Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
A Great Passage, a Great Metaphor
There are a lot of places in our Bibles we might regularly go to for comfort and security in our faith when we are struggling with doubt. Perhaps we are doubting our salvation, or we’re questioning God’s goodness to us. Perhaps we’re questioning if God sees us, is concerned with us. Sometimes we look in and see our sin and weakness and we question our salvation altogether. There are countless places in our Bibles where we might turn to help us process these things.
We’re in John 10 this morning, and if this is not one of those places for you already, I hope it will be by the end of our time together this morning. These are phenomenally encouraging words from Jesus, here, for just about every situation and circumstance we might find ourselves in. If you’re doubting your salvation and God’s love for you, here’s John 10. Or even more generally—if you’re struggling with finances, or with marital strife, or with sin, or with identity questions—here’s John 10. This passage is an anchor for us. Memorize it cold, if you need to. It’s a baseline, foundation-building passages for us.
Jesus says, here, that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”—period (verse 27). That’s an awesome statement, and Jesus is drawing from one of the most comforting metaphors in our Bibles. Jesus, here, is drawing from the shepherding metaphor which we find throughout our Old Testaments. Whenever you find God employing this metaphor of shepherding, you can be sure to find some rich encouragement. We’ll find God’s love, protection, and commitment toward his sheep—toward you and me.
It’s a rich, rich metaphor, folks, the more we might dig into it. If you remember back to last week’s message on the first half of John 10, you’ll remember that Jesus began to speak of himself as “the good shepherd” in the middle of a conversation with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. This all started out in John 10 with a conversation between Jesus and these Jewish authorities. They thought they were the shepherds of Israel. They thought they had the right to discern who God’s sheep were, and who were not. They had just taken their shepherd rods to cast out a blind man who had just confessed Jesus to be the Messiah (oops). They excommunicated him from the synagogue, casting him out as a destitute man. They did that to one of Jesus’s sheep. So, Jesus marks his territory here in John 10 with all of this shepherding talk—and he’s saying quite simply to these Jewish elites “You’re not shepherding God’s sheep. You’re stealing them. You’re thieves and robbers. I am the good shepherd and I lay my life down for the sheep”.
This is awesome. If we’re going simply by John’s gospel and how John is telling the story here, this is the last public address Jesus gives to the Pharisees and the Jewish crowds before he’s crucified. This is his last extended teaching to the masses, and to the religious authorities. “I shepherd my sheep, and I lay my life down for them so that I may take it up again”. Or as he says in this week’s passage “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (verses 27–28). It’s like Jesus is saying, “not even you can snatch them from my hand, Pharisees”.
It’s forceful. It’s confronting to the religious predators in Israel at the time, and it’s a deeply comforting word to us. He’s our protective, self-sacrificing, strong-armed shepherd. Good shepherds at the time truly did own their sheep, and would lay their life down for their sheep. Sheep were that sort of commodity. They were the family wealth, the inheritance, something worth dying for. More than this, shepherds truly did know the sheep by name. They truly did lead the sheep into pasture from the front, rather than drive them from behind. In other words, the sheep heard the shepherd’s voice and they followed because they associated that voice with good pasture and rich blessings. They didn’t need to be driven and prodded from behind. There’s a reason this metaphor is so fitting, folks—and yes, why this passage should be written in our memories to cure us of our insecurities and uncertainties in faith and life. There’s no reason to worry when God is committed to you as a good shepherd is committed to his sheep.
But yet, we struggle. The struggle of faith is real, isn’t it? Do you really and always believe that God love you and protects you and provides for you every minute of the day and in every circumstance? When you are at your worst, is there reason to look back to God and believe he’ll receive you, and that he loves you even then? Sheep have a lot going against them, folks. They have predators to deal with (outside enemies), and they have their own stupidity to deal with (the enemy within). They’re very foolish, wandering, unintelligent creatures. So yes, there are a lot of reasons to be anxious and worry.
As we walk through this passage, we’re going to see three ways Jesus, as our good shepherd, resolves our worries and anxieties. You might say these are three ways he shepherds us—three needs he tends to. So, let’s just jump in and discover them together this morning.
The First Way Jesus Shepherds Us (With a Brief Parenthetical Observation)
Look at verse 22, where this morning’s passage picks up.
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.
So, that’s the setting for what happens in our passage—and, I want us to observe a quick parenthetical detail about this time and place John mentions. John, here is saying that it’s winter time, and the Jews were celebrating Hanukkah. That’s what the Feast of Dedication is referring to, there. It’s Hanukkah—and, I don’t think there’s any overtly spiritual reason John is mentioning that fact. I don’t think he’s necessarily saying that Jesus fulfills Hanukkah, or that there’s a connection between Hanukkah and Jesus our shepherd.
I think there are better reasons why John might be telling us it’s Hanukkah at this time. For one, he’s telling us that time is ticking. We’re now about four months away from the cross, and we should feel that approaching quickly. But then, he’s also telling us it’s Hanukkah to help us understand that it’s winter time. It’s cold, there’s bad weather, people stay inside or under shelter. Hence, verse 23, “and Jesus was walking in the temple inside the colonnade of Solomon”. It’s cold and dreary out, so Jesus is in the colonnade.
But now, this is where it gets a little interesting—and, this is my parenthetical detail in all this. What do we know about this colonnade? Where else do we see Solomon’s colonnade (or “portico”) in the Bible? This colonnade shows up in Acts as the first place where the first Christian was arrested for preaching the gospel. This is where Peter was arrested for preaching the gospel immediately after Pentecost, in Acts 3. Think of how God orchestrated this. Jesus’s last public address was made at this portico, and he says “no one will be able to snatch them out of my hand”. Then, fast forward not more than a year, and Peter is preaching at the same portico right after Pentecost. He preaches Jesus crucified and risen, and these Jewish authorities snatch Peter away with their hands to arrest him. The only catch—they couldn’t shut Peter and the apostles up. They couldn’t snatch them away from Jesus, and so the gospel continued. In fact, if you look ahead from Acts 3 to Acts 5, this colonnade became the gathering place for the early Christians. It’s a beautiful image, if you think of it, that Jesus declares himself to be the good shepherd who dies for his sheep, and no one can snatch them out of his hand. Not more than a year later, after he died for his sheep, his sheep gathered at the same place and flourished despite being arrested and persecuted.
Now again, that’s just an interesting observation about this Solomon’s Portico. Let’s keep reading in verse 24, and I think we’ll start seeing the first reason why Jesus, as our good shepherd, might resolve our worries or anxieties. This is hinting at the first way he shepherds us. Verse 24—
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
So here, Jesus makes it very black and white for us. How do you know if you’re one of Jesus’s sheep? How can you know that he’s committed to saving you and protecting you and caring for you and loving you?
Well, Jesus is talking to the pharisees whom he says are not his sheep, and he explains very clearly why they are not his sheep. He says “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” People who do not believe in him are not among his sheep. It’s that simple. it’s that black and white. If you do not believe in him, you’re not his sheep. If you do believe, then you can know you’re among his sheep. Isn’t that wonderful? Faith is the distinguishing mark of Jesus’s sheep.
Now here’s the honest truth. As refreshing and good as it is to hear that all we need is faith—that in and of itself can be a point of anxiety to many. We’re talking about belief and unbelief, here. We often make that a very subjective thing. We often make true, saving faith something that’s very difficult to discern. Pastors all over the world will tell you that they regularly hear people say to them, “Yes, pastor, I understand that we are saved by faith—but how can I know that I believe rightly? How can I know my faith is the right faith—that it’s sufficient?” Or, when unsettled with seeds of unbelief or doubt, a concerned person might ask “How can I know that the unbelief, or doubts, which I struggle with don’t disqualify me from Jesus? Don’t even the demons believe, and they’re not saved?!”. Remember the desparate father in Mark 9 who was begging Jesus to cast a demon out of his child—“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”. It’s a most curious thing, belief is. The Bible has a category for belief that experiences doubt or distresses or uncertainties. So, when we experience those doubts it is very common for people to question the validity of their faith—and therefore, whether they truly are one of Jesus’s sheep. “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” Could that be you? Could that be me?
Folks, think carefully about what kind of unbelief Jesus was addressing in this passage. This is the cold, hard, stubborn unbelief of the Pharisees. They say to him, there in verse 24, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Notice how similar they sound to so many people who claim to be agnostic or atheist. “If there’s a personal and all-knowing God, I’ll believe in him when he reveals himself to me plainly.” How often do we hear that, today? Many people will believe there’s a God, or a spiritual force that’s distant or perhaps impersonal. Although, when it comes to receiving a personal God who dishes out love and justice, grace and wrath, people demand a personal, plain revelation. “Tell us plainly”, they say, just like these pharisees.
What does Jesus say? It’s so revealing of our human nature, folks. Verse 25,
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.
Hear that, folks. “I told you and you do not believe”. Jesus has already been clear to them. Sure, he hasn’t said “I am the Messiah”—but given all the signs and miracles and teachings he has demonstrated, he very much has said “I am the Messiah”. He’s even said more than that! He’s said “I’m God”. He’s said “before Abraham was, I am”. He’s performed miracles which were perfectly characteristic of the coming Messiah. Folks, he hasn’t just told them he’s the Messiah. He’s shown them he’s the Messiah. He continues there in verse 25—
The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe…
So, we’re really getting at the heart of the human nature in this passage. This is straight up insincerity—it’s the insincerity of unbelief which we need to be saved from. This is our natural condition, our natural insincerity.
Think about it. Why are there so many people who deny Jesus? Why are there so many people who deny God’s existence? “Well, he hasn’t shown himself to me”. That’s what they say, isn’t it? Right here, folks—Jesus is showing us in these Pharisees that Jesus himself could personally appear before you and perform all kinds of indisputable miracles. He could teach and speak amazing things to you—and, nothing would make you even budge in your unbelief toward him. These Pharisees wouldn’t have it, period.
Folks, God has revealed himself. Jesus has revealed himself. We see God’s power and goodness in creation. We have his Holy Word—the Bible. We have all kinds of historical proofs and testimonies to the validity of the Bible, and of the historical Jesus of the Bible. We could get into all kinds of those arguments for Jesus and the faith, but the problem isn’t the arguments. The problem isn’t God. The problem is the natural, stubborn condition of mankind in their unbelief. The Bible says we are naturally dead in our sins, unable to move a finger of faith toward God if he does not first draw us out and give us new hearts to believe. God has to choose us, own us, claim us, change us, call us out of the pastures of this world and put us in his pasture if we are ever to believe in him. Just like any good shepherd, he has to choose the sheep, purchase them—save them, if I may—if the sheep are to know his voice and follow him.
Notice the logic in verse 26, there. Jesus says to these Pharisees that “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep”. That’s huge. He doesn’t say “You are not among my sheep because you do not believe”. He’s not saying that belief makes you his sheep. He’s saying that being his sheep makes you believe. If he’s made you his sheep, then he’s equipped you with a heart to believe. He’s not saying “if you would just believe, then you can be among my sheep”. He’s saying “if you were among my sheep—if I claimed you as my own to care for you—then you’d believe”.
That’s a massive difference, folks. Jesus’s statement, there, takes the control out of our own hands, and places it entirely into his hands. You won’t believe unless he first claims you as his sheep. You won’t hear his voice as your shepherd and follow him unless he first makes you his sheep.
Now, let me ask you this question. If that’s true, then what must be the case if you have even the most slight inkling of belief in Jesus deep in your heart—and despite some uncertainties or doubts, you just can’t get rid of that belief. It’s always there giving you hope and comfort. If you have that sort of belief, what must be the case? If Jesus’s words are true, here, then that means you’re his chosen sheep. He called you, you know his voice, and you know that his voice leads to pasture. You’re his sheep because he called you. You believe because he made you his sheep. That’s your security.
Folks, there are two kinds of unbelief which the Bible recognizes. There’s the unbelief of these pharisees which, despite any and all evidences presented to you, you will never believe. You’ll keep demanding from Jesus “how long will you keep me in suspense? If your God, tell me. Show me. Otherwise, I’m done with you!”. That’s the unbelief of the world. But there’s also the “I believe, help my unbelief” sort of unbelief. There’s the sort of unbelief which is more truly a weak and uncertain faith than it is blind unbelief. That’s what we see in weak sheep who need some nurturing from the shepherd—and, it’s a far cry from damning unbelief. If you have faith, folks that means the good shepherd has saved you from the insincerity of blind unbelief. Pray for a richer, more assured and certain faith.
But blind unbelief? It’s a misery of insincerity. It’s altogether insincere. “When will you tell us you’re the Christ?!”. Jesus responds “I have!”. God has stamped his existence and his Christ and eternity upon the hearts of all humanity, and humanity denies it. That’s Romans 1, folks.
He Shepherds Us Out of our Insincerity
So, the first way Jesus shepherds us in this passage is that he saves us from our insincerity. He calls us as his own—he claims us as his sheep, so that we might hear his voice and believe in him (even if it’s a weak faith).
The Second Way He Shepherds Us
Now, the second way Jesus shepherds us is in the next three verses. Look there with me, in verses 27–29—
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? He’s the good shepherd, folks. He won’t lose you. He owns you, and he’ll see you through all the way to eternal life.
If you have ever had any doubts about your salvation, this is the place to go. When you need to be reminded of how committed God is to you and your salvation, this is it folks. Jesus is talking about his sheep. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”. There’s no qualifier, there. None of his sheep will get lost to the flames, or get stolen away. None of his sheep will say one day “nah, I’m done with this shepherd. I’m going to go find another one”. If that happens—if someone leaves the faith, the Bible tells us that “they were not of us” in the first place, “for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John 2:19). But for those who remain in the faith, especially until death, we can have confidence that they belonged to Jesus. They are his sheep.
Folks, faith is not something you ultimately did. It’s not something you conjured up on your own. It’s not something you ultimately keep steady. Faith is a gift. If the good shepherd never claimed us as his sheep, we would have never recognized his voice to follow him.
Think about how encouraging that is to people who doubt their faith. Really, think about it. For many of us, we look in at our faith and think “gee, it’s so wavering and filled with so many uncertainties and doubts. It hardly leads me to the sort of mature obedience I’d like to have. Is this real? Is it enough?” We think that—and so naval-gazing in at our faith is often discouraging. But truly, it ought to be the opposite. The very fact that you have faith is the fundamental sign that God has claimed you as his sheep, and that he’s not letting you go. When you look in and evaluate your faith, you are evaluating something you would have never had if God had not called you as his sheep. So, that means faith ought to be self-reassuring. You should look at your faith and, despite how weak it is, you’ll say “yep, it’s still there. I’m still believing and trusting in Jesus, still hearing his voice. that means I’m his sheep, and he’s saved me. He’s called me. Lord, help my unbelief and make my faith more mature”.
If you have faith, you have every reason to be encouraged. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6, where Paul says “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Folks, Jesus shepherds us out of our insincerity of unbelief, but he also shepherds us out of our insecurities. When he calls us as his sheep, he gives us every security and comfort we need for life and peace and godliness.
Think about some of the promises Jesus declares in these verses, concerning his sheep who believe and hear his voice. He says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them”. He knows you, and he still loves you. He knows you by name. He knows everything about you. Last week, we saw Jesus say the same thing, didn’t we? Verse 14, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me… and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He knows you, and he still lays his life down for you. You don’t have to sit with the insecurity of thinking, “Jesus couldn’t love me if he really knew me”—or, “yeah, I know Jesus knows everything about me, and I really struggle to believe he’s committed to me and loves me”. Jesus says he knows you, and he lays his life down for you. Jesus says if you believe in him, then you’re his sheep. You believe in him because he made you his sheep; because he set his love upon you. It’s a mystery, folks. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them…” (verse 27). He promises that he knows you, and he still died for you.
He also promises in verse 28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish”. You’ll never die—not really, at least. Sure, your body will stop working one day. Your soul won’t die. Your soul won’t go into judgment. You’ve been risen with Christ, to eternal life. You’re being led into rich pasture, Christian. That’s your destination. Your arrival into eternity is certain. Your destination is certain. That’s why we call it “eternal security” as Calvinists.
But notice how Jesus describes your security between now and your arrival to glory. Remember how I said earlier that sheep have predators to deal with, and they have their own stupidity to deal with? There’s a lot going against us. There’s a lot htat could get us snatched out of Jesus’s hand. Jesus said “not happening”. Verse 28—
no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Think of how much security there is for you, in those words. No one will snatch you out of Jesus’s hand (verse 28). Then, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand”. So, you’re in Jesus’s hand and the Father’s hand. You’re safeguarded by the Triune God. You’re invested, folks. In fact, the Father has some stock in all this. You are the Father’s gift to the Son. “My father, who has given them to me… no one is able to snatch them out of [his] hand.”. He’s not letting anyone take his gift away from the Son. The Son is not letting anyone hurt his sheep. We’re talking about God’s power, God’s salvation, God’s gift, God’s glory, here. You, who believe, who are his sheep, are quite literally wrapped up in all that.
Nobody can challenge this—not even foolish sheep. “No one is able to snatch them out”, he says in verse 29. That’s worded in a way to emphasize a person’s power, or ability. You won’t be able to wiggle yourself out of God’s hand. Satan won’t be able to pry you out of God’s hand. It’s not going to happen, so long as you’re his sheep.
I never saw this quite so vividly as I did when I was working with the folks in drug and alcohol rehab. I would see the same person through our program three, four, five times. Each time, the person would confess a genuine faith. They’d express genuine repentance. They’d leave the program hopeful—only to fall back into a week or month of binging. Perhaps it was a year. But they never totally gave themselves over to their addiction. They kept coming back to our Christian rehab program. They kept fighting in the faith, and I saw many people gain sobriety and victory that way, after so many setbacks. Those people had every reason to be insecure in themselves, but every reason to be secure in Jesus. They kept hearing his voice, and they kept answering.
If you’re his sheep, you’ll keep hearing his voice. You’ll keep following—even when you don’t know why.
Has anyone been there in their faith? “Why on earth am I sticking this out? This is crazy—God is taking me on an insane journey. How can I possibly keep believing he’s good, and that he’s leading me into green pasture? Why do I keep following his voice?” Your sheep, folks, and the shepherd is calling. It’s good. You’re Peter who says to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. That’s evidence of your security—of God’s commitment to you. He’ll keep you in the faith, in his flock. It ought to be a resolution to all your insecurities.
He Shepherds Us Out of Insecurities
So Jesus, our good shepherd, saves us from our insincerity—from our insincere and stubborn unbelief when we were lost to the world. Now here, he also saves us from our insecurity. He secures us in his hands, in his pastures, and we’ll just keep following so long as we’re his sheep.
The Third Way He Shepherds Us
Last but not least, he saves us from our inactivity. Did you catch that? Verse 27, again—
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
If we hear his voice, we will follow him. We will move. His sheep are not inactive sheep. He keeps them moving. He keeps them moving from the rotten pastures of this world, to the lavish pastures of his grace. He keeps us moving from immaturity to maturity. He keeps us moving from insecurity to greater security and assurance. He keeps us moving from anxiety and fear to peace and comfort despite what suffering we may be facing. We are not, and cannot be inactive sheep. We follow him where he leads. We listen to his voice, and obey his voice. If we don’t we’re not hearing his voice. This isn’t easy-believism. It’s real faith, real sheep, with a real shepherd.
And folks, it’s a mercy that Jesus makes it quite simple for us. “My sheep hear his voice… and they follow me.” Have you ever wondered what you should do with your life? Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for you, or what you should do in any situation? Jesus, here, makes it easy for you. He says “listen to my voice and follow me”—in other words, repent from your sins, and believe in him for salvation. You’ll be ok. Listen to his wisdom and his commandments. They’re written down in Scripture for us. It’ll take some thinking at times, but you’ll figure it out. Hear his voice and follow him. Follow his Spirit of conviction. He’s leading you to life, folks. Isn’t that what Psalm 23 is all about? “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he leads me He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” That’s what it means to be a sheep. You follow. We are followers, folks—even you Type A people out there. We’re all followers of Jesus.
Shepherded Out of Insincerity, Insecurity, and Inactivity
So ladies and gentlemen, sheep of God’s pasture, your good shepherd is before you this morning. He’s shepherding you, leading you, calling you by name. He’s leading you to renounce the insincerity of unbelief. He’s leading you to hand over your insecurities. He’s leading you to renounce your inactivity. Sincerely receive him by faith, folks, find your securities in him, and follow him into eternal life. He’s laid his life down for you. You can trust him.