Knowing the Good Shepherd
1 “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 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 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.[
a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The 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 own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John 10:1-18 NIV
Although in John 10, Jesus refers to Himself as the good shepherd, it is clear that those who lead and pastor the church to be good shepherds as well. Jesus shows in John 10:14, three characteristics of the good shepherd. This describes both Jesus relationship to His followers and it also gives an outline for growing in church leadership. The term “pastor” is a word translated from the Greek word used in this passage for “shepherd.”
Shepherds were those who cared for sheep and it is worth mentioning that sheep are not particularly bright animals. Sheep don’t occasionally wander off. It is their pattern. It was well known in Jesus’ day and today that sheep are easily distracted and led astray. I read about a story that was released in the Washington Post awhile back telling about shepherds who watched in shock as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a high cliff. First one sheep wandered away and fell over, and eventually the entire flock followed it. In the end, it is said that more than 400 sheep died in the plunge.
There were 1,100 others that followed, but they survived because their fall was broken by the first ones that went over. Long before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah sadly recognized that the people of God were much more like these sheep than we’d like to admit as he wrote:
“6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah 53:6 NIV
Sheep obviously need a good shepherd to care for them. Christ followers likewise need a good shepherd to care for us as well.
“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.”
John 10:14 NIV
The good shepherd knows His sheep.
“I know my sheep…” V. 14
In the bible times, there were towns where a number of flocks of sheep were kept in a common sheepfold. The sheep, which were each named by the shepherd, learned over the course of time, the distinct voice and calling from their shepherd because the shepherd (or at least the good shepherds) led them by showing them his love and care, the sheep would respond to his voice. When the sheep heard the voice of their shepherd calling them, they would immediately respond and follow him.
Jesus is the good shepherd who calls me. He is the good shepherd whose voice I must recognize and respond too. He knows me. He is the good shepherd who not only named me, but who calls me as well.
Jesus is not only saying to His followers that He is the good shepherd. He is also saying to pastors and leaders that being a good shepherd means caring for those whom God has entrusted to us. Someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Good shepherds, Jesus teaches, must care for the flock.
The good shepherd is known by His sheep.
“… and my sheep know me.” V. 14
Sheep apparently know the voice of their shepherd. I read the following about the importance of this idea that sheep hear the voice of their shepherds recently.
“During World War I, some Turkish soldiers tried to steal a flock of sheep from a hillside near Jerusalem. The shepherd, who had been sleeping, awoke to find his flock being driven off. He couldn’t recapture them by force, so he called out to his flock with his distinctive call. The sheep listened, and returned to their rightful owner. The soldiers couldn’t stop the sheep from returning to their shepherd’s voice.”
As I reflect on the bible verses from John 10, and the story of the sheep and the soldiers, I am reminded that there are so many things in life that will try to drive the Lord’s sheep away from Him. While it may not be Turkish soldiers who try to lure me away from my Shepherd, there are a countless number of other predators that will try to drive me away from Him. It could be the busyness of life, finances, video games, television, or the internet. It could even be church activities, busy work schedules, sports for the kids, or a hectic bible college schedule.
Jesus reminds me in John 10, that I must make it a priority in my life to hear the precious call and leading of my Shepherd.
In the same way, a good shepherd of the church is one that is known by the church. A good pastor or shepherd leads his fellowship to Jesus.
The good shepherd sacrifices for His sheep.
“and I lay down my life for the sheep.”V. 15
In John 10, Jesus also identifies Himself as the good shepherd who lays down His life for his sheep.
In John 10:2, Jesus refers to a gate for the shepherd. “2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” The gate that He speaks of refers to a type of sheepfold used in the fields, not in the towns. This sheep pen was an enclosure for the sheep and it had only one entrance. The sheep pen may have been a cave or a mud or brick enclosure that may or may not have had a roof.
It is said that a shepherd actually laid his body down across the entrance to the sheep pen at night. Because the entrance was the only way in our out of the sheep pen, the shepherd would literally lie at the entrance because if any sheep tried to leave the safety of the pen, it would have to go through him. Also any predator or wolf that tried to enter the pen needed to enter through him as well.
In this way, the shepherd literally laid down his life for the sheep. That is what Jesus did. He laid down His life to protect His flock.
A good leader or shepherd of the church lays down his life for those whom he serves as well.
Thank You Jesus for being my Good Shepherd. Lead me to shepherd others closer to You this Christmas season. Amen.