I hope you were blessed by our study of the Good Shepherd last week. I was overwhelmed by His love for us as I spent the week studying how He provides, guides, and protects us. I was humbled by how He laid down His life for us so that we might have the opportunity to be reconciled to the Father. I was encouraged and strengthened as I learned that He knows us even better than we know ourselves.
I want us to go back to the same Scripture this morning because in this section of God’s Word, that we’ve been looking at for the past two weeks, Jesus makes a comparison between Himself as the Good Shepherd and two others: The thief and the hired hand. Let’s read our Scripture and we will begin.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 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. (John 10:10-15 NIV)
As we’ve been taking a look at this section of God’s Word we’ve learned that the Good Shepherd is Jesus, He identifies Himself in that way. In John 10:10 Jesus compared Himself to the thief when He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The thief is the one who has come to “steal, kill, and destroy.” There are many tools and tricks that the thief uses to try and accomplish his primary purpose of stealing, killing, and destroying us, but behind them all is the one the Bible identifies as Satan. The thief is diabolical, bent on destroying the sheep, while the Good Shepherd protects, provides for, guides, and is willing to lay down His life for the sheep.
This morning I want us to focus on the second comparison made by Jesus, the comparison between the Good Shepherd and “the hired hand.” We can see how Jesus describes the hired hand by taking a look at John 10:12-13. Read along with me.
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. (John 10:12-13 NIV)
Do you see the contrast? The “hired hand” is not the shepherd, he doesn’t own the sheep. He’s not invested in the welfare of the sheep because they aren’t his. He’s more concerned about his own well-being than he is in the welfare of the flock. When trouble comes, when the wolf is coming, the hired hand abandons the sheep and runs away so he can protect his own life. The contrast between the commitment and actions of the Good Shepherd and hired hand are eye-opening aren’t they? The Good Shepherd loves His sheep; He lays down His life for His sheep. We learned last week that the ultimate act of our Good Shepherd was demonstrated when Jesus laid down His life for His sheep by going to the Cross, but that’s not the only way that Jesus lays down His life for us. He continues to lay down His life by providing for our most basic, essential, daily needs. He guides us by His Word and His Spirit throughout our lives. Even now our Good Shepherd is interceding for us in prayer. Turn with me to Romans 8:33-34 and let me show you what I’m talking about.
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 NIV)
Our Good Shepherd is praying for us this very morning. I don’t know what you are going through at this time, but I know who does. Not only does Jesus know the trials that each of us is enduring at this time, but Paul tells us Jesus is praying for us.
Turn with me to Hebrews 7:23-26. While you are turning there, let me set the stage for us. For each of us there has probably been a preacher, pastor, Bible teacher, or godly friend that God has used to make a lasting impact on our lives. I know that’s certainly the case for me. If you’ve been around here any amount of time then you already know the person the Lord has used most powerfully in my life. His name is Dr. David Darnell. Even though he lives in a distant city I can pick up the phone and talk to David at any time. David just had his 83rd birthday. I know David prays for me, he prays for my family, and he prays for this church. I appreciate the talks David and I have had through the past 30 years. I appreciate all that he has taught me about God’s Word. I appreciate his prayers. I also know that David isn’t always going to be around for me to turn to when times are tough, when I need someone to pray for me, or when I have questions about God’s Word. Preachers, pastors, teachers, and godly friends come and go, but our Good Shepherd has an enduring, a permanent ministry. He is not like any priest or pastor who has ever lived. Listen to what the writer of the book of Hebrews says about this.
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need– one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:23-26 NIV)
“…He always lives to intercede for them.” Our Good Shepherd cares for us my friends. His demonstration of His deep love and care for you didn’t end at the Cross…He continues to lead, guide, protect, and intercede for each of His sheep.
There have always been leaders over God’s people that have been called to shepherd the sheep in the same way as the Good Shepherd, but we’ve failed and failed miserably. There have been great shepherds over God’s flock like Moses, Jeremiah, the Apostle Paul, and others. There have been, and still remain those who were called to shepherd, but in actuality they were nothing more than hired hands. Make no mistake about it, pastors, and the leaders of God over His flock are called to shepherd in the same way as the Good Shepherd. We are called to know our flock, provide guidance and care, and be willing to lay down our lives for the sheep under our care. Scripture is clear about this call on the lives of those who serve God’s people. In 1 Peter 5:2-4 we read,
2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:2-4 NIV)
During Paul’s third missionary journey, a time of ministry that you can read about in Acts 18-21, he spent about three years in Ephesus proclaiming the Gospel, dealing with all kinds of opposition, and finally leaving because some of the merchants, led by Demetrius, a silversmith who made shrines for the goddess Artemis, were in an uproar. Paul set sail for Miletus, an important city located about 63 miles by land or 38 miles by boat from Ephesus. Paul sent a messenger to bring the elders from Ephesus to meet with him at Miletus. You can read about the content of their conversation in Acts 20:25-31. At the end of their conversation they all knelt down and prayed together, the elders wept as they embraced Paul, and then we read, 38 “What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Acts 20:38 NIV) I’ve thought about that picture all week. What a powerful image of the love shared by brothers in Christ!
The reason I’ve taken the time to share this story with you is because of what Paul had to say to these leaders of the church in Ephesus. Look at Acts 20:25-31 with me and let’s pay close attention to the charge Paul gave to the leaders of the church in Ephesus.
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:25-31 NIV)
Paul had been a shepherd after the Good Shepherd’s own heart while he had been with the people of Ephesus. The present problem facing the church in Ephesus was Paul was now gone and would probably never been seen by the people of Ephesus again. Paul wanted the leaders of the church to know that they couldn’t be like hired hands; they had to “be shepherds of the church of God.” They had to keep watch over themselves and all the flock of God. Paul urged them, “So be on your guard!” This urgent message was so pressing on Paul’s mind that he sent his messenger to Ephesus to have the elders come to Miletus just so he could remind them of how it important it was that they shepherd, guard, the flock of God. He knew that savage wolves were on their way. Some of the savage wolves were already sitting in the pews just waiting for Paul to leave. Paul said of those who were already in the pews: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30 NIV) Paul knew that if the leaders of the church in Ephesus acted like hired hands that the church would not survive. The leaders had to be strong, they had to teach the truth of God, they had to stand guard, they had to keep watch while others were daydreaming, they had to put their own needs aside in order to watch out for the needs of the flock, and they had to be willing to risk their reputation and popularity so that they might faithfully follow in the steps of the Good Shepherd.
You can’t be a hired hand and teach the truth of God when people want to hear something different. God’s Word cuts as well as comforts. God’s Word confronts us with the truth of God when what we really want to hear is an affirmation of the “truth” we’ve designed for ourselves. Hired hands will alter God’s truth in order to preserve their own positions and popularity. Hired hands don’t care nearly as much about being obedient to God as they do about being popular with their flock. This is why the Apostle Paul took the time to write to a young preacher named Timothy and urge him to…
2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NIV)
Paul wanted Timothy to be a shepherd and not a hired hand. You can’t be a hired hand and teach the whole counsel of God. You can’t be a hired hand and deal with the problems that arise within the church. You can’t be a hired hand and deal with the threats that arise from outside of the church. You can’t be a hired hand and truly care for all of the needs of the flock. The reason you can’t be a hired hand and follow in the steps of the Good Shepherd is because the hired hand is always going to put his own needs before the needs of the flock, the hired hand will always put his own will before the will of God.
Maybe this is why in the Old Testament God drew His greatest leaders from the fields where they care for the flock. We read in Exodus 3:1 that “Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro…” Moses was shown to be a faithful, caring shepherd of Jethro’s flock before God ever called him to tend to His people as he led them out of bondage in Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land. Samuel had been sent by God to Jesse’s house to find the next king of Israel. After he had met seven of Jesse’s sons, but none of them was God’s chosen king, Samuel asked if Jesse had any more sons. “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” (1 Samuel 16:11 NIV) And God would take that young shepherd and make him the greatest shepherd over the people of Israel to this day.
God raised up many shepherds during the history of the Israelites, but many, if not most proved to be nothing more than hired hands who cared more for themselves than for the flock of God. Listen to what God said during the days of Isaiah the prophet.
10 Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. 11 They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. 12 “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” (Isaiah 56:10-12 NIV)
Now we have to remember those who are being singled out by God are those who have been called by God to shepherd His people. Shepherds are to shepherd those under their care in the same way that Jesus shepherds us. In Ezekiel 34:2-4 we read another example.
2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. (Ezekiel 34:2-4 NIV)
I could go on and on sharing examples of how God’s shepherds have proven to be nothing more than hired hands. You can’t always spot them at a glance, but over the course of time a hired hand will blow his cover and become known for what he is…nothing more than a hired hand who is looking out for himself.
Before we get out of here I want to broaden our understanding of this lesson because most of you are sitting there thinking, “Well, I don’t know what this has to do with me since I’m not a pastor or elder or deacon.” Well, this lesson pertains to every one of us who is a follower of Jesus Christ. We believe in the priesthood of all believers my friend. You are a shepherd over God’s flock wherever you serve. If you are a mom or dad…you are a shepherd. If you are a teacher or technician…you are a shepherd. If you are a doctor or work at the Dairy Queen…you are a shepherd. If you are a receptionist or work on a rig…you are a shepherd. If you are an attorney or administrator…you are a shepherd. If you own a business…you are a shepherd. If you are a real estate agent…you are a shepherd. If you play on the football, baseball, volleyball, basketball, or soccer team…you are a shepherd. You have influence and God wants you to use your influence to care for those He had led into your life, He wants you to guide others towards His grace, and look out for the interests of others before you look out for your own interests. You are a leader and leaders are called to shepherd. Bruce Milne has written,
The aim of many leaders today is their own glory. Not truly loving those they lead, they use them as a means to their own personal satisfaction. It is the leadership of the hireling, not of the shepherd. This principle is certainly not confined to the church. Leadership, whether in political life, industry, business, or community, follows one of these two routes. Either it is directed to the self-life of the leader, or it is directed selflessly for the good of those who are led. The former is the way of the world, which leads to death; the latter is the way of Jesus, which leads to life. (Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. pg. 149.)
If we are a follower of Jesus then it doesn’t matter where we are or who we are…we are called to shepherd God’s people. Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest. In 1936 he was working in Warsaw when the Germans invaded Poland. Father Kolbe helped organize 3,000 refugees, 2,000 of which were Jews, to protect them from Hitler’s armies. He came under suspicion and was arrested along with four other priests in 1941 and taken to Auschwitz. Father Kolbe saw Auschwitz as his new assignment from God. He ministered to the other prisoners while being beaten, tortured, and carried into the camp infirmary by some of the other prisoners.
At night Father Kolbe wouldn’t rest until he went around to all of the prisoners and said, “I’m a Catholic priest. Is there anything I can do for you?” He prayed for them, shared his food with them, led Mass for them, and led them in singing hymns.
The commandant at Auschwitz had a rule to discourage people from trying to escape. If anyone escaped, ten men would be killed in retaliation. In July of 1941 someone from Father Kolbe’s barracks escaped. Karl Fritsch, the commandant, rounded up all of the prisoners from Father Kolbe’s barracks and said, “The fugitive has not been found! You will all pay for this. Ten of you will be locked in the starvation bunker without food or water until they die.” The prisoners were terrified. After a few days in the starvation bunker without food or water and a person’s intestines dried up and his brain turned to fire.
The ten men were selected and among them was Franciszek Gajowniczek. When his name was called he cried and said, “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?” As the man cried in anguish, Father Kolbe stepped forward, took off his cap, stood before the commandant and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.” Commandant Fritsch yelled, “What does this Polish pig want?” Father kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek and repeated “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and child.”
Father Kolbe was led away with the other men into the starvation chamber to be left until they died. Hunger and thirst drove the men crazy. Some drank their own urine, others licked the moist walls of the cell, but Father Kolbe encouraged all of the other prisoners with his prayers, he quoted Psalms, and sang hymns. He would encourage the prisoners by saying, “The fugitive might be found and we’ll all be freed.” After two weeks, two long weeks, only Father Kolbe was left alive in the cell. When the executioner came in to inject Father Kolbe with carbolic acid, Father Kolbe gave him his left arm and he died on August 14, 1941 at forty-seven years of age.
Father Kolbe was no hired hand. The Good Shepherd had saved him so that he shepherd others. He didn’t need a building with stained glass and pipe organ to shepherd. Father Kolbe saw within the death camp of Auschwitz a flock that needed shepherding and he counted it a privilege to care for and even lay down his life for them.
Our Good Shepherd hasn’t called any of us to a death camp like Father Kolbe, but He has called us. For some who are here this morning He is calling you to come home, to recognize that you need the Good Shepherd to save you from your sin, from yourself, and to reconcile you to the Father. For others who are already followers of Jesus, the Good Shepherd is calling you to take up the staff and shepherd the flock He has placed in your care. You hear the Shepherd calling this morning…what will you do?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 2, 2015