this pleasure or security that feels so tangibly real, He’ll leave us wanting.  It’s to this part of us that Jesus looks straight in the eye and says, “I’ve not come to steal, kill and destroy you.  I’ve come to give you life and that abundantly.”  Jesus keeps His flock by ensuring that all good things, the things that give life, come through Him.  He also keeps His flock by giving them discernment as to what is abundant life and what will ultimately steal kill and destroy.  If it’s from Him its life (no matter what it is), if not it’s a thief and not to be followed.

 

The Good Shepard Cares for His Flock:  11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me”   vs. 3 “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

I hate to make this confession, but I’m really bad at remembering people’s names.  No really, I’m really, really bad.  Because of this flaw, too often I have the experience of talking with someone and just a few seconds into the conversation I realize that I have no idea what this person’s name is. “I know them! They go to my church for crying out loud!  John? James? I know their name starts with a J sound…”  And why is it, may I ask that THEY always know my name?  And are using it purposefully in conversation?  I’m just praying that someone walks by and greets them, “Hey James how’s it going?”  “JAMES! JAMES, that’s their name!”  I then spend the rest of the conversation using their name in every single sentence to ensure that they know I knew their name all along.  “Well, JAMES it’s great to see what God is doing in your life JAMES.  JAMES I’ll see you next week, and I’ll be praying for you JAMES.”  You know I really actually feel that I “know” someone when I can actually remember their name.

We “know” people.  We know their names, but do we really know them?  We know them, but not like their spouses or parents know them.  Does Jesus “know” us like we “know” people?  “Yeah I know him.  We met once.  He trusted in me, I saved him, every once in a while He prays, and I sanctify it and pass it along.  We’re tight like that.”

To get the full effect of the analogy Jesus is using you have to know something about sheep:

  1. Sheep are commonly considered the dumbest domesticated animals.  They are classified as prey animals which means they have absolutely no way of defending themselves, and as a result are extremely nervous and skittery running in fear at the first hint of trouble.
  2. Sheep are notoriously difficult because the overriding drive of a sheep is its appetite.  Once a sheep begins to graze it will continue until it’s stopped, or until nothing is left, destroying its own habitat. 
  3. Due to extremely poor eyesight and almost no depth perception a sheep will focus only on the patch of grass in front of it and will eat itself away from the flock and literally over a cliff. 
  4. Also sheep will over eat and literally kill themselves from the gases that accumulate as a result of their digestion process.
  5. Sheep are so fearful that they will not drink from running water.
  6. Due to their aversion to water sheep do not clean themselves.  Hence their wool is normally a filthy, oily mess.  This leaves them prime candidates for parasites and infection.  Due to the fact that their wool is designed to hide disease from predators it is quite possible for a sheep to appear healthy yet have numerous diseases.  Because they often attract flies and due to their nervous nature sheep will not sleep if their faces are bothered by insects.

 

All this makes the job of a Shepard possibly the most labor intensive of all livestock farming and makes the relationship between the Shepard and each sheep the most intimate relationship.  The Shepard must know each sheep, it’s eating habits, and its position in the flock at all times.  The Shepard must lead the sheep to grazing, then to still water.  The Shepard has to physically, meticulously, and continually inspect each sheep for disease willing to “get his hands dirty”.  Not only does the Shepard have to protect the flock and each sheep from itself, He also has to constantly be vigilant in looking out for predators, and be willing to intervene and defend in a moments notice. 

Jesus in describing Himself as “The Good Shepard” wasn’t offering us any compliments.  Rather He was indicating how much He “knows” us.  We’re wayward, ruled by our appetites, focused on just what’s in front of us, and that we’re prone to overindulge.  We’re dirty, messy, and tend to want to hide our injuries and diseases (sins).  We’re skittery fearful of everything including the Shepard.  Jesus doesn’t just “know our names” like He looked them up in the book of life, He knows US, INDIVIDUALLY and PERSONALLY.  Jesus looks at each individual in the eye and says, “I know you___. I know all about you.  I care for you.  How much do I care for you?  I willingly lay down my life for you.”

 

The Good Shepard is Committed to the Flock:

 

13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

 

Jesus wants us to know exactly what kind of relationship He has with the Father and with us.  He’s not a hired hand. 

I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve when I was nineteen.  Due to the fact that I graduated from Boot Camp in December, I was able to spend Christmas with my family before I had to report to my next duty station.  The day came when I had to leave, and the plan was that I was going to take a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to Pensacola, Fla.  I don’t remember specifically what happened but it ended up that I missed my bus. (and I think it was my fault)  So there I was, needing to be in Florida in 10 hours, and I had no way of getting there.  My Dad took in the situation, and knowing how much trouble I’d be in, called His boss and told Him He wasn’t going to be at work tomorrow.  He then phoned my Mom and told her what was happening.  He then drove me through the night to Pensacola letting me sleep so I could be ready for the next day.  When we got to the Base he then waited and made sure that I was checked in and comfortable.  Then taking nap for a couple of hours He then drove the seven hours back to Atlanta alone.  Why did my Dad do all that?  It’s because He loves me. 

 Brothers and sisters, that is the ghost of a shadow of a reflection, of how the Father loves the Son. The Father isn’t an “employer”.  Jesus wasn’t “hired” to save us. 

The Father and the Son are committed to each other, and together are committed towards you and me.  The desire is that you and I experience the same love that the Father has towards the Son and the Son towards the Father.  How committed?  Jesus willingly lays down His life to accomplish this.  No one is “twisting his arm”.  How can we know this?  Jesus could have said no.  18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” 

Jesus would have us know, that not only does He have a choice, the Father is equally pleased with the Son regardless of the choice.  That’s what “I have the authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” means.  Not only could Jesus have said no, He could have said no with absolutely no personal consequence.

Jesus could have said no when the first whip strike tore the flesh from His back.  He could have said no when the nails were hammered in.  He could have said no after the first two minutes of the most brutal form of execution known to man.  He could have said no when the Father began to turn His face away and finally the reality of what really awaited Him was seen by Jesus.  He could have said no in the midst of pain and agony unimaginable that He would cry out, “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!!!”  He could have said, “They aren’t worth this!!!  He doesn’t deserve this!!!  She isn’t worth this!  They deserve this not me!!”   Jesus would look in each individual pair of eyes and say, “I CHOOSE the CROSS for YOU.  Because your mine, I care for you, I love you.  THIS is how committed I am to you.  And THIS is how much I want you to know how much the Father loves you. I freely choose the wrath of God against your sin. I choose to endure it until ‘It is finished’.  So you could see not only how much I care for you , but to display to you that THIS is how much the Father loves you.”

 

“How deep the Father’s love for us? How vast beyond all measure?  That He could give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure?  How great the pain of searing loss!  The Father turns His face away!  As wounds which mar the chosen one, bring many Sons to glory.  Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulders.  Ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.  It was my sin He CHOOSE to bear, until it was accomplished.  His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.”

 

It is in light of this commitment, this care, this keeping, that Psalms 23 gives us perspective of the trusting sheep: 

 

23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. 
3 He restores my soul.

           

“The LORD provides for me, He feeds me.  He restores my soul not with a torrent, but leads me to the still waters of His grace and bids me drink.”

 

He leads me in paths of righteousness 
for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;

“Even in a dark valley where I cannot see where I’m going.  I’m confident, because you are with me.  You are leading me for YOUR name’s sake.  So because of your presence, and because I know it’s YOUR reputation at stake (not mine) I have no reason to fear.” 

“…your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”

 

“I look at your direction and your discipline, your protection, and am comforted. Because you would not do this if you didn’t care for me.”

 

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

 

“Even though wolves howl, and lions roar and prowl about.  You lay a banquet in front of me urging me to, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good…’”

 

“…you anoint my head with oil;”

(While possibly referencing David’s kingship, in keeping with the attitude of the sheep with the Shepard it’s likely that David was referring to the practice of pouring olive oil on the heads of sheep to keep insects away, thus allowing them to sleep. [Ref. Psalm 4] Given the context of the verse it’s possible that David was thanking God for not only protecting and allowing rest from the “big” enemies, but also the small nagging annoyances.)

 

“…my cup overflows…”

“Not only do you fill my life with grace and mercy, but you are slovenly generous.  It’s not just to the brim of the cup; it’s pouring out all over the place.”

 

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. 

(Possible Hebrew translation)  “Because of His goodness so far, I know that I will see ONLY His unchanging love for the rest of my life, and I will dwell with Him forever.

 

 

 

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