Trying to find the best title for chapter 10 of John’s Gospel the idea comes with certainty to name it “The Great Shepherd,” as for example Ps. 23 which also can be titled “The Great Shepherd.” This title belongs only to our Lord Jesus Christ. Chapter 10 of John’s gospel embodied his teaching of himself given in the figurative language. Along with the “Shepherd of the sheep,” he also calls himself the “Door of the sheep.”
In Palestine each sheepfold or yard was enclosed with a stone fence with only one opening. Therefore, sheep can enter into the sheepfold only through a single door. This imagery resembles the Church as a sheepfold that has only one opening – Jesus Christ. This truth originated from Jesus’ teaching about himself, I am the way, the truth and the life, he said. No one comes to the Father except by Me, (Jn. 14:6). Each person who comes to faith in Christ Jesus will discover this importance and confess that Jesus is the Lord, apart of whom there is no way to enter to the house of salvation.
Now let’s hear some illustrations taken from the real life of the country people regarding shepherding. In our text, Jesus’ listeners, descendant from a family of shepherds, knew very well that sheep could distinguish the voice of their shepherd and run after him. This picture was true at that time as much as it is true today. In far off Syria some shepherds still maintain the old practice of calling their sheep by name. It says that one traveler, also a Christian, doubted that each sheep would respond when called by the shepherd; so he asked the shepherd to demonstrate it. “Would you call just one or two,” said the traveler. The shepherd called on the nearest sheep, “Carl.” The sheep stopped eating and looked up. “Come here,” said the shepherd. The sheep came and looked up into the shepherd’s face. It was especially amazing when the man called another and another, all of them came, and stood looking up into the shepherd’s face. It seemed they felt secure, and they were provided for. There was no doubt that the sheep would follow exclusively after this man because they knew his voice and they trusted him.
There are many strange voices in the world with respect to the different teachings of mankind’s salvation. In our text Jesus calls for our special attention to the wolves (the false teachers) who also correspond to robbers and thieves. He contrasts the owner of the sheep with a harried person (a pastor) who doesn’t protect his flock from the false teachers and their teaching. Those teachers claim there are other ways to be saved than through Jesus Christ. They are as dangerous and detestable as evening wolves. Darkness is their element, deceit is their character; they snatch the young and scatter the elderly.
“Dr. W. Riley once spent a vacation with a Scottish shepherd. One day in the morning, he noted that the herder was uncommonly quiet and gloomy. Dr. Riley asked him what was the reason for his bad mood. The herder replied, ‘I lost 65 of my best lambs last night.'” It seems unbelievable, but it is what Dr. Riley wrote. This incident shows how wolves can be dangerous; but with respect to the Good Shepherd, it wouldn’t happen. Jesus doesn’t allow his people to be misled by the false teachers and prophets by providing them the true knowledge of himself. The analogy between the Palestinian sheep and Jesus’ flock taken from contexts should be identical, – Christians should hear their master’s voice and follow him, (Joh 10:27), otherwise they would be lost. They are secure conditionally, if they respond on the voice of their Master adequately, they are secured form devastations of their faith. From our life experiences we’ve learned that no one can take us out of the hand of the Good Shepherd. No other relationship known to us is as secure as that of the sheep to their Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
In Ps. 23 King David speaks of his knowledge of the living God by seeing himself as a sheep of the divine Shepherd. This One makes his sheep to lie down in the pasture and leads them to quiet waters. The image of this shepherd, if it is adjusted to the divine Pastor, reminds us of his faithfulness and kindness. Speaking from our life-experiences of the Living God, we breathe with King David, I shall not want, (Ps 23:1). On the other hand, King David himself was a shepherd acquainted with all specifics of this occupation as well as being a gifted writer. Here is the well-known and never old verse with its focus on the Divine Shepherd, He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters, (v.2). The competence of this Shepherd is above all reproach because he is Divine. He cares for the physical needs of his flock perfectly, and he is a model of faithfulness and fidelity to his people. In Jesus Christ his people receive all the necessary things for their spiritual and physical needs. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me, (v.3).
Now we draw you attention to a person named Paul Gerhardt, the Lutheran pastor and the prominent hymn writer of the seventeen century. Many stories are told about him. Some sources say that his family was a member of the middle-class, but on our hearing the following story, we can infer that his family was poor. According to the second version, he was a shepherd boy. Once when he cared for the small flock of sheep and goats on the edge of the forest he noted a hunter coming out from the forest. He came to him and asked how far it was to the nearest village. “Six miles, sire,” he replied, “but the road is only a sheep track and can easily be missed.” “Leave your sheep and show me the way. I will pay you well,” replied the hunter. “No, sire,” said Gerhardt. “I cannot do that for this flock would stray into the forest and be stolen or eaten by the wolves.” “Never mind; your master would never miss one or two, and I would pay you more than the price of one or two sheep. “But sire, my master trusts me with these sheep, and I have promised not to leave them.” “Well,” said the hunter, “let me take care of the sheep while you fetch me food from the village and a guide.” “The sheep do not know your voice and would not obey you, sir.” “Can you not trust me? Do I not look like an honest man?” asked the hunter with a frown. “Sir,” said the boy slowly, “You tried to make me false to my trust, and break my word to my master. How do I know that you will keep your word to me?” The hunter could not help laughing. “I see you are an honest lad, and I will not forget you,” said the hunter. “Which is the path? I must find my way for myself.” Just at that moment when the hunter asked this question, several men came hurrying through the forest uttering shouts of delight as they caught sight of the two of them. From those people Gerhardt founded out that he had been talking to the Grand Duke, and they were his servants. This was the beginning of Gerhardt’s future career of honor and success. Pleased with the lad’s honesty, the Duke had him well educated and thus gave him a good start in life. Gerhardt became a leading voice among the Lutheran clergy, and drew up many of the statements in defense of the Lutheran confession from “wolves.”
The given examples of a good shepherd are by no means natural to the compassionate heart. Our Lord is the person of such a heart, he is the Good Shepherd whose goodness and kindness exceed all the earthly good shepherds taken all together, for he had laid down his own life for his flock, (v.15). Drawing the conclusion from this historical fact, we have a very good reason to enjoy the salvation of our souls by virtue of our belonging to the Good Shepherd. We’ve known that our Lord richly blesses us. He calls us by name, (v.3). He walks before us, (v.4). He saves us from our sinful nature and the devil’s traps, (v. 9). He paid for our sins on the cross (1Co 15:3), and he was raised from the dead for our justification, (Rom 4:25). As his people, we have freedom from the guilt of sin, the power of death, and the power of the devil.
The living image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the Door to the sheep-pen is one of the most beautiful pictures in the Bible. It is also found in many Christian books and hopefully in your heart as well. For to him belongs all glory and honor with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God without end.