The Shepherd’s Sacrifice

Today is the day that we in the USA set aside to recognize and honor the place of mothers in our society.

Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honor of their mother goddesses, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service.

The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis. Following her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.

Over the years, many towns and churches adopted the holiday and Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1914, by Woodrow Wilson.

Get this, Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar.

On Mother’s Day we celebrate moms, and with good reason because they are always looking out for someone else, they sacrifice so much for others, they protect their children and their household, and mothers lead their families in ways that are best, right, and true. They are not like the nanny or the babysitter.

The babysitter is a hired hand, and while they may be looking out for the children while mom is away, it would be unusual for the hired hand to sacrifice themselves by running into a burning building to rescue the children. It is the maternal instinct that kicks in and allows a mother to make such a sacrifice.

Enter the shepherd in John chapter ten:

Today we are looking at a passage of Scripture that reveals the magnificence of our Good Shepherd. We are going to see how the heavenly shepherd behaves, and you will likely make an obvious connection to the sacrifices of earthly parents.

In John 10, this particular debate grew out of our Lord’s confrontation with Jewish leaders, following the excommunication of the blind beggar (John 9). Jesus had briefly spoken to the people about light and darkness, but here he changed the imagery to that of a shepherd and his sheep. Why? Because to the Jewish mind, a “shepherd” was any kind of leader, spiritual or political. People looked on the king and prophets as shepherds. Israel was privileged to be “the flock of the Lord” (Psalm 100:3).

Jesus opened his sermon with a familiar illustration (John 10:1–6), one that every listener would understand. The sheepfold was usually an enclosure made of rocks, with an opening for the door. The shepherd would guard the flock at night by lying across the opening. It was not unusual for several flocks to be sheltered together in the same fold. In the morning, the shepherds would get up, call to their sheep, and assemble their own flocks. Each sheep recognized his own master’s voice.

The true shepherd comes in through the door, and the sheep recognize him. The thieves and robbers could never enter through the door, so they have to climb over the wall and enter the fold through deception. But even if they did get in, they would never get the sheep to follow them, because sheep follow only the voice of their own shepherd. The false shepherds can never lead the sheep, so false shepherds have to steal them away.

It is unfortunate that John 10:1 is often used to teach that the sheepfold is heaven, and that those who try to get in by any way other than Christ are destined to fail. While the teaching is true (Acts 4:12 says there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved), it is not based on this verse. Jesus made it clear that the fold is the nation of Israel (John 10:16). Did you know that Mormons use that verse and claim that THEY are the other sheep of which Jesus was referring? Jesus makes it clear that it is the Gentiles who are the “other sheep” not of the fold of Israel.

When Jesus came to the nation of Israel, he came the appointed way, just as the Scriptures promised. Every true shepherd must be called of God and sent by God. If he truly speaks God’s Word, the true sheep will “hear his voice” and not be afraid to follow him. The true shepherd will love the sheep and care for them.

Since the people did not understand his symbolic language, Jesus followed the illustration with some application (John 10:7–10). Twice He said, “I am the Door.” HE is the Door of the sheepfold and makes it possible for the sheep to leave the fold (the religion of Judaism) and to enter HIS flock. The Pharisees threw the beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism and into the flock of God!

But the Shepherd does not stop with leading the sheep out; He also leads the sheep in. They become a part of the “one flock” (not “fold” – see John 10:16) which is his church. He is the Door of salvation (John 10:9). When you keep in mind that the shepherd actually was the “door” of the fold, this image becomes very real.

He is the DOOR for the Sheep (John 10:7-10). As the Door, Jesus delivers sinners from bondage and leads them into freedom. They have salvation! This word “saved” means “delivered safe and sound.” It was used to say that a person had recovered from severe illness, come through a bad storm, survived a war, or was acquitted at court.

Jesus was referring primarily to the religious leaders of that day (John 10:8). He was not condemning every prophet or servant of God who ever ministered before He came to earth. The statement “ARE thieves and robbers” (not “were”) makes it clear that He had the present religious leaders in mind. They were not true shepherds nor did they have the approval of God on their ministry. They did not love the sheep, but instead exploited them and abused them. The beggar was a good example of what the “thieves and robbers” could do.

It is clear in the Gospel record that the religious rulers of Israel were interested only in providing for themselves and protecting themselves. They turned God’s temple into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13), and they plotted to kill Jesus so that Rome would not take away their privileges (John 11:49–53).

The True Shepherd came to save the sheep, but the false shepherds take advantage of the sheep and exploit them. Behind these false shepherds is “the thief” (John 10:10), which is probably a reference to Satan. The thief wants to steal the sheep from the fold, slaughter them, and destroy them.

When you go through “the Door,” you receive life and you are saved. As you go “in and out,” you enjoy abundant life in the rich pastures of the Lord. His sheep enjoy fullness and freedom. Jesus not only GAVE His life for us, but He GIVES His life to us right now!

Jesus also declares, “I Am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11–21). This is the fourth of our Lord’s I AM statements in John’s Gospel (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9). Certainly in making this statement, He is contrasting Himself to the false shepherds who were in charge of the Jewish religion of that day. He had already called them “thieves and robbers,” and now He would describe them as “hirelings.”

Some of the greatest people named in the Bible were shepherds by occupation: Abel, the patriarchs, Moses, and David, to name a few. Keep in mind that Jewish shepherds did not tend the sheep in order to slaughter them, unless they were used for sacrifice. Shepherds tended them that the sheep might give wool, milk, and lambs.

Jesus pointed out four special ministries that He performs as the Good Shepherd.

He DIES for the sheep (John 10:11–13). Under the old covenant, the sheep died for the shepherd; but now the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep! Five times in this sermon, Jesus clearly affirmed the sacrificial nature of His death (John 10:11, 15, 17–18). He did not die as a martyr, killed by men; He died as a substitute, willingly laying down His life for us.

Jesus contrasted Himself to the hireling who watches over the sheep only because he is paid to do so. But when there is danger, the hireling runs away, while the true shepherd stays and cares for the flock. The key phrase is “who is not the owner of the sheep” (John 10:12). The Good Shepherd purchases the sheep and they are His because He died for them. They belong to Him, and He cares for them.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are compared to sheep; and the comparison is a good one. Sheep are clean animals, unlike pigs and dogs (2 Peter 2:20–22). They are defenseless and need the care of the shepherd (Psalm 23). They are, to use Wesley’s phrase, “prone to wander,” and must often be searched for and brought back to the fold (Luke 15:3–7). Sheep are peaceful animals, useful to the shepherd. In these ways, they picture those who have trusted Jesus Christ and are a part of God’s flock.

The Pharisees, in contrast to good shepherds, had no loving concern for the beggar of John 9, so they put him out of the synagogue. Jesus found him and cared for him.

He DISCERNS (knows) His sheep (John 10:14–15). In the Gospel of John, the word know means much more than intellectual awareness. It is more of an intimate relationship between God and His people (see John 17:3). The shepherd knows his sheep personally and therefore knows best how to minister to them.

To begin with, our Lord knows our names (see John 10:3). He knew Simon (John 1:42) and even gave him a new name. He called Zaccheus by name (Luke 19:5); and when He spoke Mary’s name in the garden, she recognized her Shepherd (John 20:16). If you have ever had your identity “lost” in a maze of computer operations, then you can appreciate the comforting fact that the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep by name.

He also knows our natures. While all sheep are alike in their essential nature, each sheep has its own distinctive characteristics; and the loving shepherd recognizes these traits. One sheep may be afraid of high places, another of dark shadows. A faithful shepherd will consider these special needs as he tends the flock.

Have you ever noticed how different the 12 disciples were from one another? Peter was impulsive and outspoken, while Thomas was hesitant and doubting. Andrew was a “people person” who was always bringing somebody to Jesus, while Judas wanted to “use” people in order to get their money for himself. Jesus knew each of the men personally, and He knew exactly how to deal with them.

Because He knows our natures, He also knows our needs. Often, we don’t even know our own needs! Psalm 23 is a beautiful poetic description of how the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. In the pastures, by the waters, and even through the valleys, the sheep need not fear, because the shepherd is caring for them and meeting their needs. If you connect Psalm 23:1 and 6, you get the main theme of the poem: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want … all the days of my life.”

As the shepherd cares for the sheep, the sheep get to know their shepherd better. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. They get to know Him better by listening to His voice (the Word) and experiencing His daily care. As the sheep follow the Shepherd, they learn to love and to trust Him.

He DELIVERS (brings) other sheep into the flock (John 10:16). The “fold” is Judaism (John 10:1), but there is another fold—the Gentiles who are outside the covenants of Israel (Eph. 2:11ff). In our Lord’s early ministry, He concentrated on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24–27). While the people converted at Pentecost were Jews and Jewish proselytes (Acts 2:5, 14), the church was NOT to remain a “Jewish flock.” Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10–11), and Paul carried the message to the Gentiles in the far reaches of the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1ff).

The missionary message of the Gospel of John is obvious: “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Jesus Himself defied custom and witnessed to a Samaritan woman. He refused to defend the exclusivist approach of the Jewish religious leaders. He died for a lost world, and His desire is that His people reach a lost world with the message of eternal life.

He has DOMINION over (takes up) His life (John 10:17–21) which benefits the sheep. This is a reference to his voluntary death was followed by his victorious resurrection. From the human point of view, it appeared that Jesus was executed; but from the divine point of view, he laid down his life willingly. Three days later, he voluntarily took up his life again and arose from the dead, demonstrating his dominion over sin and death.

Sometimes the Scriptures teach that it was the Father who raised the Son (Acts 2:32; Romans 6:4; Hebrews 13:20). Yet here, the Son stated that he had authority to take up his life again. Both are true, because the Father and the Son worked together in perfect harmony (John 5:17, 19).

I have one final D word, DIVISION. That is how the listeners responded to Jesus’ message. “There was a division therefore again among the Jews” (John 10:19). This is not the only time this word is used (John 7:43; 9:16). The old accusation that Jesus was a demon-possessed was hurled at him once again (John 7:20; 8:48, 52). People will do almost anything to avoid facing the truth!

We think this is only a Jesus story, this sort of thing doesn’t happen to us today. But whenever someone stands for the truth, stands for right, proposes something new that will enhance our worship experience or challenge us to grow in our faith and in numbers, it can cause division, even among God’s people. The root cause of this sort of division can be linked to our corporate attitude. Do we move ahead in faith, trusting God to move us to higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church? Or will we resist growth and change, and even the ability of God to work through us because we treat the traditions of men as doctrines of God?

Since Jesus Christ is “the Door,” we should expect a division, because a door shuts some people in and others out! He is the Good Shepherd, and the shepherd must separate the sheep from the goats. It is impossible to be neutral about Jesus Christ; because, what we believe about him is a matter of life or death (John 8:24).

In conclusion, let me tell you another shepherd story:

Two men were called on, in a large classroom, to recite the 23rd Psalm. One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the psalm in a very powerful way. When he finished, the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. (I think of Alexander Scourby reading the KJV Bible).

Then the other man, who was much older, repeated the same words–‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…’ But when he finished, no sound came from the large class. Instead, people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.

Then the first man, the orator, stood to his feet. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd.

So, do you know this Shepherd of whom I speak? It is a matter of faith to trust that he is who he said he is. Today can be your fresh start of salvation.

How can you be more attentive to the voice of Jesus? I remember playing out in the neighborhood all day and then it came time for supper. Each of my friends and I could easily pick out that one voice, their own mom’s voice, from all the others calling us home for dinner. Have you heard HIS voice? That one voice that calls you to himself?

How can you develop a closer connection to Jesus; through prayer, Bible study, serving others?

Spread the Community, Faith, Love

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