John 10: 1 – 21 The good shepherd and his sheep
‘Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.’ Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.
It is only through belief in Jesus that we can be saved.
I need to remember that my human wisdom is no better than the wisdom of the Pharisees. Nevertheless, I query that word ‘Saved’. Saved from what? Saved for what? I feel these are important questions, but I also feel that sheep who wander off tend to get lost! I need to be open to hearing what God wants to tell me about these questions, in his time, because he will know when I am capable of understanding what he has to say.
They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
I HAVE COME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL
This is a promise on which we can rely. All we need to do is listen for our shepherd’s voice and follow him and we will have life in all its fulness.
Personally, I need to listen with expectation. A full life means we can expect to experience the love of God, we can expect to experience joy, we can expect to experience peace. That doesn’t mean we can expect an easy life – far from it – we certainly shouldn’t expect life to be free of difficulties – but if we listen, God will always be there with us; if we turn to him, he will give us joy and peace and love.
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
At the time St John says these words were spoken, the listeners would not have known that Jesus would be crucified. This is prophecy. Jesus laid down his life for us when he was crucified. He knew this terrible thing was coming to him, yet he went on regardless – because he is the good shepherd and we are his sheep.
The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
To understand this statement, we need to remember that St John was writing well after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and he’s recounting a debate between Jesus and some Pharisees.
The Pharisees believed you had to be a Jew to be one of God’s chosen. If they understood anything from this statement it was probably that Jesus would unite the Jews of Israel with those of the diaspora (those living overseas, spread across the Roman empire).
St John, though, had seen the good news taken to the Gentiles, and had seen them accepted, not as second-class Jews, but as followers of The Way – Christians, in other words. In this passage, Jesus is prophesying that he was going to lay down his life for all who would accept him.
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’
The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?’
But others said, ‘These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’
Again, St John records the division that Jesus’ words caused. Again, he cites the evidence of the healing of the man blind from birth. Jesus couldn’t carry out the healings that he did unless God was with him.
Thank you that Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Help me to trust in that promise, and to live my life in obedient anticipation of experiencing life in all its fulness.
In Jesus’ name, Amen