How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 1

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11

Pharisaism replaces rest in Jesus with demands for spiritual performance. People under a Pharisaic system can develop a distorted image of God. In John 10:11-21, we will discover that our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is on our side and not against us.

We saw in John 10:1-10 that we can trust Jesus as the true Shepherd because of …

– His prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

– The doorkeeper’s (John the Baptist) confirmation (John 10:3a)

– His personal concern for each of us (John 10:3b)

– His competent leadership (John 10:3c-6)

– His completely free offer of salvation (John 10:7-9a, 10b)

– His constant provision of nourishment (John 10:9b, 10c).

The Pharisees had not entered the sheepfold in the prescribed manner, that is, through faith in God’s Promised-Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Messiah and God’s provision of salvation through Him was a gracious gift not to be earned through compliance with the Law. Because of their unbelief, the Pharisees were false shepherds who misled their followers onto a treacherous path of dependency upon their own efforts to save themselves. Since they led the sheep along the wrong path away from the life Jesus offered, Jesus called them thieves and robbers of God’s sheep.

Being under a Pharisaic system can hinder believers from growing closer to the True Shepherd. The next few days, Lord willing, we will learn how to grow closer to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, when we realize who He truly is. Those under a Pharisaic system may have a distorted view of Christ which keeps them from growing closer to Him. The remedy? Discover the truth about Jesus. He is a good, trustworthy Shepherd. I can grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I…

REALIZE HIS SACRIFICIAL INTEREST IN ME (10:11-13). Beginning in verse 11, there is a stark contrast between the Good Shepherd and the thief. Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd when He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). This is another “I AM” statement by which Jesus claims to be the same God Who spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14.

Notice that Jesus is not a mere shepherd, but “the good shepherd.” What does  “the good shepherd” do? He “gives His life for the sheep” so the sheep might live, but the thief comes to kill the sheep so he might live (John 10:10a). False shepherds come to take from others, but the Good Shepherd comes to give His life for the sheep. Jesus has the best interest of the sheep in mind. He laid down His life so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “for” in John 10:11 refers to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died “for” us or “instead” of us. He died in our place so we may live.

The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since God is a holy God, He must punish sin. God says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The word “death” here refers to eternal separation from God. All people deserve to die forever in the Lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

God could have permitted us to take our own punishment. But instead, 2,000 years ago, God’s perfect Son took our place on the cross and died as our Substitute. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A California newspaper reported that a man fired a gun into a pedestrian-filled sidewalk. To shield a three-year-old boy from the hail of bullets, a twenty-nine-year-old apartment manager grabbed him and ran back into the building. Carrying the boy, he ran up a flight of stairs before collapsing from two bullet wounds in his chest. A policeman observed, “He brought the boy out of the line of fire and died because of it.” 1

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ took what caused our death, our sin, and died for us before coming back to life three days later. By dying in our place, Jesus satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins. Jesus is alive today and He has the power to save us from hell and give us eternal life. Jesus is the one and only “door” (John 10:9) for the sheep. He is the only One

Who paid the penalty for our sin when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead. There is no other way to get to heaven (John 14:6) except to believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:15; 6:68-69; Acts 4:12).

Have you ever come to the point where you accepted Jesus’ death on your behalf? If not, would you like to now? Simply take Christ at His Word when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The moment you believe or trust in Jesus alone, He gives you eternal life which can never be lost or taken away from you.

Jesus is contrasted with the hireling who does not share the concern of the shepherd for the sheep. “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” (John 10:12).  When the flock gets too large, the shepherd hires a man to help with the sheep. The hireling watched the sheep at night when danger lurked – lions, wolves, panthers, leopards, bears, and hyenas – in the countryside.

“The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.” (John 10:13). When danger approached, the hireling fled because he doesn’t have personal concern for the sheep like the shepherd has. He only works for money with no sacrificial commitment to the sheep. Since he is a hired man, he also has no personal affection for the sheep.

The shepherd, on the other hand, owns the sheep and cares for their safety enough to even die for them (John 10:11). Christ loves His sheep so much that He was willing to purchase them with His own blood. The hireling is like the religious leaders who only cared for themselves. They used the peoples’ religious performance to meet their own spiritual needs instead of really caring about the needs of the people.

We can act like a hireling when we put our own needs ahead of the people God wants us to serve. For example, when a brother or sister in Christ is opposed by others because of their Christian faith, will we identify with them and support them at the risk of being attacked ourselves? Or will we withdraw from them to protect ourselves? Our Good Shepherd was willing to take a stand and fight for us against the forces of hell when He went to the cross on our behalf. As we grow closer to Him, He can help us put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Prayer: Your goodness, my Lord Jesus, was clearly and powerfully demonstrated when You gave Your life for the sheep. Unlike a robber or a hireling that cares more about himself than the sheep, You were willing to sacrifice Yourself so we may live forever with You after believing in You. False shepherds come to take from others, but You came to give. Knowing You have my best interest in mind invites me to grow closer to You. This can be difficult for me at times because I let my past wounds from spiritual leaders interfere with my view of You now. I pray Your Holy Spirit will remind me that since You gave me Your best when I was at my worst, how much more will You do now that I am in Your sheepfold (cf. Romans 8:31-32)!?! Please live Your life in and through me so others may experience Your goodness as a result. Thank You my Good Good Shepherd. I love You. In Your name I celebrate! Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1.   From EvanTell’s 2010 “What are you depending on…” gospel tract.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 4

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9

In our study of John 10 we have learned that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because…

– He has prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

– He has the doorkeeper’s (John the Baptist’s) confirmation (John 10:3a)

– He has personal concern for each of us (John 10:3b)

– He provides competent leadership (John 10:3c-6).

Today we discover that we can also trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because HE OFFERS SALVATION COMPLETELY FREE (John 10:7-9a, 10b). “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.’ ” (John 10:7). After a shepherd separates his sheep from other flocks, he takes them out to pasture to graze. Near the pasture is an enclosure with no door. The shepherd stood in the doorway and functioned as the gate. The sheep could go out to graze in the pasture or if they were afraid, they could retreat into the security of the pen. A gate provides access or entrance.

When Jesus says, “I am the door,” He is saying He provides access or entrance into the nourishment of the pasture or into the security of the pen. Either way, Christ is the only One who can meet our spiritual needs completely. The religious leaders could not.

“All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” (John 10:8). Jesus refers to the religious leaders as “thieves and robbers” who exploited people and cared only for themselves. Established religions and their leaders cannot meet the needs of God’s flock for safety and security. The Pharisees were telling people that the way to be saved was to follow their religious rules and regulations. Instead of caring for these people, they increased their burdens for their own gain. But “the sheep did not hear” or pay attention to them because they were not the True Shepherd.

Jesus on the other hand, offers salvation freely. “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.” (John 10:9a). Jesus does not say, “I am a door,” leaving open the possibility of other ways into the fold. No, He says He is “the door.” He is the only way into God’s fold. He is the only way into God’s fold. This is another “I AM” statement by Jesus whereby He claims to be God (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).

The phrase “by Me” (di’ emou) is in an emphatic position (at the beginning of the sentence). Literally it says, “Through Me, if anyone enters, he will be saved” (di’ emou ean tis eiselthē, sōthēsetai). Only Jesus can provide access or entrance into God’s sheepfold through faith in Him alone. There is no other way for people to be saved from their sins and enter God’s family except through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:5-6).

Notice what Jesus promises the person who enters through Him – “he will be saved.” He does not say, “he might be saved,” or “he could be saved.” No, Jesus said, “He will be saved.” The salvation Jesus offers is absolutely certain and complete. Christ’s statement leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty about one’s own eternal destiny.

In verse 10a, Jesus contrasts His free and complete salvation with the Devil and the false shepherds that the Devil uses. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (John 10:10a). “The thief” climbs over the wall, cuts the throats of the sheep, and then throws them over to other bandits. The thief robs the sheep of life and cares only about himself. Notice that “the thief” is singular and most likely refers to the Devil who wants “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” This would include the religious leaders (cf. 10:1, 8) whom the Devil uses to deceive the people. The Jewish religious leaders offered their followers a hope of finding God’s life through a life of obedience to their religious traditions. By doing this, they were robbing the people of the life that Jesus offered.

John 10:9-10 make it clear that there is only one way to God, but there are many ways to destruction. Jesus Christ is the only way into God’s sheepfold (John 14:6). All other religions consist of false shepherds who mislead people away from the life that Jesus freely offers. Most of the world’s religions may sound good to an uninformed person, but all of them have one thing in common – they lead you away from the everlasting life that only Jesus Christ can give.

Jesus did not come to steal, kill, and destroy. He came to give eternal “life” freely to those who would believe or trust in Him alone as their True Shepherd (John 3:15-16; 10:10b). The life that Jesus gives is not only long, but it is also rich, which leads to the sixth and final reason why we are to trust Jesus as our True Shepherd.

Because HE PROVIDES CONSTANT NOURISHMENT (John 10:9b, 10c). Jesus said,I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9b). Those who enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, can also “go in and out and find pasture.” This depicts the joy of the sheep finding nourishment in the pasture. Only Jesus can fully satisfy our needs for spiritual nourishment and security. Christ saved us not only so we can live with Him forever in heaven, but also so He can give us everything we need to grow and become more like Him here on earth. When Christians look to people to do for them what only Jesus can do, they will be very disappointed. People cannot give us eternal life or an abundant life. Only Jesus can do that. 

Christ then said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10bc). Eternal life must first be received as a free gift through faith alone in Jesus alone (“I have come that they may have life” – John 3:16; 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23; Ephes. 2:8-9) before we can experience that life “more abundantly” through obedience to Christ (John 8:31-32; 12:24-26). The word “abundantly” means over and above or overflowing life. All those who believe in Jesus have “life” in His name (John 10:10b; cf. 3:16; 20:31). But only those believers who obey Christ’s word will experience that life “more abundantly” both now and in eternity (John 10:10c; cf. 8:31-32).

So, eternal life can also refer to a reward that obedient believers will receive in the future (cf. Matthew 19:29; John 12:24-26; Galatians 6:7-8; I Timothy 6:12, 19). Eternal life is not static. Believers can experience varying degrees of God’s life as they learn to trust and obey Him.

Who is your shepherd? Is it your husband or wife? Your parents? A close friend? An imam, pastor, or priest? Your church, your religion, your government, or your culture? As important as they are they can never be the True Shepherd of your life because they are sheep too. Believe or trust in Jesus Christ alone as your true Shepherd not only for eternal life, but for a more abundant life both now and forever!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I come to You as my True Shepherd. Only You can guarantee life that never ends the moment a person believes in You. Only You can provide safety and security that lasts forever. When I compare all the other religious leaders of the world with You, they all fall short of Your goodness and grace which was fully expressed when You took our place and punishment on the cross to die for all our sins and then You rose from the dead. No other religious leader has ever laid down his or her life and taken it back up again in resurrection. I praise You not only for giving me everlasting life the moment I believed in You, but You also promise me an abundant life when I live for You. This is my desire my Lord and my God – to live for You the rest of my life because Your way leads to an abundant life as opposed to all other ways which rob people of the forever life You freely offer. In Your name I pray. Amen.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 3

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:3c-4

David Johnson writes, “Both Old and New Testaments warn of false prophets and spiritual systems that add the performance of religious behaviors to the performance of Jesus on the cross as a means to find God’s approval. All of us, as Christians, are told to be on our spiritual guard. Are the spiritual relationships you have bringing the rest Jesus promised, or do you find just more toil and weariness?” 1

If your spiritual relationships have brought more toil and weariness than the rest Jesus promised, then you can probably relate to the fact that much of Israel’s history has been tainted by false shepherds who only cared about themselves and neglected to care for the people God had placed in their care (Ezekiel 34:2-6). In view of Israel’s false shepherds, the Lord promised a True Shepherd who would care for His flock. That Shepherd would be God Himself (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

We are learning that Jesus Christ is that True Shepherd Whom God’s people can trust to care for them in a way that the false shepherds never could. Jesus promises rest and nourishment for His sheep, not more toil and weariness. So far we have learned that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because…

– He has prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

– He has the doorkeeper’s (John the Baptist’s) confirmation (John 10:3a)

– He has personal concern for each of us (John 10:3b)

Today we discover that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because HE PROVIDES COMPETENT LEADERSHIP (John 10:3c-6). Jesus said concerning the True Shepherd,3c He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3c-4). The Pharisees cast the healed beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism into His fold.Jesus calls His own sheep by name to “lead them out” of the fold from the other flocks. His sheep follow that familiar voice. They trust that voice.

Christ did not come to work within the Pharisee’s or Sadducee’s religious systems, but rather to separate those who heard His word from those systems because there was no life in them. As He gathered His flock together, “He goes before them”to show them the way in which they ought to go. The shepherd did not drive his sheep from behind with dogs like many shepherds in the Western world do today. Instead, he leads them from the front. The Pharisees tried to drive the people from behind using fear. But Jesus lovingly leads the people to pasture away from danger. Christ did not point people to a way in which He Himself was not walking but rather led His own sheep in the way He intended them to go. Jesus led by example, not by force. Such is the way of the True Shepherd.

You may be facing important decisions and Jesus loves you so much He wants to guide you. Some of you may be saying, “Great! Just what I need! Someone else to push me around or guide me!” Christ enjoys guiding you. He really does. He knows that life is too difficult to be lived on its own and He wants to guide us in our decisions and direction so we can experience His rest and enjoyment, not more toil and weariness. Jesus promised believers, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30).

The words “yoke” and “learn” suggest a discipleship relationship. What does it mean to take Jesus’ yoke? A yoke is a wooden beam  that attaches two farm animals together. By sharing the load, they lighten the load. They can carry more because they are working together. Who has a stronger back – you or Jesus? Jesus is saying to join up with Him, connect with Him in a discipleship relationship and He will carry the load with you. 

But the yoke is also a symbol of control. Farmers used a yoke to control their animals. Oxen yoked together are controlled by their master; when you and I are yoked to Christ we are controlled by Him. When you are yoked together with Christ you move together in the same direction and at the same pace. If you move at the same pace as Christ and in the same direction as Christ, will you have less stress? Absolutely! Who is setting the pace in your life at this time? You? Your boss? Your church? Your pastor? Your culture? That’s why you are overloaded with stress. When we yoke up with Jesus, He determines the pace and direction we are to go and then we will enjoy His promised rest of discipleship.

If you are a Christian, Jesus wants to guide you. He wants to direct you. You can count on His leadings to move you more into His likeness (Romans 8:28-29). He has good plans for you. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Hope-filled plans, as the Scripture says: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11 – NIV).  Christ is always seeking to lead us. The question that faces us is are we listening?   

Jesus then says, “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5). While it is the nature of sheep to follow the voice of their shepherd, they will not follow the voice of a stranger even if he dresses alike or uses the same words because his voice is unfamiliar to them. Instead, the sheep flee to safety. In this context, oppressed people under the legalism of the Pharisees were fleeing to Jesus for safety and rest.

Do we run from unfamiliar voices or to them? When you hear teaching that is contrary to Jesus’ teachings, do you run from it or to it? For example, if you hear teaching that says you must bear fruit or produce good works to get to heaven (see John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; Romans 4:5; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9), do you embrace it or reject it? If someone says that Jesus is just a good moral teacher or a prophet, but not God (see John 1:1-3, 14-17; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), do you believe it or dismiss it? When you hear an instructor say that the Bible is full of errors and cannot be trusted (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), do you accept it as true or call it false? How do we discern Jesus’ voice from so many others that fight for our attention? We must know God’s Word so well that false teaching will be obvious to us in contrast to the truth.

“Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.” (John 10:6). Many of the unbelieving Jews who heard these words“did not understand” what Jesus was talking about. They did not respond to the Shepherd’s voice because they did not belong to the Shepherd. Their rejection of Jesus’ word did not mean His word was false, rather it meant that they were not His sheep. They could hardly have failed to understand the relationship between shepherds and sheep, which was so common in their culture.

Nevertheless, they did not grasp Jesus’ analogy of Himself as Israel’s true Shepherd because they were spiritually blind. They were more familiar with the lies of their father, the Devil (John 8:44), and his followers who sought “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” the flock rather than give them life (John 10:10a). The Devil had lied to these Jews about the identity of Jesus and they believed his lies which kept them from believing in Christ as their True Shepherd. This is at the heart of all who reject Jesus Christ. They have been deceived by the father of lies – Satan himself and his followers (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3-4).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for leading me out of performance-based religion which focused more on external rules and behaviors than on the heart. Under such systems, I experienced much toil and weariness instead of the rest You promised to Your followers. Instead of trying to drive me or pressure me from behind using fear, You have provided leadership for me to follow through Your humble and loving example. Please help me to be so familiar with Your voice and teachings that false teachings will be obvious to me in contrast to the truth.Thank You for loving me enough to offer Your guidance and direction to me daily. I am very grateful that I do not have to make decisions in isolation, but I can make decisions based on Your counsel from Your Word and the Holy Spirit’s teaching in my life and in the lives of other brothers and sisters in the family of God. Life is so much better with You, my True Shepherd, guiding me every step of the way. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:  

1. David Johnson, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, (Baker Publishing Group: Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 28.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 2

“To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name.” John 10:3ab

A second reason why we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd is because HE HAS THE DOORKEEPER’S CONFIRMATION (John 10:3a). “To him the doorkeeper opens.”  (John 10:3a). “The doorkeeper” watches several flocks at night and then opens the door to the fold in the morning for the authorized shepherd to enter.

I believe the identity of the doorkeeper in the gospel of John is John the Baptist. He opened the door for Jesus to enter the fold of Israel as their True Shepherd. John identified himself as “‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23). He points to Jesus and says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). As Jesus’ popularity increased, John pointed his jealous disciples to Jesus and said, “He must increase [in popularity], but I must decrease [in popularity].” (John 3:30). Then He pointed to Jesus’ greatness in His origin – “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31a), in His teaching – “33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:33-34), and in His gift – “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

John did not introduce one of the Pharisees or Sadducees to the nation of Israel as a shepherd, but rather John condemned them and their legalistic systems. Nor did John introduce some other religious leader as the True Shepherd. Instead, John the Baptist introduced Jesus Christ as the True Shepherd because He came through the door of the Messianic prophecies (John 10:2). He opens the door of Israel to Jesus so He can call His sheep out of the fold.

The third reason why we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd is because HE HAS PERSONAL CONCERN FOR EACH OF US (John 10:3b). “…and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name.” (John 10:3b). There are many different flocks in the fold. When the shepherd comes to retrieve his flock in the morning, his sheep “hear his voice.” The word “hear (akouō) refers to “attentive appreciation.” The sheep are familiar with their shepherd’s tone of voice. This tone of voice makes the sheep want to follow their shepherd. Why? Because “He calls his own sheep by name.” A shepherd would give names to each of his sheep based on the sheep’s behavior or appearance. He might have a Tiger, a Blacky, a Sleepy, etc. The shepherd had a tender affection for each of his sheep.

Likewise, our true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, knows each of us intimately. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows everything about us and yet He still loves us. The fact that He knows me and still loves me answers some of the fundamental questions that I have: “Does God know me? Does He know I exist? Does He care about my problems or are they too unimportant for Him?” 

Nothing is too unimportant for God. Matthew 10:30 says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Psalm 145:8-9 instructs us, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Circle “all.” That includes everyone. God knows me and still loves me. His love for us is not based on whether we respond to it or not. God is love. His love is unconditional. No strings attached. God would love us as if there were only one of us to love. The Bible teaches that God feels for each of us and loves us. When God is loving you right now He does not stop loving you. That’s the way it works.

As a parent, when you are videotaping your kids, maybe in a school play or in a church choir,  and you zoom in just on your child? You just want to see your son or daughter. That’s what God does with each of us. He zooms in on you as an individual because you are important to Him. You may be checking this whole Christianity thing out today. You’re thinking “I’m going to come in a crowd, because I can hide in this crowd and investigate Christianity.” You can hide in this crowd but you can’t hide from God. You think you are a seeker but God is also seeking you out.

Jesus loves you. He knows you. He knows your pain. He knows your past. He knows your sin. You don’t have to hide from Jesus. You don’t have to work so hard to cover up your sins and shortcomings. Jesus knows them already and He still loves you and cares about you. When you know someone loves you deeply, you are more inclined to trust him or her.

The problem for many of us is we have been disappointed by false shepherds in the religious community who cared more about themselves than God’s people. If you have come out of a Pharisaic system, perhaps you were mistreated by religious leaders. Maybe they shamed you and placed burdens on you that were too difficult to carry. They cared more about your performance and outward appearance than they did about what was going on inside of you. Consequently, you have a difficult time trusting anyone connected with Christianity or anything religious.

Jesus, the True Shepherd, knows everything about you and He longs to be in a personal relationship with you. Jesus is calling you by your name. Can you slow down enough to hear Him? He wants to heal you of the wounds that were inflicted upon you by religious leaders who cared only about themselves. Since you were wounded in the context of relationships, your healing will also take place in the context of relationships. Only this time, Jesus will facilitate your healing in the context of loving relationships within His family. Are you willing to give Jesus a chance? He is waiting to hear from you. He will not force His way into your life. His love gives you the freedom to choose. You can choose to do life on your own or you can invite Jesus to be a part of your healing journey. I pray you will choose Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my True Shepherd, I am so glad You called me by my name after I gave up on religion. I was disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the religious establishment that I grew up in. I perceived You to be a cold and distant deity because of my experiences with religious leaders. I was taught that God is love but I was bad, and I had to try harder to follow Him if I was going to make it to heaven. The good in my life had to be much greater than the bad if I was going to be accepted by You. Even though I thought I was too bad for anyone to love me, including You, You still pursued me and called me by my name. Thank You for never giving up on me, Lord Jesus. I am so grateful that Your Word exposed the many lies that kept me from trusting You as my True Shepherd. Thank You for Your people who loved me despite my many failures and sins. Knowing how much You love me enabled me to trust You for life that never ends. Now I want You to use me to share Your love with those who have given up on religion because of the wounds inflicted upon them by religious establishments. Please help them to discover that You are the True Shepherd Who knows them intimately and wants them to know You in the same way. In Your powerful and loving name I pray. Amen.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 1

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” John 10:2

Throughout Israel’s history, false shepherds have mistreated the people of God (Ezekiel 34:2-6). These shepherds only cared about themselves and neglected to care for the people God had placed in their care. They exploited the sheep instead of meeting their needs. Instead of gathering them safely together, they scattered God’s people, making them vulnerable to the enemies of God’s flock.

In view of Israel’s false shepherds, the Lord promised a faithful Shepherd who would care for His flock. That shepherd would be God Himself. 11 For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,’ says the Lord God. 16 ‘I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick.’ ” (Ezekiel 34:11-16). These verses provide the background for John 10 where Jesus is introduced as the True Shepherd among the false shepherds of Israel called Pharisees.

Earlier in Matthew 9:36 we are told, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” The Pharisees misused their spiritual authority and demanded that the people follow them instead of the Lord. In other words, the Pharisees were the contemporary false shepherds of Jesus’ day. They were persuaded that Jesus was a false Messiah and so they tried to convince the people of Israel to reject Christ. Christ came to demonstrate to the nation of Israel that He was the true Shepherd that God promised to send to the nation to lead them in paths of righteousness and bring them into their long-awaited kingdom. 

In chapter nine of John, the healing grace of Jesus was contrasted with the spiritual pride of the Pharisees. We observed the Pharisees (false shepherds) mistreat the sheep of God’s fold, particularly the man born blind. Instead of rejoicing when the man born blind was healed, they were more concerned that Jesus had violated their religious rules on the Sabbath (9:15-16). The Pharisees disbelieved the former blind man’s testimony (9:18) and kept trying to discredit him by repeatedly asking him how he was healed (9:15, 19, 26). They used their power to keep the people in fear, threatening them with excommunication if they confessed Jesus to be the Christ (9:22). They reviled or verbally abused the man born blind when he asked if they wanted to become Jesus’ disciples (9:28). When they could not overcome the man’s logic and the evidence of his miraculous healing, with arrogance they said to him, “You were completely born in sin, and are you teaching us?” (9:34). By asserting that this man’s blindness was due to specific sins in his life they intended to shame him into silence and discredit his testimony. These Pharisees were not faithful shepherds over the Lord’s flock.

The Pharisees replaced rest in Jesus with demands for spiritual performance. People under a Pharisaic system today can develop a distorted image of God. Instead of viewing God as someone they can trust, they do not trust God because they have been mistreated by God’s representatives known as spiritual leaders. In John 10:1-10, we will learn over the next few days how to trust the True Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who is on our side and not against us in contrast to the self-centered shepherds called the Pharisees. I CAN TRUST THE LORD JESUS AS THE TRUE SHEPHERD BECAUSE…

HE HAS PROPHETIC CREDENTIALS (John 10:1-2). Jesus had come to the fold in the way God said His Shepherd would come. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1). The apostle John begins Jesus’ teaching with no indication of a different audience or location. The words “Mostly assuredly, I say to you” usually follow up some previous teaching by Christ. So, it is important to understand that the events in John 9 are closely connected to what happens here in John 10.

At night, the sheep were herded into “the sheepfold,” a walled enclosure or pen that was partially roofed or in a cave. The pen had stout walls about four to six feet in height and one gate which was guarded by a door keeper. The door keeper allowed authorized people to enter through the gate, but he would prohibit unauthorized people to enter lest they try to harm or steal the sheep. The person who climbs over the walls instead of using the proper entrance is identified by Jesus as “a thief and a robber.”

We can make a distinction between a “thief” and a “robber.” A “thief” steals subtly and in secret. They break into your house when you are gone or when you are asleep and steal without you knowing it. Robbers are more aggressive. They hold you up at knifepoint and force you to give up your valuables. In both cases, they do not care about you. They want to use you for their own gain. The false shepherds of Israel, the Pharisees, were both cunning like a thief and oppressive like a robber toward the sheep of God. They cared only for themselves and not for God’s people.

In contrast to the thief and robber is the shepherd. “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:2). Notice it says he is “the shepherd,” not “a shepherd.” The True Shepherd uses the lawful method of entry into the sheepfold. He uses the gate. “The door” or gate refers to the way God said the True Shepherd would enter the sheepfold of Israel.

Jesus came to the sheepfold in the way God predicted in the Old Testament:

– The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).  

– The Messiah would be a descendant of David (Jeremiah 33:16-17).

– The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

– The Messiah would be born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).

– The Messiah would come to Jerusalem after sixty-nine “weeks” of years  (483 years) from the time of the rebuilding of the temple in 444 B.C. (Daniel 9:24-27).

–  The Messiah would be presented to the nation of Israel through a forerunner (Malachi 3:1).

– The Messiah would give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and cause the lame to walk to authenticate His Messianic identity (Isaiah 35:5-6).

– The Messiah would be the Prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).

– The Messiah would be a light to shine on the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1-6).

There was a wealth of objective evidence which could be tested to determine if Jesus was indeed, the True Shepherd. Christ was inviting those who doubted the evidence to reconsider it. He wanted them to see if He had entered the sheepfold, the nation of Israel, the way God prophesied that He would come.

Math professor, Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, takes just eight Old Testament prophecies about Christ and asks, “What is the chance that any man might have lived from the day of these prophecies down to the present time [88 billion people later] and have fulfilled all eight?” He comes up with the answer of one in one hundred quadrillion or 10 17.

Then he helps us picture this huge number. If you take 10 17 silver dollars and spread them all over Texas, they would cover the entire state two feet deep. Mark one of the silver dollars, mix it into the whole, blindfold a man and tell him that he can go as far as he wants, but he must pick the one marked dollar. That is the same chance that Jesus could have fulfilled just eight Old Testament prophecies.” 1 The reality is that Jesus fulfilled over a hundred prophecies at His first coming!

A false shepherd could not fulfill the Old Testament Scripture to authenticate his claim to be the True Shepherd. In fact, many people have claimed to be the True Shepherd, but none of them came to the nation of Israel the way the Old Testament predicted. Only Jesus came to the nation of Israel the way God said He would come. This means that only Jesus is the True Shepherd who entered through Israel’s door as the Messiah-God!

Before you can believe that Jesus is the True Shepherd, you may need answers for your mind. The Old Testament prophesied how the True Shepherd would enter through the door of the sheepfold of Israel, and Jesus fulfilled all those prophecies. Did Mohammed, Buddha, or Confucius fulfill all of those Old Testament prophecies? Did anyone other than Jesus Christ fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the True Shepherd to Israel? No. Not even close. The evidence for Jesus coming the way God said He would is overwhelming! The question is, “Will you accept the evidence or reject it?”

The majority of Israel’s religious leaders rejected this prophetic evidence. They knew the Scriptures, but they were not willing to come to the Messiah-God of Whom the Scriptures testified (John 5:39-40). They were unwilling to admit their sinfulness and their need for the True Shepherd Who would lay down His life for His sheep. I pray you will not make the same mistake as those leaders did because the consequences are eternal (John 3:36b; Revelation 20:10, 15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for exposing the false shepherds in my past who cared only for themselves and not for the people they were entrusted to shepherd and point to You. Those hurtful religious experiences in my past distorted my view of You. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me through the Bible so I can begin to see You for Who You truly are. I am amazed by how many Old Testament prophecies You fulfilled at Your First Coming which indicates You came into the sheepfold the way God said You would! No other person in history can claim to fulfill all those Old Testament prophecies. Your prophetic credentials point to You as the True Shepherd, and therefore, I can trust You with my eternal life. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Peter Stoner, Science Speaks: An Evaluation of Certain Christian Evidences, (Moody Press, 1953), pp. 99-112.