The Shepherd and The Stranger
Our passage this morning comes from John 10 vs. 1-10. Let’s read it together.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “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 listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by 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.
The Word of our Lord.
Thanks Be to God.
The image of a shepherd is seen throughout the Bible. Way back in Genesis 4, we learn that Abel (Cain’s brother) was a keeper of sheep. Perhaps the most famous reference comes from Psalm 23 which begins.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
We know that David, Israel’s greatest king was a shepherd as a young man, and often saw life through the eyes of a shepherd. The image of a shepherd and the flock are prevalent throughout...
… a flock without a shepherd.
…he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
And in the New Testament:
You have the shepherds at Jesus birth, and of course reference to Jesus as the “Good Shepherd.”
In the English Standard Version of the Bible there are 117 references to the word shepherd in the Bible.
That’s a lot of references!
But here’s the point - as we learn in our passage this morning - the sheep learn the voice of their shepherd. The sheep are dependent upon their shepherd for food, water, protection from predators and sometimes even from themselves.
Whether you chalk it up to great preservation instincts or that sheep are dimwitted they do have some interesting characteristics.
Sheep won’t drink from moving water - thus we read “you lead me beside the still waters”.
Sheep will eat a field to the dirt and not move on - thus we read, “you make me lie down in green pastures.”
One of my friends was sharing his experience of counting the sheep on his grandfather’s farm. He shared how to get an accurate count they would drive them through a narrow chute where there was only room for one to pass at a time. He said for entertainment they would put a stick in the chute to force the sheep to jump to get over it. That didn’t sound so entertaining to me, but then he shared that when they pulled the stick out every sheep after the first one had jumped would jump over the same spot.
They had no need to jump, they simply jumped because that’s what the sheep in front of them had done.
We say we don’t do this, yet I think all of us can relate to the story of a young married couple preparing to have family over for dinner. The young wife as she was preparing the ham cut off the ends, compelling her husband to ask why she was cutting off good meat? She said, well that’s the way my mother always did it.
Curious, she called her mom to find out why they cut off the ends of the ham to cook it. Her mom had a similar answer, “that’s the way my mom always did it.”
Well, it was time to call grandma. So the young woman called her grandma and asked, “Hey grandma, mom and I both cut off the ends of the ham to cook it. She apparently learned it from you and I learned it from her. Why do you cut off the ends of the ham to cook it?”
The grandma was very matter of fact, “Well I don’t know why you two do it, but I do it so it will fit into my pan.”
See, we all relate to being sheep.
Back in New Testament times in the agrarian culture that was there, it was common for Jewish villages to build a communal sheep pen where various shepherds who worked out of that village could pen their sheep overnight while they got a good night’s sleep. One of the villagers would be employed as the night watchman. When it was morning the watchman would open the gate and the sheep would be let out. How would they sort their sheep? Simple. The shepherds would call each sheep by name and the sheep would recognize their shepherds voice and only follow that shepherd.
Commentators also tell us of shepherds building pens out in the fields to keep their sheep from wandering off at night and to keep predators out. The walls of the pen would be solid but for one opening - and the shepherd would lay down in the door way - thus literally becoming the door and laying his life down for the sheep.
We live in a period of history that is referred to as post-christian. Christianity has had a strong influence in western culture for centuries. Now historians tell us that dominance of Christian influence is over.
Now Christian beliefs are called into question. Believing in the Bible is considered ignorant and even prejudiced.
Now we are told Christianity is one of “many” other and equal ways to God. Despite most of those “ways” claiming exclusivity.
Now we are told finding your own path is the way. We create our own personal paths mixing beliefs from various religions as we like. Looking at similarities between Buddhism, Islam, New Age, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity we create religions that don’t hold up to their own scrutiny.
We no longer know our Shepherd’s voice
We no longer know our Shepherd’s voice
As a pastor, as a Christian, I often hear from people a desire to “draw closer to God.” People describe themselves as “spiritual” but not religious. In reality they are religious - creating their own rules for living - in other words, their own religions. It’s about them, not about God and as we’ve seen in our study of the Creation and the Fall that has grievous consequences.
It’s evident in academia too. We no longer have departments of Theology, but of religion.
R. C. Sproul put it this way:
“…the study of religion is chiefly the study of a certain kind of human behavior, be it under the rubric of anthropology, sociology, or psychology. The study of theology, on the other hand is the study of God. Religion is anthropocentric; theology is theocentric.”
As I hope you understood through our study of Creation and Fall - God has always been about relationship. So how do we draw near to God. How do we draw near to one another? We spend time together. We talk face to face, on the phone, by text, and by email. Well, we don’t have face to face in this world, but we can pray, and we can definitely read God’s love letter to us.
This is where I’m going to give an absolutely shameless plug for reading your Bible. I’m not going to say you can’t be a Christian without reading the Bible, that would be a lie.
Yet we are given such an incredible opportunity to know God better by having access to the Word. I use the English Standard Version now for preaching and study. But for years I was in the New International Version.
It’s okay to mark up your Bible! If you feel the need to keep a pristine Bible, that’s okay, dedicate one to studying. From personal experience I will tell you I like having the one I marked up with me for most of my study because I can find things I highlighted. Sometimes I don’t remember the reference, but I’ll remember it was in the upper right corner and in the middle of the New Testament and I can begin flipping pages. You can’t do that with electronic media.