Jason Helopoulos / Aug 7, 2016 / John 10:11-18
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Our heavenly Father, we are thankful that you are a God of grace and mercy to us. One of the chief means of your grace to us is your Word, and how desperately we need to hear it this morning! We pray that you would open our ears and write your Word upon our hearts, that we might live in light of it, knowing its comfort, peace, commands, and grace. In Christ’s holy name we pray, amen.
This morning, though we’re only looking at one “I am” statement, it’s helpful to read the whole section. This is the holy and inerrant Word of God:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:11-18
Thought the grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of God stands forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.
This morning, we’re continuing our summer series that looks at Jesus’ “I am” statements. Those of you who were here last week will remember turning to John 10 to look at the statement “I am the door.”. Within that same discourse, Jesus also mentioned that he is the shepherd. More specifically, he says “I am the good shepherd.” There may be no picture of Christ that I think about or dwell on more than that of the good shepherd. Worry, anxiety, and fear too easily crop their little heads up in my mind, life, and heart, and this image is good to reflect and think upon. If I can be overly simplistic (and perhaps overly bold), I think the vast majority of problems in the Christian life stem from us not reflecting, ruminating, and resting on Christ as our good shepherd.
This morning, I want to first look at the background of this imagery in the Old Testament. Then I want to look at the three ways in which Jesus shows that he is the good shepherd: he knows his sheep, protects his sheep, and provides for his sheep.
Sheep: the Old Testament Background
As I mentioned last week, sheep and shepherds are a large part of the Mediterranean world, and were especially so in Biblical times. They’re kind of like cars for us. I know that you don’t ride in a sheep or eat or eat a car, but you know where I’m going with this: they’re everywhere. You know them. You live with them. Sheep were everywhere in the Near Eastern world.
Sheep and shepherding were common themes in the lives of the Old Testament characters. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, and David and his brothers (the sons of Jesse) were all shepherds, among a long list of others. Sheep were everywhere.
They were important for sustenance, as the main source of meat—though only rich people could afford to eat sheep regularly. We’re told that Solomon was so rich that he had 100 sheep and 100 goats to eat on his banqueting table every day!
Sheep were not just eaten, but were also used as common sacrifices under the Levitical law. God commanded that the firstborn of every flock was to be offered to him as a tithe and sacrifice, and sheep were the primary animal used for burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. You’ll also remember that on the high feast day of the Passover, a family would gather together in their home, sit down, and consume a sheep together.
Sheep weren’t just eaten and sacrificed, but were appropriated for all kinds of uses. Sheepskin was turned into containers for wine and water, clothing, coverings, and parchments to write upon. Sheep bones and horns were made into writing utensils. Sheep were everywhere. They were a part of life.
The Jews who were listening to Jesus would have immediately known what he meant when he spoke of sheep and a shepherd. If I said “kindergarten teacher”, “banker”, or “lawyer”, different images pop into your mind, with the different characteristics that mark each profession. You know them. So it was for those Jews about sheep and shepherds.
Therefore, it’s not so strange when God uses the metaphor of a sheep and a shepherd in reference to his people and himself throughout the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t do this out of the blue. YHWH, the God of the Old Testament Scriptures, did this time and time again, and any Jewish man or woman listening to Jesus here would have had these Scriptures going through their minds. They would have thought of Psalm 23—and they probably would have known it better than we do:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. Psalm 23:1-2a
Or perhaps would have thought of Micah 2:
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king passes on before them, the LORD at their head. Micah 2:12-13
Or Ezekiel might have come to mind:
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. 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. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 34:13-15
“I will be your shepherd,” declares YHWH. “Me! Me and me alone! It’s exclusive!”
Now Jesus says the same thing twice. “I am the good shepherd” invokes the language of God and the title of God—and not just the title of God, but the very name of God himself. “The good shepherd, I am,” is how a Jew would have heard him. Jesus’ bold assertions can’t be missed in these “I am” statements. Time and time again, he identifies himself with YHWH, the God of the Old Testament Scriptures, the one and only true God. If you think that’s just pastor ramblings, look down at verse 20. The Jewish people understood him this. In verse 20, they’re debating whether he’s insane or has a demon. That’s what you do when someone claims to be God—unless he is God.
Jesus is the fulfillment of these shepherd texts. He is God in the flesh, coming to gather his people and shepherd them for all eternity. What makes Jesus the good shepherd? Or (better stated) what marks him as the good shepherd? He gives us three marks in this text: he knows his sheep, protects his sheep, and provides for his sheep.
The Good Shepherd Knows His Sheep (v. 14)
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father… John 10:14-15a
I’ve probably read more about shepherds this week than you want to know, although I have found it interesting. One of the most interesting things about shepherds in the ancient world (I don’t know if this is true today) is that when they would gather their sheep together in sheepfolds, especially when they were in a communal area, multiple shepherds would gather their sheep within a common sheepfold.
You’ll remember from last week that a sheepfold was a circular rock barrier that was high enough that the sheep couldn’t jump out. Just to make sure, they would put brambles or thorns on top of those rocks, so that the sheep couldn’t get out and the thieves couldn’t get in. The shepherd, as we saw last week, would serve as the door. He would lay there in the one opening that was in that sheepfold, so that none could get out or get in.
In a communal area, multiple flocks might spend the night together in one sheepfold. In the morning you’d need to separate the sheep. They’re separate flocks, with separate shepherds who each need to take their sheep their own way. This is what boggled my mind this week: often, a shepherd can just speak or whistle, and his sheep respond to him, come out, and follow him. He knows his sheep, and his sheep know him and his voice. That’s what Jesus says in verse 3: the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. They know him, and he equally knows them.
In Ezekiel 34, which we read earlier, the Lord is the great shepherd: “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…” He knows his sheep. He knows their condition: whether they’re lost, straying, injured, or weak. This knowledge allows him to apply the right care. He knows which sheep are prone to wander, so he sets two eyes on them. He knows which sheep are sluggish, so he prods them. He knows which sheep weak, and treats them more gently. There is great comfort in this. The better a shepherd knows his flock, the better he can care for it. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ knows us.
I doubt that any of you have been shepherds, but a lot of you have come as close to it as you can: you’re parents. If I can say this, some of you have close to a flock! As a parent, you know that your children are all the same in some ways: they all have your love, and they’re all wretched little sinners, like sheep going astray. But they are also all uniquely different. You can correct one child with just a look, but another child isn’t fazed by a look at all. You could put a machete and a machine gun in the hand of one child, and you’d still feel safe, but you wouldn’t put a stick of butter in the hand of another child for fear of what they’d do with it. Some are tender. Some are stubborn. Some are hurting. Some never seem to get hurt. All of the knowledge that you have about them allows you to parent them better.
Christ, as the good shepherd, knows his sheep thoroughly. Dear Christian, there is nothing about you that he does not know, from the greatest to the slightest; from the most obvious what you think is the most hidden. He knows it all! In fact, he knows you better than you know yourself.
I think about this congregation, as a pastor and an under-shepherd of this church. There are more than 650 of you who show up in this room on Sunday mornings, plus children down in the other wing. As much as I would like to know all of you, I don’t. I try awfully hard, but I don’t even know all of your names. My kids just told me this week, “Daddy, you have an awful memory.” I don’t remember which one said it, but I agree. Those whom I do know, I’d like to know better, because I don’t know everything about you. I don’t know every way that I should care for you, pray for you, or teach you as a pastor and shepherd of this church, though I desire to.
This is where I find great comfort as a pastor. Christ knows everything about you. He is the good shepherd of this church. He cares for our souls. He knows us better than we know ourselves: need, secret, tendency, desire, hope, longing, flaw, failing, sin, and passion. He knows, and he responds in kind.
Notice what this passage specifically notes that he knows about us: our weakness and vulnerability. Here’s what I know from experience both as a Christian and as a pastor: the great issue is not believing that Jesus is the good shepherd, but that we are weak sheep who need a good shepherd. But this is what he knows. Often, we want to hide what we truly are from others, because we know that we are weak and frail. We know what we look like on the inside. We like to keep that from others and put a cover over it.
I think about Psalm 139, where David said,
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. Psalm 139:1-4
That would be a frightful thought, if it were not for what follows.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Psalm 139:5-6
Who else would we want to know us this well but the who promises to be with us, to hem us in before and behind, to safeguard us, and to minister to us in our weakness? Wherever I go, Christ is with me. He surrounds me. He never abandons me, because he knows me. He knows that I am weak, and that I need the good shepherd. The good shepherd does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. He knows our frame. He knows that we are but dust. He gently cares for us and deals with us according to our need.
This past Sunday, after I got done preaching, I walked down the center aisle. As we normally do, I walked out into the hall, shook hands, and had conversations with people. After a few minutes of that, three children came walking up to me with tears streaming down their faces. The oldest had the other two by the hands, looked up at me, and said (with this longing look), “Pastor, we’re lost. We’ve lost our parents and don’t know where they’re at.” That’s a good reason to cry!
So I held the youngest and took the other two by the hand, and we sent out search parties to find those lost parents. After a few minutes and a few more tears, the dad came. When he came over to the children, he didn’t rebuke them for their tears. He didn’t say how silly they were, like “Every Sunday, we go to church and come home together, don’t we?” He just picked them up, gave them a hug, and wiped away their tears. He comforted them. Why? Because he knows they’re children. He knows their constitution.
The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows we are sheep, and he deals with us as sheep: tenderly and carefully. I hope you know that, dear Christian, and I hope that causes you to run to him regularly.
Just to underscore this knowledge, Jesus says that he knows us and we know him just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. That should rupture every circuit in your head. Think about the knowledge that the Son has of the Father and the Father has of him. How deep and how wide and how high it is! They have belonged to one another for all of eternity, enjoying one another, delighting in one another, and dwelling with one another as one! Yet Jesus says that his knowledge of us and our knowledge of him is at least comparable to the knowledge of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father.
In some mysterious way, we will forever be known by and know Christ. We belong to him, and he to us. As linked as Christ is to the Father, so we are to Christ. That should boggle your minds. All kinds of alarms should sound off right now: “That doesn’t sound right. This seems to be too great of a promise. How can we be so sure that Jesus is this kind of shepherd?” The answer is found multiple times in this passage. Verse 11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Verse 14: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Verse 17: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”
As the good shepherd, he showed what lengths he will go to for the eternal protection of his sheep. This is the good shepherd who protects the sheep with his very life. This is your iron-clad guarantee. He proved himself in the costliest of ways. He knew our greatest need.
Of course, what we saw last week is in the background. Jesus is condemning false shepherds, who are in fact thieves and robbers. He’s the good shepherd, in contrast to the religious leaders of the day, who—instead of protecting and caring for the flock—were destroying them. In this passage, Jesus compares them to a hireling shepherd—a shepherd who was hired by another shepherd.
It was not uncommon for a shepherd to hire other shepherds to help manage his sheep. A good shepherd could possibly manage 500 sheep in a pasture by himself, but if he had more than that, he had to hire help. Even if he didn’t have that many sheep, he would probably hire other shepherds to help him, because he couldn’t watch those sheep around the clock, all day, every day of the year. Shepherds needed rest, because it wasn’t an easy life. They were on all the time. They were responsible for making sure that the sheep were well fed—that the pasture land was adequate and not over-grazed. They had to keep a flock within 20 miles of water during the winter, and within 10 miles during the arid, dry months. They had to lead them from pasture to pasture, bind their wounds, find the ones who went astray, separate the sheep from fighting with one another, and most importantly (as Jesus is addressing here), protect the sheep from outside threats.
David gives us a picture of this in 1 Samuel 17. Remember that when he went out to fight Goliath, he said he had no fear of this big, bad, ugly bruiser, because (he says) “I’ve killed lions and bears while protecting my father’s flocks.” But a hireling, a shepherd who has no personal interest in the sheep, flees when the wolf comes, when the sheep need their protection. So the wolf snatches some of the sheep and scatters others. Why does the hireling flee? It’s not because he doesn’t respect the financial worth of these sheep. No, he would have been penalized by the shepherd of the flock for the losses that occurred on his watch. It’s also not because he’s wicked. The thieves and the robbers in this text are the ones who are wicked. Rather, he’d rather preserve his own life than lose it for a few sheep. Those sheep weren’t his!
If you’ve read a history of World War II, you’ll know that there were plans towards the end to invade the Japanese home islands. All kinds of plans were created, and it’s interesting to read about them. There were all kinds of numbers in them: how many landing craft would be needed, how many aircraft would be needed, how many different divisions it would take, etc.
But what’s especially fascinating is that many of the army intelligence officers believed that more than 1,000,000 American men would be killed in taking the Japanese home islands. One million men! This was one of the reasons Truman felt like he had to drop the atomic bombs. This hadn’t been the case in Singapore, the Philippines, or Wake Island—so why would it be the case there? Because it was theirs. The Philippines weren’t theirs. Wake Island wasn’t theirs. Singapore wasn’t theirs. But the Japanese home islands were theirs. Most army intelligence officers believed that every Japanese man, woman, and child would have fought for what was theirs, and willingly give their lives for it.
Hirelings run because the sheep don’t belong to them. They’re not theirs. Jesus says he’s the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. He dies for them because they are his. Stop and think of all that we’ve read over the years in the Old Testament Scriptures about shepherds and sheep. Think of how many sheep, through all those Old Testament sacrifices, were sacrificed for shepherds. Now Jesus says that he, as the shepherd, will be sacrificed for all the sheep. He turns it on his head. The sheep serve the shepherd’s interest—but here, the shepherd serves the interest of the sheep.
The Good Shepherd Protects His Sheep
Why? Why would he give his life for measly sheep? As D.A. Carson wonderfully said, “The shepherd does not die for his sheep to serve as an example, throwing himself off a cliff in a grotesque and futile display, while bellowing, ‘See how much I love you!’ No, the assumption is that the sheep are in mortal danger; that in their defense, the shepherd loses his life; and that by his death (and only by his death) could they be saved. This is what makes him the good shepherd above all else: he willingly dies for his sheep, to protect them.”
Think through this. In an average case, if a shepherd dies, the flock is abandoned to the darkness. There is nothing left to protect them. It’s not good if the shepherd dies. But Jesus, as the good shepherd, knows that if he does not die, his flock will be abandoned to the darkness. He allows himself to be devoured so that we might live. That’s a good shepherd.
Make no mistake. It was his knowledge of what we needed and his willingness to meet that need that led to his death. This was no accidental death. Jesus says in both verses 11 and 14, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” A shepherd may be willing to sacrifice his life, but Jesus doesn’t just say that he’s willing. He’s planning and pursuing it! It wasn’t the power of the wolf, but the authority of the Son, that leads him to lay down his life, so that he might take it up again for us.
As we’ll see next week, he is the resurrection and the life. It is his will and his choice. He says it emphatically in this passage. In the Greek, he says, “I myself lay down my life of myself.” This isn’t the speech of a martyr. He’s not forced to his death by the powers of darkness, but yields himself so that he might conquer them, to protect us. For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross. He knew that our life required his death and our death required his life. That’s a good shepherd.
It’s monumental love, because love is what moves him to give his life for us. Look at John 13. John picks this up. It’s a wonderful display of this king of glory, who humbles himself by washing the disciples’ feet. In the whole intro to that, John says this: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Here is a shepherd who loves his sheep more than his own life. It’s why the writer of Hebrews, speaking about his shed blood, says that he is the great shepherd of the sheep. Who could ever doubt it?
The Good Shepherd Provides for His Sheep
Think of the last verse of Psalm 23. The context is that the Lord is our shepherd. That final statement begins with, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of my life…” Surely—it’s guaranteed. He provides goodness, the Lord’s blessing and forgiveness, and mercy to us. They shall be the possession of his sheep all the days of their lives.
These two graces follow his sheep everywhere they go. You can’t shake them, dear Christian. Do you think that he just doesn’t know what you need, or he can’t provide that, or he doesn’t know this? Whatever it is, we begin to worry and fret. This is why the Scripture speaks so many times about not being anxious. Jesus gives us so many object lessons along these lines. When he’s giving the Sermon on the Mount to all the gathered sheep laying in the grass, he reminds them. “Be anxious for nothing. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or wear tomorrow. The Lord, the Father, clothes the grass of the fields. He feeds the sparrows. He provides.”
Think about Jesus feeding the 5,000. 5,000 people are gathered before him. The picture is very Psalm 23-ish: they are laying on the green grass, receiving the word. He is preaching to them and watching over them. The disciples come up anxiously, wondering, “What are we going to feed all of these people? We need to send them away!” Jesus provides the food that they need—and it’s not as if they’re going to starve from missing one meal! He provides.
Then there is the feeding of the 4,000. He’s teaching, providing the people with his word, and they’re all spread out over the grass again. Then the disciples become anxious again! “What are we going to do to feed all of these people?” The scholars will debate, and say, “It must be the same account being told a little differently.” We know that’s nonsense, because we know our own hearts and minds. How quick and easy it is to forget about his provision earlier in the midst of the moment! So what does Jesus do? He provides for the 4,000.
He provides time and time again. There isn’t a Christian in this place who can’t testify to that. I’ve said to you before that our minds should be a field of Ebenezer stones that continually reminding us: “Ah, yes. He provided then, then, then, and then.” It’s a continual reminder that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. As a good shepherd, he knows what we need, and he provides it.
When I was in high school, I was in school musicals. When you stood on the stage, there would be two spotlights on the balcony: one on the right and one on the left. When those lights shone on you, you would have two shadows behind you: one from the one spotlight and one from the other. It didn’t matter where you went on the platform. Those shadows followed you. You couldn’t get rid of them, jettison them, or throw them off. They would be there, no matter what. They would follow you everywhere you went. When that light shone on you, you would have shadows.
When the light of God’s countenance shines upon you, dear Christian, goodness and mercy follow you all the days of you life. You can’t shake them! You can doubt them. You can wonder. But they’re following you. The Lord knows what you need more than you do. Goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life: it’s a promise that’s evidenced in his great provision in sacrificing himself for us. He provides for us now and forevermore.
He desires his sheep to lay down and rest in green pastures. It’s good to remind ourselves of that. Do you allow yourself to rest at his feet? Do you know him as the good shepherd, who knows you through and through, and yet still loves, protects, and provides for you?
This afternoon, as we go out, we’ll have a picnic. We’ll go outside, sit out there on the grass, and eat together. We’ll be able to fellowship together. You know why? Because we have a good shepherd. Otherwise, you would be sitting down out there with your conscience wracked and guilt on your shoulders. You wouldn’t be able to have fellowship with one another—not me with you and not you with me. There would be no peace. You see, he’s a good shepherd! He knows you. He’s provided for you. He protects you. You can rest. You can lay down in the green pastures as he restores your soul. Goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, on into eternity—forever and ever. He is a good shepherd. His voice is worth listening to. He is worth following.
Let’s pray together. Our Lord and God, we’re thankful that you know, protect, and provide for us. Lord Jesus, we exalt you as our good shepherd. We rest in you more thoroughly, revel in your kindness, and enjoy and delight in you more. We find that we are sheep who love to lay at your feet. We know the rest that you have given. In Christ’s holy name we pray, amen.
Transcribed and edited by 10:17 Transcription