JESUS TAKES CARE OF US

 

Week of March 18, 2007

 

Bible Verses:  John 10:1-5,7-15,17-18.

 

Biblical Truth: Like a good shepherd, Jesus knows, sustains, and protects His sheep. He even sacrificed Himself for them.

 

He Leads Me: John 10:1-5.

 

[1]  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. [2]  But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. [3]  To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. [4]  When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. [5]  And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”   [NASU]

 

The solemn Truly, truly opens the sustained metaphors that follow, all based on first-century sheep farming. The details would be familiar to John’s readers. The shepherd knows his sheep, is recognized by the watchman and by the sheep alike, and leads them out for their own good. Several Old Testament passages reprimand the shepherds of Israel for their dereliction of duty [Ezek. 34; Isaiah 56:9-12; Jer. 23:1-4; 25:32-38; Zech. 11], or portray God as the ultimate shepherd of Israel [Ps. 23:1; 80:1; Isaiah 40:11]. If this background is primary, then in the context of Jesus’ ministry the thieves and robbers are the religious leaders who are more interested in fleecing the sheep than in guiding, nurturing and guarding them. In addition to this Old Testament background, one can scarcely ignore the extensive use of sheep/shepherd imagery in the Synoptic Gospels [Mt. 9:36; 18:12-14; Mk. 6:34; 14:27; Lk. 15:1-7]. Three main themes (door, shepherd and sheep) are introduced in verses 1-5 and are expanded in the rest of the chapter.

 

[1]  There were two types of sheepfolds in that area. The first kind was found in villages and consisted of a room or enclosure with a regular gate or door. The word used here is the usual word for a courtyard, and thus may denote that the sheep are herded close alongside the house. The fold envisaged was one with stout walls and one door guarded by a doorkeeper. Into such an enclosure many shepherds together would drive their flocks when they returned to the village at night, and at such a place the sheep would be in the care of a doorkeeper. The second kind of sheepfold is that kind described in verse 7. If a man does not enter by the door in the normal way but climbs over the wall, then it is clear that he is there for no good purpose.

 

[2-3]  By contrast if a man enters by the door he is seen to be the shepherd. He has the right to enter and this is recognized when the doorkeeper opens to him. When the shepherd comes in he calls the sheep, who know his voice. The Eastern shepherd often has an individual call for each of his sheep and it is this that is in mind here. The sheep know their shepherd and they recognize the call he gives his own. More, they respond to it, and in this way he leads them out.

 

[4-5]  When he has called all his own sheep out of the fold the shepherd takes them to their destination by walking before them. This is a very different picture from that of driving the sheep which is more familiar in lands like Australia in these days. The sheep follow because they know their shepherd’s voice. The case is different when a stranger attempts to take them. They certainly will not follow a stranger. The reason is given in terms of the voice again. They do not know the voice of strangers and therefore they run away. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice but do not know and do not respond to that of a stranger.

 

He Gives Me Abundant Life: John 10:7-10.

 

[7]  Jesus therefore said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. [8]  All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. [9]  I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. [10]  The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”   [NASU]

 

In verses 7-18 Jesus applies the parable to Himself. There are two ways of viewing Him, as the Door and as the Good Shepherd, and He deals with them successively. Both have to do with salvation. As the Door He is the one way of entrance into salvation. As the Good Shepherd He is the One who cares for the sheep and provides for their salvation at the cost of His life. The two figures lend themselves to different contrasts. When Jesus considers Himself as the Door He stigmatizes those who do not use the Door as thieves and robbers. When He thinks of Himself as the Good Shepherd He thinks rather of hireling shepherds. But both have in common a stress on personal gain on the part of the persons opposed and an absence of interest in the well-being of the sheep. Jesus is showing what it means to see Him as the Good Shepherd. The essential thing is the laying down of His life. But while the earthly shepherd is a useful illustration there is a difference from anything earthly, for Jesus insists that He has power both to lay down His life and to take it again.

 

[7]  Jesus resumes His discourse. We might have expected some explanation of Christ’s function as the Shepherd, but instead we have the new thought introduced that He is the door. Door is used metaphorically in other places in the New Testament [e.g. Luke 13:24; Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9, etc.] but this is the only passage in which Jesus Himself is regarded as the door. The thought is not unlike that of 1:51, where Jesus is the ladder connecting heaven and earth, or 14:6, where Jesus is the Way, but here it gets its force from the imagery of the sheepfold. The image of the sheepfold here is different from that of verses 1-5. This fold was nothing more than a circle of rocks in the countryside into which the sheep could be driven. There was no door, just an opening across which the shepherd would place his body at night to keep the sheep from wandering out and beasts from entering in. There is but one door to a fold, and sheep and shepherds alike must enter by this door. There is no other way for them to go in and out. Thus Jesus is the only entrance way to salvation.

 

[8]  Jesus contrasts Himself with His predecessors. He must have in view the whole Jewish hierarchy of His day. They were not interested in the wellbeing of the sheep but in their own advantage. The Sadducees in particular were known to make quite a lot of money out of temple religion and there are denunciations of the Pharisees and the scribes for covetousness. It is perhaps a little strange to have this reference to religious leaders when Jesus is speaking of Himself as the door. We would have anticipated it rather when He is developing the idea of the Good Shepherd. The meaning appears to be that if men are to bring other men into God’s fold they must first enter it themselves. And the only way of entrance is through the one door. These men declined to come to God through Christ. They therefore stamped themselves as impostors. All who seek to bring men life, but themselves do not enter into life through Christ, stand condemned. Jesus has already pointed out that the sheep will take no notice of strangers. Now He says that the sheep did not hear these robbers. Those who really are the sheep, given by the Father, have spiritual discernment. They await the voice of their true Shepherd, the One who provides rest, safety and food for His sheep.

 

[9]  Jesus repeats that He is the door but this time omits of the sheep. Here the stress is on Jesus’ function. As the door Jesus provides three blessings to His sheep: saved, safety (go in and out), and satisfied (find pasture). The words through me are in an emphatic position. It is He and no other who enables men to enter and receive these blessings. There is a certain exclusiveness about the door. If there is one door then men must enter by it or stay outside. Saved is the comprehensive term for the whole process whereby men are delivered from the consequences of their sin and brought into the blessing of God. To enter through Jesus means the same thing here as to “eat” of Jesus, “drink” of Jesus, or “come” to Jesus earlier in John’s Gospel. It means to believe on Him and trust in Him as the only means of salvation.

 

[10]  The thought is further developed by a contrast with the thief. His interest is entirely selfish. He steals or kills for food or even destroys the sheep. He comes only for harm to the flock and with no interest in its welfare. Christ by contrast came for the benefit of the sheep. He came that they might have life and not only life, but a more abundant life. The abundant life is one in which we are content in the knowledge that God’s grace is more than sufficient for our needs, that nothing can suppress it, and that God’s favor toward us is unending.

 

He Laid Down His Life for Me: John 10:11-15,17-18.

 

[11]  “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. [12]  He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. [13]  He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. [14]  I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, [15]  even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. [17]  For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. [18]  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”    [NASU]

 

As verses 7-10 depict Jesus as the door for the sheep, so verses 11-18, picking up on another expression from verses 1-5, portray Jesus as the shepherd. He does not merely risk His life, He lays it down, in line with the Father’s will [17-18]. Far from being accidental, Jesus’ death is precisely what qualifies Him to be the good shepherd – a point presupposed in Heb. 13:20, which acknowledges Jesus to be that great Shepherd of the sheep. And by His death, far from exposing His flock to further ravages, He draws them to Himself [12:32]. Jesus’ death is here presented as a sacrifice peculiarly directed to the redemption of His sheep. This emphasis on the intentionally of Jesus’ sacrifice is itself grounded on Jesus’ peculiar intimacy with His sheep, an intimacy whose proper analogy is the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son [14-15].

 

[11]  Now comes another of Jesus’ resounding “I am” declarations. That He is the Good Shepherd has meant much to every generation of Christians. It makes an instant appeal to the depths within a person to consider the care for the sheep that is involved in the title. It is interesting to bear in mind that while there are many things that a shepherd does for his flock, when Jesus speaks of Himself in the capacity of Good Shepherd He immediately goes on to say the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. This must have been a fairly rare occurrence among Palestinian shepherds. But for Jesus it is the characteristic thing. It is that for which the metaphor is chosen. The great act of care for the sheep which He is impressing on His hearers by this figure is that of laying down the life. Moreover when the Palestinian shepherd did die in defense of his sheep that was an accident. He planned to live for them, not die for them. With Jesus, however, death for the sheep was the set purpose. There is an element of voluntary acceptance of death in the expression lays down His life which ought not to be missed. Finally the death of the Palestinian shepherd meant disaster for his sheep. The death of the Good Shepherd means life for His sheep.

 

[12-13]  Jesus contrasts the behavior of the man who is not really the shepherd at all, but simply a servant, paid to do his work. His interest is in his wages, not the sheep. Such a man lacks pride of ownership and the care that proceeds from possession. When he sees the wolf coming he does not go into danger. he abandons the sheep and runs. The result is that the wolf seizes and scatters the sheep. Jesus, however, gives His life for the sheep without condition.

 

[14-15]  Again comes the majestic assertion that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, this time not directly linked with His laying down of His life. Instead there is first put forward the relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep and arising from that a reiteration of His determination to lay down His life for them. Being the Good Shepherd He knows His sheep. And His sheep know Him. There is a relationship of mutual knowledge. And this reciprocal knowledge is not superficial but intimate. It is likened to the knowledge wherewith Jesus knows the Father and the Father knows Him. It may be that the love implied in this relationship elicits the following statement that Jesus lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus here speaks directly in the first person, I lay down My life,  whereas in verse 11 He used the third person, the good shepherd lays down His life.

 

[17]  Throughout the discourse the thought that Jesus will lay down His life recurs. Here it is given as the reason for the Father’s loving the Son. One might perhaps have expected rather the thought that the Father loves the Son for what He is and that this leads to the cross. But the meaning here is that the death of Jesus is the will of God for Him. And because He is in perfect harmony with the will of God He goes forward to that death. Thus the Father’s love is the recognition from the Father’s side of the perfect community between them in this matter. The last clause of the verse should probably be read as a purpose clause: Jesus lays down His life in order to take it up again. Jesus died in order to rise, and by His rising to proceed toward His ultimate glorification [12:23; 17:5] and the pouring out of the Spirit [7:37-39] so that others, too, might live.

 

[18]  Nowhere is John’s view of Jesus as in complete command of every situation brought out more strongly than here. The Lord’s death does not take place as the result of misadventure or the might of His foes or the like. No man takes His life from Him. Far from this being the case, He Himself lays it down and does so completely of His own volition. He claims authority both to do this and also to take it again. And, characteristically, the whole is linked with the Father. He gave commandment to this effect and Jesus accordingly is but doing His will.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      In these verses, what are the characteristics of the Good Shepherd and what does each one tell you about Jesus. By contrast, how may thieves and robbers be recognized. By what means were the priests and Pharisees trying to enter the sheep pen? What warning does this give you about false teachers today?

 

2.      What happens to the sheep who know and follow the Good Shepherd [see also verses 27-29]? What is involved on our part to enjoy this kind of relationship with Jesus? How can we grow in the ability to hear and know His voice? How do we discern His voice from all the other voices around us?

 

3.      What is implied by the fact that Jesus and his sheep know each other just as He and his Father know each other [14-15]? What type of “knowing” is this and how can we grow in this knowledge?

 

References:

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.