John 10 We have a Good Shepherd
Not all shepherds are good. Isaiah (56:11) speaks of shepherds who lack understanding and turn to their own way, to seek their own gain. Jeremiah (10:21) refers to senseless shepherds who do not enquire of the LORD, and Ezekiel (34:2) mentions shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. These passages are referring not to literal shepherds, but to the leaders of Israel, responsible before God to care for his flock, the people of Israel.
Jesus speaks here of thieves, robbers and strangers (v1, 5, 8) who have forced their way in amongst God’s sheep, whose purpose is to kill and destroy (v10), and of hired hands (v12) who run away when the wolf threatens the flock, because the sheep do not belong to them. He, too, is referring to the supposed leaders of the people of God – the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious establishment, whose main concern is to tie people up in knots and bind them into a system of rules and regulations.
Jesus, however, is the good shepherd (v11, 14), the perfect fulfilment of Psalm 23; he makes us lie down in green pastures, leads us beside quiet waters, and refreshes our souls. He is the gate (v7, 9), the way into salvation and life in all its fullness (v10). Notice the emphasis on knowing and hearing his voice (v3, 4, 5, 16, 27). His sheep recognise the voice of their good shepherd and respond willingly to the one who has laid down his life for them and taken it up again in resurrection power (v15-18). No one can snatch us out of his hands – we are held firmly by both the Father and the Son!
There are so many ‘shepherds’ around today, offering various forms of ‘religion’ – a particular system of devotion, a pattern of religious exercises, a way of meditating, discovering your ‘true self’, heightening your ‘personal awareness’. Some of this may perhaps be helpful, up to a point, but nothing we do in our own effort can bring us forgiveness and a knowledge of God as Father. What we need is a personal relationship with Jesus, not rules, regulations and religion. We must acknowledge Jesus as our great Shepherd, the one who laid down his life for us on the cross, and who took it up again in resurrection triumph. To those who are his sheep, who listen to his voice, Jesus offers his gracious provision, care and protection. Without Jesus, we’re (Mt.9:36) harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. With Jesus as our Shepherd, we have life, and we have it to the full!