One of the most well-loved images in the whole of the Bible is now before us: Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The “figure of speech” that Jesus is using is drawn from the imagery of the Old Testament shepherd king, David. We are the sheep. Jesus is now the Shepherd King, in fulfillment of that Old Testament shepherd king, and he is the Good Shepherd because (as we will see in verse 11) he lays down his life for the sheep. This was characteristic of David, in his care for Israel, his protection of them against Goliath, and his protection of the flock when he was growing up as a shepherd boy. It is preeminently found in Christ who gave his life for the sheep. It is also found in all true shepherds who follow after Christ as his under shepherds: Peter too must give his life for the sheep (see John 21:19).
In our section this morning, Jesus begins by saying that the thief and robber does not go in through the door to the sheepfold but comes in another way. It is characteristic of thieves that they do not have the keys to the house from which they wish to steal, and here too we picture a thief climbing over the fence rather than entering through the gate. Who is this thief and robber? It is anyone attempting to harm the flock and hurt the flock. The ultimate thief is the devil, but there are many other false teachers and harmful leaders who attempt to hurt the sheep. But look! The sheep have a protection. They know the Shepherd’s voice. He calls them by name, and they follow him. Our great protection against false teaching is to listen to God’s Word. With every stink of heresy, we need counter with the sweet aroma of Christ’s voice. The ultimate safeguard for the Christian then is the Bible: it is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. There we find his voice that guards us and guides us. We hear his voice, he calls us by name by his Spirit through his Word, and we follow him.
The story is told of a coach of tourists in Israel. Having heard this story of how shepherds in those days used to call their sheep and they would follow them (rather than driving from behind), they observed a man doing the very reverse. He was snapping at the heels of the sheep and urging them forward, rather than leading them. Their tour guide had the bus stop and ran out to find out what was happening. When he came back onto the bus he said, “Ah, now we understand. He is not the shepherd. He is the butcher!” But the Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name, and we recognize his voice. We turn to his Word to hear him. Would you this morning read the Bible, not merely for information, but to listen to the voice of your Shepherd?
Then Jesus switches perspective within his imagery. He is also the door to the sheepfold. To enter into life, we must go through him, believe in him, and only through him be saved. Through him we can find pasture, good nourishment, and spiritual food. All the desires of your heart, all your longings after satisfaction, are found in Christ and in Christ alone. Go in and out through him; that is, have the pathway of your life mapped by the presence and power of the living Christ.
Which leads him to his final majestic contrast of this section: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is the key theme for this book of John: life to the full. As John began: “In him was life” (John 1:4). To believe in Jesus, to follow Jesus, is to find life and life to the full. How much we need to underline this truth today. The Christian is not partially alive. The Christian is fully alive. The Christian is not on a dirge; he is on an adventure. The Christian life is not tedium; it is thrilling. The Christian life is the most exciting life that there is—life itself, and life to the full, is found in the source of all life, Christ himself. He has come that we may have life and have it to the full.
What a wonderful promise! What a glorious Good Shepherd!
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