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Download audio Read John 10:1 - 10:18

Pete speaks on Jesus' words about himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10:1-18. In this passage Jesus shows his love and care over his folk and he is the only way to salvation.

The TV programme ‘The Secret life of the zoo’, depicts keepers who are so committed to their animals that they have expert knowledge of the various species, and they know, inside out, the behaviour and characteristics of their individual animals.

Take the chameleon, Mr Parsons, as an example. TV viewers observed his keepers trying to pair him up with a female chameleon, but he was very slow, not only because he had arthritis, but he was also very particular. Over several episodes they were trying to find a mate for him. The joy the keepers demonstrated in caring for him was lovely to watch.

In the verses from John’s gospel that we are looking at tonight, Jesus describes himself as an animal keeper. A shepherd who passionately cares for his sheep. He knows them intimately, and he understands them.

Of course, we must realise that the ‘sheep’ referred to in these verses are actually the people who have come through the ‘gate’ into the kingdom of God [the sheep pen]

If we think about the previous statement of Jesus, ‘I am the gate’, we can see how closely these ideas are linked.

The Middle Eastern sheep pen was a continuous wall with a gate, and once the sheep were safely inside, the shepherd himself would lie in front of the gate, so he himself became ‘the gate’.

So, let’s think more deeply about Jesus’ claim to be the good shepherd

First of all, a good shepherd is prepared, and he is equipped.

In describing himself in this way, Jesus draws upon ‘shepherd’ imagery which is found throughout the bible.

A beautiful example of this is particularly evident in Psalm 23:1-6

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”

The Lord is the shepherd. He guides his sheep, he feeds them, he cares for them.

In the passage we are looking at, Jesus is saying that he is ‘the Lord’ referred to in these verses from the Psalm.

Psalm 23 has the line: ‘Your rod and your staff they comfort me,’ and it is interesting to look closely at the equipment that a shepherd in the Middle East would carry with him.

First of all, he would carry a scrip.

This was a leather bag for his food. Carrying this scrip meant that he didn’t need to take a break from the sheep in order to have his lunch. He was ever present, able to feed himself, while caring for the sheep.

He also carried a sling.

He would be perfectly accurate with the sling. It wasn’t used just to defend himself against wolves. He could aim a stone in front of a wayward sheep to bring it back to the flock.

A third item he would carry was his staff.

This was a short lump of wood with some nails hammered into the base, and this was used as a club against robbers.

Finally, he would carry a rod.

This was similar to a shepherd’s crook and was used to retrieve lost sheep.

All good shepherds would carry these items. They were prepared and equipped to fully protect their sheep, to stay with them, to bring the wandering ones back, and to care for them, because they were good shepherds. And Jesus says, ‘I am that shepherd’.

Secondly, the good shepherd owns the sheep.

He doesn’t hire the sheep from someone else. This is his business, his investment, his life. He would be prepared to die for the sheep, because they belong to him.

Verse 12 states:
“The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.”

This is not our good shepherd. It costs him dearly to own the sheep. His very identity is bound up with the sheep. He is a ‘shep -herd’.

And this is how Jesus describes himself.

Thirdly, the good shepherd knows his sheep by name.

Verse 14 tells us: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

In the Middle East, at night, a number of shepherds would come into the pen along with their flocks. In the morning, how would they know which sheep belonged to which shepherd? The answer is that the shepherds would call, and the sheep would go to their own shepherd because they knew his voice.

A good shepherd knows his sheep by name. This is just emphasising what has already been said in verse 3: “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

Isaiah 49:16 illustrates this beautifully where the Lord says: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand”

This is extraordinary. God seems to have our names tattooed on the palm of his hand.

So, Jesus is not some impersonal leader of a nameless flock.

He is the good shepherd who knows every member of his flock by name. He is intimate with his sheep. He knows his sheep in the same way that God the Father knows Jesus, and Jesus knows the Father. This is an eternal knowledge that goes on for ever.

And we are brought into this knowledge.

But the shepherds not only know the names, they also know the individual characteristics of each sheep. They would often name them according to their individual characteristics. This is true in ‘The secret life of the zoo’. The animals would be given names suited to them as individual creatures with different characteristics.

God knows all about us. He is an expert on us.

He knows more about me than I know about me. He knows my fears, my temptations and he knows what I need far better than I do. Jesus is the good shepherd who knows where to lead us, because he knows what is best. He speaks and we know his voice. Even if this means being led through the dark valley.

Fourthly, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

This is what we read in verse 11, and it is repeated in verse 14, and again in verse17.

Jesus goes on to explain in verse 18:
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

He is putting into practice the great plan of the father. This is how much he is committed to his sheep. If we are to have life, if we are going to survive the enemies, then we need a shepherd.

The great enemy is death, physically and spiritually. The reason we die is because of sin. The good shepherd lays his life down to deal with this enemy, and he has all the right equipment.

He is the eternal son of the living God. He has paid the price for sin, and He has risen again because the price has been paid once and for all.

The lord is my shepherd who seeks the lost and saves them.

Luke 15 describes another shepherd who counted his sheep, and, on finding that one was missing, went out to find the lost one. Out of a hundred sheep he knew the exact one which was missing.

Jesus gives a wonderful picture of the shepherd going out to find the lost sheep and putting the lost sheep on his shoulders. He takes the weight of the wayward sheep. On the cross Jesus took the weight of our sin on His shoulders so that we could come back into the fold.

In the old nursery rhyme ‘Little Bo Peep’ there is a line which says, referring to the sheep: ‘leave them alone and they’ll come home’

No, they won’t! Sheep need a shepherd!

Jesus goes out to find the lost sheep. He is the good shepherd who died to bring them back.

Fifthly, the good shepherd leads his sheep.

Verse 4 goes on to say: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

The sheep weren’t just left to roam the fields. This good shepherd led them.

In this country we have sheep dogs who run behind the sheep to round them up. However, in the Middle East, the shepherd walked in front of the sheep, leading them, and they followed because they knew his voice.

Our good shepherd, Jesus, leads us, even through the valley of death, and on into the place of feasting, God’s place.

This good shepherd is not like the hired hand, and he is not like thieves and robbers.

Verse 10:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Beware of false shepherds who are pretending.

They are liars and imposters. Be careful of them. Robbers come to destroy. They have a brutal disregard for personal property and human life. They have a ruthless indifference to human life, and a disdain for anything of value. They want us to follow them, but they will steal from us and ultimately destroy us. Beware!

However, the good shepherd is there to give us life to the full.

The hired hand ‘runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.’ [Verse 13]

His only motive is to get paid for a job without dying in the process. He will fleece the flock, but he won’t give his life for the flock.

Who is your shepherd? Who do you follow? Who do you listen to? Who feeds you? Who protects you?

Who gives you life?

Are the ones you follow only wanting money out of you? Does the one you’re following love you like Jesus? Or do they only pretend to love you because they want the attention? Such people will, in fact, suck the life out of you.

Take another look at the good shepherd. Listen to his loving voice calling your name.

Come to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, see how He loves you and follow Him.

John 10:1 - 10:18

10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it 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.”