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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Since Jesus is the Good Shepherd, follow him!
Text:John 10:1-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 81:1-3

Hymn 11:9 (after the law)

Psalm 23

Psalm 92:1-3

Psalm 145:1-2

Scripture reading: Ezekiel 34:1-24

Text: John 10:1-21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Have you heard the news about Prickles?  In 2013, there were bush fires in the south-east of Tasmania.  Prickles was just a lamb back then.  Because of the fires she got separated from her flock and was never seen again.  Until recently.  The farm family was having a barbeque at the back paddock when they saw a big white, fluffy thing on the other side of the farm dam.  They chased her down and now Prickles is back in the safety of the flock.  But, as you can imagine, being on the loose for some 7 years meant Prickles had quite the fleece.  It wasn’t quite a record-breaker, but it was enormous, heavy, and thick.  Prickles is a lot happier now that she’s shorn and back in the care of the farm.

Here in Tasmania we see sheep all the time.  Any time you go for a drive just about anywhere outside the city, you’ll see them.  After all, we have more sheep than people – 2.2 million sheep versus about 515,000 people.  With that many sheep around, you’re going to have some encounters with them at some point or other, even if it’s just trying to avoid that dumb sheep that’s escaped the paddock and wandered onto the road. 

Our passage for this morning speaks a lot about sheep and shepherds and so on.  It obviously comes out of a world that’s familiar with raising and tending sheep.  So in a way, it’s similar to our world, even if we don’t have a lot of personal contact with sheep.  As we’re going to see, there are also some differences between that world and ours when it comes to sheep.  Now of course, the focus of our text is not on sheep as such, but on the Good Shepherd.  This passage is all about showing us how Jesus Christ is the most excellent shepherd ever.  He’s the one that all sheep should follow, the one we should follow.  So I’ve summarized our passage with this theme, Since Jesus is the Good Shepherd, follow him!

We’ll see:

  1. How he’s the Good Shepherd
  2. How the others are not
  3. How the sheep follow him

In chapter 9 of John, we read about the healing of the man born blind.  Chapter 10 follows right on the heels of that.  At the end of chapter 9, the Pharisees were asking Jesus if he was saying they were blind.  He said that it’s their claim to see, which is to say to have clear spiritual vision as righteous men, it’s that claim which actually blinds them.  Their pride blinds them.  As we get into chapter 10, it’s important to note that Jesus is still speaking to these Jewish religious men who pride themselves on being righteous leaders of God’s flock.  They think of themselves as being shepherds of God’s flock, God’s people. 

Now we read from Ezekiel 34.  That chapter speaks about evil shepherds, shepherds who are selfish and abusive.  But then Ezekiel 34 also contains a prophecy about another shepherd.  In Ezekiel 34:15, God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”  God is going to rid the flock of the evil shepherds and he will be the shepherd instead.  But then there’s also verse 23.  Ezekiel 34:23 says, “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”  You have to notice what’s happening between these two verses.  On the one hand, God says, “I will be the shepherd.”  But on the other hand he says, “I will set up my servant David as the shepherd.”  So are there two shepherds?  God and David?  No, because he says there’ll be one shepherd, not two.  How can this be?  Well, this is a prophecy about Jesus Christ.  The Son of God would take on a human nature and come as the one shepherd.  He is both the Son of David and the Son of God.  As shepherd, he is both God and man.  Jesus Christ would be the greatest shepherd the world has ever seen.

That’s in the background to John 10.  Ezekiel 34 is being fulfilled here.  Jesus reveals himself here to be the Good Shepherd.  He begins doing that already in verse 2.  There are thieves and robbers who try to sneak into the sheepfold.  But the shepherd doesn’t have to sneak in – the one who guards the sheepfold knows who he is and so opens the gate.  The sheep know his voice, and he knows their names.  When he calls them, they follow.  When sheep encounter strangers they scatter.  Sheep are skittish around strangers, but they know and remember the familiar voice of the shepherd. 

Already at this point, we see a couple of really important things about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Look at verse 3.  He knows the names of his sheep.  His flock is not just a collection of nameless sheep.  That often happens today – I doubt there are many sheep farms where they have names for all the sheep.  It’s just “the sheep.”  The odd time you get one that stands out, like Prickles, but most of them are just nameless.  But back in Jesus’ day, shepherds would call their sheep by individual names.  That’s a picture of Christ and his people.  To Jesus Christ, those whom he’d save weren’t and aren’t just a collection of nameless individuals.  No, he actually knows all the names of the sheep.  He’s always known your name, even from before the foundation of the universe.  When he died on the cross, he died with your name on his heart.  All this is to say that Jesus has an intimate personal connection with his sheep.  He knows their names.

He also calls them and leads them out.  I’m told that today the sheep get driven where they need to go.  Sheep farmers will use sheep dogs or maybe quads or whatever and get behind the sheep and push them where they need to go.  Sheep get driven today.  But in Jesus’ day, sheep were led.  The Shepherd called them by name and then led them out to pasture and water.  This is a picture of how Christ comes to us.  In his grace, he takes the initiative with us, he comes to us, and calls us.  He even calls us by name and he leads us out to life.  The Good Shepherd loves his sheep and takes the first steps necessary so that they can live.  Later in the passage, in verse 16, he says too that there are others who are going to be called, “other sheep that are not of this fold.”  He’s speaking about non-Jewish people.  They’re also going to be called by him, gathered into his one flock, under his care.  That’s speaking of what’s going to happen later on after his ascension.  The gospel will go out into the world and more of the sheep are going to be gathered in.  Eventually that comes to include even us.         

Now if you look at verse 6, when Christ used this picture with the Jewish leaders, it didn’t register with them.  They had no idea what he was talking about.  So he decided to alter the image somewhat.

In verses 7 to 9, he switches the imagery from the shepherd to the door of the sheep, the door of the sheepfold.  Jesus says that he is the door, he is the gateway.  Just as he leads the flock out to life as their Shepherd, if the flock comes in through him, they will find salvation and life.  What it means to be saved here is to be saved from death, from the condemnation of eternal death, what we all deserve for our sins and rebellion against God.  What Jesus is saying here is exactly the same as what he’ll say later in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus Christ is the exclusive way to salvation, the only way to life.  Loved ones, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.  The Bible is clear about this:  Jesus Christ is the only way, he is the only door.  Anyone who’s going to be saved from sin and hell is only going to be saved through Jesus Christ.  There’s only one door, just like there’s only one Good Shepherd.

According to verse 10, this Good Shepherd has come to bring life and life in abundant measure.  That’s another way of saying that he’s come to bring us an infinite measure of life – eternal life, life that lasts forever, life in all its fullness.  Everything that life was supposed to be from the beginning, the Good Shepherd gives it – and even more! 

Do you ever stop and think about death?  Unless Christ returns first, 100% of us are going to face death at some point.  I think about it.  Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I think about death and its inevitability.   When I do, I always try to come back to what Christ says here – he has come that I may have life and have it abundantly.  Through him, I already have that life.  My heart may stop beating at some point, my lungs will stop expanding and contracting, the neurons in my brain will stop firing.  A doctor will declare me dead.  But I won’t be.  Because of what Christ says here, I’ll still be alive.  I’ll have life and I’ll have it abundantly, even after I’ve physically died.  It’s all because of the Good Shepherd.  Because of him we don’t have to fear death.  Death has been conquered by him for us. 

How did he do that?  Three times in our passage, Jesus speaks about the Good Shepherd laying down his life for sheep.  This is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture telling us about what Christ did for his people.  This is really what it makes him the Good Shepherd, the Beautiful Shepherd.  There are five important things we ought to notice. 

First, notice how he speaks of actively laying down his life.  His death is a completely voluntary act.  When he died on the cross, he laid down his life.  He did it voluntarily, of his own accord.  No one forced him to do it and it wasn’t an accident.  It was all planned ahead of time.  The Son of God agreed to come into this world, to take on a human nature, and suffer and die as one of us.  It’s important that we see the active and voluntary nature of his suffering and death so we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the cross is somehow an act of divine child abuse.  You know, God the Father abusing his hapless Son.  No, the Son of God chose this.  He intentionally, voluntarily laid down his life for the sheep.

Why does he do it?  That’s the second thing to notice.  Look at verse 13 and its mention of the hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep.  That contrasts with the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd cares everything for the sheep.  He loves the sheep deeply.  He loves his people so much that he’s willing to voluntarily take their punishment.

That’s the third thing here:  the substitution.  The Good Shepherd gives his life in the place of the sheep.  He is their substitute.  They deserve to be stolen, killed, and destroyed – and worse.  But he comes and he is the sacrifice that bears the punishment for them.  The little word “for” as in he lays down his life for the sheep, that little word speaks to us of substitution.  The Good Shepherd shows his love for the sheep by voluntarily being their substitute, taking their hell on the cross.  Taking your hell.

Fourth, let’s notice who he lays down his life for.  It’s the sheep.  Only the sheep.  That raises the question:  who are the sheep?  To find out the answer, we have to look elsewhere in Scripture to see who it is for whom Christ dies.  The answer is that Christ dies for the elect, for those whom God has chosen before the creation of the world.  The sheep are the elect, people God has chosen in his good pleasure.  The sheep are whomever God has chosen and given to the Son for him to die for them.

Then last of all, notice as well that there’s not only the laying down of his life, but also his taking it up again.  This is all in the plan of the Father for the salvation of the sheep.  Jesus would die, but then he would also rise again.  He must rise again.  The resurrection shows that he’s victorious over sin and death.  The resurrection shows that his sacrifice on behalf of the sheep has been accepted by God.  The Good Shepherd has the charge to do this from the Father, but he also has the authority or the power to do it.

Brothers and sisters, see how good the Good Shepherd is.  See how beautiful and excellent he is.  He knows you by name, he loves you deeply, he’s laid down his life for you, he’s taken up his life again for you.  There’s no one like him.  There’s no one else worthy of your trust and commitment.

Certainly the Jewish people in Jesus’ day had alternatives, but they were poor, awful alternatives.  Jesus speaks about these alternatives in our passage when he talks about thieves and robbers and hired hands.  These terms are meant to portray the Jewish religious leadership. 

They’re like thieves and robbers.  They climb in by another way, because they have no right to be among the sheep.  That’s because their intentions with the sheep are evil.  They want to take advantage of the sheep – steal, kill and destroy them, in the words of verse 10.  They’re just there to see what they can get out of the sheep.  They have no interest in the welfare of the sheep. 

Others are a little different.  They’re hired hands.  The shepherd has a personal connection with his sheep – he knows them and they know him.  There’s a close relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, just like there’s a close relationship between God the Son and God the Father.  But in this picture the hired hand doesn’t have that relationship with the sheep.  The hired hand is just taking care of the flock because it’s a job.  It’s a way to earn a living.  So when wolves come along, self-interest continues to be the dominating principle and he runs away.  He’s more interested in saving his own skin, so he leaves the sheep to be mauled by the wolf.  Hired hands are just not comparable to a good shepherd. 

Some of the Jewish religious leaders are like thieves and robbers.  They think themselves to be shepherds, but the reality is that they’re all about fleecing the flock.  They see the sheep as a means to an end.  Elsewhere in the Gospels, Christ speaks about this.  Sometimes he points out how the leaders used the people to bolster their pride.  Sometimes he points out how they used the people to bolster their power.  Sometimes he points out how they used the people to bolster their wallets.  They didn’t care about the people – they cared about themselves and used the people to take care of themselves. 

Some of the Jewish religious leaders are like hired hands.  They’re doing their job, but they’re doing it because it’s a living, not because they care for the sheep.  If troubles come along and their own person or livelihood is threatened, they’ll be gone in an instant. 

In both cases, there’s a common denominator:  no love for the sheep.  Jesus had love and compassion for the sheep.  In chapter 9, you see it with what he did for the man born blind.  He cared for that man and healed him.  Later in the chapter, he went looking for the man to follow-up with him.  Again, you see Jesus’ love for sheep.  But what did the Jewish religious leaders do with that man?  How did they treat him?  They excommunicated him.  He wasn’t useful to them because he acknowledged Jesus and said he wanted to be his disciple.  The healed man represented a threat to their power and pride.  So they excommunicated him.  They excommunicated a sheep who was following the Good Shepherd.  That was just wicked.  Thieves, robbers, hired hands – whatever it was, there was no love.

Later in the New Testament, elders are called shepherds of God’s flock.  It’s in 1 Peter 5:1-3 – I want to read that with you [look up and read].  Christ is the Good Shepherd, but he has his under-shepherds.  And they need to reflect him.  The most important way they do that is by cultivating and displaying his love for the sheep.  Those of us who are elders, we need to take that to heart.  The sheep are not there to serve us.  We’re here to love and serve the interests of the sheep, just like Christ the Good Shepherd did and still does today.         

Last of all, we want to briefly look at how the sheep follow the Good Shepherd.

Let’s start at the end of the passage.  It describes how a division happened among the Jews because of the teaching Christ gave in our passage.  People were divided as to what to think about Jesus.  Some thought he was demon-possessed and out of his mind.  Others thought that it’d be impossible for a demon-possessed person to heal the blind.  There can’t be any divisions among the sheep as to what to think about Jesus.  The sheep are of one mind:  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  They see him laying down his life and taking it up again and so they’re convinced that he is the Good Shepherd.  In John 15:13, we’ll hear Jesus say, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That’s what the Good Shepherd did, that’s what makes him so, so good.  That’s what draws us to him – his great love for us, the sheep.

Knowing the Good Shepherd and his love, we hear his voice.  We hear him calling us.  How does he call us today?  Through his Word.  Whenever we read the Bible, our Good Shepherd calls us.  Whenever we hear the Bible faithfully preached, our Good Shepherd calls us.

When he calls, we hear his voice, we recognize it, we believe him, and we follow him.  Following the Good Shepherd means the same thing as being one of his disciples.  We walk in the footsteps of our Master as he leads us on.  It’s like we’re his apprentices and we’re trying to learn from his ways and imitate them. 

And as we follow him, what we find is pasture.  Which is to say what we find is nourishment and life.  When you follow the Good Shepherd, you find your life flourishing.  It doesn’t mean there are never any troubles or difficulties, but the Good Shepherd is there with you.  He leads you through in such a way that you come out a stronger sheep on the other side.  The Good Shepherd leads us not only beside still waters, but he’s also with us leading us when we go through the valley of the shadow of death.  His rod and staff comfort us and we’ll be blessed by him, no matter what. 

Being in Christ’s flock is a fantastic place to be.  It’s not because of the other sheep.  It’s not because we’re great sheep ourselves.  Being in Christ’s flock is fantastic because he is the Good Shepherd.  He has no rivals.  When you see his love, love so great that he lays down his life for you, why wouldn’t you want to be with him?  When you see his grace, grace so great that he chose you to be part of his flock, why wouldn’t you want to follow him?  When you see the super-abundant life he gives, why wouldn’t you love and praise him while you have life and breath?  AMEN.


Our Good Shepherd,

Lord Jesus, we praise you for the super-abundant life you give to your sheep. Thank you for making us and all true believers part of your flock, for your gracious initiative in gathering us in.  We’ve heard again of your great love, how you laid down your life for the sheep.  That fills us with love for you.  Thank you for this good news.  Thank you for being our Good Shepherd.  And we pray that you would continue to be that for us today and every day.  Lead us out to green pastures and still waters.  Feed us, Lord, nourish us, help us to flourish as your sheep.  We confess that we’re dependent on you, our Good Shepherd.  So please have mercy on us, and lead us like no one else can.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to hear your voice in your Word and follow you.  Help us to live as your disciples, for your glory.                                                    

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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