© 2002, J.W. Carter
"Does anybody really care about me?"
This is a question that has probably been posed by everyone at some point in their lives or others. God created us as social creatures, intended to have fellowship with one another and to have fellowship with Him. We largely define who we are by the nature of our relationships with others. If one is asked to describe himself, or herself, the answer will invariably include the nature of friend or family relationships such as father, husband or wife. Some define themselves by their relationship at the workplace. Yet others define themselves by their relationship with God. For most people, their self-image is a combination of all of these relationships. Consequently, much of our lives are characterized by our relationships with one another. We share a need of acceptance by others. We need someone to care about us, as we also care about others.
Unfortunately, the network of relationships for many people is broken down. Instead of being surrounded by a caring and loving support group, they find themselves friendless and alone with conflict all around. It is times like these that people will be more open to seek to experience the love of God and know that he cares for us and provides for us. However, unless one already has a relationship with God, finding that source of support can be a treacherous search.
People will often search for peace in a wide range of powerless sources. Only this last week I was considering selling a large Herkimer Diamond, a two-pound double terminated quartz crystal that is indigenous to the area of our Upstate New York homestead. I went on-line to a popular auction site to see what such crystals sell for, expecting a price of $5 to $10, the going price among Herkimer area farmers. However, I was rather amazed to find that a crystal like this sells for around $100 because of what some people think are forces that are generated or focused by this crystal. Different sellers argue that such crystals bring healing, comfort and peace. They will help you to come into harmony with the universe. They will cause you to experience prophetic dreams and help you lay out a successful future. Sorry, folks. This crystal may be unique, but it is a stone.
When Jesus ministered in the early first century, people were much as they are today, seeking for a solution to the turmoil that stirred in their empty hearts. God had very little influence in the hearts of the people as they sought after idols and self gratification. The culture was so stratified that most people were rejected by everyone else. It was a lonely and wicked place to live. Jesus came to change all of that.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
The people of Israel looked to their religious leaders for answers. However, they had often demonstrated arrogance and distain for people whom they considered lower than themselves. Rather than seek to lift a fallen "sinner" their standard was to condemn, shun, and punish. The people had nowhere to turn to find and experience the truth and influence of God's love. Jesus taught the people of Jerusalem that He had come to show them the God that loves them and cares for them. He had come to bring them forgiveness of the sins for which the religious leaders only condemned them. He had come to bring them a full, free, and forever salvation from the penalty of their sins. Jesus had recently healed the blind man who, upon presenting himself to the priests for entry into the temple was condemned and cast out by them. So, Jesus uses this setting as the context from which to describe who he is.
Jesus starts by using a metaphor that the people would understand. Theirs was an agricultural community, and most people depended upon animals for part of their livelihood. Landed people would have herds of sheep, goats, cattle, etc. People were familiar with the state of the shepherd, considered to be one of the least respected jobs in their culture. The shepherd would live with the sheep. As timid as sheep are, they would become accustomed to the presence of the shepherd and be calmed by his voice. The shepherd cared for every need of the sheep as he would lead them to fresh water and fresh grass. He would protect them from predators. So, in this message to the people Jesus uses this metaphor to describe who He is, the Shepherd who cares for his sheep.
Jesus starts with a contrast of those who are predators of the sheep. At night the sheep would often be gathered together in a makeshift corral, and the shepherd would sleep at the door, preventing sheep from exiting, and predators from entering. Jesus will also use the metaphor that He is the Door, the only way to true salvation. Those who try to meet the spiritual needs of people in any other way are predators of the sheep. They are thieves and robbers who seek only their own gain rather than seeking to meet the needs of the flock.
But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
Jesus continues to describe the relationship that exists between the shepherd and the sheep. This is a metaphor for the relationship between the Lord and those who are safe in His fold. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and when he calls to them, they will come to him. Those sheep who are part of another flock will not follow, but rather, will run away because they do not know him. In this manner a shepherd can separate out is sheep from a cluster of flocks simply by speaking to them and calling them to follow him. Jesus was giving the people a choice in whom to follow: Him or the religious leaders who he describes as thieves and robbers. This is not difficult for use to understand, but this was an entirely new message to these people who had always thought that, as harsh and arrogant as the religious leaders were, that they were indeed the Righteous Ones. Here comes Jesus, a stranger, with a new message, a message that is denigrating that belief. To tear down the walls of that belief is both difficult and rewarding, and thus confusing. It is difficult to hear of such profound change in beliefs, but Jesus' message is rewarding in that it brings to the people a new hope. Rather than oppressing people for their sins, Jesus demonstrates a deep compassion. He also demonstrates through the miracles of healing that through Him forgiveness for their sins can ultimately be found.
Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Jesus then further explains the metaphor, as He describes Himself not only as the Shepherd, but as the Door through which the sheep pass to enter the sheepfold, the corral. Jesus has come to bring salvation to the people, something that no other person had ever had the power to do. All others who had come who claimed to be the Messiah, or made similar claims went unheeded by those who truly sought God. Jesus also includes the contemporary religious leaders in these words of chastisement. When true believers hear their call, and hear the call of Jesus, it will be Jesus who they will follow. When listening to the religious leaders, the people can discern that these people are seeking their own personal power and gain, and care nothing for their state. When they hear the compassionate and selfless voice of Jesus they hear love as they have never experienced.
In verse 10, Jesus personifies those predators of the sheep in one thief. Satan is the prince of evil in this world, and those who would prey on the people are within his fold. Satan's purpose is to keep for himself the souls and allegiance of the people. He comes to steal people away from a relationship with God, and by so doing, eternally separate them from God, a literal and final death. Satan seeks to destroy the influence of God in people's lives, and by so doing brings destruction into people's lives. When sin is exercised in the hearts of evil men, there is no limit to the destruction they can cause. This generation will never forget the kind of destruction that was experienced on September 11, 2001 at the hands of a few self-consumed madmen.
Jesus then contrasts Himself in one of the most assuring verses in scripture as He describes His purpose among the people. Jesus came for a single fundamental purpose, that people would experience life, not death. Furthermore, in Him, that life can be lived in the full richness of God's intent, both during this short time of life and during the eternal time when we pass from this world. God does not intend that our lives be characterized by sin and its consequences, but rather that it be characterized by the peace and joy that comes from an understanding of the depth of God's forgiveness, and His plan for those who love him. Furthermore, God gives the Holy Spirit to those who love Him and the Spirit serves to lead, guide, direct and encourage those who love God in a way that replaces the sickness of sin in their hearts with an abundance of love, peace, and joy. Some would use verse 10 to argue that the abundance that Jesus promises is an abundance of material possessions. It is clear from the context of these verses that material things are not the issue here, but rather the abundance is contrasted with the dearth that remains after Satan attacks.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
Another characteristic of the good shepherd is his dedication to the sheep. He contrasts the good shepherd with one who is not, and is referred to as a "hireling", not even worthy of the name, shepherd. This is a hired hand who is being paid for his time. He is not willing to take any risks for the sheep. When the wolf comes to destroy the sheep, the hireling will protect himself and flee, leaving the sheep to be scattered and killed by the wolf who will indiscriminately destroy all of the sheep that he can. It would not be unusual for an untended flock to be killed by a single wolf or single pack of wolves. On the other hand, the good shepherd will remain with the sheep and defend them with his very life. One might remember the descriptions of David, son of Jesse, who was skilled with the stone sling, using it to kill predators of the sheep, and who ultimately used it to kill Goliath.
When Jesus spoke of giving his life for the sheep, it had to have stirred up great feelings within Him as He looked forward to the day when he would give his life up to the very wolves that He is trying to protect the people from. Though Jesus was the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, He was also human and subject to the emotions and pain that all people experience. He had to deal with the fears and anxiety associated with the moment, and each time He spoke of it in His teaching, those feelings would be rekindled. This is quite a contrast to the religious leaders who did not care for or respect the people as Jesus did. They would not give of themselves in the way Jesus would. This is because Jesus, as the Good Shepherd truly loves and cares for His sheep.
When we encounter difficult times either in our personal lives or within the network of relationships we are engaged in, we will often find out who are the wolves are. We will find out who cares for us and who does not. Unfortunately, it seems to be a pattern in the church that when people run into trouble, they are shunned by the church members just as the first century people would be shunned by the legalistic religious leaders. At a time when people need the church the most, they find themselves alone. Actually, we know that we are not alone. The Good Shepherd will not give up on us. The love that God has for us is true and unfailing. On that we can rest our assurance.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Jesus then describes more of the relationship that He has with the sheep. Sometimes people question what it means to have a "relationship" with Jesus. First, it is a knowledge of one another. The word used for "know" implies a complete and intimate knowledge rather than a simple acknowledgement of fact. The relationship between the sheep and shepherd is a good metaphor. The sheep know that the shepherd cares for them and the sheep trust the shepherd without question. The shepherd loves and cares for the sheep. To know Jesus is to similarly trust Him because He loves and cares for us. Jesus describes this same relationship that He has with the Father. Again, it is a knowledge that is based upon deep relationship and uncompromised trust.
Then as Jesus talks about His willingness to give up His own life for the sheep, something that the hired hands (religious leaders) would never do, He says something that would be difficult to understand at this time: Jesus makes an interesting comment when He identifies that He will also be bringing sheep who are not in this fold, the fold of Israel. This may be an allusiont to Jesus' plan to take the gospel beyond the family of Abraham and open up His plan of forgiveness to the Gentiles, consistent with the prophesy of Isaiah 49:6.
As He is willing to lay down His life, (verse 11) He will actually do so (verse 17), but will take it back again. He is clearly referring to His ability to raise Himself up from the dead, something that no person has ever done before, or ever has since. All of the other false prophets, many who claim to have had the keys to immortality, share one common trait: they are all dead. Jesus would prove his claim to be the good shepherd when he would give his life for the sheep, by His own choice, but then take his life back again in three days when the temple would no longer be comprised of brick and mortar, but rather would be rebuilt into the hearts of all believers as the Holy Spirit would come and reside there.
There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. 20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? 21Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?
Again, after Jesus spoke, there was great controversy among the people. The crowd included many who had come into the city for the Feast of the Tabernacles. It included many local people, as well as many of the religious leaders whom Jesus criticized. To believe Jesus' words was to place ones' self in conflict with the religious leaders who could not shed the blindness caused by their presuppositions. These created arguments that Jesus was insane and that He was possessed by a demon, which in their culture was one in the same thing. Others, who may not have been convinced of the truth of Jesus' words relied on the miracle they had witnessed when Jesus healed the man blind from birth. How can one do this if he is possessed by the devil? Jesus had done great good, but when the people of the temple could not understand it and it challenged their own beliefs, they declared it evil. That same tendency for persecution of new thought has pervaded the church through the dark ages when they burned at the stake those who said the world was a sphere and those who said that the earth rotated around the sun. Though the church does not burn people at the stake vary often any more, it does sometimes demonstrate a similar pride and arrogance when it declares evil everything that does not fit their system of understanding.
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 23And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomonís porch. 24Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. 25Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Fatherís name, they bear witness of me. 26But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
Several months later, Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the feast of the dedication. This feast is not mentioned in the Old Testament because it commemorates an event that took place in 167 BC. This was a period when the Syrians had control over Jerusalem and desecrated the temple by building an idol in it. The Syrians had usurped the theocracy of Israel. A revolt against the Syrians was led by Judas Maccabeus against the armies of Syria, and against huge odds, succeeded in driving the Syrians from the temple and from the city. Since that day, the Jews commemorate that battle with an 8-day feast. Tradition held that a stand with eight candles would be lit on the first day of the celebration, with one extinguished each day thereafter. Later, the tradition changed to the lighting of these one at a time. The eight-candle stand has become a well-recognized icon of Jewish religious worship, and Jews still make use of the candle stand during the feast of dedication.
Solomon's porch was at the entrance to the inner court, and was a prime place for teaching. When Jesus was recognized, those engaged in the previous controversy surrounded Jesus and demanded his Messianic identity. Rather than simply state, "I am the Messiah," Jesus pointed them to the statements that He has already made to them. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah because they chose not to believe, and because of that, they are not part of the sheep fold he was talking about.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Fatherís hand. 30I and my Father are one.
This restart of the discussion brings Jesus back to the Good Shepherd metaphor. He has just stated that those to whom He is speaking are not His followers. Jesus starts to answer their question concerning His Messiahship in more specific terms. First, He tells them that He gives to His followers the gift of eternal life. This must have shocked those who were listening. Up to this point, the religious leaders were critical of Jesus' claim to forgive sins, a position that brought them to the point of stoning Him for blasphemy. Jesus then takes this argument a step further and states that He is the One who holds the eternal life of His followers in His own hand. For the religious leaders, these were words of exquisite blasphemy. For those who follow Jesus they are some of the most assuring words that Jesus ever stated.
What does it mean if no man can pluck the sheep from the hand of the Shepherd? Many people teach that Jesus forgives sins and provides the eternal life that such forgiveness engenders, but that eternal life can be lost through the commission of another sin. Such a doctrine keeps the church in control of the life of the member rather than turn that control over to the Holy Spirit. Such a doctrine pictures God as a judge hanging a knife over the head of the believer, ready to kill when the next sin is committed. Such a position denies the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Jesus promises. Eternal life is a gift of God given by grace to those who turn to Him. It was not an act of man that initiates salvation, it is an act of God. Consequently, only an act of God can change His own plan. It is assuring to know that we are safe in the fold of His hand. When a sinner sins, he remains in his sin and is condemned to separation from God for eternity. When a Christian sins, the Holy Spirit is in the heart of the person convicting them of that sin and giving them the resources to repent. As a Christian grows in the faith, the desire to sin continually diminishes because Jesus is Lord, and the Christian acknowledges His Lordship through a desire for obedience to Him. When Christians pass from this world, they bear the seal of the Holy Spirit, a permanent indication of their position in the family of God. When lost people pass from this world, they bear the seal of Satan, the mark of the beast, the absence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and will be eternally separated from God.
It is encouraging to know that the Holy Spirit will never leave the heart of a Christian. Certainly, the Christian can turn his back on God and quiet the still-small voice of the Lord with his rebellion. However, the Holy Spirit is faithful, and will never stop convicting that person of their sin, and will always provide a pathway of forgiveness that will restore the relationship.
Finally, we know that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father are one. These words are assuring to the Christian, and anathema to the religious leaders. Jesus just told the religious leaders, on the steps of Solomon's Porch, that He is God. One can imagine their response. In the following verses they attempted to stone Him. It was not yet time.
We see in these verses some of the most assuring words in Christendom. Jesus came to bring life to a lost world, a life that is abundant in love, peace and joy that comes from a relationship with Him that will never end. Never again with the Christian be subject to the condemnation that he deserves for the sin that separated him from God. The Christian can look forward to a permanent relationship with the Holy Spirit who will always be there to comfort and guide, to protect from Satan's wiles. The salvation that we have can never be taken away from us. When we think that all is lost, that nobody cares about us, the Christian can always know without any doubt, that God is always there, He loves us and cares for us continually, and the hope of eternal life with Him never fades.
George R. (1999). John, 2ed. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36. Dallas, TX: Word Books. Pages 162-174
Hull, William. (1970). John, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press. Page 305-308.
Martin, Mike. (2002).Live in God's Care, Explore the Bible: Adult Commentary, Fall 2002. Nashville, TN: Lifeway Church Resources. Pages 110-119.
Simmons, Bob (2002). Live in God's Care, Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide, Fall 2002. Nashville, TN: Lifeway Church Resources. Pages 119-128.
Tenney, Merrill C. (1981). John, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 9. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. Pages 106-114.
Still, Elias Coye.. (Fall, 2002). The Feast of Dedication. Biblical Illustrator 16(1). Nashville, TN: Lifeway Christian Resources of the S.B.C. Pages 73-76.