Sermon on John 10:1-21, preached on Sunday, 10 Feb 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 81:1-16 / (NT) John 10:1-21
I. The true Shepherd of the sheep (vs. 1-6)
II. The good Shepherd of the sheep (vs. 7-18)
III. Two responses to the good Shepherd (vs. 19-21)
As we’ve read and heard sermons on how Jesus revealed to the eyes of people (and to us) His power to heal and save sinners through healing of the man born blind, now in Jn. 10, our Lord appeals to man’s hearing and tells us that He is the one and true Saviour of sinners. So, man is saved by hearing His voice and coming to Him in faith. To open the ears of sinful hearts, Jesus employs something that was and is still quite familiar to His audiences – namely, shepherding sheep. He introduces Himself as the true and good Shepherd and we’re His sheep.
So, today’s message follows the natural flow of Jesus’ words – first of all, ‘He is the True Shepherd,’ based on vs. 1-6, and the next section (vs. 7-19) teaches us Jesus as our ‘good Shepherd,’ then, lastly, from vs. 19-21, we hear people’s two distinct responses to Jesus which gives us a clear conclusion of to which sheepfold we belong to, that is, the one under the care of our one and true Shepherd and Lord.
I. THE TRUE SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEEP (vs. 1-6)
As we begin with the first point, namely, ‘the true Shepherd of the sheep’ taught in vs. 1-6, I think it is necessary for us to go back to the time of Jesus and know the historical background of Jesus’ teaching. We need to know about the life of the first century Jews and their pastoral practices especially with sheep. The Jews of the Bible used to be shepherds since the time of Abraham. In the first century when Jesus was with them, tending sheep was an important way of their livelihood.
What I’m telling you now is known to be a typical set-up of a first century Jewish pastoral practices. Most households had some sheep rather than many in number. Not many households had enough manpower to tend or pastureland to feed their sheep. To resolve such a problem, they formed a kind of ‘local village pastoral guild,’ if you like. Some number of houses joined together, and usually one of their boys took the shepherd’s job. But, if that was unavailable, then, two girls instead of a boy shared the needed work. If that was still unattainable, they hired a shepherd.
Each ‘local pastoral guild’ also had a common sheepfold in which their sheep were kept together over night or bad weather. Any sheepfold like this had its own keeper and walls at least two metres tall with a door. When sheep were kept inside, doorkeeper shut the gate and secured all things. As morning comes, a shepherd arrives by this door; the doorkeeper recognises his shepherd and opens the door for him. Entering the sheepfold, the shepherd calls out his sheep, most probably by their names which is quite foreign to shepherds of our days, but, for those Jewish shepherds in the first century Palestine, it was a normal everyday practice. When sheep hear their shepherd’s voice, they recognise and respond to it. They come closer to their shepherd. Then, the shepherd walks out of the sheepfold, calling his sheep to follow. He walks ahead of them and they all follow. They will never follow any stranger, nor will go astray but straight after their shepherd. So, a good shepherd is one who comes to his sheepfold, calls out his sheep and leads them to the pasture. Jesus told this story to the Jews gathered together around Him to teach them that He is the true Shepherd of the sheep.
Unfortunately, the Jews did not catch what the Lord meant. Not because Jesus’ explanation was too difficult for them; it was more than plain and easy saying to their ears because that was what they had been doing day after day over centuries. They simply rejected Jesus and missed out of a great blessing of knowing the only true Shepherd of the sheep. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens with many people in our time. People don’t see how Jesus is the true Shepherd to whom all people who have gone astray like sheep must heed and follow to have life, security and everlasting joy. It’s not because Jesus’ word is too deep and abstruse, but simply because they refuse to hear His voice.
But, everyone who listens to Jesus and follows Him as a sheep would follow its true shepherd needs to know at least three important truths. First, the true Shepherd comes to His sheep and calls them out. His sheep hear His voice, and follow Him alone. This means that, if your ears and heart have responded to Jesus and His word, and followed Him up to this far to the point of confessing your faith in Him, calling Him Lord and God, and committing your life to Him, then, you were from the beginning of God and Jesus, your true Shepherd. In other words, you were, from the beginning, an elect of God.
Second, your true Shepherd knows you inside out; He knows your everything, beginning from your name (because He named you in His heart even before you were ever existent) including your deepest thoughts. Even the number of your hair is counted by Him. This means that Jesus, your true Shepherd has always been and will be with you to the eternity.
And third, there are sheep not yet called and they need to hear their true Shepherd’s voice and respond accordingly, like the way you and I did. They need to hear His voice (His word) and, hearing Him, they will respond and follow Him. Although this number is unknown to us, our true Shepherd has assigned us for the task of delivering His voice, His word, to them. We’re entrusted to this privileged task of delivering the true Shepherd’s voice to all people around us among whom the elect of God are. So, three truths – first, your hearing and response to Jesus means that you were from the beginning an elect of God; second, your true Shepherd knows you thoroughly as He’s been with you always; and third, lost sheep must hear the Lord’s voice and we’re to deliver it to their ears.
Having said, we need to know that our Lord Jesus warns us against false shepherds who are ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers.’ Anyone who comes to Jesus’ sheep but not by the door, we must reject him. In other words, someone comes not by the word of the Lord, but with his own voice is a thief, false and disguised shepherd. No matter how sound and sensible his ideas seem to be, we must reject his voice. Such a man’s teaching is contrary to God’s word and syncretic with the ideas of this world. The true Shepherd is one and He is Jesus! Hearing His voice alone and following Him alone saves!
II. THE GOOD SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP (vs. 7-18)
Our true Shepherd is also good Shepherd. That’s the teaching of the next section, from vs. 7 to 18 of our text passage. Jesus is ‘the good Shepherd of the sheep.’ Why is He the good Shepherd? Because of two reasons – one, He ‘tends’ His sheep and, second, He ‘lays down’ His life for the sheep.
To understand these points that define our Lord as good Shepherd, let me take your attention back to the daily living of the first century Jews. A typical shepherd of that time, having led his sheep out of the sheepfold, walks before them, calling them continually so that they could hear his voice and follow. He leads them to green pastures, sometimes closer to the village, but often to a distant location. Wherever he leads his sheep, the formation is always the same – shepherd goes ahead and his sheep follow, just like we Christians follow Jesus our Lord, hearing His voice that speaks to us through His word, the Bible.
Sometimes, it is too far for both shepherd and sheep to walk back to the village, then, they stay overnight in the field. In such a case, there are some temporary enclosures available in the field with roughly constructed round stone-wall which is not really tall, unlike the high walled sheepfold at home. On top of this stone wall, thorn bush branches are placed to stop predators climb over. He leads his sheep into one of these enclosures in the field and let them rest for the night. This enclosure has one entrance but without a door. During the night, shepherd lays down across this entrance and sleep. Guess what would happen when wild animals, such as wolves, approach. The shepherd will meet them first. Predators cannot reach any of the sheep without passing the shepherd. And he would fight against them and protect his sheep. That’s the picture Jesus portrays in His saying.
Telling this to the Jews around, the Lord Jesus says in v. 7, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” And that’s more than true! He is the DOOR of His sheep because He is the true Shepherd who leads His sheep into green pastures, knows His sheep by name and protects them from the enemies. He continues in vs. 9 and 10, “I am the door; if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. … I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” By this, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Like the way the sheep live because of their shepherd’s tending, all who enter by Jesus will be saved and have life abundantly. They will find green pasture. Like the way the sheep which simply follow their shepherd do not really know where they are heading or how they reach the pastureland with abundance of green grass, we who trust in the Lord Jesus do not really comprehend the abundance of life and how the Lord’s blessings will meet us in our life. We simply follow Jesus Christ, our good Shepherd, and we find green pastures around the corner all the time, don’t we? He tends us in this way; He also lays Himself for us so that we could not only be safe, but also enjoy Him always and in abundance! Jesus is our good Shepherd!
Let me tell you a little more about our good Shepherd’s laying down His life for us. Laying down His life for us is more than just risking His life to protect us. John the Baptist in Jn. 1:29 called Jesus ‘the Lamb of God’ who would take away the sin of the world by being the atoning sacrifice. Dying for the sheep is actually more than what usually happened to shepherds in the field – the 1st century Jewish shepherds would wake up and fight to protect their sheep. Few of them actually died. But Jesus’ laying His life for His sheep explains us who and what He is. He gave His life for His sheep; He died for us and all who will come to Him in repentance and faith.
Compare this with what thieves and hired hands do. Thieves come only to steal and destroy; hired hands flee when the wolf comes because they don’t care for the sheep. In other words, no comfort or security that is of the world lasts; they’re like thieves or hired hands in Jesus’ story. A worldly comfort, worldly security is always temporary. When a trouble rises, all comfort and security of this world flee swiftly. But the true Shepherd who is good lays His life for His sheep who hear and follow their true and good Shepherd. He still speaks and says, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” By giving His life, He has secured this rest for His sheep, made their going in and out blessed now and for ever!
III. TWO RESPONSES TO THE GOOD SHEPHERD (vs. 19-21)
Having heard Jesus’ teaching that He is the true and good Shepherd of the sheep, the Jews responded to Him in two distinct ways; there was a sharp division among them. One group said that Jesus had a demon and was insane. Another group said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon.” This latter group’s proof of Jesus’ saneness was His healing of a blind man happened in the previous chapter of John’s Gospel which we’ve covered on the last three Sundays. They witnessed Jesus’ miracle; they saw Him making something impossible possible. So, their conclusion was that the words of someone like Jesus must also be true and trustworthy.
This teaches us an important truth about our salvation in the Lord Jesus, our true and good Shepherd. That is, there are sheep and goats in this world. One group belongs to Jesus the true Shepherd, while the other doesn’t. People saw all things Jesus did and heard His words. But one group trusts Him while the other turns Him down and rejects Him. About the latter group, Jesus speaks in Jn. 10:26 as those who are ‘not of Himself,’ but of the devil.
This is about God’s election which is one of the main teachings of John’s Gospel. The Son of God talks about the righteous God’s righteous plan to save some people according to His good will and purpose, and to damn some others according to His same good will and purpose. Jn. 10:26 is not the only place in John’s Gospel where our Lord teaches about election. In Jn. 8:47, Jesus says that the reason some people didn’t believe in Him was because they were ‘not of God.’ Among many references, Jn. 17 is a typical example of this teaching. There, our Lord Jesus prays and says in vs. 6 to 9, just to give you a sense of our Lord’s teaching on election. He says this: “I have manifested Your name [that is, the Father’s name] to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. … and they have believed that You sent Me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” These people Jesus prays for are those who come to Him because the Father has sent as Jesus teaches in places like Jn. 6:44 and 65.
So, let me ask this to you – to which group do you belong? One who trust in the Son of God, hearing His voice and following Him alone, knowing Him alone is your true and good Shepherd? Or the other who reject the name of Jesus and reject His voice, thus, reject God the Father and the Holy Spirit? Of course, you belong to Jesus and that’s why you’re here, worshipping God in the name of Jesus. Everyone who hears the voice of Jesus – that is, the Word of God, the Bible – and believes in Him who laid His life for His sheep, he/she is surely of God and one of Jesus’ sheep.
One thing that you and I must be sure about today and forever is, ‘Jesus is our Saviour and Lord; He is our true Shepherd’ who is good to us. We’re His sheep. So, we hear His voice alone and follow Him alone.
What, then? What should we consider next? We ought to be thankful to God the Father for His election and to the Lord Jesus for His calling and granting us His eternal life. We should also be joyful always. No matter what happens to us in our life; we’re victorious, secure in the hands of God and Christ. Our good Shepherd has granted us His eternal life, thus, we must enjoy it abundantly. Lastly, we must always focus our eyes and ears on Jesus and His voice alone. ***