The Good Shepherd
Today we are going to continue talking about sheep and shepherds. Like last week’s sermon, Jesus uses the sheep and shepherds metaphor to describe himself. And let me get this out of the way from the start (because we don’t naturally like the idea of being sheep) but all throughout John 10 there is no doubt that the sheep Jesus is talking about is his disciples. His people. Us. And although we may not like the idea that we are sheep, the point is not so much who we are as sheep, but it is who Jesus is as the shepherd.
I know you don’t want to be a sheep, and I know that being a sheep in a metaphor may make you feel uncomfortable, but wait until you see how awesome the shepherd is.
So, as we start this journey today, let’s get acquainted with who we are as sheep. Sheep are meek. Sheep are an easily led animal. Sheep walk around saying “Bah” and are ultimately used for wool and meat. It doesn't take someone with lots of sheep experience to know this. It is common knowledge. Sheep are not smart. They really aren't.
The first half of John 10 includes a lot of metaphors using this shepherd/sheep imagery. Last week we learned that Jesus was the door of the sheep. This metaphor primarily looked at comparing shepherds with thieves and robbers. The metaphor pointed to the fact that Jesus came to give us abundant life.
This week the metaphor shifts and Jesus in these verses compares himself to a hired hand. A hired hand was a part time worker who looks after the sheep but doesn’t care about the sheep as much as the one who owns the sheep. In this metaphor, Jesus is the good shepherd who looks after the sheep as the owner of the sheep. Jesus cares deeply about his people. And this is what I want to dig into more in this sermon.
I was a bit surprised at where my study of this passage took me the past few weeks. The theme that stuck out to me in this passage is simply how much Jesus cares. Jesus really cares about people. And we will see this in a variety of ways. I have three observations from today’s passage I want to go through:
The first observation is that Jesus cares about all types of people.
The second observation is that Jesus cares about you personally.
And the third observation is that there are no limits to how far Jesus goes in caring for you.
#1 — Jesus cares about all people (vv. 16–17)
The way these observations are laid out actually starts at the end of today's passage and works backwards. John 10:16-17 says “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.”
Context is important here. Jesus is speaking to a group of Pharisees. These Pharisees believed that only specific Jews were the chosen ones of God. It was very ethnic focused. Jesus says to them "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice." Jesus is being clear that he does not stay in some human derived bounds of ethnicity. Jesus is saying clearly to the Pharisees that he will go beyond Israel to seek and save people. No one people group is all that Jesus is looking after. In fact, Jesus is gathering together a sheepfold, a flock that is made up of many ethnicities and many nationalities. The key here is not that there is one type of people in God's flock, but rather that Jesus is the one shepherd. There is diversity in the sheepfold, and that is a beautiful thing, and there is one shepherd. Jesus is that shepherd. He is the one true shepherd. The "one flock" is not one ethnicity. It is not about the color of your skin with Jesus, it is about Jesus being the shepherd of the flock.
When Jesus was speaking to these Pharisees, he was among a majority ethnic group. The Jews were the majority in that context. Jesus in effect is saying "I will go beyond this group. I will go to the minority group and I will call my sheep by name and they will hear my voice and follow me." Jesus calls all different types of people.
There is no condition you have to meet in regards to your ethnicity, social class, IQ, career, school choice, or family history in order to be in Jesus’ sheepfold other than trusting Jesus to be your shepherd and following him. There is nothing tangible in and of yourself that you need to fix before going to Jesus. He wants you to trust him and enter into his sheepfold, today. He wants you to belong and follow him.
This is the first observation, Jesus cares about all people and he cares about you, which leads us to the second observation.
#2 — Jesus Cares for You Personally (vv. 14–15)
The second observation is that Jesus cares for you personally.
John 10:14-15 says “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus cares for you personally. There is a personal relationship. There is a relationship here between Jesus and his sheep. Jesus and his followers know each other. It is an amazing thing that Jesus is allowing us to have a relationship with him when he is the god of the world and he is open to having a relationship with me just like his relationship with the father.
A personal question to ask yourself is “do I really know Jesus?” I mean, do you know him personally and what he is all about, what makes him tick, why he is such an important person? We tend to think very highly of ourselves and we tend to assume a lot about people. We think we know everything about people. And with Jesus, we think we know who he is.
I’d like to challenge us to consider in what ways are you getting to know him? What steps are you taking to get to know this awesome shepherd who cares so deeply about you that he would die on your behalf? How do you learn about that care? In what ways does he care about you and what does that look like in your life?
One of the places to learn about who Jesus is, is the Bible. This book shows us who Jesus is, through a story. And this story is powerful to impact your life because it is a story that brings you into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus says plainly in these verses “I know my own and my own know me.” This is experiential, personal language. And just an FYI, the pastors are really looking forward to walking through the book of Mark in 2018 to help us all deepen our knowledge and understanding of just who Jesus is.
For me, I started to learn about who Jesus is in a personal way in college. I started to “walk with him”. And what I mean by that is that I believed Jesus is real, I believed that I needed help, and Jesus became the rock of my life. That meant for me, that though I was imperfect, and though I stumbled, and though I had issues (and still do of course), I read and studied about Jesus and learned about him as a person and imported that into the specifics of my daily life. As I struggled through final exams, I applied Jesus’ words to the situation. It was a personal walk with Jesus. I continue to do this day in and day out.
So, at the age of 19 as I started to listen to and follow Jesus I began a daily pattern of reading and studying and applying the Bible to my life. I had never read the Bible before in my life, but I wanted to learn more about who is this Jesus. I started to let Jesus shape my attitude and thought processes and paradigms. This experiential getting to know Jesus through Bible study and applying the gospel to my life over the years helped me in very specific ways, from handling work, to interacting with my wife, to serving my neighbors with the right perspective and attitude. I also found hope when I was in despair, truth when I was confused about life, and getting to know Jesus through Bible study was helping me prepare for trials.
It is difficult to understand trials and suffering when they come into our life. Often we question ourselves and ask what we could have done differently. And in moments of trauma and suffering and heartache, we often feel alone. We feel like Jesus doesn’t care about me. We feel helpless and scared and we feel like we are sitting in darkness. One of the ways God helps us is using Bible study to connect the dots from our situation to Jesus' impact on it.
For example, I had read and studied Psalm 23 many times but didn't really understand the metaphor of the "valley of the shadow of death". As we went through a trial of illness and death, in a very personal way, I applied the truth of Psalm 23 to my situation. Psalm 23 a very famous psalm, speaks of a shepherd. Psalm 23:1-4 says “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
These verses were massive for me standing in the basement of Children’s hospital as tests were being run on our son Henryk. I applied the passage to my life in that I thought about how I was in a very dark valley. I felt alone. I felt helpless. I was scared. The fear of Henryk’s death took my breath away. I was so scared I was shaking and felt like I couldn’t move forward, like a sheep. And in that moment of feeling alone, I realized that in the dark valley, of course I would feel alone. It was dark and in darkness you can’t see. But the TRUTH is, the shepherd is only a foot away. I can’t see him, but he is there. In fact, he has a rod and a staff to help me move along. The rod and staff of the shepherd comfort me as he leads me forward. And I remember thinking, Jesus, I know that you are leading me down a path where Henryk may die. I know you are leading me there, and I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go down that path. I don’t want to lose my son. And yet, Psalm 23 also says that you will make me lie down in green pastures. Jesus, I trust you as the good shepherd that you will lead me through this dark valley down a very scary path in order to take me to a greener pasture. We have to go through this dark valley, experientially together, to get to a greener pasture.
And, though I have no idea why Jesus chose that path for me and Emily, I trust the shepherd that he knows what he is doing. I am just a sheep. I have no idea what tomorrow brings. My life is just a vapor. My role as a sheep is to trust the Good Shepherd. He is in control, he knows what he is doing.
The point of me sharing this with you is two-fold. One, we see in Psalm 23 how Jesus cares for us personally. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And secondly, day in and day out Bible study helped foster a personal relationship with Jesus that impacted me when suffering hit.
Day in and day out, prioritize your one on one time with Jesus through studying the Bible. Personal time in Bible study leads to experiential knowing Jesus and walking with him through daily ups and downs.
Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."
#3 — Jesus Cares for You without Limitation (vv. 11–13)
The third and final observation is that Jesus cares for you without limitation. There are no limits to how much Jesus cares for you.
John 10:11-13 says “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."
So, why is Jesus called the Good Shepherd? In order to answer this we need to look at what makes a shepherd a good shepherd.
First, the good shepherd cares so much about the sheep that he is sacrificial in taking care of them. Verse 11 says “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Why is this important? It is important because there are two different types of shepherds. There is the one who is a hired hand and then there is the one who owns the sheep. The one who is a hired hand is doing this shepherding gig as a part time job to earn some money for themselves. There is definitely some self-interest going on with the hired hand, and the hired hand doesn’t really care all that much for the sheep. This impacts to what degree or to what length he will take care of those sheep.
There is a limitation to how far the hired hand shepherd will go in caring for the sheep. At some point, something really tough will happen and the hired hand will say “I’m out”. “I didn’t sign up for this.” The Good Shepherd, that is, the shepherd who owns the sheep, has no limitations to his level of care for his sheep. In fact, the text says that the Good Shepherd will lay down his life of his own accord, of his own volition, just to save and protect his sheep. He is willing and prepared to die in order to protect his sheep if that needs to happen.
What does this show us about Jesus? It shows us that Jesus is thee only one who cares about you without limitation. He is the only one who loves you perfectly. All horizontal human relationships fail on some level of caring for you. And some of these shortcomings are not inherently evil, it is just that we are human, we are not God, we are not the Creator. We do not have the capacity or the ability to care for those around us like Jesus can. For example, do you sleep? Yes, you do. Does Jesus? No he doesn’t. Can I directly care for my daughter Lily while I sleep? Kind of, but not really. I do my best, I lock the doors, set the security system, make sure she’s warm and fed. But I cannot look over her soul, I cannot ensure her heart keeps beating while I sleep. And for that matter, I cannot even do that when I’m awake. Jesus is the only one who can care for you 24/7 without limitation, perfectly, and he does.
Psalm 121:3-4 says "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep."
There is no limit to Jesus’ care for you.
There is another example to help us see how a good shepherd, who owns the sheep, cares so much about the sheep that they will even allow some suffering and some trials to come to the sheep in order to help them.
Here's the example: Back in the day when shepherding sheep was a common career path, if there was a sheep that would consistently run away or leave the flock or simply wander off, a really good shepherd would help that sheep by doing something pretty drastic in order to help the sheep learn to stay near. The shepherd would take that specific sheep and break its legs. Then the shepherd would care for their legs, bandage them up, wrap the legs of the sheep. Then the shepherd would carry that sheep on their back until the legs of the sheep were healed. This whole process took a lot of time and energy and focus on the shepherd’s behalf giving direct one on one care to that one sheep. After this whole process took place that sheep experientially learned to stay very near that shepherd. The process of suffering taught the sheep to stay next to the shepherd.
Jesus cares so much about you that there is no limitation to what degree he will care for you, that he even may allow suffering to come into your life to invest in you, to grow you, to challenge you. Now, even if he allows some suffering to come into your life, know that he is the only shepherd who is able to properly care for you, meaning, there is no suffering that comes into your life that is outside his control, because he IS the Good Shepherd. He is not caught off guard, he is not surprised, but rather he is in control.
Jesus is incredible in caring for his sheep. Matthew picks up on this theme and includes a statement from Jesus, again using this metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:10-14 "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."
There is no limitation to Jesus’ care for his sheep.
The hired hand sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
Jesus does not flee. Ever. Jesus cares about you better than any person or any thing.
Jesus Laid Down His Life (vv. 18)
This leads us to verse 18, which brings us to the table. Jesus says “No one takes [my life] 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."
The good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. But how can the shepherd dying help the sheep? How can the shepherd help us if he is not here?
Jesus flips our paradigm upside down. Jesus helps us by dying. You may be asking, why do I need help? I thought I was doing pretty good and now you are saying I need this good shepherd to die for me.
Well, I have been thinking about it like this lately – we were all created. I believe a Person created humans because of what I see around me at work and at home and at in our neighborhood. Every iPhone, every iPad, every computer program, every house, every self-driving car have all been created. With technology, every advancement is the result of people. I was going to say every advancement is through an engineer, but I'll admit other vocations can help. There is a massive fundamental line that cannot be crossed where something is produced from nothing. Everything we produce is from a human's thought process and hard work and creativity. And I see this objective reality all around me. It is just how the world operates. So, if this is the case, that the stuff around us is created by humans, then for me, it makes the most sense to say we were created. Something created us. And if it is true that a Creator made us, then we need to get serious about our relationship with that Creator. And if you haven't realized yet, there's a problem. We naturally don't like our Creator. We naturally rebel against our God. And thus, this is why we need help. This is why we need a shepherd to die on our behalf to reconcile us to God and heal the broken relationship. Jesus did that. It is finished.
He lays down his life for the sheep. He chooses to die for us. He does not merely risk his life, he goes all the way, and gives up his life in order to save his sheep.
Please consider which shepherd you follow. You may think you are the shepherd and you follow yourself. Or your functional shepherd may be another person in your life, leading you around and taking you places you don’t want to go. Maybe there is some idea or something that consumes you.
But, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has power. Many people can create things but there is a limitation to their power. A really cool emerging technology in manufacturing right now is called bio-fabrication. It brings together biology, with design and manufacturing. Products and materials are being designed so that they grow themselves. Engineers are programming biomaterials through its DNA to produce their own materials following certain specifications. They are working on developing products such as designer clothing, leather or high end furniture, all produced by organisms that grow themselves. Products are emerging that are functional, all from growing organisms. It is about to get pretty wild in the realm of manufacturing as we see everyday products emerging that were developed as living organisms. Even engineers who have the power to impact a products color by programming its DNA, have limitations. The brightest and most successful human cannot say what Jesus says here.
Jesus has power that no one else has. He says, "I choose when I lay down my life, and when I am ready, I will pick it back up again. I have the power to choose when I die and when I will come back to life, because I am LORD over life and death."
Today you have a choice. Do you start following Jesus or not? The invitation is open to all people to come and follow Jesus.