Christian author, Dr. Gerhard Frost, tells a wonderful story in his devotional book, Homing in the Presence.
“It was a concert in the park, and my friend and her little granddaughter were enjoying it together. The child was completely captivated by this, her first orchestra concert. She sat transfixed through each number. And then each time the music stopped, she’d move a little bit closer, forgetful of her surroundings, with grandma following each time she moved. At last she was as close as she could get. She stood at the very foot of the stage lost in the lights and sounds of the many instruments. When the concert ended, for a brief anxious moment, the child realized how far she had wandered away. She turned to see her grandmother standing behind her, and with a smile of relief she cried, ‘O, I knew I could depend on you, grandma.’”
As Christians, we have someone of whom we can say the same thing – I know I can depend on You. I’m talking about Jesus. You really can depend on Him! He is highly committed to giving you a full and abundant life with Him. This is the gist of His appeal in today’s passage. You can depend on Me. Trust Me.
There have always been people who have not discovered this truth, many who are puzzled by Jesus. They are not sure of what to make of Him. They are curious of Him, they find Him interesting, but choose to not take Him seriously. Some are put off by Him, even threatened by Him, so they stand ready to classify Him as a fraud or a lunatic to be rejected and ignored.
Such is the case in our story for today from John’s Gospel. Jesus, you see, is talking to a divided crowd. For a little context, Jesus had just healed the blind man. But the religious authorities condemned Him for it, saying, “He is a sinner because He healed on the Sabbath. He is not from God.” However, others in the crowd disagreed with the Pharisees. They weren’t sure about Jesus and thought the Pharisees were being a little rough on Him. Can a guy who heals like that really be a sinner? They hadn’t decided for themselves about Jesus. We also have the disciples of Jesus there who believe in Him. It is a very divided crowd.
In response to this, Jesus launches into an interesting talk which John describes for us in the tenth chapter of his Gospel. He begins describing who Jesus is and what life with Him can be like. He tries to help them understand Jesus. At first Jesus uses metaphors to describe Himself, people in general, and the religious authorities who are so opposed to Him. This imagery would have been familiar with anyone living in that agricultural society. He talks about sheep, thieves, a shepherd, a sheepfold, a gatekeeper, a gate, hired hands, and wolves.
Jesus first talks about thieves and bandits. It is His way of describing the opposition, the religious authorities who are after Him. He says they can’t get in the sheep fold. They’re not the real deal. They don’t have access. Jesus says people are kind of like sheep. Being called sheep is not all that flattering of an image when you think about it. After all, everyone knows sheep need a shepherd to care for them because on their own they are helpless and in need of guidance and care. They’re not all that smart and need protection against predators.
It really is, though, an apt description for people. We are like sheep, although we don’t like to admit it. We like to believe we are independent operators, quite capable of taking care of ourselves in this world. But then life situations happen and we realize the truth – we need help. We need a Shepherd to care for us.
This sheep thought is not really new. In the Old Testament, Israel was frequently referred to as the sheep of God’s pasture in the book of Psalms. They would scatter and go astray in some of the prophetic books and in the New Testament. When Jesus came along, He referred to them as the lost sheep of Israel whom He had come to rescue. In Mark’s Gospel, it says He looked at the crowds that came out to meet Him, and He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus would take care of them and teach them. He had come to be Israel’s Shepherd and, as it turns out, to be our Shepherd as well.
Jesus talks about a Shepherd who has access to the sheepfold. He calls the sheep; they know His voice, and He knows their names. He leads them to pasture, which they need in order to thrive.
He talks of a sheepfold as well – a place of security and safety and rest. The shepherds in His day would bring their sheep to this place each evening to keep them safe from wolves and other predators. The Shepherd would actually sit at the entrance of the sheepfold acting as a gate to guard the sheep, keeping unwelcome visitors out.
Jesus could see the crowds listening to Him didn’t seem to be understanding His analogy. So, being a kind and patient teacher and wanting them (and us) to understand, He steps out of the analogy and begins to explain it plainly. He says, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate! Whoever enters by me will be saved and brought into a relationship with God. I am the only one who can give you access. I will watch over your comings and goings, and I will lead you to green pastures. He is taking us back to the book of Psalms.
Psalm 121 – “He watches over our coming and going.”
Psalm 23 – “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
I am a life giver. “The thief comes only to steal and destroy,” Jesus went on to explain. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Then Jesus goes into this closing summary of Himself, which is our text for today, in order to draw a response from them. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s a rather wild claim for Him to make. After all, the words I AM would’ve taken His listeners aback because it is God’s name for Himself as revealed to Moses at the burning bush. He is saying, Tell my people I AM sent you. Jesus is daring to take on God’s name, making Himself divine.
And to call Himself “shepherd” would take them back to the Old Testament as well, because it was a description of God. Is He claiming to be God? It appeared that way. The word “good” actually can be translated “beautiful.” Jesus is making the claim that He is the only one worthy to be in charge of the sheep. His loving ways with His sheep are beautiful in comparison to all others. They are to be desired and attractive, compelling.
Then Jesus explains what makes Him the good (beautiful) Shepherd we should all desire to have in our lives. He says, First of all, I (the Good Shepherd) care about my sheep. I’m not just a hired hand. A hired hand sees the wolf coming and runs. He doesn’t care about them. He doesn’t own them. He doesn’t have any skin in the game. I care about my sheep, and I will not desert them! Jesus cares about you – each one of you who are with us today.
This Good Shepherd goes on to say, “I know my sheep and they know me.” You are not a faceless part of a crowd to Him. You are not simply a number. He knows your name and everything about you. When you come under His care, you get the privilege of getting to know Him in an intimate way, discovering for yourself that He loves you more than you love yourself. He is smart and really does know how to make your life work best.
Jesus is so faithful, never deserting you. He truly is a leader to be trusted. Jesus actually compares the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep as the one He has with His heavenly Father. “. . . just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” such will be the case when you live with me.
The Good Shepherd says finally, I am willing to lay down my life to save yours. I’ve come to lay down my life for the sheep. This is why the Father loves me. That is why I have His stamp of approval on what I’m doing. His authority. I came to give my life voluntarily for the sheep. That’s what I am sent to do. “. . . I lay down My life (with His authority). No one takes it from me. I give it freely, and I have the power to take it back again.” He obviously is talking about Easter – the resurrection.
At the end of His talk, the people are still divided. They still are not moving toward Him. Some say it is a demon in Him. Others say they are not sure. These aren’t the words of a person with a demon. Can a demon open the blind man’s eyes? No one seems to believe. Only the disciples remain.
It brings to mind the beginning of John’s Gospel when it says, “Jesus was in the world, and the world came into being through Him. Yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and they did not accept Him” (John 1:10, 11).
We know where this story is headed, don’t we? Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will lay down His life for the sheep out of love for us, for we like sheep have all gone astray. We are lost in our sin, captive to death and the devil. Sin had a death grip on us. We were spiritually helpless, incapable of saving ourselves, and getting back into a relationship with the God who loves us. So Jesus, sent by the Father, laid down His life to pay for our sins. His last words on the cross announced, “It is finished.” Paid in full! Our sins are paid in full.
Jesus said, “I lay down my life in order to take it back again. No one can take it from me. I have the power to lay it down and the power to take it back up again.” He took His life back again when He was resurrected on the third day. He lives just as He promised! Easter is God’s affirmation of this Good Shepherd who is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the access to a relationship with God our Father.
Ever since His resurrection, people have been discovering they really can depend on this risen Good Shepherd. He really does care about us, and life with Him is like Psalm 23 – we lack nothing. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” we say. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. His rod and His staff, they comfort us. He comes alongside of us in the darkest times and walks with us and walks us through.
He is wise and a leader we can trust. He knows where to find still waters and green pastures to lie down in, that we might have sustenance and grow and thrive under His care. When we are dried up inside, He leads us to still waters. He refreshes our souls. He leads us down right paths when we don’t know where to go on our own. He teaches us that His way is the best way, and life with Him is a life filled with abundance, love, joy, and peace.
Jesus is a healer of our souls. He restores broken souls and makes us new. We begin living for real with Him in our lives.
As I said earlier, this talk with the crowd had one purpose in mind, which was to bring the people to believe and trust in Jesus. I would be remiss as His servant if I didn’t pause to ask you today, have you placed your trust in Him and surrendered yourself to His care? Have you discovered for yourself this life with the good, beautiful Shepherd, Jesus?
Jesus said an interesting thing to those Jewish folks that day. He said, “I have other sheep who don’t belong to the fold yet. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. They will be one flock, one Shepherd.” What He was saying was He wants to be everyone’s shepherd in this world. Many more are to be brought in.
Is Jesus describing you today? Are you in His fold yet? This Good Shepherd came for you. Regardless of your personal history, your past and present beliefs, your nationality, your character, your successes and failures, He wants everyone (including you) in His fold. If you are not in His fold yet, He wants you. He came to be your life- giving, lifesaving Shepherd. Why not give yourself over to His loving care right now? He won’t turn you away. He knows you. He wants you. He laid down His life for you so you could have life.
If He has you already, I have a personal question for you that someone posed to me years ago and touched my life. The question is, Are you enjoying life in the Shepherd’s presence? Do you find contentment and fullness of life He gave to you? Are you able to say Psalm 23 is your personal psalm? If not, perhaps it’s a simple matter of placing yourself in the right places with the Shepherd where He has promised to meet you. He is ready to lead you to green pastures as you open His Word and He teaches you and nurtures you and feeds your soul. He will open up your life to His direction as you turn to Him in prayer and ask Him for His help. He is there to meet with you and strengthen you and grow you as you obediently serve others. He has called you to do likewise as you participate in the community of faith and regular worship and fellowship. He has promised to build you up and encourage you as you face your life!
The opportunities He offers His sheep for nurture and fullness are there. If you take Him up on those things, you will be able to say again and again, Good Shepherd, I knew I could depend on you. And you can. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer