By Eddie Cloer
"And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16).
"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, ......" (Acts 20:28).
When I am overwhelmed by responsibilities, I think of the children's story about the discouraged clock. A grandfather clock counted the number of times he would have to tick each year, and the number was staggering to him. As he thought about that amazingly large number, he became so discouraged that he decided to quit ticking. He concluded that he just could not tick that many times. A fellow clock recognized his discouragement and began talking to him. He helped him to see that he would have to tick only one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, one tick at a time. His admonition cured the grandfather clock's depression. Thinking of the truth that he would have to tick only one tick at a time revived his spirit, gave him a new outlook on life, and inspired him to begin ticking again.
Our Lord admonished, "Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34). One remedy to discouragement is to remember that life is lived only one day at a time.
Are you fearful? Do you worry about the tremendous ability of the Evil One to overcome God's people? Are you anxious about what tomorrow will bring? Are you troubled about fulfilling your obligations to the Lord?
Jesus addressed these fears and many others with an illustration in John 10. He spoke of His followers as His flock and pictured His relationship to them as being analogous to a shepherd's relationship to his sheep. When you are fearful or anxious, remember His illustration. It will comfort you with the realization that "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). It will also remind you of the great love and care Jesus' followers receive.
Jesus used this illustration¹ to speak of His relationship with His followers at that time, as He anticipated the relationship He would have in the future with His followers whom He would call His church (Matthew 16:18). The analogy depicts the good shepherd laying down His life for the sheep (John 10: 15, 17, 18). This is a direct reference to Jesus' crucifixion, the means by which He purchased the church (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25). He spoke of other sheep that would come to Him: "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16). These verses show us that the church today should be seen as Christ's flock.
Thinking of the church as His flock will cause us to appreciate what Christ does for His church. Therefore, let us ask, "What is Christ's relationship to His flock, the church? What does Christ, as the shepherd, do for the church?"
¹ John called Jesus' analogy "a proverb." He used the word paroimia, which some versions of the New Testament have translated "parable"; but the New Testament Greek word for "parable" is parabola, an entirely different word. John never used the word parabola in his account of our Lord's life, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke never used the word paroimia in their accounts. In light of the word John used, Jesus' illustration or analogy should be seen as something like an extended proverb, the notion of a mysterious saying full of compressed thought, rather than that of a simple comparison.
CHRIST IS LORD OF THE CHURCH
The first truth that is evident from this analogy is that Christ is Lord of the church. The shepherd to which Jesus likens Himself owns the sheep; he is the sovereign ruler of the flock.
Whoever enters the flock becomes Christ's possession, even as a sheep would be the personal property of the shepherd. This concept of ownership goes in two directions: First, it implies that the sheep live for the shepherd. Since we belong to Christ, we are Christ's servants (Philippians 1:1). Second, it indicates that the shepherd lives for the sheep. As the owner of the sheep, the shepherd loves the sheep, is responsible for them, and provides for their upkeep. Ownership carries with it a heavy responsibility, and the good shepherd fulfills that responsibility.
Someone has said, "No one cares for children quite the way their parents do." The reason for this truth is clear: Parents recognize their children as peculiarly theirs. They brought their children into the world; they are of the same flesh and blood; they are responsible for them. They rejoice over their children, provide for them, and plan for their future.
We can be sure that Christ, the Almighty Son of God, will care thoroughly and tenderly for His own. David, in a psalm of thanksgiving, gave thanks for God's continual care for his physical needs: "I have been young, and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread" (Psalms 37:25). Jesus admonished His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?"' (Matthew 6:31). Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Our good shepherd owns us and sees to our physical and spiritual needs.
This truth should affect us greatly. Christ's ownership of us means that He is in charge of us. Why should we worry? Why should we be afraid? Trust in the good shepherd who watches over you. Our only obligation is to follow Jesus as Lord; He handles everything else.
CHRIST LEADS THE CHURCH
Second, the "good shepherd" analogy reminds us that Christ leads the church. As sheep follow their shepherd, the church follows Christ. We recognize His voice and answer to it. Jesus said,
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out (John 10:1-3).
Each night, the shepherd would bring his sheep into a community fold, a walled-in type of corral with only one entrance. At that gate a porter was stationed throughout the night. In the morning, the shepherd would come and be recognized by the porter. He would then be allowed to enter the fold, call his sheep to himself, and lead them out to pasture. A thief or robber would have to climb over the wall to enter the fold. He would not be recognized by the porter and would not be allowed to enter the fold.
Jesus further said, "When he puts forth all his own he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:4, 5). In the morning, as the shepherd would come to take his sheep out of the fold, he would merely walk to the front of the fold and call for them. His sheep would hear his voice and run to him. When the sheep left the fold, they had no protection but that of the shepherd. They were totally dependent upon him to lead them out where they could graze unafraid and be free from harm.
The shepherd was altogether the master of his sheep. The sheep would go wherever he led them. They were under his guidance and wisdom. Of all the animals, sheep are characteristically followers. They do not have a good sense of direction. On their own, they are accidents just looking for a place to happen. Properly led, however, they enjoy a good life.
We are like sheep in this respect. Without leadership, we stumble like blind men groping for a helping hand. Isaiah wrote, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; . . ." (Isaiah 53:6). Jeremiah said, "I know, 0 Lord, that a man's way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). We must have the proper guidance, or tragedy awaits us.
Jesus is to us
what a good shepherd
is to the sheep--He is our
leader and guide.
Jesus is to us what a good shepherd is to the sheep-He is our leader and guide. He is the Head of the church (Ephesians 5:23), our Captain of Salvation who is bringing us to glory (Hebrews 2:10). We look to Him as "wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). Being aware of our inabilities and of who He is causes us to realize that the central task of the Christian race is that of "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:2). We do not just look at Him; we look unto Him as our Leader and Lord.
Imagine trying to drive an automobile with no headlights in the middle of the night over a mountainous road which has steep climbs and descents, sharp turns, and canyon-like shoulders. To do so would be suicide. An accident would be inevitable; you just would not know where or when the accident would happen. This situation is an accurate picture of a sinful person who is trying to make His way through this world without divine guidance. Like a person driving a car without headlights on a dangerous road, he is headed for ruin!
Jesus assures us, however, that He gives His sheep divine guidance and that the mountains, valleys, ditches, and canyons of life should hold no fear for us. With Jesus as our leader, we can relax in safety as we make our journey through life.
A group of hunters beginning their journey through a jungle region of Africa asked their guide, "Do you have a map?" He answered, "I am your map!" This is Jesus' relationship to us--through His Word, He is our map! Someone has said, "One can hear Jesus without following Him, but one cannot follow Jesus without hearing Him." We listen to His Word and follow Him.
Facing the realization that we have a poor sense of direction could be discouraging to us, but recognizing that we have an all-wise, unerring shepherd leading us turns our disappointment in ourselves into an unending appreciation for our relationship with Jesus. Our most crucial need is supplied by our almighty, all-wise Leader.
CHRIST LOVES THE CHURCH
Third, this analogy pictures Christ as the good shepherd who loves the church and willingly lays down His life for it. He cares for the sheep and will protect them with the sacrifice of His life. Jesus said,
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life
for the sheep. He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:11-15).
Jesus, as a good shepherd, stands in stark contrast to two other types of shepherds. First, He is not like a hireling, a shepherd who only serves for what he can make from his service. A hireling is a mercenary; he is paid to do his duty. While he is not evil or wicked, he does not have the personal concern for the sheep that a true shepherd has. Once his duty is fulfilled, he has no further sense of obligation toward the sheep. Second, Jesus is not like the unfaithful shepherd who fails in his task because of selfish concerns. Ezekiel wrote of the unfaithful shepherd in vivid language as he spoke for God:
Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek for them (Ezekiel 34:4-6).
Jesus is different from these shepherds. He is the "good" shepherd. The term for "good" which Jesus used is more like "beautiful." He is the beautiful shepherd. He is not paid to serve, but He paid with His life to serve because He loves the sheep. He paid for their protection with His life's blood. When danger threatens-when a wolf or lion comes to hurt the flock-He does not hide to save Himself from harm. He puts the lives and the care of the sheep ahead of His own life.
Jesus has an intimate relationship with the sheep, similar to His relationship with the Father-close, loving, with oneness and commonality, according to John 10:14,15. Jesus used the word "know" four times in these two verses to convey the relationship He has with His sheep. He stands with His sheep in darkness and light, in suffering and health, in danger and peace. He knows His sheep personally. Every sheep has His constant attention, love, and concern. He encourages, cares for, and tenderly watches over His sheep; He shields them with His strength in a time of danger.
The story is told of an older couple who were trapped in a flooding area after a dam had broken. The water was rising, and rescue operations were underway. The engulfing water made every trip to higher ground crucial. Every minute was precious. The older couple waited together on the roof of their house for help to come. When a rescue boat came, it had room for only one. The husband insisted that his wife take the seat, but she adamantly refused. She wanted to stay with her husband regardless of the risk. Time could not be wasted; the water was rapidly advancing. The man in charge of the rescue boat said to them, "I'll take these passengers to safety and hurry back for both of you. I hope I can make it, but we're taking a great risk. The water is rising too rapidly." He rushed to higher ground, unloaded his passengers, and returned, only to find that the house and the couple had been swept away by the surging, rushing water. This dear wife had stayed with her husband, knowing that they might have to die together. Is there any love greater than this? Yes. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). To die that others might live is the greatest love of all. Our shepherd has this type of love, the deepest type of love, a love that is stronger than death. He lays down His life for the sheep (Ephesians 5:25).
All evidence indicates that the Gospel of John was written toward the end of the first century, perhaps A.D. 85-95. The first readers, therefore, knew not only that Jesus had said He would lay down His life for the sheep, but that He had actually done it. He had manifested the ultimate expression of care for His sheep by dying for the church.
How bracing this truth should be to us! We have an Almighty Lord who leads us. He loves each of us and has pledged not only His guidance, but also His love and protection. Paul said, "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). If Jesus loved us enough to die for us when we were yet in our sins, how much more will He look out for our salvation now that we are trying to live for Him and be His sheep?
Christ's analogy in John 10 declares that the church is the flock of Christ and is made up of all the sheep that belong to Him. He said, "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16). The "other sheep" to whom He referred must be, or at least include, Gentiles who would hear His voice and come into His flock. His analogy has only one flock and one shepherd. Either we are in His flock, under the one shepherd, or we are not. Either we are in His church, the New Testament church, or we are not.
One of the practical implications of the flock / shepherd analogy is that it calms our fears and drives away our anxieties. We know who we are, for we are His sheep; we know what to do, for we are guided by His voice; our future is secure, for we are protected by His life and death. We have a sense of belonging since He is our Lord; we have true knowledge because the Lord of heaven is our leader; and we have heavenly care from the Almighty Christ who was willing to lay down His life for us! If we know who we are, have infallible guidance, and have the sacrificial protection of Christ, why should we be afraid? Faith in our shepherd dispels our fears.
We can appropriate the words of Psalm 23 and apply them to Jesus even though they were written by David about God during the Mosaical Age:
[Jesus] is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil, My cup overflows. Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell [with my Savior, the good shepherd] forever.
Years ago as a very young preacher, I attended the funeral of a brother in Christ. The gospel preacher who spoke at the funeral was my physical brother. According to what I remember, the man who had died was only in his forties at the time of his death. In his remarks, my brother told of this Christian man's last words before he died. He said that he softly quoted Psalm 23, and as the final word of that psalm was whispered, his breathing stopped. In his last moments of life, he found comfort in quoting Psalm 23.
Peace and serenity enter troubled and fearful hearts when God is contemplated as our shepherd. This analogy which pictures Jesus as the good shepherd and His followers as His sheep can minister to our anxieties in a similar way.
If you are not in Christ's flock, remember that you must enter His flock through the only door-Christ Himself. Christ put a smaller analogy (John 10:7-9) in the midst of His detailed and larger one (John 10:1-5, 10-18). He said, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9). Christ later said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6). The flock of Christ is entered through Christ when one obeys His words (John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:32, 33; Mark 16:16).
Come to Christ, the good shepherd. Enter His flock, allow Him to be the shepherd of your life, and partake of the abundant life which He gives (John 10:10). In His flock, you will have salvation (John 10:9), abundant life (John 10:10), freedom from fear (John 10:12), love (John 10:15), guidance (John 10:4, 5), and eternal life (John 10:17). Can you think of a better way to live than as a sheep in the flock of Christ?
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
1. What do you do when you become discouraged? 2 . How many parables are given in the Gospel of John? 3. Describe what Christ's being Lord of the church means to us and to Him. 4. How does the fact that Christ cares for His flock encourage you? 5. Discuss the context and specific meaning of John 10:10. 6. Describe the inability of sheep to guide themselves. 7. How does a shepherd provide leadership for his sheep? 8. What kind of future do people who refuse divine guidance have? 9. Describe a "hireling," and compare him with a good shepherd. 10. Give the characteristics of an unfaithful shepherd as pictured in Ezekiel 34:4-6. 11. Observe the use of the word "know" in John 10, and comment upon the meaning of this word (note verses 14 and 15). 12. Who are the "other sheep" of John 10:16? 13. How does an individual become one of Christ's sheep?
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; expository. Subject: The church. Theme: The church, Christ's flock. Title: Christ's Flock. Preaching or Teaching Portion: John 10. Proposition: (Declarative/didactic) The church is Christ's flock. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: How? Key Word: Ways. Major Points: I. Christ Is Lord of the Church; II. Christ Leads the Church; III. Christ Loves the Church. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade Christians to rejoice in Christ's care for the church.