Episode 98 - Jesus is the Good Shepherd - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 97 we saw Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, and we saw how He healed a blind beggar on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were provoked to anger once again and sought to discredit Jesus through the man’s testimony. After the man was thrown out of the synagogue, Jesus sought him out. The man put His faith in Him, and the Pharisees once again were condemned for their hard hearts and refusal to repent. We see so clearly the theme we’ve already seen so often in the Gospels – the people of Israel were divided in their opinion of Him. Those who should have understood Him and been receptive, the Pharisees and Jewish authorities, actually hardened their hearts toward Him. And the sinners, the blind, the lame, and the poor were typically the ones who responded to Him, opening their heart and bearing the fruits of repentance. Well in today’s episode we’re going to continue looking at Jesus’ words to the Pharisees after finding the man that He had healed. It’s so important for us to see that John 10 continues the condemnation of the Pharisees from the end of John 9. The chapter break in our modern translation actually causes us to lose the context of who Jesus is speaking to in John 10. So let’s read from the end of John 9: “Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. “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.” (John 9:40–10:6 ESV) Jesus gives yet another scathing rebuke of the Pharisees because of their refusal to respond to His message. I want you to notice the imagery that He uses here. He’s telling a small tale or brief figure of speech using the imagery of a sheepfold and a door into it. There’s a shepherd, there’s thieves and robbers, there’s a gatekeeper, and of course there are sheep. What Jesus is saying is, at least on the surface, simple enough that even a child could understand. Yet Jesus is using the simple picture to indict the Pharisees for their detestable leadership. So, let’s get the characters in this story straight for a second. We have a pen where sheep are kept, and that pen has a gate. Jesus says that the person who comes into the pen by another way besides the door is a thief. The thief doesn’t have good intentions at all, they are seeking to plunder the sheep for themselves. In contrast, we see a shepherd who actually goes through the door, and there is a gatekeeper who opens the door for the shepherd. Jesus says that the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, and that the sheep follow him because they know the sound of his voice. And again in contrast to the shepherd, there are strangers – these strangers don’t have the best interest of the sheep in mind, and because the sheep don’t recognize the stranger’s voice, they won’t follow him. Seems simple, right? Well, Jesus is trying to make a point about the Pharisees here. So let’s continue, because Jesus explains Himself: “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.” (John 10:7–10 ESV) Well, here we go. In this little story, Jesus is the door of the sheep, and the people who have come before Him are thieves, they are the strangers that the sheep haven’t listened to. If the sheep go through the door, they will be saved and will have life. The thieves that have come before aren’t able to give life – not only are they unable, but they kill the sheep, they don’t save them from danger. Now this all sounds fine and good. But as 21st century Gentiles, we can’t forget who Jesus is talking to. He’s talking to Jews, specifically Pharisees who knew the Scriptures very well. They most certainly would have been reminded of a very specific passage in the book of Ezekiel as Jesus was speaking. In fact, Jesus is drawing his little figure of speech from Ezekiel chapter 34. “The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” (Ezekiel 34:1–6 ESV) So what is Ezekiel prophesying? He’s commanded to prophesy to the shepherds of Israel – the leaders of the people. He says that they have been feeding themselves instead of feeding the sheep. They have been adorning themselves with pleasures, riches, and power and have neglected the needs of the people. In other words, they have not been teaching and leading the people to fear God, to understand and obey the Law, and to hold fast to the covenant. They’ve ruled harshly, not humbly. They’ve lorded it over the people, not served them. Because of their bad leadership, the people of Israel stumbled around like sheep without a shepherd. With Ezekiel 34 in mind now, what is Jesus saying to the Pharisees? He is saying that they are more concerned about themselves than the people. In context, the Pharisees are the thieves and robbers. Now I know we typically understand that verse “the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” to be talking about Satan. But the devil is nowhere in this passage at all. The Jewish authorities are bad leaders who are actually leading the people of Israel away from eternal life. In context, “abundant life” is not about having a pain free, victorious life in this age – in fact, it’s not about this age at all. “Abundant life” is about inheriting the promises of the covenant and eternal life, which as we know from later in the New Testament, will be given at the resurrection when Jesus returns. Jesus makes this clear a few verses later in John 10:28, which we’ll look at in the next episode. For now, let’s keep going in John 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11–15 ESV) Jesus continues the story, saying that He is not only the door for the sheep, but He is also the shepherd. As a good shepherd does, He cares about the sheep and will actually sacrifice His own life for theirs so that they may have life. Unlike the thief or the hired servant who doesn’t care for the sheep at all, when threats come, the shepherd values the life of the sheep more than His own. This is what a true leader does. They care more about the people than they do about themselves. Ezekiel continues his prophecy in chapter 34 and it falls right along these lines, so let’s keep reading: “Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Ezekiel 34:10–16 ESV) This is scary for the bad shepherds, but awesome for the sheep. Look what God says to Ezekiel. He says that He will expose the leaders of Israel for their wolf-like mouths because their hearts are full of selfishness, pride, and greed. Then God Himself will go out and seek His people and bring them back to their own land, the land of Israel. He Himself will be the shepherd of the sheep who will feed them with equity and justice. This is amazing – as the rest of the Scripture declares, Jesus Himself will be the one who brings back the scattered people of Israel to their own land where He can feed them on the true knowledge of God and give them eternal life. The prophets tell us that this is a yet future day for the nation of Israel. The regathering will result in a time when Israel is oppressed no longer and they never again turn from obeying God because He will write His law on their hearts. Well, let’s finish up this section of John 10: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”” (John 10:16–21 ESV) The Law and Prophets indicate that Abraham would father a multitude of Gentiles, and Jesus is hinting here at their inclusion into His sheepfold – the ones whom will receive eternal life in the resurrection and participate in the age to come. We also see yet again the effect that Jesus’ words have on the people of Israel. His words divide them. Some believe Him to be insane and demonized, yet others contradict them saying that the demonized cannot open the eyes of the blind. Truly Simeon was right when He spoke about Jesus back in Luke 2. Jesus was destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel. Well I’m way over time for today’s episode, but come back next time when we look at Jesus’ words from the Temple during the Feast of Dedication.