The Good Shepherd and his Sheep
Text: John 10:1-16
Lets think about Numbers for a minute. Our lives are filled with numbers. It seems that everywhere we are know by our numbers.
The government knows us by our tax number. The Province knows us by our driver's license number. The bank knows us by our account number. The Doctor’s office knows us by our Medical number. The church knows us by our Mailbox number (well, I hope not only…). And it goes on and on. Sometimes we wonder if anybody knows us at all without a number!
And that's why this morning's Gospel reading is so significant, because it tells us that God knows us. He knows us intimately. In fact, our Good Shepherd knows us better than we know ourselves. And that's important to remember. The Gospel of John shows us a truth that our human hearts long to hear. The Old Testament writer put it even more clearly when he wrote, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." This shepherd knows us intimately and loves us with an everlasting love.
In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest. According to him, sheep are not dumb at all. "It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows.cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, her friend said, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first-namely, their shepherd-who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right." Sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them. He went on to say that "it never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium."
(I feel like that sometimes on Sunday mornings when I preach).
The sheep and the shepherds develop a language of their own, namely a language of trust, mutual understanding and love. Jesus, our Good Shepherd knows us by name, and he calls us as his own, willing and ready to lead us.
It is only human to have a deep longing to be known intimitaly by one who is greater than us. We listen for voices that we can trust, a strong and tender shepherd to lead us to fresh waters and green pastures.
But, not all shepherds are good. There is only ONE Good Shepherd! And the best that we can do as human shepherds is to pattern our lives after his and be faithful representatives of Christ in our community.
Our text this morning needs to be understood in the light of Ezekiel 34 from the Old Testament. The Lord has some serious words for the leaders of the people through the voice of the prophet. Even today this text serves as a warning to us as leaders. At the same time it serves as an inspiration to fulfil our calling in a godly way. Anyone who would be a follower of Christ, and influence people for Him, will do well to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and seek to fulfil this great calling.
Lets look at a few important things that John points out:
He that does not enter through the door into the sheepfold is a thief and a robber. The sheepfold is a figure of the church, the door into which is Christ. The sheepfolds in the Middle East are large enclosures, open to the sky, but protected against robbers, wolves, and other beasts of prey by walls of reeds or stones or brick. There is a large door through which the shepherd enters with the sheep.
The door is for the shepherd and the sheep, while those who get in otherwise are robbers who seek to prey upon the sheep.
The gatekeeper is in charge of guarding the entrance. This servant carried arms to fight off intruders, but he would let the shepherd in.
The sheep hear his voice. This is true to the letter. The sheep are so tame and so trained that they follow their keeper with the utmost obedience. He leads them forth from the fold just where he pleases.
He calls his own sheep by name. Shepherds in the Middle East give names to their sheep as we do to horses, cows, cats and dogs. A traveller to the Middle East reported that "Passing by a flock of sheep, he asked the shepherd to call one of his sheep. He instantly did so, and it left its pasture and its companions, and ran to the shepherd with great pleasure."
The sheep follow him: for they know his voice. This is also true, and a stranger they will not follow, because his voice is strange.
For us modern-day people, the call of our Lord is often "hidden" in a whole chorus of worldly voices which call to us. Other would-be shepherds seek to tempt us away from the Good Shepherd, from the joy of his forgiveness and the security of his love. And when we are weak and confused we may fall victim to the enticements of other gods.
An American tourist was traveling in the Mid East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called his flock out. Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him.
Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, and his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the third shepherd, "I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me."
The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called the sheep. The sheep did not respond to the stranger's voice. Not one of them moved toward him. "Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?" The traveler asked. "Oh yes," the shepherd replied, "sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone."
We see that in the life of the church too, don’t we? People, young and old, who are "sick"… Battered by the storms of life and distracted by voices urging them to go this way and that, they have lost their bearings and they do not know where they are or where they are going. That can be more than a little frightening; it leads to despair, to hopelessness. And when someone is "sick" they will follow anyone who will promise a moment of happiness, a brief feeling of peace or forgetfulness, a sense that they are someone.
But the call of Jesus the Good Shepherd is, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." There is no better way, no greater truth, no happier life. Our Lord reaches out to us in love that we might follow him.
“I am the door to the sheep”, says Jesus. The shepherd enters into the fold and goes out by the same door as the sheep. Christ is that door. The message of John is that there is no other way in. There is no other name, under heaven, given among men, whereby we can be saved.
All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers. Ezekiel 34 gives us a picture of shepherd that were only after their own gain.
Ezekiel 34 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
Is it any wonder that people are reluctant to follow leaders when they don’t recognize the voice?
This title of “good shepherd” applied to God in Psa 23, and in Ezek. 34:12, Christ here applies it to himself. The mark of the good shepherd is that he gives his very life for his sheep. Shepherding is not a position of prominence. Rather it is a risky business. The Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life so that his sheep may live. In the Middle East the shepherd often had to defend his flock with his own life against the attacks of wild animals or thives.
A hireling . . . always had the choice of leaving the sheep, and fleeing in the face of danger. But the Good shepherd risks – even gives – his own life so that they may live.
We believe that Jesus is our Good shepherd. And yet, He says that we are not the only ones. The Lord has other sheep, which are not of this fold. Not Jews, those who were his followers, but Gentiles and people of all nations and tribes, who would soon be called to him. These would hear his voice, enter through the door, into the same fold as the Jewish Christians, so that there would be "one fold and one shepherd." There is only one Church and one door into it, and one Shepherd over it.
This expression of our Lord is an encouragement to check our attitude toward those who are different from us. As “fellow sheep” we need to make an effort to allow and invite and welcome others into the fold so that they too may enjoy the nurturing love of the Good Shepherd.
Furthermore, there are also those sheep who have once belonged to the fold and have wandered off. People, like sheep, have a tendency to do their own thing and to wander off away from the safety of the fellowship. We also wander in dangerous places, thinking that we are strong enough, and that we can withstand temptation and that it will never happen to us.
My friend, you know what dangers you’re flirting with. And when we’re wandering off, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, calls us back into the fold again and again, so that we would be close to him and enjoy the full benefits of the green pastures that he gives us. And still, stubborn as we are, some of us wander off too far, through deep and dark valleys and over or sharp cliffs, totally unaware of the dangers lurking in the shadows. And even then, our Good Shepherd comes looking for us, searching, calling us by name, until he fnds us.
Ezekiel 34:12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
We are challenged today to listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd and to follow Him to greater hights of spiritual nurture.
When we feel like nothing more than a number, let us be assured that the Good Shepherd knows and calls us by name. Let us be alert to the voice of the Good shepherd, and follow him with confidence wherever he leads us.