John 10:11-30

A shepherd was looking after his sheep one day on the side of a deserted road, when suddenly a brand new Porsche screeches to a halt. The driver, a man dressed in an Armani suit, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Rolex wrist-watch, and a Pierre Cardin tie, gets out and asks the shepherd: “If I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?”
The shepherd looks at the young man, and then looks at the large flock of grazing sheep and replies: “Okay.”
The young man parks the car, connects his laptop to his mobile, scans the ground using his GPS, opens a database with 60 Excel tables filled with logarithms and pivot tables, and finally prints out a 150-page report on his high-tech mini-printer. He turns to the shepherd and says, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep here.”
Rather surprised the shepherd replies, “That’s correct, you can have your sheep.”
The young man takes an animal and puts it in the back of his Porsche.
Just as the man is about to drive off, the shepherd asks him: “If I guess your profession, will you return my animal to me?”
The young man always up for gamesmanship answers, “Sure, why not?”
The shepherd says, “You are an IT consultant.”
“How did you know?” asks the young man.
“Very simple,” answers the shepherd. “Firstly, you came here without being called, secondly, you charged me a fee to tell me something I already knew, and thirdly, you don’t understand anything about my business. Now please can I have my dog back?”

One of the most loved sayings of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd.” In the Old Testament, God is often pictured as the shepherd and the people as his flock. Six Psalms display this imagery; epitomized by everyone’s favorite, the 23rd: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want” (23:1). In the Old Testament, God’s Messiah is also pictured as the shepherd of the sheep: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd: He will gather the lambs in His arms, and will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).

This picture passes over into the New Testament. Both Matthew (9:36) and Mark (6:34) inform us that Jesus had compassion for the people because they are as sheep without a shepherd. According to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is the shepherd who will risk his life to seek and to save the one straying sheep (Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:4). Luke tells us Jesus referred to His disciples as His ‘little flock’ (Luke 12:32). And according to Peter’s first letter, Jesus is the shepherd of the souls of men (2:25).

Jesus is the ‘good shepherd.’

Over the years, much has been written about the care the shepherd has for his sheep and applied it to our relationship with Christ. Phillip Keller, for example, has written A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm in which he speaks in detail about the shepherd’s relationship with his sheep and how it applies to the way our shepherd cares for us. Two years ago, I similarly preached an 8-week series based upon the 23rd Psalm. But for the purpose of today’s message, I am going to stick to what the Lord says in today’s text.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me” (John 10:14).

In the original Greek, there are two verbs translated as ‘to know.’ One is defined as to know through perception. In other words, if I can see it, I know that it exists. That is not the word Jesus used. He used the verb which means to know by experience. In this sense, we come to know someone through combined experiences that lead to trust.

In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest. According to him, sheep are not dumb at all. “It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them make loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led.”

“You push cows,” her friend said, “but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that their shepherd does not go, who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is okay. He went on to say that it never ceased to amaze him that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one but a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium. Sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them.

The sheep have come to know their shepherd through their shared experiences whereby the sheep come to trust that their shepherd has their best interest at heart.

In other words, when we develop our relationship with Christ to the point where we are confident of His constant presence, it makes all the difference.

Many of us live our lives with great uncertainty. We know that any hour can bring upon us danger, disaster, or distress. Things can change so quickly. Life is full of hazards. None of us knows what is lurking around the next bend in our journey. That’s why there is no substitute for a keen sense of the good shepherd nearby. There is nothing like God’s presence to dispel the fear, the panic and the uncertainty of the unknown.

‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’ (Exodus 33: 14)
‘You will show me the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16: 11)
‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1).
‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’ (Isaiah 43:2).
‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me (Psalm 23:4).

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Lloyd Ogilvie, the former Chaplain of the United Sates Senate and former Pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, tells of being in the Middle East and watching a group of shepherds walk a large flock down a hillside one evening. As they got nearer, each man called to his sheep and out of this huge mass, the sheep moved to follow the voice they knew.

Jesus says His sheep not only know Him, they also listen to His voice. Well, most of the time, right? We do our best to listen to Him. But there are so many other voices calling. And truth be told, we sometimes listen to other voices and often wind up wandering away from our shepherd.

Pastor and author, Stuart Briscoe, in his fine little book, What Works When Life Doesn’t, writes:

I was brought up in a part of England known for its sheep rearing. In fact, they say that people don’t die in those parts, they just turn into sheep! That I doubt! But I do not doubt that it would be hard to find more stupid animals than sheep.

For some reason, sheep have a remarkable aptitude for getting lost. They can be perfectly at home in a pleasant pasture, until one revolutionary spirit among them finds a hole in the fence. In less time than it takes to tell they will desert the grass and head for the hole. In five minutes flat there won’t be a sheep in the pasture and there will be hundreds on the road. Honking horns, bleating lambs, screeching tires, and baaing ewes, turn the quiet countryside into bedlam. All because some sheep decided to go astray, leading many others after it.

Now, any sensible sheep would survey such chaos and say, “Baaaaaaaa-it was better in the pasture, let’s go back again.” Does that every happen? No way! The sheep mill around creating more and more chaos until a dog arrives. Then they will all head off in the opposite direction from the dog, regardless of where that will lead them!

There is something vaguely disturbing about sheep behavior especially as it relates to human behavior. People do have a great tendency to desert what is good for them, believing something better is just out of reach. To them ‘the grass is always greener’ on the other side of the fence.

And when we hear that greener grass calling and we give heed to that voice rather than the voice of our good shepherd, we can wander right away from him and get lost. When that happens, not if, but when, please be aware that our great shepherd of the sheep is right there with us. Sometimes when we think we have failed the Lord, especially when it happens again and again, we can think that He will give up on us. Not true! All we need do it turn around to see that He’s right there with us. It’s we who have moved, not Him.

There is a story about a husband and wife married for many years who were driving down a road behind a young couple in the car ahead of them. The young couple had a car with front bench seats and the girl was sitting right next to the young man who was driving and had her head on his shoulder.  The woman in the car behind sighed and said to her husband, “Do you remember how we used to be like that?”
Her husband who was driving looked across the front seat and said, “I didn’t move!”

Neither has God. I encourage you to memorize this scripture: “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15).

The good shepherd placed his body between his sheep and vicious animals and actually sometimes died protecting his sheep.

Dr W. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book writes: “I have listened with intense interest to their (shepherds) graphic descriptions of desperate fights with savage beasts. And when the thief and the robber come (and come they do), the faithful shepherd has often put his life on the line to defend his flock. A faithful shepherd from Tiberius last spring actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces and died among the sheep he was defending.”

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, actually gave His life for us.

I believe it is worth noting that Jesus emphasizes in this passage that His death was entirely voluntary. He was not the victim of circumstance, He was not dragged unwillingly and without understanding to the cross. Jesus laid down His life because He chose to do so.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:17-18).

During WWI, there was a young French soldier who was seriously wounded. His arm was so badly smashed that it had to be amputated. The surgeon was grieved that this young man must go through life maimed. So he waited beside his bedside to tell him the bad news when he recovered. When the lad’s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him: “I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm.”
“Sir,” said the young man, “I did not lose it; I gave it . . . for France.”

Jesus was not helplessly caught up in a mesh of circumstances from which he could not break free. He did not lose his life: He gave it. The Cross was not thrust upon Him: He willingly accepted it – for us.

No price can be put on our worth to our Great Shepherd of the Sheep except the price that He willingly laid down . . . the price of His life. That ought to raise our self-esteem.

In Disney’s animated movie Toy Story, Woody, a toy cowboy, confronts Buzz Lightyear, a toy astronaut, with the fact that he is only an action figure and not really a space hero.
Early in the movie, Woody shouts, “You’re not a space ranger! You’re an action figure—a child’s plaything.”
Only after failing to fly, Buzz realizes the truth of Woody’s statement.
Grief-stricken and disillusioned, Buzz hangs his head in resignation, declaring, “I’m just a stupid, little, insignificant toy.”
Woody feels terrible and later seeks to comfort his friend by underscoring the love of the boy who owns them both. “There’s a kid who thinks you’re the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger; it’s because you’re his.”
As Buzz lifts his foot, he sees writing on the bottom of his little shoe. There in black permanent ink is the name of the little boy to whom he belongs. It makes all the difference.

Oftentimes, we mistakenly try to exact our sense of self-worth from our place in life. We look at our careers, our societal status, accomplishments, and when we don’t see the great things we may have once imagined for ourselves, we become discouraged. That’s when we must realize we are branded with the name of Christ. Our value is determined not by who we are or what we’ve accomplished, but by the price that was paid for us on the cross, the precious blood of Christ. We’re His, and that’s all that should matter.

When we think of these characteristics of the Good Shepherd, what more can we say than what we have already sung this morning: Great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto us, therefore; it is the cry of our hearts to follow You, so Jesus draw us close.

There was a priest who was celebrating his 50th Anniversary of Ordination. For this occasion he had invited his personal friend, Richard Burton, to come and recite his favorite Psalm 23. Richard Burton agreed to do this on the condition that the priest would also recite it after him.  At the appointed time, Richard Burton stood and, with all the skill of a Shakespearean actor, recited the popular psalm with such oratorical mastery the congregation immediately applauded. And then, the humble pastor stood up and began to recite with a soft voice, from his heart, this beloved Psalm. When he was finished, there was no applause. It was one of those holy moments when you could hear a pin drop; the people were in awe. Someone in the front pew with Richard Burton leaned over and asked him, “Why did people loudly applaud you and yet were silently moved by your friend?”
Richard Burton replied, “Because I know the Psalm, but my friend knows the Shepherd.”