How loved do you feel? John 10:1-21 (Sermon - November 26th 2-17)
By Paul Witter, 29 Nov 2017
When you think of God looking at you I wonder how you imagine him. Is he liking what he sees? Do you see him smiling over you or frowning? Put another way: How loved do you really feel?
Our passage this morning is going to show us the extent of God's love for his people, and the metaphor Jesus chooses to use to speak of this is that of the shepherd with his sheep.
I grew up as a child watching what my mum wanted to watch which included the show “One man and his dog.” It was a programme that showcased the skill of the shepherd and his dog in driving the sheep.
And I guess that is how many of us see the shepherd as being; each having his or her own flock that was pastured on his or her own land.
But we need to dispense with that picture if we are to understand what Jesus is saying here. Shepherds in Jesus' day lead their sheep rather than driving them and they often had very distinctive calls that their sheep would get to know. This was essential because unlike in our time the land of Israel was a dangerous place for sheep with many predators and thieves lurking in wait. So sheep would be corralled in safe holding space overnight. This was called the sheepfold and very often several flocks would share the same fold.
And this is the picture that Jesus paints for us in the opening verses of this chapter. There is a single sheepfold within which Jesus has his own sheep and he will call them out by name. But there are those who seek to lead the sheep but who do not have that right. They have not entered the sheepfold legally but have climbed in as robbers.
Now, it is important to note that this is not a new story or even a new speech by Jesus. This is the continuation of his address to the Pharisees that we saw at the end of chapter 9. And so it becomes clear that the false shepherds are the religious leaders of his day; those who have just thrown out of the temple the once blind man who now acknowledges Jesus. This blind man refused to listen to the authorities but instead listened to Jesus. In doing so he showed himself to be one of his sheep and those he refused to listen to are the robbers and thieves who have not come into the sheepfold legitimately.
Now there are many things that I could talk about from this passage. I could develop the theme of the false shepherds. I could point out that Paul, in Acts 20, says that wolves in sheep's clothing would arise up from within our number, and thus warn us to be aware of them today. And that would be a good and necessary thing to say.
I could point out that Jesus draws his own flock from out of Israel proving yet again that not all that are born Israelites are the true Israel of God. And I could point out that he then says (in v.16) that he has other sheep from other folds, namely the gentiles who will come to believe; And that he declares that there will be one flock and one shepherd. And I could point out from that that it is an error to think of two people of God; the people known as the church and the people of Israel; because Jesus says there is one flock only. And that, too, would be a good and necessary thing to speak about.
But neither of those things are what God has put on my heart to say, true though both of them are.
Jesus talks of the good shepherd who is prepared to lay down his life for his sheep and then he says that he is that good shepherd who is not only prepared to do it but tells in advance that he will do it
Now what I want to talk about in relation to this is the particularity of this; he lays down his life for his sheep (sheep whom he calls out by name); and the great love that is expressed in the good shepherd dying for us
So firstly the particularity of this good shepherd
Now I am not going to dive into controversial doctrines here. I simply want to observe what is in the text. Jesus tells us plainly that he has his own sheep and that in some way they are his before he gets to call them out. Notice that in verse 3: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep out by name...” He doesn't call all the sheep out. He calls his own sheep out and each of them personally.
Now, just how those are his sheep and his alone this passage does not tell us and I wish to remain true to this text in front of me.
But this text does say that he calls his own sheep out from the fold.
The thing about these sheep that distinguishes them, and marks them out as those of his flock, are that they listen to his voice. So, alongside of the text I have just quoted, Jesus says, in verse 14, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”
However else this all works out in the mystery that is God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, what we see here is that those who belong to Jesus show themselves to do by the fact they respond to him.
But really that is only the bare bones of what I want to say here. Because there is something more about this particularity. And it is this: Jesus does not just issue a general call; though he does indeed do that; but he issues a very, very personal one. He calls each of his sheep out by name. Do you see the implication of this? I will flesh this out again later, but I do not want us to miss how particular Jesus is. He comes to you, if you are his sheep, and calls you out personally. It is not just that you are part of the people of God in general; you, personally, are his own; you, personally, belong to his sheep and he knows you intimately.
You see, what Jesus is talking about is intimacy; deep personal knowledge one of another. Jesus knows you deeply, closely, intimately and he calls you out by name so that you will have that same intimacy with him. Notice in particular what Jesus says in vv.14-15: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - and pay close attention to this next bit: “just as” - that is to say, in a similar way - “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Did you see the magnitude of that? Jesus as the eternal Son is the one God, so too is the Father. They share the same essential being; they are indwelling one another and their relationship is more close than is the very breath in your lungs. And Jesus says that he knows you, if you are one of his sheep, in exactly this extraordinary and supernatural closeness and that his true sheep know him in that way too.
Jesus does not just call you out from the world so that your sins can be forgiven, (though praise God that he does that), but so that we can have a deep and very, very personal intimacy with him. And that very much ties in with my second point and that is the very deep love Jesus has for each of us personally. And that is expressed as the Good Shepherd dying for his sheep
The good shepherd dies for his sheep
Now we need to do three things with that statement First understand who it is that says those words and the significance of him saying it. Second understand the nature of shepherding he means and why the shepherd has to die for his flock. And then understand just who are the sheep
You can get something of the wonder of this passage if you know absolutely nothing of the Old Testament. But you will get so much more if you know enough of it to hear the very deliberate echoes Jesus wants us to hear and wanted them to hear as well.
And I am particularly thinking here of Ezekiel 34. Notice that the chapter begins with God, through the prophet Ezekiel, pronouncing a woe on the shepherds of Israel who have failed to look after the flock. They had not strengthened the weak or healed those who were ill or brought back those who had strayed. When you read those words you cannot help but see that Jesus is saying they applied also to the chief priests and Pharisees of his day. God was saying what Jesus is now saying. The people were like sheep without a shepherd.
So what is going to be God's solution to this problem of people without shepherds? The answer comes in verses 11-16 of Ezekiel 34. God himself will be their shepherd. He will do what should have been done. He will gather his sheep and rescue them. He will tend them in good pasture. He will search for the lost and bring them back. He will “bind up the injured and strengthen the weak...”
If the leaders of Israel had been bad shepherds God himself will become their good shepherd.
And yet, in the same passage, he also says, in verses 23-24; “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” So: Who will be the good shepherd? Will he be God himself who promises to be a shepherd? Or will it the man he will raise up; the one like King David, who is also called a shepherd?
And that dilemma hangs in the air for centuries until into history steps the one who is God, the second person of the Trinity, and yet who is also fully man; and no less a man that David's greater Son.
And suddenly you see the force of “I am the good shepherd.”
It is not just the use of the divine name (I AM) but the claiming that he is indeed, as God and as man, the shepherd that God had promised.
Now we need to hold the wonder of that in our hearts as we proceed to what kind of shepherding he is going to do. Do not allow over familiarity with this passage to stop your awe at who this is that is doing this shepherding.
To understand the way that Jesus shepherds his sheep we need to remember that being a shepherd in Jesus day was far from a romantic calling. It was a very dangerous one. Israel had lions and bears and wolves as well as thieves and robbers. You may remember that David was a shepherd before he was called to be king and that he had to fight with lions and bears in order to protect the sheep under his care. He was willing, in other words, to risk his life for the sake of the flock.
Now see what this good shepherd does, remembering still that this is the Good Shepherd, who is fully God as well as fully man. This good shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep; in fact that is what he has come to this earth t do. Twice in this passage he makes that point. And again, I want you to hear the particularity. So, verse 11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And then again in verse 15: “I lay down my life for the sheep.” And it is for the flock whilst they are wayward whilst they are still mired in sin that he comes and lays down his life.
Do you see the wonder that God the Son, true God from true God, light from light; of one substance with the Father; sharing in one glorious nature: that this one, become man, dies for the sheep when they are at their most stubborn and when they are at their least lovely?
The nature of this shepherd's care of his flock is that it is self-sacrificial to the point of death. It is his willingness to bear in himself the full weight and horror of our sin and the immensity and dreadfulness of judgement so that his sheep might taste life and life to the full.
But not only does he lay down his life of his own accord, and in accordance with his Father's will, but he has the power to pick his life back up again and in doing so be the giver of life to his sheep. When Jesus is raised from the dead, it tells us in Romans 6, we were raised with him to newness of life.
I asked you at the start how loved you felt and here is the full depth of that love. “Greater love has no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus' shows infinite, gracious, and powerful love in coming in a terrible and yet beautiful mission to take our place, just as a good shepherd would stand between his flock and the lion.
And he does that so that we could enter into an intimacy with God that is beyond words and without end. But see again the force of his words, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” “He calls his sheep out by name.” “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Jesus has his sheep, they are his, and he calls them personally and he lays down his life for them personally
You see it is one thing to know that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3:16). But to know that that Son came and died for you by name; that his love is not just a general and mushy thing, but is a very particular and sacrificial thing; And to that he died for you by name, so that he could give you a relationship that defies words and beggars belief: that, brothers and sisters, is an utterly more powerful thing
I really sense that we need to take a hold on this; we really need to see how deep is the Father's love that he should “make a wretch his treasure” and how astounding and very personal is the love Jesus has for each of us a love that invites us into intimacy with the living, holy, awesome, righteous, pure, powerful God of the universe
Do you know, Christian, how very much you are loved? Do you know that that love can never be shaken no matter what you do, or feel, or think? Here are the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I believe that God is calling us to enjoy that intimacy with him that Christ won for us at the cross; to enter into the fullness of that close relationship and to experience the deep and personal affection he has for us in Christ.
How loved do you feel?