The Good Shepherd
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
We are in an Easter sermon series called “More People to Love.” It’s a series about the Big Story of the Bible and how we (as a church, as individuals) participate in it. This morning we are going to be in John 10. At first, you might not see the connection to the sermon series but wait for it. It’s there. Jesus is The Good Shepherd and his mission is to love more and more sheep from every nation on the earth.
I’m not going to read the whole passage now; we’ll read the verses as we talk about them. But I will read vv. 10-11 (page 1,022). Then I’ll pray, and we’ll study this passage together.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
During pre-marital counseling, my wife and I have few, stock stories that we tell. Some are goofy and some are serious. Some are both. Invariably, at some point in the counseling, we’ll tell stories of all the terrible, terrible travel mishaps that happened to us on our honeymoon. Most of the things that happened are goofy, like thinking we were getting a great deal to go to a rainforest in the “off season,” but only to learn that the reason it was the “off season” was because it was the rainy season—in a rainforest! That’s funny . . . now.
Others are serious. When we first arrived, our rental car was a little go-kart that could barely get up the mountainous roads. The locals were all yelling at me to drive faster but I couldn’t. It didn’t help that I had to drive on the wrong side of the road.
When we arrived in Soufre, a monsoon started—it was a rainforest. At one 4-way stop in the city, I dropped the back wheel into a very deep gutter that was along the road to absorb flash flooding and I was yelled at more. Eventually, I found somewhere to park. We waited out the storm and began to walk around. We met a man who said he would love to be our personal tour guide. So we said, “Sure. Let’s start with food. We’re hungry.” So he shows us a place, and we eat. Then he finds us again and says, “Let me show you around.” We say, “Sure.” We take our picture by the ocean. It was nice. Then we follow him into town.
And in only a minute or two, everything changed. All of a sudden, we were not out in the open. All of a sudden, we in a dark alley. People were aggressively offering me drugs; our “guide” began to speak to certain other men in another language. My wife grabbed my hand. I looked around.
Now, my father-in-law is a mountain of a man. At the end of the wedding reception just two days before, he had pulled me aside and in a firm voice said, “She’s my only daughter; take care of her.”
Now, I’m in a dark alley with his only daughter and our guide was calling us deeper into this alley. So I said him, “No, we need to go.” We walked out, found the car—which was not easy to do—and we left.
I’m not easily scared, but we were scared. The rest of the honeymoon, my wife wouldn’t go into town. When we ran out of money for meals—which were all super expensive (we didn’t do the all-inclusive thing)—my wife would send me into town to buy Oreos and Chips Ahoy.
What we needed—what I needed—in that alley was for someone good, someone strong to shout, “Benjamin! Follow me!”
In Jesus’s time, the people of God were in a similar place. They had bad shepherds, bad guides. Leaders who cared nothing for them. Shepherds who wanted to hurt the sheep. And it had been this way for a long, long time.
In the book of Ezekiel, which was written in Babylon during the exile some 550 years before Jesus, we read of what God thought of these shepherds of Israel (34:2-6).
2 “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? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 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. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 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.
It’s not a pretty, is it—shepherds eating lamb chops?
This is why when Jesus comes, in Matthew 9 we read, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). They had shepherds, they were just bad shepherds.
In John 10 we see that the owner of the sheep isn’t going to have it anymore. The owner is no longer going to outsource the shepherding. He’s coming to be the shepherd, the good shepherd. And his flock must grow.
This passage is full of juxtapositions. A juxtaposition is when you place two things next to each other so that you can show the contrast. Jesus gives us many contrasts in this passage. And they are so pointed that in the latter part of John 10, a part we won’t get to, the leaders actually want to stone Jesus (v. 31). They know what he’s saying and they don’t love it. I read it, however, and I love it. And I want you to love it too.
This morning, as we look at this passage, I want to teach it by using six statements of “not THIS but THIS.” I’m going to give six juxtaposition statements that show what Jesus means when he calls himself the Good Shepherd.
1. Not mutton but pasture.
Let’s start with this juxtaposition: Not Mutton but pasture. Jesus is not there to eat the sheep but to lead them to still waters. Look at vv. 1-2, 8-10.
1 “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. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep . . . . 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
To put it in our terms we might say it like this. If in the middle of the night, you see a guy climbing over razor wire to get to the sheep and he has a knife in his hand . . . Jesus says, “Can we all agree this guy doesn’t care about the sheep?”
Jesus is saying that what you do with the sheep, indicates what kind of a shepherd you are. In v. 8, it says that, “All who came before me are thieves and robbers.” The verb is present tense, “are” not “were” (they are robbers). This is pointed language. Jesus is not after mutton. Rather, he gives pasture, a rare, precious commodity in a harsh middle-eastern geography. This is most certainly an allusion to the beloved 23 Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (vv. 1-3). “Life” in the Gospel of John is almost always eternal life—life with God that breaks in now (e.g. John 3:16; 10:28; 17:2-3).
How many things in our world promise life but end in death? How many have a credit card that promised life and brought death? Who has had friends that promised life but worked death? How many went on a diet that promised life but brought death? How many have a job that promised life—a certain life—but brought death?
Jobs, diets, friends—and maybe even credit cards—are not bad. But how many sheep have been led astray by them? Jesus is saying, when people follow me they get life—eternal life forever with God that begins now. In a harsh world, you’ll get rest of your souls besides still waters. Let’s look at the next one.
2. Not a stranger but familiar.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is not a stranger but familiar. He is not unaware of his sheep, but he knows them. And they know him. Look at vv. 3b-5, 14-15.
3 . . . The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers . . . 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
The word we translate as shepherd is the same word as we often translate as pastor. It’s really just the context that determines the choice. As one of your pastors, one of your shepherds, I want to be like this, but I’m not, at least fully. I know many of your names, but certainly not all. And there are many who, even though I know your name, I don’t know you—not really, not deeply. I don’t know where you came from, who your parents are, what you do for a living, what you struggle with, what you long for.
In this passage, however, we see Jesus is not a stranger but he’s familiar (in both senses of the word: we know him, he knows us). He’s in a relationship with his sheep. The calls them by name. They follow his voice. Are you in this kind of relationship with Jesus? He wants this for you. He’s the Good Shepherd. Let’s go to the next one.
3. Not a hired hand but an owner.
Third, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is not a hired hand but an owner. Look vv. 12-13.
12 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. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
In the last 15 years, at different points I have been a renter and I have been an owner. And I have even been an owner who rented to others. And I can tell you from experience, even in the way I treat things, there is a difference.
I remember going back to St. Louis after a year to get things from a house we didn’t live in anymore and checking on the property. There had been a tornado that summer; houses just a few miles away were severely damaged. My house only had mild damage to the roof. I leaned this when I walked into the living room and there was a huge water stain on the ceiling and parts of the ceiling had fallen down. Remember, my house was on the market! And my renter didn’t tell me. I knew he didn’t mess it up—the tornado wasn’t his fault! But I needed to know this. I cared about my property.
Jesus says, he’s not a hired hand. He’s not a mercenary, that is, in the broad sense of the word: someone who just does what he has to do so that he can the thing really cares about—a paycheck. Jesus is not like that. He owns the sheep. They are his. He cares for you.
Have you ever borrowed a book, and the person had written their name in it? They car for it. They own it. Have you ever had a favorite position? Maybe a toy when you were growing up? Did you write your name on that toy, carry it around with you, keep it safe—like Andy did to Woody in Toy Story; he write his name on it. God owns his sheep and they are well cared for.
4. Not a victim but an intentional sacrifice
5. Not fragile but resurrection authority
I’m going to take the next two juxtapositions together. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is not a victim but an intentional sacrifice. And as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is not fragile but has resurrection authority. Look at vv. 11, 15b, 17-18.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 15 . . . I lay down my life for the sheep . . . 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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.”
Jesus is not a victim but an intentional sacrifice. What do I mean by this? Well, think about what the phrase means, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Ordinarily, if a shepherd was to say that, most assuredly what he meant was that he was willing to lay down his life for his sheep. If something bad did actually happen, he’d be there; he’d be ready. There is a willingness.
But this is not what Jesus means. Of course Jesus willing. Here, rather, Jesus is talking about intention to die.1 No shepherd actually intends to get killed. And if it does happened, then we call them a victim. But Jesus is not a victim.
Jesus knew that the wrath of God against sinners is sure and fixed. Jesus knew that sheep are not simply helpless, but they have been hurtful. And thus they are in danger. But Jesus becomes the intentional sacrifice to take their place. Jesus says, “I will die, and when I do, just know that neither the Romans nor the Jewish religious leaders took my life from me. No, I lay it down—for you.” What a shepherd!
And as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is also not fragile. Rather, he has resurrection authority. What do I mean by this? Jesus says, “Everyone who has ever lived, when they died, that was the end of their earthly life. But for me, when I die, I have the authority to take my life up again.” Jesus is saying he has resurrection power. If the wrath of God crushers this shepherd, the story is not over. It’s just getting good.
6. Not a national but an international flock
Well, let’s talk about out last point. This is the one that has the most direct tie-in to our sermon series, indeed, it’s the reason I chose this passage for this week. Look at v. 16.
16 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.
When Jason began this sermon series, we started in Genesis and a key verse was Genesis 12:3, which promised that through Abraham, many, many people would be blessed by God. It’s an international promise. Genesis 12:3 reads,
In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
But largely, until the time of Jesus, it was only Israelites who believed in the Lord. Slowly, and only infrequently, a Canaanite here and a Moabite there would join the people of God; you know, the Rahabs and Ruths and Naamans and Uriahs would drip-drip-drip-drip into the kingdom. But it was certainly not a flood. It was just a trickle. But all of this changed with Jesus. The Good Shepherd was the Good Shepherd for all the nations!
On Tuesday afternoons during lent, some of us have been getting together for specific pray and fasting related to this exact purpose, the purpose of asking God to make us better and more ready to share with outsiders about the good news of Jesus. We pray for each other and we pray for you, as well. We pray that all of us would be active in sharing our faith. Maybe you have someone in mind that you’d like to invite to our Easter services. What a great way to introduce them to the story of Jesus, the shepherd who lays down his life and on the third day he takes it up again. Do you have someone you can invite?
Notice the hopeful, successful tone of v. 16. “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.” Jesus isn’t rolling the dice and hoping. He will be successful. He’s going to bring in sheep from every tribe, every tongue, every nation. He’s an international shepherd. This is what encourages me most about this verse.
Jesus has sheep—they are ethnically Gentile people, not Jewish people—who when they hear the gospel message, they are going to hear within it the voice of the Good Shepherd and they are going to believe. It’s going to happen. His plan will succeed.
This doesn’t mean that everyone you share the gospel with will get saved. It doesn’t mean that. But what it does mean is that when the church seeks out lost sheep, just as Jesus did, some people are getting saved. In a harsh world, they’re going to find pasture.
Let me close with a story of why the sovereignty of God in the success of evangelism is so precious to me. In college, God grabbed ahold of my life in a powerful way. I saw my sin as offensive to God and I saw that I was lost without him and I needed to repent and trust him, which I did. And when I did, everything changed.
During this time, I got connected to a number of other Christians. These guys were passionate about sharing the gospel. So we did. On campus. In the downtown area. During the day. At night. We shared the gospel. It was great.
But there was a problem. At the time, I had little understanding of the sovereignty of God. If someone was going to get saved, it was up to me. And I started to get miserable. I went into a strange depression. I can remember having difficultly being in large crowds because the weight of eternity was so real. And in a way, it should be. But in another sense, God has to be God.
One time in Chicago, I remember walking around the Navy Pier area and Michigan Ave. with family. We surrounded by a hundred thousand people in a just mile or two. I couldn’t take it.
After the semester, I broke up with my girlfriend, now wife, Brooke, not because we weren’t falling more in love, but because I was spiraling out of control; I didn’t know which way was up. During this time, I even tossed a book called Future Grace against my bedroom wall because I couldn’t understand it. My friends and I, though we were so concerned about the lost (as we should be!), in a way, we were like sheep without a sovereign shepherd.
Then two guys, incidentally both named Scott, took me under their wings and began to train me. The taught me. And I started reading those books I wanted to throw at the wall. And v. 16 of John became precious to me, in fact, All of John 10 became precious. The Good Shepherd doesn’t eat sheep, he leads them to pasture. The Good Shepherd is not a stranger, but he’s but familiar; he knows his sheep by name. And the Good Shepherd is not a hired hand. He’s not going to run from danger. In fact, he’s an intentional sacrifice. And on the third day, he took up his life again. And now he sits in heaven leading his church to engage in the successful mission of world evangelization.
Oh, church, do you know this shepherd? Let him lead you. Let him lead us.