The Good Shepherd
Probably one of the tenderest metaphors used in Scripture is that of a shepherd. A shepherd in the Middle East seems to be a profession that hasn't changed much. When we were there a few years ago, they seemed to be conducting themselves roughly the same way that they had for so long. Shepherds are intimate in their knowledge of the sheep that belong to them. It's more than just herding cattle. They're aware of the idiosyncrasies of the sheep, their tendencies to wander, those that are afraid of the cliff edge, those that are afraid of the dark shadows. And as they lead through these different venues, they know which sheep need to be cared for in a special way.
They also know, as the Psalm tells us, where the best grazing is for their flock. And Jesus uses this metaphor in our text today to show the Pharisees as well as His disciples, as well as you and me, what it really means to love, to care for one another. The blind man who had been healed by Jesus had been cast out of the synagogue. The Pharisees were demonstrating that they really had no love for the sheep. They didn't have any care for those under their control. They were simply acting more like employees, like hired hands, than they were shepherds with a heart for those whom they were in charge of.
The Lord had spoken about this centuries ago, the cold heartedness of those who should be leading those sheep and caring for the weak of the sheep. And instead, Jesus finds those in His day who had no concern for the sheep, who saw difficult people as things to cast out, to cast aside, who saw difficult questions as things to bury and to put behind you. And so, Jesus contrasts the way the Pharisees have dealt with this blind man who has been given sight.
In our text today, in John, chapter 10, a message simply titled The Good Shepherd because we want to see how the Good Shepherd is modeled in the affairs that Jesus lays out before us today. Beginning in John, chapter 10 and the 11th verse, He makes one of His great I Am statements. He says, "I am the good shepherd." The word good, the word kalos in the Greek is not so much an adjective as it is a title, that He is the noble, the proper, the true, the genuine Shepherd might be another way to translate that word for us.
He says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep." This hireling, this hired hand: someone who has been hired by the sheep owner to watch over the sheep. He is there because of an assignment. He is there because he is receiving. He is there because it's just a job to him, and everything is fine as long as everything goes according to plan, but when something difficult occurs like a wolf comes, he is going to flee. "They're not paying me for this!" would be his shout as he leaves. He doesn't own the sheep. He doesn't really care for the sheep. He is simply there to do a job, and when it becomes difficult, he flees.
The hired hand gets; the shepherd gives. The difference between being a shepherd and being a hired hand is whether the focus is on what you get out of it or what you are putting into it. The shepherd gives. In fact, he gives his life for the sheep. When the wolf comes, the shepherd will lay down his life before he'll let that wolf snatch and scatter the sheep. He will put his own life in between the wolf and the sheep.
It wouldn't take much to understand metaphorically the wolf is sin. The wolf is the effects of sin in the world and the effects it has on the sheep. How that some it snatches away, and the effects of that scatter the rest of them. How sin when it finds its way into the lives of people destroys them. Well, a hired hand says, "Well, that is their problem. They got too close to it. It's not any of my business." But you see, the Shepherd sees it differently. Why? Because the Shepherd sees the sheep as His, and He says, "I'll stand between the effects of this sin and My sheep. I'll lay down My life so that sin will not have its ultimate effect of destroying My sheep." And so the Shepherd gives while the hired hand is simply there to receive.
Now, as we look at this story, we might think, Well, that is a good metaphor for Jesus. Certainly He laid down His life on the Cross, and by laying down His life on the Cross, then we escape the punishment, the bite, the destruction of sin. However, it's not just a description of Jesus is it? Because the life of Christ becomes an example for all of us. And so, when we see what the Good Shepherd does, we don't just see it in Jesus, but we need to see it in the lives of all of those who claim to be His child.
And that is exactly what John is going to state. John writes this, but later he is going to write a letter, a letter called 1 John. And in 1 John, he is going to speak about the outworking of a shepherd's love, and I like the way he states it. We have John 3:16, but we also have 1 John 3:16. And beginning in 1 John 3:16, John restates it this way. He says, "By this we know love…" This is how we know what love is. Notice, "…because He laid down His life for us."
The definition, the example, the supreme picture of love is that Jesus laid down His life for you. If you want to know whether Jesus loves you or not, let me point you to the Cross, let me point you to the tomb. He loved you so much that He died for you. John, the Gospel, 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," and here in 1 John 3:16, John says, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us." But it doesn't stop there, does it? No, he says, "And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
You see, a good shepherd is not just a metaphor for Christ. It needs to be the heartbeat of every genuine believer. We need to be willing to do no less than lay down our lives for each other. And in fact, if we don't, we don't have love. We might be a hired hand. We might be there to receive, but if we're not willing to give all, John says, "Well, that is where true love is." It's the willingness to lay down, and just as Jesus set that example, and that is what it was, he says, "And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
Listen, he goes on in verse 17 and says, "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need…" You see, a shepherd would see a sheep in need. But if you see your brother in need "and shuts up his heart from him…" in other words, he does not help him, "…how does the love of God abide in him?" Because the love of God is a shepherd's love, and a shepherd sees a sheep in need, and the shepherd only has one response, and that is to help the sheep to the point of leaving all the healthy sheep to go and find the crippled sheep, to the point of carrying the crippled sheep until the crippled sheep has been restored to full health.
He says, "That is a shepherd's love. That is God's love!" And that is the love that courses the spiritual veins of believers. We must be willing to lay down our lives. We don't pick and choose! We love to the point of sacrificing our lives. And if you don't, if you see your brother in need, but you shut your heart up, you say no, how can the love of God abide in such a person?
Listen to what he says in the next verse. "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue…" Let's don't say we love people. Let's don't just speak about it. Let's do something about it. The time has come that the Church of God demonstrates its love "in deed and in truth." The time has come that the Shepherd's heart is shown by what we actually do, not talk about doing, but actually do.
This is the definition of love: 19. "And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." This is how we know we're saved. This is how we know we're a child of God because we have a love, a shepherd's love, for people. "For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." Such as, loving one another, caring for one another. We have confidence before God. Our heart will not betray us if we live our lives helping one another.
"And this is His commandment…" verse 23, "…that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment." That verse begins and ends with commandment. He says, "Here is the commandment: believe on Christ and love one another." You want to know whether or not you have that shepherd's heart, whether or not we are properly following the model of Christ? It will be seen in whether you're willing to lay down your life…that is what I mean…lay down your life for one another, whether you're willing to give up your possessions to someone else, whether you're willing to give up your money to help someone else, whether your love extends beyond just the theory and bears itself out in daily life.
You know how James speaks of it. He says, "Don't just pat someone in need on the back and say, 'Be warm and be filled, brother.'" He said, "You give them what they need." You have a closet full of shirts, you pull some out, and you take it to them. You have a refrigerator full of food, you pull some out, you prepare a meal, and you take it to them. You have a car, an extra car, you take it to them. You give of yourself. That is what a shepherd does. A good shepherd loves his sheep.
And also, a good shepherd knows his sheep. Look at verse 14, back in John, chapter 10. Again, He says, "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
He says that a good shepherd knows his sheep. He knows them. In what way does he know them? Well, he knows their name. Remember, in the Bible to know someone's name is more than just a telephone book entry. It's to know their character. Remember when Jesus met Nathanael in the early part of our study in John, and He says, "Behold, an Israelite in whom is no guile"? And Nathanael is moved by the fact that Jesus already knows about him.
When He is walking on His way headed back toward Jerusalem, He looks up in that sycamore tree, and He says, "Zacchaeus, you come. I'm going to spend the day in your house," He knew who Zacchaeus was. When Andrew brings his brother Simon, Jesus says, "You are Simon Barjona, but I'm going to give you a name you don't even know…Peter." Jesus knows us. He knows all about us. A shepherd knows all about his sheep. He can identify them.
There are more pets than anything. You know, a shepherd generally doesn't raise sheep for the meat. He raises the sheep for the wool, so he takes care of the sheep…and for new lambs to have more sheep. He knows them. He knows them very well. He knows them each by name. He calls them out of the sheepfold, and they recognize his voice, and they come, and they follow him.
But not only does he know their name, He knows their nature. As I said, he knows which ones are scared in this situation, which ones are slow to move in another situation, which ones are healthy, which ones are not feeling well. He knows their character. He knows about them.
I tell you, intimate knowledge of one another…it's when you invest into that personal knowledge of one another that prayer and care begins to develop in the fellowship. It's when you go beyond just the friendly, social handshake, and you get to know the lives of people intimately. That is one of the beauties of things like small groups as opposed to things like cliques. You know, cliques are about receiving, but small groups are about giving. They're about loving one another, investing into the spiritual and physical lives of one another, and as you do that, you get to really know the name, the nature of people, what they're going through.
It may be that you're sitting here in this room this morning, and you're thinking, Nobody knows me. There needs to be those whom you need to get involved with. You're also sitting here this morning saying, "I don't know those people." You need to walk across the room to get to know people, to get to invest your life. We're so busy, but that may be the devil making us so busy that we don't have time to even get to know one another, to even get to know who we are.
Listen to what David said. Psalm 139…he said, "O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether." You see, our God is not a distant God sitting on a far throne. Our God is a very intimate God who knows our thoughts before we think them, who knows our future before we live it, who saw us in our mother's womb and said we were fearfully and wonderfully made! And then, has plans for us for good!
Now, that is not a social handshake God, but that is a God who is there with us, who never leaves us nor forsakes us. And that is what a shepherd needs to be. That is what we need to be, but then the ability we have is to know one another, to begin to invest inwardly, and not just the clique…you know, the people who have the same likes and the same preferences and the same side of town…but to invest in one another.
You see, a shepherd doesn't distinguish among sheep. He doesn't just hang around the good smelling sheep. A shepherd recognizes that all sheep will stink at one time or another and that all sheep have difficulties one way or another. Now, sheep look beautiful, but sheep are the most beautiful when they're stuffed little things that Serta sells, because real life sheep are kind of ornery, and they're kind of stubborn, and they're kind of like us.
You know, a big breakthrough will occur in your ministry, a big breakthrough will occur in your Christian life when you discover that all people are difficult and that difficulty is not a reason to avoid people, but it's a beginning place to work with people. As another preacher once said, "When you shine the light, you attract bugs." And the reality is that most of us are here today because we're far less than perfect and we see the need for a Savior. But if we take that for granted too long, we'll begin to judge others.
It would be like the cockroach judging the water bug, and the cockroach saying, "Boy, look at that big old fat thing. I tell you, I'm glad I'm not like that." And they both deserve to be squished! Okay? And we are both deserve to be squished, especially the water bugs. Those things just drive me crazy. They're like roaches on steroids. If you've ever had one in your house, they just fly around, carry small objects.
But that's us! We need to understand that our idiosyncrasies are common with everybody, and not to separate ourselves from people, but to understand that the problems they have, the difficulties they're going through, the weaknesses that are inherent in their character and in their nature…listen…these are things God saw when He called them to salvation. These are the things God saw when He made plans and purposes for their life. And so, rather than avoiding, we want to embrace. Rather than staying away from, we need to revisit those people whom we've avoided and begin to love them.
The Father, the Shepherd, knows their name. He knows their nature too. And he also knows their needs. That is Psalm 23, isn't it? "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." David says because He knows where the green pastures are, and He knows where the still waters are. The wonderful thing about Christ is that He leads us sometimes in directions where we don't see green pasture and still water yet. Sometimes the shadows are dark and the cliffs are steep, but when He is through leading, we always find ourselves in a better place than when we began.
We lose that job because the Lord is taking us out of the job, and He is going to make us head in a new direction. And at the time, boy, that is a difficult journey. And the things that are often really important to us…you know, like money, and prestige, or whatever it might be…those things have been taken away, and because the world puts such importance on those, we tend to as well, but the Lord is taking care of us, and He is leading us to greener pasture. He has always done that in my life, and I've always fussed every time. I've always complained. I've always seen the folly. But the Lord has always shown me that His destination is green pasture and it's still water.
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