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Jesus is the Good Shepherd
John Chapter 10, verses 1-3
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
In his discussion with the Jews, Jesus switched to a common Old Testament theme to illustrate who he was. Those Jews would remember Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd” (verse 1; see also Psalm 80:1). They would recall Isaiah’s description of the Lord, “He tends his flock like a shepherd” (40:11), and Ezekiel’s, “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep” (34:12). They would know the Messiah was to be the shepherd of God’s people (Ezekiel 34:13).
Promising to speak the solemn truth, Jesus set the scene: The sheep are kept in a stone-walled, open-air pen with but one entrance. Only the shepherd has access through the gate to the sheep. Anyone finding another way in is up to no good, a robber and a thief.
The watchman protecting the gate opens it for the shepherd. The sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice as he calls them by name and leads them out. The shepherd knows each of his sheep by name.
John Chapter 10, verses 4-6
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
When the shepherd has called out all his own sheep, he goes on ahead of them, and they follow because they know his voice. But they will not follow a stranger. They fear strangers because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.
As Jesus spoke, we might expect the Jews to have understood at least some of his figurative language. The sheep were God’s chosen people. The strangers and thieves were those who would endanger and harm them. The shepherd was Jesus, sent by God to care for the flock.
But the Jews did not understand his extended figure of speech. Maybe they really didn’t catch on, or maybe they wouldn’t follow it because they didn’t believe in Jesus and were not ready to conclude that they themselves were among the strangers.
John Chapter 10, verses 7-10
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus saw that the Jews failed to understand, so he started again with a slightly different twist and a more direct application. “In all truth,” he emphasized, “I am the gate for the sheep.” This was yet another I AM passage, reflecting his divinity. He repeated it: “I am the gate.”
Jesus was the way to reach the sheep and the way for the sheep to come for nourishment. Many “strangers” came prior to Jesus, trying to reach his sheep. False prophets and false christs, thieves and robbers came. They did not come by way of Jesus. They did not find Christ Jesus in the Scriptures and point him out to others as the way of salvation. Therefore, they did not reach God’s elect—the sheep. God’s sheep would not listen to the thieves and robbers.
Anyone who comes through the gate, that is, who believes in Jesus, will be saved. He or she will come and go and be nourished. The thieves and robbers come to steal, kill, and destroy. The effect of false teaching is disastrous. The path of the Pharisees falls off a rocky cliff. But Jesus came so that the sheep might have life and have it to the full.
Someone has said that Jesus gives us life without the big “if” in the middle. With Jesus life takes on meaning and has an eternal future. He gives life that delivers joy, rests content, and blossoms in glory. We believe, and we receive that life from Jesus.
The picture of Jesus as the gate troubles some because he’s also the Good Shepherd who comes through the gate. But we can understand that in several ways:
1. The way the text reads, we can understand this as a separate figure from what went before and what follows. Seen by itself, the gate figure is not difficult.
2. Jesus is the Word, and all God’s Word reveals Jesus. So Jesus can be the Good Shepherd and the gate if we think of the Word through which Jesus comes to us and we to him and through which we receive nourishment for life eternal from him.
3. The sheep pen in town had a gate and a watchman as pictured in verse 3. In the countryside, however, the sheep pen might simply have an opening that the shepherd blocked with his own body as he slept. Thus Jesus would serve both as the gate and the shepherd in that setting.
John Chapter 10, verses 11-13
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Earlier we identified the shepherd as meaning Jesus (verses 2,4). Some, however, feel in that context, in contrastto the thieves and robbers, the shepherd represents a true prophet or priest or pastor of God (Acts 20:28). They see the illustration representing God’s church and those who shepherd it versus those who try to harm it.
That interpretation is possible, in which case Jesus purposely switched here to “the good shepherd” to identify himself. Once again he spoke the words we associate with Yahweh, “I AM.”
Jesus is the “good”—“beautiful,” “noble,” “excellent”— shepherd. This shepherd excels in every respect beyond any other shepherd. He is unique.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Using the figure of the shepherd, Jesus prophesies his death at Calvary, which was just months away. Three times in this account he mentions laying down his life on behalf of and in place of his sheep. He explains a little more about what he means each time. The figure fully merges with the reality by the third time.
Ordinarily shepherds protect sheep, but they do not die for their sheep. The Good Shepherd is extraordinary. In contrast, the hired hand won’t take any risk. When trouble comes, he disappears.
The hired hand is like those church leaders who think more of their own well-being than of serving God’s flock. They are not true shepherds. They do not feel any personal responsibility for the sheep. They do the job to make a living. When wolves come, they show their real colors. They abandon the flock and let the wolves ravage and scatter it.
The wolf is the enemy who, if unchecked, will destroy the flock and keep it from the Good Shepherd. Every false teacher is such a wolf. Jesus warned another time: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15; see also Acts 20:29).
The leader of such a wolf pack, as Jesus had told the Pharisees earlier (8:44), is the devil. Jesus was prepared to give up his life to save us from the devil.
John Chapter 10, verses 14-16
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does not lose his sheep. He knows us, and he has led us to know him. He has created a bond between us like that between the Father and him. This knowledge surpasses just recognizing each other; even the devil recognizes Jesus. This knowledge binds one to the other in love.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus gave up his life to secure that bond and keep his sheep safe. He died for all the world (3:16), and his sheep all over the world receive the benefit. Many thought the Messiah would come only for the Jews, but Jesus corrected that perception. The other sheep not of that sheep pen were the Gentiles who were also chosen by God from eternity.
Jesus’ mission was to bring them too, along with the Jewish believers, into his flock. This he did and continues to do by the power of his gospel in the Word and sacraments. His sheep everywhere hear his voice, his Word, and become one flock under the one Shepherd.
The one flock is the holy Christian church, the sum total of all believers, which we will see in all its unity when it enters heaven with the Good Shepherd. For now it is invisible to us, because true faith lies in the hearts of people.
John Chapter 10, verses 17-18
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 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.”
Jesus, as God and man, claimed the enduring love of the Father because he was doing the Father’s will for our salvation. He gave his life in obedience, but not by coercion; willingly, not reluctantly. He did it with the purpose of taking it up again. He came to die and rise from the dead to achieve his mission. His death was the necessary sacrifice for our sins; his resurrection, the proof the sacrifice worked.
Much is made today about who killed Jesus: who was to blame? We know who the human agents were, but that’s mostly beside the point. No one could have killed him against his will. “No one,” Jesus stressed, took his life from him. His was a true self-sacrifice out of his boundless love. He had the authority and the power (note here another claim of divinity by Jesus) and the directive from his heavenly Father to give the sacrifice and show the proof. He was determined to die and rise again.
John Chapter 10, verses 19-21
At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Once again Jesus’ words affected different hearts in different ways. Those whose hearts were hardened became still more vehement against him: “He’s a demon.” “He’s raving mad.” They tried to convince the others to stop listening to him.
Some, however, were moved by his words to conclude he couldn’t be a demon. The things he said were not the things of a demon. Besides, they remembered the miraculous sign Jesus did. They didn’t believe a demon could have opened the eyes of the blind.
So Jesus’ words reach hearts, and his works say a big amen.
The unbelieving Jews try to stone Jesus
John Chapter 10, verses 22-24
Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
About two months passed, and the Feast of Dedication, also called Hanukkah, or the Feast of Lights, was being celebrated in Jerusalem. This feast was a Jewish national holiday, celebrating the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in December 165 B.C. On the occasion, Jewish families held reunions and lighted their homes. John had to inform his non-Jewish readers that it was winter.
The colonnade, or porch, of Solomon was reportedly part of the original temple where the people frequently gathered. It offered some protection from the winter’s cold. Jesus was walking there, apparently teaching the people.
The Jews encircled him and asked him point blank: “Are you the Christ? Tell us frankly.” Let there be no delay and no doubt about the answer. Many thought he was the Christ. What did he have to say for himself? The important question about Jesus was whether he was the promised Messiah.
John Chapter 10, verses 25-26
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.
Sad to say, those Jews didn’t really want to know the truth. What Jesus had already told them, what he had done, and the way he had lived in his Father’s name were clear evidence that he was the Christ. But they did not believe. Similarly today, many people claim to want to know exactly who Jesus was, yet they ignore his own words and ways.
“You do not believe,” said Jesus, “because you are not my sheep.” Those who are not among God’s chosen flock turn deaf ears and blinded eyes to Jesus.
John Chapter 10, verses 27-30
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
In contrast to the unbelieving Jews, Jesus’ sheep hear his voice. He knows them and they follow him, just as he illustrated in 10:4. The relationship between Jesus and his followers is intimate, personal. And because he is the Christ, the Son of God, the relationship is eternal. He gives his sheep eternal life. They will not perish forever. No one will snatch them out of his hand.
What words of comfort for Christians! We are secure forever with Christ Jesus. In him we believe and live.
Our security is locked up with the Father in heaven. No one can take us from Jesus’ hands because that would mean seizing us from God the Father’s hands. And no one can do that. What is true of the Son also is true of the Father.
Jesus’ words were clear. He is from God. He is the Son of God. He is God. He is the Christ. “I and the Father are one,” he concluded.
It is not enough to gather from his words only that he and the Father thought alike or had a harmonious relationship or treated his sheep alike. Jesus was speaking of being one essence with the Father, of being God. And that’s exactly how the Jews understood him.
John Chapter 10, verses 31-33
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
To those Jews, Jesus spoke blasphemy, so they picked up stones to carry out the penalty prescribed in Leviticus for blasphemers (24:16). The Jews’ hatred and anger could not be contained. They were ready to ignore the legal need for a trial. This was the second time they tried to stone Jesus (8:59).
But Jesus had a simple response: “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” You would think Jesus’ miraculous deeds would have elicited the opposite response. The deeds backed up Jesus’ words. His whole life testified to his divinity. Nevertheless, since the Jews did not believe Jesus, they would not let the evidence speak for itself. They heard him—correctly—claim to be God. They “knew”—incorrectly—that he was a mere human being. Therefore, in their view, he deserved to be stoned for blasphemy.
John Chapter 10, verses 34-39
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.
Jesus took another route to shake the Jews loose from their unbelief. They were indignant that Jesus called himself God. Jesus, therefore, referred them to their own Old Testament Scriptures. The word “Law” was often used to refer to the entire Old Testament.
In Psalm 82:6 the Jews would find a sense in which mere human beings have been called gods. Men appointed by God to represent God as judges among his people are called gods in the infallible Scriptures, which cannot be denied nor changed. Each word of the Scriptures is God’s truth.
If, then, God’s judges have been properly called gods (not because they are divine beings but because they are God’s representatives), how much more did Jesus deserve to identify himself as God! Jesus was God’s own Son. The Father set Jesus aside in eternity to do his work. The Father sent Jesus from heaven into the world to get the work done. How could anyone call Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son blasphemy?
If the Jews could show that Jesus did not do the works of his Father, then they were right to disbelieve and declare him a blasphemer. However, if Jesus was doing the works of his Father but the Jews still had trouble accepting his claims as God’s own Son, then they should believe the works and conclude from them that Jesus was one essence with the Father. By believing Jesus’ works, the Jews would come to know and continue to realize that the Father was in Jesus and Jesus was in the Father. They would find his words to be true.
To the unbelieving Jews, Jesus’ words only fueled the fire of their hatred. They tried again to seize him, but his time hadn’t come yet. He escaped their grasp.
John Chapter 10, verses 40-42
Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus.
Jesus left Judea and crossed the Jordan to the site where John the Baptist had begun his baptizing. While Jesus was there, the fruits of John’s ministry became evident.
Many who had followed John came to Jesus. Significantly, the Baptist had worked no miracles to get their attention and point them to Jesus. He simply had told them who Jesus was: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). Now they found that all the things John had said about Jesus were true. They heard the news about Jesus. They tested it. And many there believed the Word (1:1). To this day sinners are brought to faith in that way.