April 8, 2001
JESUS EXPLAINS HIMSELF
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
It is eight months before that Palm Sunday when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus has been talking with the Jewish leaders about sheep and a sheepfold, about going into the sheepfold and about calling sheep by name. In verse 6 it is clear that they dont understand what He is saying. They knew all about sheep and raising sheep as did most people in Palestine, but they dont see the application to themselves.
So Jesus explains that He is the gate to the sheepfold; and, in another image, that He is the good shepherd. In verses 19-21 they understand this time, but they dont know what to make of Him. Some thought He was mad and others, that He couldnt be mad because mad men dont heal blind men the way Jesus has just done.
It is eight months before they will kill Jesus.
Jesus prepares for His death by talking about who He was and about the church He would create. He likens the church to a sheepfold in which God gathers together His people and to which Jesus is the only entrance.
Lets try to picture a sheepfold in a small Palestinian village. Just like in early Pennsylvanian towns where many citizens would have a cow and a horse, or maybe more than one, so in a Palestinian village, many families would have a few sheep. At night time the shepherd in the family would bring their sheep and put them in a central sheep fold, an area surrounded by stones and wood with one entrance. At that entrance to this community sheep fold, there would be a night watchman, either a son of one of the families, or a man hired to guard the sheep. He would sleep across the open gate.
In the morning, the son of one of the families would come by and whistle or call out and his familys sheep would recognize the voice or the sound since this same person would be talking to the sheep all day long out on the sparse hillside, and those particular sheep would leave the sheep fold and follow the family shepherd. Then another son of another family will come along and call, and the sheep of his family will come. Sheep recognize a familiar voice.
Well I know this. In the months I was in Wales, I used to walk for hours on the footpaths across the Welsh Countryside. With the foot-and-mouth disease scare, you cant do that today, but I would climb a style and walk across fields filled with sheep. As I came near them, I would talk to them. They would turn their yellow eyes on me and head off in another direction.
But what Jesus said about a sheepfold and a shepherd as He tried to explain who He was, was not merely a picture of a village scene, it was an image from the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 34 God makes two promises to Israel:
1) He Himself will come to be the shepherd of His people when He will search for and gather His scattered flock. He will punish wayward sheep and bad shepherds. Thats in verse 10.
2) In Ezekiel 34, God promises to appoint a new shepherd. He calls him my servant David. God will replace the bad shepherds who have misled His flock and who only take care of themselves. (Verse 2). Thats the Pharisees and the scribes.
In verses 1 and 2 of John 10 Jesus picks up these themes. He says, the Father appointed me the shepherd - just as in Ezekiel 34 - though the Jewish leaders wont make the connection. Jesus is not self-appointed. God the Father appointed Him. Jesus is not a thief who climbs over the walls of the sheepfold.
In verse 3 the sheep listen to His voice, and we might think back over the various people who have believed and followed Jesus, including that blind man of chapter 9, and the disciples, the various women, and those people he has healed or who had listened to Him speak and had been moved by Him. He not only calls His own sheep, He calls them by name. In chapter 9, though He was busy, He noticed that one blind man and He called him and the mans life was changed. Jesus also provides direction for the sheep, or for us, in our lives. Verse 3, for example, He leads them out. For the Pharisees to lead Israel meant they taught people the rules and they were supposed to follow the rules. For Jesus, living was a personal thing. It meant to follow the shepherd and to learn from Him. That is the great wonder of Jesus. He trusts us to live in freedom.
So in 1:43, He finds Philip and says to him, Follow me. In chapter 21 He is talking with Peter. Peter wants to know someone elses story, as if he were asking, why is that man so successful? I ought to copy His program, but Jesus said to Peter, Follow me, not that mans program.
But all of this talk about sheep and shepherds leaves the Jewish leaders puzzled in verse 6. Now we dont have to be puzzled by the same things they didnt understand. The difference between John 10 and our story is that we know the end of the story in John 10. We dont know the end of our story, whether we will be faithful and how that happens. But we can know whether we believe Jesus. Here is the test for you: will you follow Jesus when He calls you?
So Jesus changes the image beginning in verse 7. In fact He gives the people two more images to think about. Jesus says I am the gate and He says I am the shepherd.
What are the consequences when Jesus shepherds the flock and is the gate?
1. Those who enter through me as the gate will be saved, verse 9. They will be saved from the threats and dangers which are around the flock. If one sheep stays out in the field at night, away from the safety of the sheep fold it may become a prey to wolves - Jehovah Witnesses or Mormon missionaries, maybe. Further, salvation means knowing the shepherd, verse 14. My sheep know me. When we know the shepherd that means we are willing to be part of a church that preaches the Gospel and cares for people. Thats the sheepfold, a Christian community. We cannot get along in life on our own. We need a community. Jesus calls the community together.
When I was seven, I used to have a friend named Eddie. He lived a couple of houses down Dauphin Street from where we lived in Mobile, Alabama. When you are playing outside with friends, you dont notice a lot of things, but at dinner time, Eddies mother would call and he would hear his moms voice and go home. I recognized it wasnt my mom calling and I would go on playing, until I heard my mom call, then I would go home for dinner. Thats what happens when Jesus calls you. You know He is calling because His call strikes something responsive in you. It is a true thing about life.
Salvation is not merely something individual. This church has long known that. Salvation is being part of a family, the family or flock of Christ, particularly being part of a church that obeys the Gospel.
2. Another consequence of Jesus being the gate is that we go in and out and find pasture. That is how we find security in life and how were are fed. In the sheepfold at night there is security. In the field during the day, guarded by the shepherd, we are fed.
I can still remember the day I realized the implications of this picture. The picture is of going out and coming in, a shift in life as it is divided into parts - going out and coming in.
3. Another consequence of Jesus shepherding the flock is that He gives us life to the full. Do you remember how Jesus brought joy to a Jewish wedding in chapter 3? He can do that in your life. We catch a distance glimpse of this fulness in Eden and we see it again in the vision in Revelation of Gods city. The catch is to experience fulness now. But Jesus promises that to us. How does it happen?
The shepherd must suffer and die. Seems a hard way for us to have fulness, but consider that the whole flock has foot-and-mouth disease. We are going to be destroyed, unless the shepherd finds a cure for the disease which affects us. Sin is where we go wrong in our walk and we go wrong in our talk. Thats foot-and-mouth disease. The shepherd must suffer and die for us. Jesus Himself recognizes that in verses 15 and 17 where He talks about laying down His life.
Then, verses 17 and 18 are about authority, commands and obedience. Jesus was clothed with authority. The crowds recognized this. He spoke with authority and not as the scribes, they said. When Jesus said to Peter, James and John, follow me, they came because they recognized His authority.
Here in John 10 the authority concerns His own decision to lay down His life for us. This is the one action of Jesus that most moves us. Jesus was willing to die for us. At one point He says, if I ask for an army of angels to help me, I would be given them. And you knew it was true.
Who has the authority is a big question for the Jewish religious leaders. In Johns Gospel, at no point are Jesus actions determined by a political or by a human agenda. Not those of the Jews. Not those of Rome. Pilate thinks he has authority over Jesus, but Jesus says to him (in 19:10), You would have no authority over me at all if it were not given you from above. Thats the kind of statement that sets the representative of the most powerful nation of the world back.
But in verse 18 in John 10, you cant help but wonder what the people around Him think when He says, and I have authority to take my life up again - after I die. We will see how this works in chapter 11 when Jesus talks about the resurrection, but here it is a puzzle..
Now here is the different thing about Jesus. In spite of all this talk about authority, Jesus concludes what He says here by claiming that He obeys His Father. What that obedience does is it tells us something new about personal relationships. It tells us that obedience is an expression of love. Obedience is a condition for intimacy. We see this in what Jesus says in 14:23, If anyone loves me and obeys my teaching, my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Obedience is the prelude to intimacy. Obedience is what brings us into the sheepfold at the end of the day to be protected in that childs wish, Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. And obedience is also what makes us ready to hear the voice of the shepherd as He invites us to come with Him in another day in which He promises to accompany us out into the field where we will be fed, but where there are dangers.
I love that scene in the little booklet, My Heart Christs Home where a relatively new Christian is rushing out of the house one morning to go to another day of work. As he is leaving, he glances into a room of his house and there is Jesus sitting there.
And the man looks at him and says, Are you waiting for me?
Yes, Jesus replies, and I have been here every day to meet you. Jesus is a good shepherd. Are you listening for Him as He calls you today?
He is a good shepherd because at this point in His story He is setting out toward Jerusalem even though He knows that journey will bring His death. But as a good shepherd, He is willing to die for us.