Editor’s Note: In this sermon I have taken the interpretation that this pericope has the under-shepherds in mind, rather than individual sheep. The under-shepherds are the ones who go through the door and receive the affirmation from the Great Shepherd. This sermon is about 25 minutes.
Sermon: The Good Shepherd
Text: John 10:11-18, SERMON AUDIO HERE
Pastor Uriesou T. Brito
Text: 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. 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. 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. 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.”
Prayer: Lord, you are a God of compassion and of all comfort (II Cor. 1:3). May Your Word and the truth of your tender care for your flock comfort Your people. For this our prayer, O Lord. AMEN!
Sermon: People of God, St. John chapter 10 is a familiar passage to many of us. The imagery of a shepherd caring for his sheep is one we have both heard and seen many times. You may have seen pictures of Jesus holding a little lamb. A quick search on google will show you hundreds, if not thousands of churches in the US named: Good Shepherd. The title is a very appropriate one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophetic word in Psalm 23. Jesus is the good shepherd and so we shall not want; Jesus is also the fulfillment of Psalm 80. Jesus is the shepherd of Israel and the shepherd of the re-made Israel of God; He is the shepherd of Jew and Gentile in covenant with Him.
This text presents to us our lovely Lord who is our great Shepherd. However tender the text presents itself, there is still some threatening imagery for us to consider this morning. This is not just about the Shepherd and the Sheep living in harmony, this is also about the hired hand and the wolves that are desperately looking for a succulent meal.
John 10 is relatively in the middle of the gospel. One of the negative aspects of chapter divisions is that we tend to think that chapter 10 is starting a whole new thought, but in reality chapter 10 is closely aligned with the previous chapter. Jesus brings sight to the blind man; He brings light into darkness in chapter 9. The narrative continues in chapter 10 with chapter 9 as a background. In other words, Jesus is the great shepherd who comes as light to bring salvation to His people. The great shepherd will do whatever it takes to protect His sheep. Remember in the garden that Adam shepherded the animals and gave them names. Jesus as the second Adam becomes the One who calls the sheep by name. Jesus is also the greater Moses. Moses was a shepherd for 40 years in the wilderness defending his sheep from the enemies. Jesus defends His sheep from the enemies’ attack. In fact, shepherding is a first step to becoming a king. The first two kings of Israel are shepherds before they become king. We see Saul and David as shepherds before they assume the greatest of all roles as kings shepherding a nation. The role of the shepherd is to lead His sheep into victory; into green pastures.
Now you may have some preconceived notions of what a sheep is like. The Biblical picture of a sheep is not a pleasant one. Sheep are dirty animals; their wool collects dirt; they need other people to clean them. They have no sense of direction. They can easily get lost if someone is not guiding them. This is the picture John gives us. This is of course, a picture of our own natures. We are all like sheep who have gone astray as Isaiah 53 makes clear.
Jesus begins chapter 10 with an illustration, a proverb in verse 6. In order for us to properly understand the context of chapter 10, we must realize that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees. They are the ones that are blind and cannot see. The Pharisees are the under-shepherds of their flocks. Jesus is primarily addressing the under-shepherds in chapter 10.
We see in the beginning of chapter 10 that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, but they do not understand what He was saying to them.. Then in verse 10, he says that they are like thieves and robbers who come to steal and to destroy. The difference between these under-shepherds and the great shepherd is that the under-shepherds, the Pharisees who are to lead their flock into safe pastures, actually lead them to their deaths, while the great shepherd Jesus comes to give them life abundantly, as verse 10 affirms. He comes to give His sheep a life filled with abundance of goodness and guidance so the sheep may see the light and live faithfully to their great Shepherd. This is the idea of abundant life. It does not mean that the sheep will never suffer, but it does mean that the Shepherd has given enough guidance and light to the sheep, in particular in His revelation, so the sheep may live in obedience all the days of their lives. Abundant living is faithful living.
Verses 1-10 fleshes out this idea with a contrast. The main audience in this text is those who are leading the flock; the under-shepherds, the pastors. Jesus defines the Pharisees as under-shepherds in a bad light. The problem with these under-shepherds is that they lead their sheep to destruction, but the good pastors, the good under-shepherds lead their sheep to abundant living by teaching them, equipping them, feeding them with bread and wine and leading them to green pastures.
Our main text this morning begins in verse 11. John 10 is concerned about giving us two contrasting pictures: One of the false under-shepherds and the other of the true under-shepherds. In verse 11 Jesus makes the fourth “I am” statement. He says He is the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. This is clear as we consider the shepherds in the Older Covenant. David had to fight to preserve His sheep. He fought off a lion and a bear who sought to destroy His flock. In the same manner, Jesus as the great shepherd is prepared to die for His flock. In fact, He came to earth for that very purpose. He came to die for His sheep. At this point you may ask: What does this have to do with Easter? Death is part of the Old World. But the text says so much more. In verses 17 and 18 we see that Jesus came to lay down His life for the sheep for two purposes: The first we have already seen, that they may have abundant life; that is, that they may live with the light of the gospel, under the protection of the shepherd, but secondly, He laid down His life so He may take it up again. After all, what is the purpose if the shepherd is dead? If the Shepherd dies, then there is no one to protect the sheep. The wolves will come in and devour the flock. But Jesus as the great Shepherd lays down His life for the flock, so that He may be raised from the dead and give the flock new hope and new strength.
The reason Paul says in I Corinthians 15 that if there is no resurrection we are people to be pitied, is because if the shepherd dies and is not raised, then the wolves will come and feast in an open buffet. But since Christ has been raised, we have the promise that the gates of hell or the wolves will not have final victory over the Church of God, the flock of the great Shepherd.
Verses 12 and 13 introduce to us the hired hand. The hired hand is one who does not have a commitment to the flock. They are there only in passing; to receive some benefits from the whole ordeal, but they really do not have a deep care and concern for the well-being of the sheep. If there are 100 sheep and one strays, he doesn’t care about the one. He is perfectly fine with the 99. Calvin says that these are under-shepherds who are “not moved by the scattering of the flock…” When the church is at peace, he deceives them, but when the church reaches the stage of most need, the under-shepherd leaves them and leaves the flock to be eaten by wolves.
Verses 14 & 15 show the contrast once more. Do you under-shepherds, pastors of the church of God want a picture of true shepherding? Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus is the paragon of what a true shepherd is. He defines a true shepherd because He has been a true shepherd to his own flock. Jesus is concerned to bring unity to His flock. When one sheep strays because of their lack of faithfulness, Jesus goes out to find him and restore him to the fold. Jesus is the excellent shepherd. He is the one who will literally fight until death so that the sheep will be well. Jesus is exhorting true under-shepherds to shepherd their flock as He does. Are the pastors going to stand by your side when times are tough or when you are going through crisis or are they going to simply abandon you and let you be eaten alive?
This has many visible applications. It is a well known fact that anti-Trinitarian cults seek out the most vulnerable. These cults are successful because the under-shepherds of the church have abandoned their flocks, have not given them the love of the church, so cults come along and offer them love and show compassion toward the sheep and the sheep easily fall away from the true faith.
Verse 14 says that He knows His own and His own know Him. Jesus knows His sheep intimately. So too, he is saying to the under-shepherds: “know your people intimately;” care for them, love them, visit them, be hospitable to them. For some pastors this is easier to do. Some pastors have to work hard at caring for the sheep. Jesus is saying that if your sheep is to know you, then you must first know them.
Why should the pastor know His congregation? Because Jesus knows the Father and the Father knows Him. We can add by necessity that the Spirit knows the Father and the Son and the Son knows the Spirit. There is perfect unity and harmony within the Trinity. The members of this Trinitarian community serve one another out of perfect love. In the same manner, Jesus says, so too, ought parishioners to know their pastors and pastors to know their parishioners. Though our functions are different, we are brought together into this divine community.
There is a sacrificial existence that takes place as the shepherd looks at his sheep. Jesus is willing to give up his life for the sheep, so too, ought ministers of the gospel be willing to give their lives for the sheep. This is why a man should consider very deeply if he desires to pursue this office. James 3 says that if a man desires to be a teacher, he will be judged with greater strictness. There is a greater judgment for those who lead the flock astray.
Verse 16 is properly in the center of this discourse because it summarizes the intent of the great shepherd. It says: “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.” Jesus is contrasting the false leading of the Pharisees/the under-shepherds of Israel with what a true under-shepherd should look like. The Jewish pastors of the day are leading their flock in every imaginable way, except to the true Messiah of Israel. They are hindering the Gentiles from coming into the church by setting up all sorts of religious barriers. Jesus says enough! I have other sheep outside of Israel. And even now I am calling them to join my great flock, my great cosmic flock, my great world-wide Bride, the church. Jesus is calling Gentiles to join and become one with the Jews, so that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are one flock under one True and Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
The message of this calling is an effectual calling. Jesus is not saying that I will call some sheep and they will decide in their own will to join or not to join the flock of Christ; rather when Jesus calls, they will come. The lost sheep will find refuge in the green pastures of the Great Shepherd.
How shall we then live?
This passage has in many ways been individualized. But note that there is no individualization in this passage. It is true that Jesus knows you individually by name, but Jesus does not know you apart from bringing you into the fold; into the Church. The Bible condemns any attempt to live an individualistic gospel. Those who leave the church to live independently of it will find that they are like the one sheep who is wondering without knowing where he is going. But Jesus is merciful. He will find that one sheep and He will bring it back to join the other 99 in worship and in the communion of the saints. This is a true call for us today to not isolate ourselves from the church. When there are physical or financial needs do not isolate from the church, rather come even closer to her. Let the church do her best to help. When you are having doubts about a theology or a practice of the church, come to the pastors of the church and let us talk about these matters.
But also, if under-shepherds of the Church of Christ are to follow the lead of the great shepherd, then you must know at the outset, that there will be many times we will fail at our job. We are not perfect, we are mere humans who are called to a tremendous, difficult, self-sacrificing, but very rewarding task: to lead you to live abundant lives through the gospel proclamation, through bread and wine, and through exhortation and encouragement to live faithfully to your calling. Our request as pastors of Providence is that you would remember us in prayer and that you are very aware that we care deeply for you as a shepherd cares for His sheep.
Though this is primarily a call to ministers to shepherd the church of Christ, this is also a call for shepherds to guide their flocks in the homes. Our duty is to preserve the well-being of the flock as a whole, but your goal as leaders of your household is to preserve the well-being in your particular flock; your household. Teach your little ones from their earliest days to worship. Sing at home, pray at home, encourage at home, exhort at home, so your own little flock will join the larger flock on the Lord’s Day and rejoice that the great Shepherd has not and will never abandon His own, world without end. Amen. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Sprit. Amen.
Some thoughts come from a sermon by Rev. Joe Thacker and Dennis Tuuri (both CREC ministers). Also, Rev. Robert Rayburn’ s sermon is consulted. Calvin’s commentary is indispensable on John 10.
 Loosely taken from Calvin’s commentary on John 10.