Jesus – Our Shepherd

 

Week of December 30, 2012

 

Bible Verses:  John 10:7-16.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you trust and follow Jesus as the Shepherd of your life.

 

Jesus Our Shepherd Gives Us Life:  John 10:7-10.

 

[7]  So Jesus again said to them, "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 listen to them. [9]  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.  [ESV]

 

[7-10]  The parable of the Good Shepherd in 10:1-6 is familiar and generally understood because it has been told so many times. But when the parable was spoken the first time, it was not understood [10:6]. Thus, in developing the image in verses 7-10, Christ changed it slightly, this time speaking of a second kind of sheep pen and of Himself as the door of the sheep rather than as the shepherd. This development throws more light on Christ’s parable and prepared for the explicit identification of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This second kind of sheep pen was not public in that it was not shared by several shepherds as the sheep pen was in 10:1-6. This sheep pen was in the countryside, where the shepherds would keep their flocks in good weather. Presumably this is where the shepherds were keeping their sheep at the time of Christ’s birth when the angels appeared to them and invited them to Bethlehem. This type of sheep pen was nothing more than a rough circle of rocks piled into a wall with a small open space, a gate, through which the shepherd would drive the sheep at nightfall. Since there was no gate to close – just an opening – the shepherd would keep the sheep in and wild animals out by lying across the opening. He would sleep there, in this case literally becoming the gate. Clearly, this is the kind of sheep pen about which Jesus is speaking in the further development to the parable. In this section Jesus is the gate. He speaks of leading His flock in rather than of leading them out as in 10:3. He talks about the church itself rather than about calling the church out of Judaism. In other words, He is dealing now with a particular body of people committed to His care and He is revealing the relationship in which He stands to them. What does this image teach us about Christianity then? What does the gate teach us about Jesus Christ? First, it obviously teaches that there is only one gate, meaning that Jesus is the sole way to God. This point is evident from the nature of the sheep pen that Christ had in view, and it is reinforced from many of Christ’s other sayings [e.g., John 14:6]. This is crucial for Christianity. But how could Jesus make such claims? If He were only a man, they are preposterous, of course. On the other hand, if He is who He said He is and if He did what He said He would do, they make sense. Jesus claimed to be God and to have come to earth to die for our sin. We deserve to die for our own sin, both physically and spiritually. We deserve to be separated from God. But Jesus died in our place. He who was sinless accepted the guilt of our sin and died for us. No one else could do it, but He could and did. Thus, He literally became the gate by which sinful people can approach God the Father. There are two types of people who come before Jesus as the gate of the sheep pen. The first word, thieves, refers to one who steals cunningly or by stealth. The other word, robbers refers to one who steals by violence. In the religious world both types are prominent. The first type uses cunning, as Satan did in his approach to Eve in the Garden. In this category are all who raise doubts in the minds of others; such as, unbelieving minsters, Sunday School teachers, and professors of theology. By their questions they turn the minds of their learners away from Christ and instead cause them to rely upon the supposed wisdom of the teacher. The other type is violent, for he thrusts himself into a place of authority in the church and demands that others follow him. There is only one gate, according to Christ’s image; and Christ Himself is the gate. The first lesson of the image, then, is an exclusive one – there is only one door. But there is a second lesson that is correspondingly broad. It is that anyone may enter it. Jesus indicates this in verse 9: if anyone enters by me, he will be saved. But you must enter in; this is the third lesson that Christ’s image teaches. To enter, in this verse, is the same thing as to eat of Jesus, drink of Jesus, or come to Jesus, all of which John has mentioned earlier in his Gospel. It means to believe on Him or trust Him and do this personally. Because Jesus gave Himself for us by dying for our sin, we find that He becomes ours through our believing on Him, just as surely as we have become His by the same act. Finally, these verses also speak of three great benefits of entering into God’s flock through Christ. They are consequences of belief in one sense. In another sense they are inducements to come. First, Jesus says that anyone who enters in will be saved. By entering in through Christ we immediately escape sin’s penalty, so that we need not fear our sins will ever rise up against us. This is justification. Then, too, we also enter into a life in which we are increasingly delivered from sin’s power. The Bible calls this sanctification. Finally, we look forward to a day marked by the return of Christ or else our passing into His presence through death, in which even the presence of sin will be gone and our salvation will be perfected. The Bible calls this glorification. Second, Jesus promises that anyone who enters in will be safe. This is the point of His reference to going in and out . To be able to go in and out of the sheep pen means security, for in Christ’s day when a man could go in or out without fear it meant that his country was at peace and that the ruler had the affairs of the nation under control. When danger threatened, the people were shut up in the cities under siege. Thus, Jesus promises safety for those who trust Him. Third, He also promised that they would be satisfied, for He said that they would be able to go in and out and find pasture. Palestine is a barren land for the most part, and good pasture was not easy to find. Consequently, to be assured of good pasture was a wonderful thing. It spoke of prosperity and contentment, of health and happiness. It was in this sense that David wrote of the care of his Good Shepherd: He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul, he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake [Psalm 23:2-3]. In 10:10, Jesus contrasts Himself with the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But what is the full or abundant life that Jesus gives? It is not necessarily a long life, nor a life free from sorrow or sickness. The abundant life, as Scripture speaks of it, is, above all, the contented life, in which contentment comes from the confidence that God is equal to every emergency and does indeed supply all our genuine needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. The contented life is the life of the sheep who finds himself in the hands of a good shepherd. There will be dangers and various storms of life. Still, in the hands of a good shepherd the sheep is content and life is bountiful. Contentment means satisfaction which means to have enough. The abundant life is, therefore, 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. But before one can know the abundant life, he must first know life. That is, he must first be made alive through faith in Christ. In order to better understand the meaning of the abundant life in a biblical framework, we need to look at the twenty-third psalm. This psalm is, above all, the psalm of the contented life. Not to be in want is to be content, and this state can exist only when the sheep is in the care of a good shepherd. In the psalm David tells us that he is content in the Lord in reference to five things. First, he does not lack rest, indicated by he makes me lie down in green pastures. Second, the psalmist tells us that he does not lack guidance. For the Lord leads me beside still waters … he leads me in paths of righteousness. Third, David tells us that he does not lack safety, even in the presence of great danger. Strong faith comes from having faith tested. Patience comes from having lived through tribulations. This means that life will not necessarily be smooth under the direction of our Shepherd. He will sometimes lead us through rough places. Nevertheless, as we go through them we can know of His ability to keep us from falling and to present us before the presence of His Father with great joy. Fourth, Psalm 23 speaks of the shepherd’s provision for each physical need of the flock [5]. David knew of God’s great love and provision and his heart was made merry because of it. Finally, having spoken of all these provisions, David adds no less gladly that he does not lack for a heavenly home [6]. He is blessed in this life, but it is not in this life only that he knows God’s goodness. He will know it forever.

 

Jesus Our Shepherd Sacrificed Himself for Us:  John 10:11-13.

 

[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.  [ESV]

 

[11-13]  The claim of the Lord Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd is the fourth of the I am sayings in John’s Gospel. The Greek word translated good means good in the sense of being morally good; but it also means ‘beautiful’, ‘winsome’, ‘lovely’, ‘attractive’. We note here that Jesus is making an exclusive claim in this verse. He is not ‘a’ good shepherd, as though he were one of many in that class. But He is the good shepherd. There have been other good shepherds of course. But compared to Jesus, we see that any other goodness is only a relative good as compared to other human shepherds. But Jesus is the absolute standard of what a good shepherd is and does. But why does Jesus claim this absolute standard? What is He like or what has He done that He should bear this title as the good shepherd? Verse 11 and 14 answer this question in two parts. First, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He lays down His life for the sheep. Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He knows His sheep and directs them properly. In both of these aspects Jesus is above all other men or women. The point Jesus is making in verse 11 is that He can be called the Good Shepherd primarily because He gives His life for the sheep. This is obvious, first, because He repeats it four times [11,15,17,18], but also because it is emphasized in contrast to the hired hand who runs away when danger threatens. The good shepherd is the one who sticks by his sheep, who defends them, and who will even die for them if necessary. This is the main point. What is amazing is the amount of teaching about Christ’s death that occurs over and beyond this. First, we are led to see that the death about which Jesus speaks is voluntary. This is evident in two places: in verse 11, which says: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, and in verses 17 and 18, which add, For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 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. We must never think, in contemplating the death of Christ, that this death was somehow an accident or, even worse, a tragedy. This was and is the great turning point of history. Second, we are told that His death was vicarious; that is, Jesus died not for His own sin – He had none – but for ours and in our place: He laid down His life for the sheep. The meaning is this: We are sinners; as sinners we deserve to die (both physically and spiritually); but Christ willingly died in our place, taking our punishment, so that we might be set free from sin and its penalty to serve God. Third, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ was specific; that is, He died for a specified number of people designated in this verse as His sheep. We cannot know precisely who these are for whom Christ died. But Jesus does know them and died for them. Finally, we are told the cause of the Shepherd’s death for the sheep. It is because He cares for them [13]. In the second place, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He knows the sheep and is known by them. This is comforting to us because we long to be known by God and to know God. This was the way God created us. There is also comfort in the fact that Jesus knows us completely and yet still loves us. We need not be concerned that something currently unknown to Jesus will be revealed later that will cause Him to stop loving us.

 

Jesus Our Shepherd Knows Us:  John 10:14-16.

 

[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.  [ESV]

 

[14-16]  When Jesus described Himself as the Shepherd He revealed many important aspects of what He is to us, but at the same time He also revealed what we should be to others as we serve as one of the means whereby He brings in the other sheep. For we are all shepherds – if we are believers in Christ. To a greater or lesser extent we have all been given an oversight of others. Do we exercise our responsibility as Jesus exercised it. We may improve our service as a shepherd by reflecting on the characteristics of the Good Shepherd. The first and most obvious characteristic of the Good Shepherd is that He is faithful; that is, He is faithful in His responsibilities, not only when the skies are sunny and the countryside is peaceful but also when times are hard and when danger threatens. This is apparent from Christ’s contrast of Himself to the hired hand who, unlike the Good Shepherd, flees the sheep when he sees the wolf coming. The hired hand is one who is doing a job primarily for what he can get out of it rather than out of a true sense of responsibility toward the sheep. So the question becomes: Am I a hired hand in relation to those for whom God has made me responsible? Am I faithful or faithless? Do I stay with the work; or do I abandon it when I see the wolf coming? Faithfulness is of primary importance in Scripture. So whatever good characteristics we may have, we will prove of little value to the work of Christ if we do not possess this primary and essential characteristic. Second, we must be hardworking and diligent. Nothing worthwhile is done without hard work. Our standard is to be that of the Good Shepherd who works hard for His sheep. Third, we need to be patient. Fourth, we need to be a good example. We need to be examples of mature Christian understanding, faithfulness in the midst of persecution, Christian morality, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and all the other virtues. Fifth, a shepherd must be self-sacrificing. Above all, the chief characteristic of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is that He gives His life for the sheep. We will never be able to give our lives as Jesus gave His life for us, but there are other ways in which we can give our lives for others. We can give our time in order to help them. We can sacrifice things that we would rather do or rather have in order to serve and give to others. In other words, we must put others ahead of ourselves. Our primary desire must be for their spiritual well-being and comfort. Finally, the shepherd needs to be moved by love. Jesus loves us; He cares for His sheep. So ought we to love one another and care for one another. We can only learn this type of love from Jesus. Therefore, we must learn to love Him first of all, for it is only after this that we shall be able to love those whom He entrusts to our care. We can only be good shepherds if we first say, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and then learn from Him.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What does the image door of the sheep teach us about Christ? About the church? Contrast Jesus with the thieves and robbers concerning their methods and their intent. What does it mean spiritually to steal and kill and destroy?

 

2.         In 10:11-16, Jesus twice identifies Himself as the good shepherd with the powerful I am saying. What qualifies Jesus to be the absolute standard of what constitutes a good shepherd? What does it mean to you personally that you are His sheep and He is your good shepherd?

 

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?

 

4.         How can His sheep serve as one of the means whereby the other sheep are brought into the sheep fold?

 

References:

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

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

The Gospel of John, Volume 3, James Boice, Baker.