The Pharisees are getting more and more angry, trying to work out who Jesus is – especially when he seems to be breaking their law.
Jesus had just healed a blind man, a man who had been born blind, and he had done this on the Sabbath! The Pharisees were so angry that in the end, they threw the once-blind man out of the synagogue.
Jesus finds the man and tells him that it was he who healed him, and the man worshipped him. But some of the Pharisees saw this and questioned Jesus, and he ends up telling them this parable …
In the Middle East today, a shepherd will go into the community sheepfold and call his sheep – the sheep recognise the voice of their shepherd and follow him out of the sheepfold and onto the hills. The shepherd leads them to pasture, calling them all the while, and the sheep follow.
This is the picture Jesus reminds the Pharisees of. It was a picture they would recognise, because it was happening every day, all around them, just as it does today.
But as with all Jesus’ parables, there is something hidden in it. For Israel, shepherds took them back to the time they had a King. David, the shepherd boy had become their greatest King – a King who wanted to follow God and lead his people properly.
Other Kings had come after him who were not so good – in fact some were terrible !! They were not interested in the people’s welfare or safety, but wanted power and wealth for themselves. Israel was broken in two, and in the end over-run by invading armies and the people taken into exile.
It was a terrible time for Israel, and some of the prophets looked forward to the day when God would bring a new King, a King who would rule forever in peace and safety, a King who would be a good shepherd. But even more than that, Ezekiel tells us this : This is what the Sovereign Lord says (that’s God) “ I myself will search for my sheep and look after them …” and he will place a new David shepherd over them, who will bring peace. (Ezekiel 34)
So when the Pharisees question Jesus about who he is, and Jesus starts telling them a story about shepherds, there is a big clue here as to what Jesus is telling them. And when they don’t understand, he tells them directly –“ I am the good shepherd – who lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10 v.11).
What do we discover about this good shepherd/King in his story? He calls, and his sheep recognise his voice and follow him. And the shepherd leads them, and they follow his voice.
Here was a man, born blind, healed by Jesus, and wanting to follow Jesus – all he heard to begin with was Jesus’ voice … but when Jesus finds him again, after all the abuse he’s received from the Pharisees, he wants to believe in Jesus and follow him. Jesus uses his story to tell the Pharisees that as he calls, people will recognise him for who he is – the Good Shepherd, the King of love that God has sent – and they will follow him. That’s the sign of who Jesus is.
The Pharisees still don’t understand what Jesus is getting at ! Maybe it was because it was such a huge thing …
So Jesus spells it out for them – and gives three answers. The first of these is in verses 7-10
Jesus tells them : I am the gate for the sheep
That’s what’s pictured here – The shepherd lies across the doorway at night to stop the sheep getting out and wandering off, and to stop predators getting in. The shepherd makes himself a human door. This is all about safety – security – putting the sheep above the shepherd’s own protection – and that’s what was expected of the King.
This is precisely what Ezekiel tell us in his passages about the Good Shepherd. He will rescue them from where they are scattered, tend them in good pasture, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. They will live in safety and peace, no longer being oppressed and downtrodden, no longer afraid.
There is also a sting in the tail of this image, because God talks about judgement and punishment for those who were meant to be good leaders, good guides and shepherds, but who have exploited their position and led the people away from God and into their own agenda. They were only interested in themselves and have spoilt the life and opportunity of the rest of the flock.
There were many such figures in Jesus’ day :
- Herod’s camp – bowing to Rome, oppressive overlords, provided they could keep their power and wealth
- Revolutionaries (zealots) fighting for the freedom of Israel
- Religious leaders, more concerned with their own interpretations and status than the welfare of the people
There are many such figures today …
So first, Jesus tells the uncertain and unbelieving Pharisees that he is the gate through which we can find safety from the myriad of damaging and destructive powers we come across in the world. It is part of belonging to God, of being his people. We can come in and go out and find pasture because, in David’s words, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture …
And this is what life is about.
We sometimes think that this means that faith in Jesus will mean we live an abundant, fruitful, almost charmed life from now on – but that not the reality. We all face all kinds of problems and difficulties in life because that’s what life is like – for those who follow Jesus and those who don’t. so what is this abundant life ?
We are given all kinds of leads today about what’s an abundance – what gives a life that people chase after :
- Wealth – that means we don’t have to worry, but so often leads to greed … and can be so destructive, as we have seen in our global, financial world in recent years
- Celebrity – recognition that has its own destructive forces, and leaves many empty, lonely, and the focus of so much media speculation and story.
- Power – that is so fickle, and carries its own destructive qualities if it falls into the wrong hands – so much that people kill their own to maintain it.
- Twitter – a desire for openness and integrity … seems something to applaud, except it too can be abused and used to damage people for no good reason.
We see these kinds of things in abundance – super-abundance for some ! But is this what gives a fulfilled life ?
Or is it to do with the government’s drive to make us happy ?
Jesus’ words are about a super-abundance of life because we are under his care. We belong to him and therefore have nothing to fear in the world around us, nor in the next.
Remember John’s emphasis in his Gospel about belief ? How important it is to believe in Jesus ? Easter .. most of the time Jesus talks about that, it is to do with life – new life – abundant life – eternal life – and as he meets the once-blind man again after he’d been thrown out of the synagogue community, the man asks Jesus to tell him who had healed him, so that he could believe in him.
When Jesus says “it was me …” the man says “Lord, I believe” and worships him.
As he had followed Jesus’ voice telling him to go and wash himself in the pool of Siloam, his eyes had been opened, and he put his faith in Jesus. Surely that is still true for us today.
We hear Jesus calling us, and as we respond, our eyes are opened to see who he is – our shepherd, our king, our Lord. It is in him, and only him, that we find life in all its fullness, overflowing in us and through us.
A life not to be grasped for ourselves, but to be lived and shared, and given away. And this leads us into the next answer Jesus gives.
the good shepherd (11-21)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”
Jesus is the good shepherd, as opposed to the bad, self-centred and rejected shepherds of Israel’s history. What is the characteristic of the good shepherd ? He lays down his life for the sheep.
This is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus speaks openly about laying down his life. There is a sense in which this could be taken as a metaphor – simply meaning that the sheep are his priority. Like when people say how committed they are to something … like that old Brian Adams song – everything I do I do it for you.
But we see that there are two elements of this that are important :
a. it shows ownership – these sheep belong to him and therefore he would lay down his life to protect them and save them. A hired shepherd has no such responsibility – and runs away in the face of danger.
b. it shows authority – Jesus is not being forced to do this, it is his choice, bound up with his father’s love. He has the authority to lay down his life and to take it up again. There is no coercion, no arm-twisting … this is his free choice.
That as the good shepherd, Jesus chose to face the dangers of a predatory enemy hell-bent on destroying. He chose to lay down his life on behalf of his sheep.
The last piece of the puzzle is in v.16
Some of you will have seen President Obama setting out his plans for a settlement across the whole Middle East, and raising Israeli hackles with the suggestion that the model should be the 1967 land-holding map.
From the early moments of the OT story, the promise to Abraham about a people got focused into being predominantly about land for the people. Clearly this people needed somewhere to settle and live, but the covenant between the people and God is more about their relationship with God and each other.
However, throughout the OT there is a thread that declares God’s intended plan of salvation that covers all people – not simply the chosen Israelites. They were meant to be an example to the nations of how God’s covenant works – a living relationship of worship and care. Other nations and peoples would be drawn into this “kingdom under God” …
Set against this though was this strong sense and desire for identity and separation from others. See it more and more in recent years – the desire to be identified as different from others – whether it’s in teenage fashion or Scottish independence !
The Jewish people, under Roman occupation in Jesus day, were only too aware of this desire.
You can imagine the reaction of those listening to Jesus as he says that he has other sheep, not of this pen … this takes us back to promises in Isaiah particularly, where it is clear that God’s Messiah will come for all nations, not just the Jews.
It may not have been a popular message, given the culture of the day and the fierce sense of national identity that had grown up in Israel. But this was always part of God’s plan – to reach beyond Israel and offer salvation and life to all mankind.
Some rejected Jesus as being mad and demonised after this, but others will have seen that what Jesus is saying, in 3 slightly different ways, is that he is the shepherd king – the Messiah promised in the OT …
Where does that leave us ?
1. last week – call to listen to his voice and follow him, day by day
2. this week – challenge to look again at what Jesus chose to do for us
To see him as the good shepherd, to trust him, and to offer our lives to him.