Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
Disappointed with Church Leaders?
How many of you have been disappointed by the church? Or perhaps, how many of you have been disappointed or frustrated with your pastor, or your church leadership more broadly? Believe it or not, Christian leaders are fallen leaders. Christian leaders—pastors, shepherds, elders—are sinners. No Christian leader will lead perfectly. No Christian leader will make decisions perfectly or edify or protect or sacrifice perfectly. Hopefully this isn’t news to you.
But, it can be a point of deep frustration, can’t it? Sometimes when a church’s leadership messes up (or does so often), hopelessness and doubts can overcome a church.
Our passage this morning reminds us that we’re never without a good leader. We’re never without a sacrificial shepherd. Jesus reminds us, “11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (verse 11). He laid his life down, folks, as the good shepherd of sheep. In fact, Jesus reminds us in verse 17, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”. So, he’s taken the blow by giving up his life, and then he’s taken up life again. He’s still shepherding. He is shepherding you. He’s shepherding me, the church at large.
It’s deeply comforting, isn’t it? The imagery that God is our shepherd is all over the Bible, and it’s always a deeply comforting thought in a world full of sinful, imperfect shepherds and pastors and leaders. Psalm 23 is perhaps the most famous, well-known Psalm in our Bibles for a reason—“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”—I need not suffer want for anything, he’s my leader. He’s my shepherd. “He makes me lie down in green pastures…. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. This is rich, folks. This passage, here in John 10, is rich. It’s comforting—but, if we’re looking closely, it’s not merely comforting. It’s incredibly weighty. It’s piercing to some people, if we would see it rightly this morning.
He’s THE Good Shepherd, the Door, and the GOOD Shepherd
We’re going to consider Jesus’s leadership as the good shepherd from three different angles in this passage. We’ll first see him as THE good shepherd (emphasis on the definite article, there). He is THE good shepherd, not just any good shepherd. Then, we’ll consider what he means in verse 9 when he says “I am the door”. He sort of changes his metaphor, there, for a second (we’ll see why). Last, we’ll think more broadly about him not merely as THE good shepherd, but the GOOD shepherd. Why is he so good, that we should desire him as our shepherd—our leader?
So, he’s THE good shepherd, he’s the door for the sheep, and he’s the GOOD shepherd. That’s where we’re going, even as he might lead us to his table of communion this morning.
Jesus is THE shepherd
So, what’s so unique about Jesus that we would call him THE good shepherd? When he says in verse 11 “I am the good shepherd”, he’s making an exclusive claim. He’s claiming exclusivity, priority, sovereignty over God’s sheep. He’s claiming to be the shepherd—the chief shepherd. That seems really clear, here, doesn’t it? I mean—that’s in many ways the impetus behind him saying in verse 9 that “the door”. You don’t get into God’s pasture without literally entering first through him as the door, and not simply to him as the shepherd. He’s it, folks. He’s very clearly claiming exclusivity—to be the good shepherd. Why might he be emphasizing that so much, here in John 10? Is he just claiming superiority in a general sense, or is there more to it than that?
Let’s start walking through this verse-by-verse, and I think we’ll start to see some more depth to all this. Admmittedly, it may take us some time to really see the exclusivity Jesus is claiming, here, as THE good shepherd. We’ll get there. Read with me, starting in 1. Jesus says—
“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. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So first, notice in these verses is that Jesus doesn’t refer directly to himself in these opening words. He simply states facts about shepherding that people would have generally known at the time. Shepherding back then often involved a community pen where sheep would be kept. Perhaps there were a hundred sheep in the pen—ten belonged to Eli, and 20 belonged to Joseph, and 15 belonged to Simon or Joshua (or some other Hebrew name). Then, when the owner wanted to gather his sheep from the pen and bring them into pasture, the gatekeeper would open the gate, and the shepherd would simply call, and his sheep whom he knew and loved by name would come out. They’d come out voluntarily, willingly. It’s a very different concept from what we’re used to in American farming or ranching. When I was in Arizona ministering among ranchers, they’d always be talking about cattle drives. They’d hope on their horses, and they’d drive cattle from the back rather than lead cattle from the front. The cattle were not always so willing, so eager to comply—so, they would use several ranchers and cattle dogs to keep the cattle moving in the right direction from one pasture to another.
Jesus, here, is referring to shepherding from the front. He’s talking about leading willing sheep who were known and cared for by name. “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.” It’s personal—much like a well-trained dog today comes at his owner’s voice, and only his owner’s voice. It’s obviously not hard to start drawing the connection to Jesus as our great shepherd—and, we’ll get there as we continue studying John 10. Jesus himself makes the connections.
But, notice he doesn’t make those connections here, at the get-go in verses 1–6. Jesus opens all this up by simply stating, or observing these commonly-known shepherding practices. He’s just stating the facts, and letting them sit there in his audiences ears.
Now, why would Jesus do that? Why would that be rhetorically, or argumentatively helpful to Jesus at this point?
We need to notice from the get-go, here in chapter 10, that we’re actually jumping into the middle of an interaction Jesus is already having with the Pharisees. Did you catch that, there in verse 1? In verse 1, we don’t’ see John opening up Jesus’s words with some sort of statement like, “then Jesus went to the temple and taught the people”. There’s no transition, or introduction. We just find Jesus speaking, right away. “Truly, truly, I say to you…”. He’s already in the middle of a speech, and it’s really easy for us to miss that. For one thing, we have our modern chapter division telling us, “and here begins John chapter 10”—and we tend to naturally think, “ok, a new section”. Don’t assume so quickly, here in John 10. Yes, this is when Jesus first starts speaking in terms of sheep and shepherds, but he’s bringing this up in the middle of a discussion—and that’s significant. There is a reason why Jesus goes into all this shepherding and sheep talk—and folks, it’s piercing. It’s a piercing word of judgment to these Pharisees. But, what conversation is Jesus having here, that we might see that more clearly?
In the last two weeks in our study of John’s gospel, we looked at the amazing story in John 9 when Jesus healed a man who was born blind on the Sabbath. We saw how healing a blind man was a miracle that especially had a unique connection with the promised Jewish Messiah. Nowhere in the Old Testament do you ever see the blind receiving their sight. The only time you see it is in the form of a promise—when the Messiah comes, the blind will receive their sight. So, to confess that Jesus healed this blind man is essentially to confess that Jesus is the Messiah.
The Pharisees who loved their power and control didn’t like all this. We even saw in chapter 9 verse 22 that “the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” They’d be spiritually, religiously, and culturally exiled from their Jewish people. It was an awful fate, to be cast out of the synagogue. So, this man who had never enjoyed membership in the synagogue because of his condition as a blind beggar is finally healed, and he can finally enjoy membership with his Jewish people for the first time in his life. The only problem, however, is that the Jews wanted him to renounce Jesus who gave him his sight. They wanted him to deny that he was ever blind, or to deny that it was Jesus who gave him his sight. He could deny Jesus, and enjoy his Jewish membership and privileges, or he could confess Jesus and be cast out of the synagogue, to be right back at square one of being a beggar and exiled outcast. Remember what he did? The blind man saw—he saw both physically and spiritually. He saw Jesus, and confessed him. So, the Jews cast him out of the synagogue as they promised.
This whole thing really is an amazing interaction, especially once Jesus gets involved. Just to really give us the context of all this, look at verses 35–41 with me again, as they lead so naturally and stunningly into our passage on shepherds who care for the flock, and thieves who steal flock. Chapter 9 verse 35 reads—
John 9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
Then, just so we don’t miss it, Jesus continues in the same breath to say—
John 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. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
Do you see what Jesus is doing, here? This isn’t a new section. Jesus is still speaking to the Pharisees, and he’s condemning them. He was saying that they have claimed power and authority over the vulnerable sheep—but the claimed it the wrong way. They approach the sheep all wrong—they climb into the sheep pen like thieves and robbers. Yet he, Jesus, enters at the door. He enters and approaches the sheep like any owner of the sheep would—from the door with love and care and gentleness. Jesus, here, is calling them thieves and robbers. He’s judging them, and their abusive spiritual authority over Israel—and, they completely missed what Jesus was saying. That’s why verse 6 says “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Sure, they understood the idea of shepherding alright. Only, they didn’t see themselves in the equation—they didn’t see themselves as thieves and robbers. They saw themselves as genuine shepherds.
Folks, there’s a right way to go about spiritual leadership and ministry and shepherding God’s people; and there’s a wrong way to do it. It’s a really big deal. We’re talking about shepherding and leading God’s flock, God’s sheep—and, when it comes to God’s sheep we can say fairly confidently that there is only one true, chief shepherd. Everyone else is either a theif and robber, or what we might call “under-shepherds”. Later in verse 12, we’ll see Jesus refer to hirelings—a hired hand to shepherd on behalf of the chief shepherd. At the end of John’s gospel, Jesus will say to Peter “feed my sheep”—that is, “be a hired hand, not a thief”. Jesus, here in John 10, is talking to thieves. He’s talking to pharisees, and to anyone else who has ever wrongfully assumed authority over God’s church and fed harmful poison rather than edifying food. Jesus is talking to thieves, and he’s establishing himself. He’s marking his territory. “You’re thieves, and I’m the good shepherd”.
Folks, I don’t think we intuitively see how significant this is, for Jesus to talk this way. There are a number of places we could go in our Old Testaments to really get a big picture of all this shepherding imagery, and how seriously God takes it—but there’s one passage in Ezekiel that I find incredibly moving and applicable to everything Jesus is saying in John 10, here. I recall one minister who read it at length in a similar message on John 10, and I want to do the same for us this morning. This is Ezekiel 34, verses 1–16—
Ezek 34:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
Ezek 34:7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
Ezek 34:11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
That’s what we need to hear, isn’t it? God is the shepherd of the sheep. He owns, protects, and feeds them.
Folks, what do you think Jesus is doing in John 10, in our passage, when he chastises the religious leaders in Israel and then he proceeds to call himself the good shepherd? Folks, he’s the good shepherd. He’s making himself out to not simply be the Messiah who opens the eyes of the blind, but he’s the shepherd who sovereignly cares for his sheep and protects them against wolves and thieves and robbers. Jesus, folks, is God. Earlier in John 8, he said “Before Abraham was, I AM”. Now, with all this going on, he stands up and says “I AM the good shepherd”.
He’s THE good shepherd—and, that’s how he shepherds. He’s protective. He’s sovereign. He’s good. We’ll see more of that when we consider him not simply as THE good shepherd, but the GOOD shepherd.
Jesus is the Door
But, notice as we continue reading in John, picking up where we left off in verse 7, Jesus changes his metaphor for a brief moment. In verse 7, he doesn’t refer to himself as the good shepherd, but as the door of the sheep. He’s the gate. If the sheep want to go to Jesus as their shepherd, to enjoy his pasture, then they must first go through him, the gate, to get to him, the shepherd in the pasture. Why do you think Jesus did that? Why do you think he changed metaphors briefly, and called himself the door?
Folks, it’s so applicable to the Jews he was speaking with. They just exiled one of his sheep—the man born blind. They just exiled his sheep from the synagogue, from God’s people, from the sheep pen. Jesus is saying “you don’t get to do that. I’m the door. I’m the gate. I decide who is in and who is out. I decide which sheep come find pasture, and which sheep don’t”. I love how he expands on this in verse 8—
8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
Don’t you love that? The leaders of Israel—as they oppressed the people in various ways—had a hard time getting the people to comply. The sheep didn’t listen, just as virtually no one would want to listen to a tyrant, or a thief. Jesus continues in verse 9—
9 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.
Jesus meant that. He’s the door that opens up to salvation, to pasture, to life. We aren’t talking primarily about material blessings. Remember, he’s saying this right after his most recent convert was exiled from the synagogue and from his Jewish people. His most recent convert was persecuted. What does Jesus mean by that—“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”? He means that he offers his pastures of forgiveness, of his eternal life, of his Spirit, his strength, his peace and joy. He means you can have all of those things even if your life is marked by oppression and persecution, or other many sufferings. The alternative is to be burdened by the rules and false promises of this world. Remember Jesus’s words, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s life abundant—a yoke of forgiveness and grace and eternal hope, and Jesus’s ever-present help and strength from heaven. He’s the door to such blessings, folks. He decides who is in, and who is out. He says all nations must come to him. We don’t get to be racist. He says both genders come to him. He says people of all social classes come to him—rich and poor. Yes, he even says children should come to him—and, he’s emphatic about that. You get thrown into sea with a millstone around your neck if you hinder one of his little ones from coming to him. We’d do well to welcome the children joyfully in our midst, even with all their noises and disruptions. We’d do well to train them up in the Lord’s discipline and grace. Look at them and smile. Make sure they know they belong here, even in the worship service. Encourage their parents, and remind them how important their work is, because Jesus is the door who decides who is in and out, and Jesus says the children are in. They’re welcome to graze and find pasture. We’d do well to make it a welcoming, joyful thing for them.
So Jesus is THE good shepherd. He’s the door of the sheep pen. He’s also the GOOD shepherd. He’s good, folks—and, we need to see that before we close this morning.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd
He’s the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. That’s what he’s saying in almost the entirety of verses 11 through 18. He’s so committed to protecting and caring for his sheep that he would rather die for them, then let them be snatched away by a wolf. They’re sheep, folks. They’re stupid, wandering, sheep. That’s what we are, and Jesus would die for them. Pastor Tom has sent a little 10 second video to me on several occasions, where a sheep in an impoverished country gets stuck neck-deep in a narrow ditch. A shepherd boy pries him out of the ditch with not a little effort, and the sheep gets so excited to be free that it takes a few leaps forward only to jump right back in the ditch. That’s us—ever prone to wander right back into the same trap. Jesus, here, is the good shepherd who knows his sheep by name, and calls them. He protects them. He leads them, and he sacrifices himself for them.
Folks, there isn’t a better quality in a leader than self-sacrifice. There isn’t a better quality in a man (fathers, husbands) than self-sacrifice. God calls men, generally, and leaders and shepherds in particular, to sacrifice themselves so that the people in their care don’t have to. We get that privilege. Shepherds get that privilege. To borrow a little saying from one of my professors—husbands and fathers and pastors are called to be the first one in the fight, the last one in the retreat, and laughing the loudest because victory is certain in Jesus. That’s how Jesus shepherds, is it not? Think of how he talks, here. Verse 14—
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.
Notice, he doesn’t just die for the sheep in a general, sacrificial sense. This is personal. “I know my own, and my own know me”. He knows you, as he shepherds you and dies for you. That’s what it means for him to be a good shepherd—he knows you by name, and you know him. Think about that—he knows you, and he still is moved to die for you and shepherd you! If you’re honest with yourself, that’s an amazing thought, isn’t it? Then verse 17—
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.”
Jesus has complete authority over life and death. Nobody takes his life from him. He doesn’t “get murdered”. He sacrifices himself for his sheep, so that they don’t have to be slaughtered under God’s wrath against their sin. He takes the hit. He lays his life down—and yes, he’ll take it back up again. When he says he offers pasture—when he offers security and peace and life abundant—he means it. He’s referring to eternal life and blessings, an eternal pasture, even as he’s offering to prepare a table before us now in the presence of our enemies.
Brothers and sisters, we are shepherded. You are shepherded by the good shepherd. I, your pastor, and just a hireling—I’m a hired hand, an under-shepherd. I’ll probably disappoint you at times—I probably already have. I’m a sinner. I probably won’t sacrifice myself for you as I should. I get selfish. But Jesus? He’s THE good shepherd, even God himself who knows and protects his sheep. He’s the door to pasture. He’s the GOOD shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep, and took it back up again to offer us forgiveness and life and pastures of peace forever. He’ll never disappoint.