The Good Shepherd

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Let us Pray!

Heavenly Father, the entrance of Your Word gives light! We ask that You will shine the light of Your Word into our hearts, so that it may be reflected in our lives and illuminate the world around us. Amen


In today’s sermon we are going to spend some time trying to recapture the meaning that Jesus’ words had when he first spoke them.
Today we living are in a different time and distant place from the original setting. We think in a different language and function within a very different culture. But I believe that there are sufficient clues within the text for us to recover much of its original impact.
If I used the words ‘The Good Shepherd’ most Christians would automatically associate this phrase with Jesus. But in the 1st century when Jesus originally spoke them, these words had different associations.
Today we are going to utilise the Old Testament (the Bible of Jesus and the Early Church) to help us to negotiate our way through this passage.

Our Parable

Our parable for today commences at John chapter ten verse one and ends at verse eighteen. It may be divided into three separate parts.
In part one we learn about the thief who is a sheep rustler, and the shepherd who knows his sheep by name and calls them. The sheep know their shepherd and follow when they hear his voice.
In part two Jesus portrays himself as the door to the sheepfold. He keeps the sheep safe, and provides access to safe pasture.
In part three the parable reaches its climax as we see how precious the flock is to the shepherd. We know that God loves us, but through the Cross of Christ we learn just how much he loves us.
In this parable Jesus takes familiar themes from everyday life in ancient Israel, and uses them to teach a lesson that is closely associated with Old Testament themes (2 Samuel 5:1-2; 1 Chronicles 11:2; Psalm 23, 80; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23).
Many Old Testament heroes were shepherds, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David, to name but a few.
In this parable Jesus shows the contrast between the owners and hired hands. He proceeds to indicate how his flock is going to grow.

Old Testament Imagery of the Good Shepherd

I hope that we are all aware by now that the Parable was regarded as the commentary of the common man, or if you prefer a street-level explanation of the Scriptures.
With that in mind, today we are going to take a look at the imagery of the Good Shepherd in 3 passages in the Old Testament that are relevant to our Parable.
We are all familiar with the 23rd Psalm which begins with the words:
Psalm 23:1 NIV
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Jeremiah prophesied the regathering of scattered Israel by their Shepherd, and we have seen a fulfilment of this prophecy in the rebirth of the state of Israel.
Jeremiah 31:10 NIV
“Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
Ezekiel chapter 34 takes up similar themes in his prophecy. Ezekiel prophesied against the leaders who worked for their own self-interest, and condemned them as bad shepherds. And so God spoke the following words through his prophet:
Ezekiel 34:16 NIV
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
Ezekiel 34:23–24 NIV
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
When Jesus used the phrase ‘The Good Shepherd’ two images would have immediately come to mind. The good shepherd was the son of David, and the Good Shepherd was God himself.
Some have said that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or God. But this is one of many occasions where Jesus clearly hinted his unique status and calling in terms that his audience would have understood.
The late dating of John which was so prominent in the previous century is no longer credible in view of the manuscript evidence. The Gospel of John should not be reckoned as any less credible than the Synoptics (the other 3 Gospels). Some estimate circa AD 80-85: LBD, John, First Letter of; NT:IBM2 p.553; NUBD, When the Gospels Were Written. Some date the fourth Gospel even earlier, between 50-60: DJG pp.370-371 §1.2.1; DLNTD, p.188 §4.1.4.
John 10:11 NIV
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
In the ancient world a persons standing in society was tied up in their possessions. If a family lost their flock, then they also lost their status and their livelihood. So if a family’s junior member was protecting the flock, they were also protecting the family. Being a shepherd was a humble occupation but a vital one. In cases like this they might take considerable risks in defence of their family’s future.
When Jesus claimed to be ‘The Good Shepherd’ he was not just talking about his coming death.
By using these words he set off a whole chain of Old Testament imagery and associations. The two which appear to be most applicable in this case is that of David and of God. His hearers recognised his messianic claim to be the son of David, and some wondered if other claims were intended (John 10:19-41). We see this from the remainder of John chapter 10, where the conversation centres around Jesus claim to be the Messiah and perhaps God incarnate.

Christian Leadership

In this passage Jesus sets out what it means to be a Christian leader. There is an old saying ‘You can’t lead from the back’. Jesus set the standard for leadership by the example of his life. As a leader, he was willing to give his life for his flock.
What does this parable teach us about Christian leadership (Barton, B. John - Life Application Commentary. 1993)?
A good shepherd enters through the gate openly and legitimately. He does not conceal his actions for fear of discovery by his flock (John 10:1-2).
The gatekeeper allows him to come in. A good shepherd has God’s approval (John 10:3), and constantly seeks to maintain his walk with God.
He meets real needs. He leads from the front, and the flock listens to him and follows him (John 10:4-5).
He has a sacrificial love for his flock, and puts them first (John 10:11-18).
One of ways to recognise a pastor in the making is ‘Does he have a pastors heart for the flock?’ Other things might come with training, but a pastor’s heart is a prerequisite for any kind of Christian leadership.
John 10:12–13 NIV
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. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
You would not be so inclined to risk your life defending a flock if you did not have a personal stake in the ownership and well-being of the flock.
If you get injured and cannot work then your family is going to go hungry. So the greater the risk the less likely it is that the hired hand would stick around.
Conversely, the greater the risk the more involved the good shepherd becomes in the care of the flock.
This is not a task for the faint of heart.
John 10:14–15 (NIV)
“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.
This parable may well be based upon Ezekiel 34 since it takes up many of the themes of this passage. Ezekiel 34 concludes with the following words:
Ezekiel 34:30 NIV
Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Both Moses and David had been shepherds and risked their lives to save their people. Jesus brings a new dimension to this theme, in that he ‘The Good Shepherd’ would actually go through with it, and lay down his life, and would demonstrate his unique sonship by the power of his resurrection.
John 10:16 NIV
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.
This may be Jesus’ declaration of intent to bring the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God as joint heirs of the promises to the patriarchs, as children of Abraham by faith. Not to replace Israel, his flock, but to replenish it, so that Jews and Gentiles may become brothers and sisters through Christ.
We could interpret this verse as a reference to the Israeli and Judean Diaspora, but I favour interpreting it as a reference to the call of the Gentiles. But naturally the Diaspora would not be excluded from the body of Christ. This flock would welcome native and stranger.
The issue of whether the Gospel should go to the Gentiles, and the status of Gentiles once they declared allegiance to Christ was the first great controversy of the Christian Church.
This verse would have had special significance to new Gentile converts from the pagan polytheistic religions of the Roman Empire after the birth of the Church.
John 10:17–18 NIV
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 this point we might pause to contrast perspectives. The coming death of Jesus would be seen from a variety of different perspectives.
The Romans would have seen the death of Jesus as the punishment and correction of a rebel that would put an end to his influence by public his humiliation on the Cross.
The high-priests would see the death of Jesus as the removal of a religious rival, who had risked the anger of Rome and the destruction of the Temple.
The Pharisees had their disagreements with Jesus about the interpretation of the Law of Moses, but not all of them desired to see Jesus punished by pagan Rome (Luke 7:36, 11:37, 13:31, 14:1, 17:20; John 3:1).
It is no secret that some Pharisees did not appreciate the teaching of Jesus, and these may have been from the School of Shammai, but Jesus seems to have had a lot in common with the School of Hillel, and this may account for the occasions in the Gospels where the relationship with Pharisees appears friendly and even supportive.
Some Pharisees plotted Jesus’ death with the high-priests, but some warned him when he was in danger.
The Essenes do not appear in the Gospels by name but may have looked favourably upon Jesus desire to purify the Temple of God from all profane influences, including that of the high-priests presiding at the time.
The Disciples and Followers of Jesus viewed the death of Jesus as unthinkable. They considered Jesus to be the promised deliverer who would triumph over the foreign oppressor and purify the Temple. He was the Anointed Son of David who was going to call Israel and Judah to worship the One true God.
The death of Jesus would unleash a wave of despair amongst the disciples who thought that his death meant failure, and the collapse of the movement.
But Jesus’ sacrificial death would not be the end but a new beginning. The flock would grow beyond their wildest dreams, and spread throughout the world, so that we can truly say that there is no part of the globe where the Gospel of the love of God has not penetrated.

The Resurrection

The death and resurrection of Jesus may reasonably be seen as one of the great turning points in the history of the world (LST Jesus’ Resurrection). It is one of the best attested facts of human history. It has been denied and misunderstood, but its influence is felt around the world to this day.
Jesus had authority to lay his life and to take it up again. The resurrection was the definitive sign that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lay down his life for his sheep and then took it back again.
The sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of all Christian theology. Our beliefs are not based upon vague speculations or beautiful fiction, but the historical fact of the physical death and resurrection of our ascended and glorified Lord.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd!
He is risen! He is risen indeed Hallelujah!
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