One of the most enduring images of Jesus is as the Good Shepherd. That image is a comforting picture of care pulled from the triad of John 10:1-21, Luke 15:4-7 Parable of the Lost Lamb, and Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd shows the relationship we are to have with Jesus and gives us insight into His purpose.
Today we’re going to look closer at John 10:1-21. It is again a long passage, so I invite you to read it in your Bible. Contextually this is still part of the section that began with the healing of the blind man. But in these verses, we see Jesus going in a different direction.
The first word picture Jesus provides sets the stage. ““Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
In this word picture are a sheepfold, a thief, a doorkeeper, and the shepherd. It is interesting that later in John 10, Jesus identifies himself as the door and the shepherd. Jesus’ point seems to be an unasked question – who’s voice are you following? Christ’s sheep know, hear, and follow Christ’s voice. Sheep, however, do not instinctively know the sound of their shepherd. It is something that is learned as they grow and spend their days with him or her. The same is true of Christ’s sheep.
The folks listening to Jesus didn’t get it. So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” In these verses, Jesus is both the door of the sheepfold, protecting the sheep from thieves and robbers and the good shepherd who leads but also lays down His life for the sheep. Something we understand on this side of the cross, but something which I’m sure puzzled His audience.
Jesus goes on to describe why a shepherd is better than a hired hand that runs when trouble comes. Then, He gets even more personal. “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” While still using the image of a shepherd and sheep, Jesus more closely speaks of His relationship to God the Father and His purpose and death. Buried here is also a clue that the non-Jewish Gentiles will also be gathered into the fold.
The crowd’s response was divided. .” A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?” Others were saying, “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” But there is an important question. While originally asked with mockery, the question is central to this section of John’s Gospel – Why do you listen to Him?
Every believer’s journey of faith began with hearing. Perhaps hearing the message of God’s Good News spoken by another. But it could have also been listening with the heart as we read the Bible for ourselves. At some point, we moved from hearing to believing. A decision was made that the message is right, and we said yes. We listened to the shepherd’s voice and chose to follow.
Why do I listen to Jesus? If I boil it down and try to say it as simply as possible, I’d say its because there is life in His words. As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So much of man-made religion is trying to appease gods or powers. To do the right thing so the gods will bless instead of punish. But following Jesus is not like that at all. It truly is like following a shepherd as they lead us to pasture, water, and protection.
There is really only one question left to ask. Who are you listening to?