Read John 10:1-18, 25-30
What do we notice in these verses about the Shepherd?
• The shepherd is the one that enters through the gate (doesn’t have to sneak in)
• The sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice
• He calls his sheep by name
• He leads them out
• He goes ahead of them and they follow, because they know his voice
• The shepherd is good
• He is willing to protect his sheep, even at the risk of his own life
• He has a vested interest in the welfare of his flock
• He knows his sheep and they know him
• He has other sheep that he is looking to bring into the fold
• There will be one shepherd for both the old and new flocks, and these sheep will be united as one flock
• He gives his sheep eternal life
• No one can snatch the sheep out of the shepherd’s hand
• He is one with the Father
What an amazing and reassuring list! This is Jesus. This is the Savior that we serve. It’s quite powerful to see all that Jesus says about himself, and the kind of love and care that he promises to his people.
Why would Jesus choose a shepherd and his sheep as a metaphor?
Comparing people to a shepherd and his sheep was common in the Middle East. Kings and priests called themselves shepherds and called their subjects sheep. The Bible makes frequent use of this analogy, also. It would have been a familiar analogy for every period of time in the Bible. Many of the great characters in the Bible were shepherds – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc. The OT refers to Moses and David both as “shepherds” over Israel. So it is very natural that Jesus would use this analogy also.
Let’s look at another, very familiar passage which uses the sheep analogy.
If we want to know who Jesus is, just these two chapters – John 10 and Psalm 23 – provide such a rich, deep, powerful description of who he is. He is the Good Shepherd, and the good shepherd is truly good.
The Lord is My Shepherd – excerpt from “Follow the Rabbi”, http://www.followtherabbi.com
(This article helps describe just what it is like to trust in and depend on the Good Shepherd, and what it would have meant to Jesus’ listeners as he taught them about his role as the Good Shepherd)
“As God’s sheep, have we spent enough time with him to recognize his voice?
Shepherds in Israel are quite young. Boys and girls as young as twelve can have charge of an entire flock. Grown men rarely travel with the flocks. Instead the men watch their undershepherds from a distance while they care for matters in the camp.
Over time, the shepherd’s voice becomes familiar to his sheep. When several flocks stay together for a night, the sheep always recognize their shepherd’s voice in the morning. They will not follow any other voice.
Describing God as a shepherd in Psalm 23, David created a beautiful picture for the Israelites, and for us. As we undershepherd the “flocks” God has put in our care—whether they be friends, children, students, or coworkers—God is watching over us.
But the comparison also brings a challenge. As God’s sheep, have we spent enough time with him to recognize his voice? If we are truly his sheep, then we will follow him alone, ignoring other voices that may tempt us.
Our Shepherd doesn’t promise a life of comfort, but he will always give what we need.
Many Westerners imagine lush, green meadows when they hear the word “pasture,” but “green pastures” in Israel actually look like rocky, barren hillsides. Scattered amidst the rocks are blades of grass. Where a drop of rain fell or dew collected beneath a rock, a single tuft of grass can sprout up.
Even though they eat all of one day’s grass, the sheep do not worry about where tomorrow’s grass will come from. They trust the shepherd to find new pastures for them.
Psalm 23’s image of God providing “green pastures” challenges believers to trust God day by day. The Good Shepherd doesn’t promise a life of luxury or long-term supplies, but he will always give the pasture needed for the moment.
As his sheep, we should trust God today rather than worrying about the future. You may not see it now, but a new tuft of grass will always be there in the morning.
God’s people thirst for various “waters” – careers, lifestyles, friends. But only our Shepherd knows what waters are safe to drink.
The most frequent cause of death in the wilderness is not starvation, thirst, or heat exhaustion. Surprisingly, most wilderness deaths happen through floods.
The nearby limestone mountains cannot absorb rainwater. The water runs into the desert, creating sudden and violent floods that fill the wadis—canyons that have been carved out by past floods. Anyone standing in the wadi when a flood comes will be swept away.
Shortly after the flood, a wadi becomes dry again. Sometimes a bit of water from a previous flood will remain on the wadi floor, and these waters are attractive to the thirsty wilderness flocks.
But these are not the “quiet waters” of Psalm 23. A wise shepherd knows that walking through a wadi can be dangerous. They know where to find springs of water that are not in dangerous places—”quiet waters” that will safely quench thirst.
Paths of Righteousness
The path of righteousness for Christians today is a lifewalk that heads straight to our Shepherd. If we take our own detours, we are not truly his sheep.
Sheep always travel in a straight line, which creates problems when a shepherd calls to sheep further up the hillside: The animals will not walk around hazardous obstacles, but plummet straight down, getting hurt in the process. To avoid this problem, shepherds guide their sheep using straight trails that slowly zigzag down the hills.
The Hebrew language uses the same word for “straight” and for “righteousness.” Thus the “straight paths” of the shepherd were the “paths of righteousness” mentioned in Psalm 23. The Israelites understood that the path of righteousness is the path that leads straight to the shepherd.
Our Shepherd is good, and he will always make sure the path is safe for us to travel.
The Valley, the Rod, and the Staff
When David wrote about the “valley of the shadow of death,” he found comfort in the care of his Shepherd.
Shepherds often watch their flocks from a distance. But when night comes, they walk among the sheep. They know that darkness brings greater danger to the sheep, and so they walk beside them, guarding them closely from harm.
During both night and day, shepherds need to defend their sheep from predators. Using a rod, they attack the unwelcome animal to keep it from hurting the flocks. This protective rod is never used to hurt the sheep themselves. If a sheep does wander, the shepherd’s staff is used to gently nudge the animal back to safety.
Like a shepherd, God always walks closely with his people through the dark hours of life. His rod and staff are never used to harm us. During life’s most difficult moments, God draws closer, giving us comfort while also protecting and disciplining us to keep us safe.
The Table Prepared
God’s amazing love can be seen in the picture of Bedouin hospitality.
Though we do not know every detail about the Israelites’ everyday life, the Bedouin living in Israel today preserve a nomadic lifestyle that dates back to ancient times.
Bedouin live in tents and travel as nomadic tribes, much as the ancient Israelites would have done. Their shepherds tend flocks in the wilderness, just as King David did when he was a young boy.
In Bedouin tradition, guests are treated with great honor. Visitors, even strangers, are provided with the best they can offer. The Bedouin would fight to their own death to defend their guests from any harm.
The amazing hospitality of the Bedouin was probably common behavior to the ancient Israelites. When David wrote that the Lord “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, my cup overflows” he probably drew on imagery from his everyday life.
By doing so, he gave a beautiful picture of God’s love. Even when enemies surround us, he offers protection and provision.”
So the warm, fuzzy, reassuring part of Jesus’ teaching in John 10 is the care and love that the Good Shepherd provides for his sheep. But we should not miss the hard teaching that goes along with it. 10:15-18. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Most shepherds take on their responsibility of shepherding knowing that the job is a dangerous one. They know they may have to fight off wild animals. They may have to lead the sheep over treacherous ground. There is a chance that they could be hurt or even killed in protecting the sheep. But Jesus knew that in being the shepherd for his sheep, he would absolutely, certainly give his own life for his sheep. Unlike other shepherds, Jesus gave his life not because he fell victim to rough terrain or wild animals. He gave his life because his sheep turned on him.
Isaiah 53:5-6 “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The Good Shepherd sets out to shepherd not a meek, innocent flock that is ready to follow him. He has called a guilty, sinful flock to himself. It is only through the sacrifice of the shepherd that the sheep can follow him.
Verses 3-6 – As sheep hear the sound of their shepherd’s voice, they go to him. His voice is familiar. They know that they are to follow him. So he calls out to them, and then leads them out of the pen. They follow him out into the fields. In contrast, if a stranger enters the pen, the sheep run away from him because his voice is not familiar.
Whose voice are you listening to? What voice is familiar enough to you that you follow immediately when it calls? Jesus says that his sheep, those who belong to him, hear his voice and follow. They follow because he is good. Because they can trust him. Because he keeps them from danger. He leads them in the way they should go. He loves them.
Yet somehow, though we know all of these things, and experience all of these things, it is so very easy to start listening to other voices. It should work this way – it should be that immediately when we hear a stranger’s voice, we recognize it as such. We know that it is not the Good Shepherd and so we do not heed the call. We do not follow a stranger. And thus we are protected from danger. But we know that it doesn’t always work this way.
Why? One reason is that we stray from listening to the Lord’s voice. It might even still be familiar, but it is not the voice that leads us every step of the way. Perhaps we fall out of the habit of prayer, or out of the habit of meditating on Scripture. Perhaps we don’t fall out of these habits, but we just start walking through them as habits, things to cross off the list, rather than putting our hearts and souls into them. Yes, it is possible to pray and read the Bible without listening to the voice of the Lord.
Another reason is that there’s always a voice trying to distract us from God’s voice. That voice is our own voice. As I read and meditated on this chapter this week, I kept reading about the thief’s voice and thinking about all of the voices that call out to us. Except one. It was not until I was deep into my study that I realized the voice that is the biggest threat to me is my very own. It is the voice of pride, of self sufficiency, of selfishness, of distraction, of so many things. How is it that I stop listening as intently to Jesus’ voice? It is not usually because I start listening to someone else’s voice. Rather, it is because I start listening to my own voice in my head. It is that voice that starts distancing me from listening to the voice of God. And once that distance starts, it becomes easier and easier to listen to other voices, too.
To hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, we have to be listening for it. We have to be in the habit of responding to it. And so we need to ask ourselves the question, whose voice are we listening to? Who are we following?
Jesus gives us his words in John 10 because his desire is that we listen to him and follow him. He knows that his voice is the only trustworthy one, and his path is the only safe one. What is it that you need to stop listening to, in order to better listen to his voice? As we close this morning, ask God to speak to your heart and mind about how to better listen to his voice and follow him.