Good morning. If you would open your Bibles to John, chapter 10. The title of my sermon today is “The True Shepherd”! This title came very early to my mind since the passage we are dealing with today talks of sheep and shepherds. Jesus will say, himself, “I am the good shepherd.” Now, before we study this chapter, I think it is important we learn a thing or two about sheep and shepherding in order to understand properly the message of Jesus. You see the Jews were very familiar with that imagery. They depended heavily on sheep and shepherds to survive. Not one child would have ignored how a shepherd lived. So when Jesus spoke, they were able to understand, right away, what he meant. But today, most of us have never seen a shepherd at work. I doubt all of our kids have been exposed to sheep. So there are some basic things to say to catch the meaning of Jesus sayings.
First of all, you must know that sheep are defenseless. They don’t have sharp teeth; they don’t have sharp claws; and they are not fighters. In fact, they are characterized by a lack of aggression. I understand that when they are really afraid, they just lay down. You see. You can drive throughout our town and you’ll find some yard fences with inscriptions on them that will say “Beware of dog!”; or you can drive through the mountains and you will find some panels that say “Beware of bears!”, You can travel south in America and go to the swamps of Florida. There I find signs that say “Beware of Gators or of snakes!” But you can travel all over this world and you’ll never find a sign that says “Beware of sheep!”. They are defenseless. The only way they can defend themselves is by running. And again, it only happens if they are not too terrified. But there is a second thing you must know about sheep. They are not very smart. When they are in a field and one sheep starts jumping over some imaginary obstacle, all the others will imitate it. And sometimes when they are running, they don’t know where to run. At times they have been known to run right in the midst of the danger. Sheep have been known, for example, to often run in the midst of a fire and destroy themselves. And they don’t have the intelligence whereby they can find their own food and their own water. And sometimes they wander away and they don’t even know they are wandering away. And sometimes they are completely lost and they don’t even know they are lost. Sheep are not very smart. And because they are relatively defenseless and because they are not very smart, they need constant supervision. They are totally dependent on a shepherd.
That’s where the shepherd comes in. The shepherd has to watch constantly and with great diligence over his flock. He has to make sure the sheep are led to the right kind of pasture and the right kind of water. He has to keep guard all the time for danger. He has to watch his little sheep to make sure they do not stray away and get lost. He watches the sheep because they have two purposes. They provide meat and they provide wool for clothes. Now it seems that in the Bible, the purpose of wool was more important than the purpose of meat. And so it was not uncommon for a shepherd to keep his same little flock year after year after year. And every year he harvested the wool. And over that long relationship, the shepherd named all of his individual sheep. He named them by way of some physical characteristic. Maybe by way of a floppy ear or by way of a different walk. And he kept on calling the sheep by name until they recognized their name. Now there are two things the sheep respond to after a while. #1. A specific name #2. A specific voice. And it’s only when that specific voice calls that specific name that they will respond to the call. Now at night time the shepherd took his little flock and let them to the community sheep pen. This pen was a good pen, a large pen, usually made of stones with some feared, sharp objects on top of it to keep sheep from crawling over or to keep intruders or predators from crawling in. And the shepherd would share that pen with many other shepherds to keep the sheep for the night. All the sheep usually mingled together. The way they separated them is like this. The next morning, the shepherds would come to the gate and begin to call his sheep by name. And one by one, or as they heard their name, they came out. They then followed the shepherd into the field.
Now the text can be divided into three parts:
Let us deal first with verses 1-6. Jesus says here, “Truly I am the shepherd of the sheep; I am not a thief. I am not a robber!” Now why does he say this? Well you have to remember what has just happened. The Jews have just ejected a blind man from the synagogue. The reason? Jesus had healed him and he had been bold enough to confess that in his eyes, Jesus was more than a crook. In fact, in the end of chapter 9, we find the blind man accepting the deity of Jesus and worshipping him. How sad it was! The Jews should have rejoiced over the healing. The parents of the blind man should have danced finally finding their son whole. But instead they are criticizing. They are trying to say that Jesus is a fake. And Jesus ends chapter 9 by telling them, you are blind! You are so blind! If only you realized, you too could find the true light!” And now he goes on and proves his identity. He says, “I have not come in a devious way. I have not weaseled my way in with lies, dishonesty or flattery. I have come with honesty, through the front door. I have nothing to hide!”
It reminds me of the story of a young man who had decided to rob the coke machine where he worked. At night, he came back through the roof and got stuck in the chimney he was trying to enter through. When the police came to next day, he tried to tell them he was just coming back to get something he forgot. How foolish. No one believed him, of course. Why would you come back at night, through the chimney, to get your own belongings. You see that illustrates what Jesus says. He came through the door, not through the chimney or the wall. because he was genuine. He was the shepherd so many had waited upon for so long. But there was an implication in that! V. 3-5. You see not all men are ready to follow him. Only those who, for a long time, have been training to recognize his voice. The Pharisees were not in that group. They did not know him and he didn’t know them. The blind man, on the other hand, was part of his flock.
Now how does it apply to us? First of all, Jesus is genuine. He never tried to use deception to get a following. And he still doesn’t today. He isn’t after your money. He is not after prestige. He just wants to help lead us in the right path. You see, he is the only one who can provide what I need and so I need him. I need him because I am as dumb as a sheep. Boy, I wish I was smarter at times; but, I’m not. I study things and I end up thinking a certain way because everybody is thinking that way. I do things, at times, simply because I’m following other dumb sheep who are jumping through imaginary hoops. And I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten lost far from what was good because I was trying to fulfill my needs in foolish places, in foolish ways. Don’t you find that too? How many times have you even endangered your life, your family’s life, your church’s life or your business life because of your misguided walk? I have many times. And I am thankful there is someone smarter than me to give direction to me out there. I am thankful Jesus showed he was the true shepherd through his concern for others, his compassion for the blind. No shepherd, better than him, you’ll ever find.
But if you want to be part of his flock, you need to be on the search for him. You must be aware of your needs like the blind man. Like the sheep, you must desire to rely on him more than anything else. You must train your ears to recognize his voice. I read a good story about that this week. It happened during World War I. Turkish soldiers were fighting in Israel and food became sparse. In fact, it became so sparse that a group of soldiers became famished. They went through the wilderness trying to find something to eat and they came upon a little flock of sheep. Thinking their lunch had run into their arms, they rounded up the flock and got ready to take them back to camp They kicked out the shepherd who was just a little boy and told him that if he continued to object, they would shoot him. Well the shepherd boy, terrified by the warning, but not by the picture, ran away to the next hill. When he was quite a distance off, he turned around, put his hands together by his mouth, and with all his might, he called his sheep. The whole flock, within seconds, turned their heads and started to run his direction. The Turkish soldiers were quite mad, quite dismayed; but they were able to do nothing to change the deal! They lost their lunch! You see the sheep had learned to recognize the master’s voice. And it served them. The question is, have we? He is the only one who can save us from the slaughter and give us true happiness.
A city slicker was walking with his cousin through the streets of NY city. Thousands and thousands of people were walking one way, thousands and thousands, the other way. The cars jammed the streets and honks were heard left and right. Music came out of the different stores facing the crowd. All of a sudden, the cousin, who was a mountain man, stopped and said, “ Don’t move! I hear a cricket.” The city slicker said, “What? You’re crazy! People are talking, motors are running and you say you are hearing a cricket!” The mountain man walked across the street to a dump, looked next to the garbage and pulled out a cricket. “How did you know?” said the amazed New Yorker. The mountain man pulled out a handful of coins that he had in his pocket – quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. He threw them down. Hundreds of heads stopped and turned their direction. Then he said, “It’s all a matter of what you are listening for!”
What are you listening for? See the world is tuned in to the wrong things. They are tuned in to philosophies, psychology, feminist movements and money opportunities and they don’t realize their pitiful condition. What about you? Jesus was tuned in to the father, some heard only a thunder, but Jesus heard God speak. Do you? The world is in decay because they don’t know what they need. They need God’s law. If they only let those laws set boundaries for their lives once again, they’ll find happiness and an orderly society without so many crimes, delinquencies, theft, divorce, adulteries………
I am out of time, but let me end saying this. When you train your ears to recognize him, the Master trains his eye to recognize you. The Bible says there comes a point when he even knows you by name. You know, at times, I visit churches in the southern United States and it is not uncommon when I will attend a church with a thousand members. When I go in and sit down, I am always impressed by the mass of people I see, by the large crowds. And they all look so good to me, so happy with their smile, so sharp with their nice clothes. But I know Jesus looks down at the same people and what he sees is different than me. The Shepherd knows his sheep. To him, the one with the smile has a sad heart and he knows it’s Sally. He knows him so well, he sees he is just trying to appear happy. To him, the one with nice clothes is Jim. He knows it is the same suit he wears every week. He got it at the benevolence pantry because he is too poor to buy even a tie. The young one, with a limp, is Jay. He is an orphan. And he looks down and he doesn’t see a crowd. He doesn’t see a sharp-looking crowd. He sees individuals. He knows each of his own by name. He will never forget the names. He has engraved them in his heart. I love what he says to Israel in Lv 49:16. “I have written your name on my hand!” Quite a thought, isn’t it? Your name on God’s hand. Your name on God’s lips. Maybe you’ve seen your name in some special places. On an award or diploma or walnut door. Or maybe you’ve heard your name from some important people—a coach, a celebrity, a teacher. But to think that your name is on God’s hand and on God’s lips…my could it be?
Or perhaps you’ve never seen your name honored. And you can’t remember when you heard it spoken with kindness. If so, it may be more difficult for you to believe that God knows your name.
But he does. Written on his hand. Spoken by his mouth. Whispered by his lips. Your name. And not only the name you now have, but the name he has in store for you. A new name he will give you.
Now when does he engrave your name on his heart? I have become convinced it is at baptism for it is then that you become his, a sheep of his flock, that you start following him. So today, if you were once part of his flock and have gone, would you please see in him again the hand that can feed you, guide you and help you. Would you please recommit your life…