“I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.” Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (John 10:1-6 NET)
At times I feel sorry for those who heard Jesus teach. Don’t misunderstand me – I can’t help but think how wonderful it would have been to hear the Messiah teach the people. But how often did they not understand what he was saying to them? How often did they miss his point?
Although I was not brought up around sheep, I now live in a country where you see sheep on almost every hillside. My sister and her husband for a number of years raised sheep in the United States. By talking to those who raise sheep I now understand a few things.
The statement Jesus made about sheep is very true. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they recognise his voice”. I have discovered that this is very true. When I saw my sister’s sheep they looked…well, like sheep. To me they all looked the same – they were sheep. But my sister could indicate sheep, tell me it’s name and something about it. She, the shepherd, knew her sheep.
The sheep reacted differently to her than to me. If I tried to get near the sheep they would run away. Yet my sister was able to go up to them. The difference was that she was the shepherd.
Isn’t that the point Jesus was making? He said twice: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). He was the true shepherd of the sheep. Those who came before him (John 10:7-10) were thieves and robbers – the sheep did not listen to them. He was talking about the Jewish leaders. They weren’t concerned about the sheep, the Jewish people. But Jesus, the good shepherd, had “come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly”.
But notice the ultimate sacrifice the true shepherd was willing to make: “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.” This was the difference between Jesus and the Jewish leaders: Jesus was willing to die for the sheep. In fact, Jesus would die because the sheep, the people, needed a way to have their sins forgiven so they could have the abundant life that he was offering.
But this wasn’t just for the Jews. Jesus continued: “I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will” (John 10:16-18).
Who were these “other sheep”? They were people who were not Jews, those whom the Jews would have called ‘Gentiles’. Jesus died for all people. When people obey Jesus they become part of his one flock over which he is the one shepherd.
What a great blessing to be one of Jesus’ sheep and to have a loving and good shepherd!
Photo by Jon Galloway: shepherd and sheep at Nazareth Village, Israel, November 2019.
Readings for next week: John 7-11