Today we want to go back to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John and see what else God has for us as we focus on Jesus, our Shepherd. This is our third study in the tenth chapter and to be honest with you, I don’t know how many more weeks we will be in John 10. Every verse seems to me to be a sermon in itself. In today’s lesson we’ll learn about the Good Shepherd and His sheep. If you will take out your Bibles and turn with me to John 10:11-21. Let’s read together.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own 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. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father– and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life– only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” 19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” 21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:11-21 NIV)
If you will remember our study from last week then you will remember that some Bible teachers have said that verses 7-10 were not in the original text because Jesus switched gears from describing Himself as the Shepherd in verses 1-5, to describing Himself as the Gate in verses 7-10, and then back to the Shepherd in verses 11-16. Last week we learned that Jesus is both the Shepherd and the Gate, the tender of the flock as well as the only way of entrance into the sheepfold of the Kingdom of God.
In our Scripture for today Jesus adds to His description of Himself as the Shepherd. You probably noticed, when we read verse 1, that Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The Greek New Testament literally reads, “I am the shepherd, the good shepherd.” The word, “good,” sets Jesus apart from all of the other shepherds there have ever been or will ever be. There are several words in Greek for “good,” but the word that John uses is a descriptive one. The word used here for “good,” the Greek word, “?????” (kalos), means, “beautiful, excellent, good, or excellent in its nature and characteristics.” Jesus is the most noble, the truest, most authentic, and genuine Shepherd of all of the shepherds who have ever lived.
The Apostle Paul picked up on the use of the word, “good,” as a description of Jesus and used it over and over again. He used the word more than any other New Testament writer as he wrote to churches and leaders like Timothy and Titus. Listen to how Paul uses this descriptive little word. In writing to a young pastor named Timothy, Paul wrote,
13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:13 NIV)
Just two chapters later in Paul’s letter to Timothy he draws a contrast between those whose sins are “obvious,” and the lifestyles of Jesus’ followers whose good deeds are to be obvious as well. Turn to 1Timothy 5:24-25 with me.
24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (1Timothy 5:24-25 NIV)
We find the same word used in Paul’s letter to Titus. Titus was from Greece, he was a Gentile who had been converted through Paul’s ministry. Titus had a servant’s heart and he wanted to be used by God in any way God saw fit to use him. He was a traveling companion of Paul for some time. He carried a fund raising letter from Paul to the people of Corinth in hopes of raising money for the impoverished brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Later on, Paul sent Titus to the island of Crete to minister. Now, you need to know that Crete was a tough place to minister. In the opening verses of Paul’s letter to Titus, he writes,
12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12 NIV)
That’s a pretty harsh thing to say about a group of people, but what’s really interesting is that it wasn’t Paul who was saying these things; it was a person from the island of Crete! A Greek historian by the name Polybius living in the second century BC wrote about the people of Crete. He wrote,
Money is so highly valued among them, that its possession is not only thought to be necessary but in the highest degree creditable. And in fact greed and avarice are so native to the soil in Crete, that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma attaches to any sort of gain whatever . . . Cretans by their ingrained avarice are engaged in countless public and private seditions, murders and civil wars…I will now address myself to showing that the Cretan constitution deserves neither praise nor imitation…Now, with few exceptions, you could find no habits prevailing in private life more steeped in treachery than those in Crete, and no public policy more inequitable. (Polybius 6.46-47).
It doesn’t take a Bible teacher to figure out that Crete would be a tough place to minister. In our day we start churches where the population is really growing, where the demographics show that there’s financial sustainability, where crime is low and the potential is off the charts, but Paul sent Titus to Crete. Some people are called to the snowcapped mountains of Colorado, some are called to the land of fruit drinks with tiny umbrellas and golf courses in Sarasota, and others are called to the barrio, to the hood, to the places most don’t want to go. That’s where Titus was called to set up churches, but not just to set up churches. Paul gave Titus specific instruction when he wrote,
7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8 NIV)
“Set them an example by doing what is ‘good,’ just like the Good Shepherd has done for you Titus!” Titus, and you and I can follow our Good Shepherd and know that He will never lead us astray.
Here in John 10:11 we find Jesus singling Himself out among all of the shepherds. He used the adjective “good” in the same way that the adjective “true” is used in other places to set Jesus apart from all others. Let me give you some examples. In John 1:9, we learn that Jesus is “the true Light,” in John 6:32 Jesus is called “the true Bread,” and in John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true Vine.” There are many lights, various kinds of bread, and countless vines, but there’s only One True Light, One True Bread, and One True Life-Giving Vine and it is Jesus!
John 10 isn’t the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is referred to as the Shepherd. There are actually three places, but in each instance the word “Shepherd” is preceded by a different adjective. In John 10:11, Jesus is the “Good Shepherd,” in Hebrews 13:20-21 Jesus is the “Great Shepherd” who equips us with everything good for doing His will, and in the last passage, in 1 Peter 5:4, Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd” who at His return will reward His shepherds who care for His flock with the “crown of glory that will never fade away.”
What is it that is so special, so unique about our Good Shepherd? Well, I’m so glad you asked! We can find it right in our text for this morning. Four times, in verses 11, 15, 17, and 18 we read that our Good Shepherd “lays down His life for His sheep.” When we hear that phrase repeated again and again we immediately think of Jesus’ death for us on the cross. That is certainly the ultimate act of our Shepherd laying down His life for His sheep, but that’s not the only way our Shepherd lays down His life for us. Remember, Jesus is using the imagery of the shepherd to describe and define Himself. I doubt if there is anyone here this morning that can adequately describe the job of a shepherd, I know I sure can’t. In my mind a shepherd is simply someone who cares for the sheep. In actuality, there is much more to it than that.
Before David ever became King of Israel, he was first a shepherd. If you will turn with me to 1 Samuel 17:34-37, we can gain some insight into the great risk that shepherds were exposed to as they cared for their sheep night and day. Let me give you just a little background to the story. The Philistines were mocking the people of God. They were lined up on one side of the Elah valley and Saul’s army was lined up on the other side of the valley. The Philistines had one giant of a soldier named Goliath who was taunting the Israelite troops. Goliath had them scared to death, running for the hills. David had been sent by his dad to take some food to his brothers who were serving in the army when he heard what was being said by Goliath. He looked at his brothers and the rest of the troops like, “What are you doing? Don’t just sit there…get up and give him a beat down!” They didn’t budge. David said something about what he would do to Goliath if he had the chance and someone overhead him. Somehow it got back to King Saul who sent for David. When David showed up Saul looked at him like Coach Stoops or Coach Gundy would look at a 5’5 offensive tackle that weighed in at 186 lbs. Saul said,
33 …”You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33 NIV)
“You’re just a kid!” That’s all Saul saw when he looked at David…just a kid. He didn’t know that the shepherd boy had the heart of a lion. After Saul offered his evaluation of David, we read,
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37 NIV)
A good shepherd fights for his sheep, puts himself at risk for his sheep, is willing to lay down his life for his sheep, and provides for his sheep in such a way that their every need is met. The protection and needs of the sheep come before the welfare and needs of the shepherd. David was willing to fend off bears and lions so that his sheep wouldn’t be harmed, he was even willing to kill a lion or bear if they insisted on trying to kill one of his sheep.
David the shepherd wrote the 23rd Psalm. The entire Psalm is about God our Shepherd and His sheep. Even though David writes, “The LORD is my shepherd…” there’s no doubt that everything David wrote about came from his care, protection, and guidance of his own sheep. Let me show you what I’m talking about. David writes,
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:2-6 NIV)
Everything that God the Shepherd provided for David, provides for all of His sheep, is also provided by shepherds who care for their sheep. I love what Phillip Keller, a shepherd himself and the author of the book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, wrote about the phrase, “He makes me lie down in green pastures…” Keller writes,
The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them (sheep) to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger. It is significant that to be at rest there must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger. The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties. (Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. pg. 33)
Did you catch that last sentence? Every single need that the sheep need to be able to lie down, to rest, can only be provided by the sheepman, or the shepherd. The sheep can’t take care of themselves, they can’t provide for their most basic needs, but they can only trust and rely upon their shepherd. Even the best shepherds fail in providing everything their sheep need, but we’re not following just any shepherd, we belong and follow the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd who is unlike any shepherd that has ever lived.
There is one more thing about our Good Shepherd that sets Him apart from all other shepherds—He knows His sheep. In John 10:14-15 Jesus gives us insight into the depth of knowledge and understanding that He has about your life and mine. Read along with me.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father– and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15 NIV)
There are different kinds of knowledge. There is the knowledge that we gain from books, by going to school and listening to our teachers. There is a different kind of knowledge, an experiential knowledge that we gain from “doing” rather than studying. You can learn the ins and outs of electricity, circuitry, voltage and Ohm’s Law, but there is nothing like looking over the shoulder of an experienced electrician day-in and day-out to learn the trade. There is much that we can know, but there are also things that are beyond our capability to know. For example, you can’t know what is in the human heart. You can know someone, really know them, and yet you will never be able to know what is in their heart unless they reveal it to you. What is impossible for you and me to know…Jesus knows. The word that Jesus used to let the people know that He knows His sheep, the word, “???????” (ginosko) is used in other places in John and will allow us to see the depth of knowledge Jesus possesses about you and me. Turn with me to John 2:23-25 and let’s read together.
23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:23-25 NIV)
“…he knew what was in each person.” John isn’t telling us that Jesus knew the anatomy of each person, but that He knew the heart of each person, He knew their thoughts and intent. Now, turn to John 5:39-42 and we’ll read about Jesus speaking to the Jewish religious leaders.
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. (John 5:39-42 NIV)
All of the externals of the Jewish religious leaders pointed towards a deep, deep love for God. They knew the Scriptures, they observed the Sabbath, the followed the Law to the nth degree, but Jesus said, “…I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same Greek word is used, when David writes,
1 For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. (Psalm 139:1-4 NIV)
Do you understand the depth of knowledge the Lord has about you and me? He knows our thoughts and before a word is even on our tongue He knows what we are going to say. This isn’t the only knowledge the Lord has about you and me. He knows where we are weak, our vulnerabilities. He knows what has broken our hearts. He knows the things we’ve done in the past that we wish we could forget, but it haunts us like it happened yesterday.
You may be here this morning and not know the Lord, but you need to know that He knows you as well as He knows any of His sheep. He gave you life. He’s been with you every day of your life. He’s waiting for you to turn to Him. Why would you not turn to the Good Shepherd and allow Him to gather you up in His arms? He will provide for you everything you so desperately need for salvation and rest if you will just invite Him in.
July 26, 2015