“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. 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. 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. “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. “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. 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.” 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?” Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter. ” (John 10:1–22, NIV)As Jesus continues His ministry, the revelation of who He is becomes increasingly clear. He has just performed a miracle (healing a man born blind) that could only be done by the promised Messiah. This “Messianic Miracle” was anticipated by all the religious leaders but not accepted once it was performed. Instead, they found every reason not to believe.
Now Jesus explains who He is with an illustration. It was a story to help them understand what is difficult for their minds to comprehend. To do this, He takes a very familiar scene from their everyday lives. The shepherd was a common figure in this society and everything Jesus describes would have been well known to His audience. In the story, 3 main characters are identified – a thief, a hired hand and a shepherd. Each of these characters has a specific motivation toward the sheep.
The intention of the thief is clear. His goal is to steal and kill and destroy. He is does not enter in through the gate but climbs the wall in order to deceptively lure the unsuspecting sheep into his hands. The story does not explain his tactics but the people would know that a stranger among the sheep would cause some alarm unless he was able to entice them with a promise to satisfy a need. Maybe it was food or water but whatever it was, the goal was to separate the sheep and isolate them so that they could be removed. Once in his hands, the thief had a single minded goal of destroying his prey. He is more cunning than the wolf that boldly attacks and scatters the sheep. The thief is most successful because of his stealth and his deceptive promise of something good.
The hired hand is just doing his job. He is watching the sheep. He does not know the sheep and they don’t know him. He’s really not that interested. Remember…its just a job. And as long as he gets a paycheck, he’ll make sure everyone stays happy. But as soon as it costs him something, his commitment comes to an end. As long as everything is peaceful and calm, he is dedicated. But his loyalty ends when he is asked to sacrifice something for the well being of the sheep. His life is more important than those he protects.
But this is not the case with the good shepherd. He considers the needs of those under His care as more important than His own. His motivation is pure - He desires what is best for the sheep. He protects and nourishes them, not just so they can exist, but so they can live life to the fullest. To do this, the Good Shepherd leads them to places that the sheep have no ability to find on their own. In fact, they will not leave the safety of the protected pasture, unless he guides them to new places of green fields and still water. His loyalty is of such depth that He willingly sacrifices His own life in order to save His sheep.
The audience must have been listening and picturing in their mind the reality of the story Jesus just told. They could see the image He had painted, but they did not have eyes to see the truth within this masterpiece. And so Jesus explains, “I am the Good Shepherd. I have come that you might have an abundant life. I lead you beside still waters. And in the end, my life must be sacrificed so that your life can be saved.”
But what good is a dead shepherd? If this was the end, the sheep are destined to die at the hands of the thief. Therefore, Jesus goes on to explain, “No one can take my life without my willing submission to the plan of God. What you intend for evil, He will use for good. My death is temporary because my life is eternal. I will rise again.”
The reaction of the crowd would indicate they understood the magnitude of this statement. Some called Jesus a devil or a lunatic. Others are beginning to see that the miracles He has performed and the words He now speaks lead to an obvious conclusion. He must be the promised Messiah.
As you read these words and consider the life of Jesus up to this point, one cannot overlook the sincere effort of Jesus to explain who He is and why He came. Our reaction should be just as dramatic as what is witnessed in the crowd that day.
As C.S. Lewis writes,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him (Jesus): "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”Jesus came to give us life and to give it abundantly. His death is what gives us this life. As the Good Shepherd, He cares for you in the tenderest way and He fights for you with His arms spread wide.
Rest in His care. Trust in His love. Follow His lead.
Know today that you are the object of His deepest affection.