Text: John 10:1-18
Introduction: Several years ago a 33-year-old truck driver named Larry Walters made national news. Larry had a habit of spending his weekends in his Los Angeles backyard, just south of L.A. International Airport, drinking Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He would sit in his favorite lawn chair staring at the houses around him in his subdivision. Not a real exciting life. Apparently one day abject boredom prompted Larry Walters to buy some balloons and a tank of helium. He figured on tying the balloons to his lawn chair, filling them with helium, and floating up for an aerial view of the neighborhood. He judged he’d get no higher than 100 feet, but just in case, he got out his BB gun and loaded it. He planned to regulate his altitude by shooting out a couple of balloons. I’m not sure how many six packs of…Pepsi…he had consumed when he came to that idea, but he decided it was worth a try. So Larry Walters of Los Angeles went out and bought 45 big weather balloons, a huge tank of helium, and some rope. First he secured his lawn chair to the ground then, he filled the balloons with helium. One by one he tied them to his lawn chair. Before liftoff he went in the house and got another six pack of Pepsi, a couple of PB&J sandwiches, and his BB gun. Then he went out and sat in his lawn chair. He had instructed his neighbors to cut the ropes securing the chair when he was ready. “Let’s go!” he yelled. The ropes were cut. But he didn’t go 100 feet. He went up 11,000 feet (more than two miles). He shot straight up in the air! And the BB gun? It was useless since he was using both hands to hang on to the chair for dear life. He zoomed straight up into the landing pattern at LAX. The pilot of an approaching DC 10 reported that he had just passed a man in a lawn chair, and the control tower told him to report in immediately upon landing. They thought the pilot may have been drinking a little too much…Pepsi. Can you imagine being a passenger in that plane? “Look, mom, out the window! There’s a man in a lawn chair!” Eventually they sent up helicopters to rescue Larry Walters. They closed the airport and diverted all landings and takeoffs at LAX while they played tag with this fellow in his lawn chair at 11,000 feet. When they finally got him down, he was surrounded by TV crews, the police, fire and rescue squads and plenty of curious people. It was a major event. “Were you scared?” asked one of the TV reporters, thrusting a mike in his face. “No, not really” said Larry. “Are you going to do it again?” asked another reporter. “No,” said Larry. “What in the world made you do it the first time?” Larry Walters thought about it for a moment and said, “Well, you can’t just sit there.” Larry Walters is right, of course. You can’t just sit there. People have got to find something better to do with their lives than watch their neighbors from the back yard. It’s not enough just to lounge around eating and drinking all day while we die of boredom. I think you would agree. The bigger question for all of us is, “What cause is big enough and worthy enough for us to put it all out there for?” For Christians, the answer is an easy one.
We are now in the 4th week of a preaching series we’re calling “Why Jesus?” It’s our attempt to help our friends understand why we believe Jesus is Lord of the Universe and worthy of our complete devotion. This morning I want to look at a passage in John chapter ten that speaks of the special relationship we have with Christ. To explain it, Jesus used a couple of metaphors that everyone in the first century could clearly relate to beginning with a shepherd and his sheep.
Before we break down what is said in today’s verses, let’s look back for a moment at John chapter nine. There we find the story about a man born blind who was healed by Christ. Later, as a result of his testimony to the Pharisees that Jesus had come from God, he was treated harshly and thrown out of the synagogue. Now here in chapter ten, Jesus is looking to contrast the spiritual leaders of Israel, shepherds who were bringing the people to spiritual poverty, with Himself, the Good Shepherd who was blessing His sheep with life, abundant and eternal. Whereas the Pharisees cared nothing for their flock and exploited them for their own purposes, Jesus was and continues to be consistently gracious and good in His treatment of His followers. Here are three blessings He hands down, as the good shepherd, to His followers.
JESUS, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, LEADS US (John 10:1-5 — Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers). Typically a shepherd kept his sheep in what was called a sheep pen at night. It was a large, independent enclosure, usually big enough for several families to keep their herds together. This allowed them to save on the expense of building more enclosures and to provide additional protection for the sheep. A watchman was hired to guard entrance. Those who had the right to enter would do so through the gate. Any whose interest was in stealing or injuring the sheep would attempt to find another, illegitimate, way in. As I just mentioned, Jesus was applying this illustration to the Pharisees who were similar to the shepherds of Israel from Ezekiel’s day. Listen to what God said to them through His prophet — Ezekiel 34:1-6 — The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. Like their predecessors, the Pharisees and scribes were failing in their spiritual duties to the people of God. Instead of comforting and encouraging the nation of Israel to walk with God by faith, they were placing impossible burdens upon them to keep the Law as well as their rules for the application of it. As a result, the sheep were not thriving, but barely surviving. Now here in John 10, Jesus stakes His ownership over certain ones of the sheep and then makes it clear how they’re identified as His.
- They recognize His voice. Jesus’ authority over His sheep is not validated by signs like the healing of a blind man, but by their response to His voice when He speaks. Certain shepherds did not even have to enter the sheep pen to call their sheep. They would simply sound out their own particular call while standing outside of the pen and their own sheep would gather around them. The Good Shepherd goes even further however. He calls His own sheep by name, (i.e. individually), and then leads all of them out. None are left behind! And the fact that He already knows them by name presupposes that these sheep were in some form Christ’s possession before He ever called them (Romans 8:29–30 — For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called).
- They follow Him. Because His sheep recognize His voice, they follow Jesus as He leads them out of the sheep pen. This is our Lord’s way of saying that He always goes before those who put their faith in Him, leading them (in the words of the Psalmist) ‘in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake’. And there’s one more thing to point out to you. Notice that they have no interest in anyone else leading them. In fact, they are smart enough to flee from others who attempt to do so. So Jesus’ sheep are identified as those who recognize His voice and follow Him alone. Illustration: When I was a college student, an elderly lady in my church named Millie befriended me. I really like her and enjoyed sharing some of my thoughts about the Lord with her. I remember in one particular discussion, she quoted a verse from John 10:16 that says, “I have sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Then she reasoned that Jesus was talking about people of other faiths (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc) who would also be permitted entrance into heaven, one flock with one shepherd. I didn’t agree with her but really didn’t know enough about the Bible to say why. But I want you to know that this passage makes it clear that those who follow the voice of strangers will not be included among the sheep that Jesus takes as His own. Only those who hear His voice and who follow Him. There is a video based on the book 3:16 Stories of Hope, by Max Lucado that illustrates the odd nature of the statement that “all religions lead to God“: All roads lead to heaven. Well, the sentence makes good talk-show fodder, but does it make sense? Can all approaches to God be correct? How can all religions lead to God when they are so different? We don’t tolerate such logic in other matters. We don’t pretend that all roads lead to London or all ships sail to Australia; all flights don’t lead to Rome. Imagine your response to a travel agent who proclaims they do. You tell him you need a flight to Rome, Italy. So he looks on his screen, and he offers, “Well, there’s a flight to Sidney, Australia, at 6:00 a.m.” “Does it go to Rome?” you ask. “No, but it offers great food and movies.” “But I need to go to Rome,” you say. He says, “Well, let me suggest Southwest Airlines.” “Southwest Airlines flies to Rome?” “No, but they win awards for on-time arrivals.” You’re getting frustrated, so you reiterate: “I need one airline, to carry me to one place—Rome.” The agent appears offended: “Sir, all flights go to Rome.” Well, you know better. Different flights have different destinations. That’s not a thickheaded conclusion, but an honest one. Every flight does not go to Rome. And every path does not lead to God. There is only one way … by recognizing the voice of Jesus and following Him.
JESUS, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, LIBERATES US (John 10:6-10 — This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly). Because they didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them, He slightly altered the metaphor, so that He was no longer the Shepherd who led HIs sheep out of the sheep pen, but the gate by which the they came into it. This was Jesus’ way of saying that the only sheep permitted in the enclosure were those that entered through Him. They alone were allowed to enter into the safety of the fold and enjoy the good food of the pasture. The thieves and robbers He mentioned were the Messianic pretenders who promised the people freedom, but led them into war, suffering and slavery. They came with selfish motives and brutal tactics to ravage the flock. Jesus, on the other hand, brought true freedom to his people who, again, refused to listen to the pretenders. And this He accomplished not with the weapons of war, but by the cross of Calvary.
- Jesus liberates us by providing for our salvation. There is only one means of receiving salvation and it is Christ (Acts 4:12 — There is no other name under heaven by which a person can be saved). The world looks to humanistic, political saviors for its answers (Hitlers, Stalins, Chairman Maos of the world) and only too late does it learn that they come with selfish motives … to steal, kill and destroy. I like what author Roy Clements says about the first part of verse ten: “Jesus is right. It is not the Christian doctrine of heaven that is the myth, but the humanist dream of utopia.” No mere man can liberate us from the fall and all the effects of sin and neither can any political system, including democracy. Only Jesus can do that by delivering us from the wages of our sin and reconciling us to God. This is how He brings dead people to life.
- He liberates us by providing for our sustenance. Sheep can get anxious about so many things, not the least of which is food and protection for predators. Jesus wants us to understand that He not only liberates us from death by bringing us life, but He also liberates us from fear by promising abundant The term suggests fat, contented, flourishing sheep, not those that are terrorized by predators. As Jesus’ sheep we can expect that He will be a good shepherd and care for us in the best way possible. We will not do without what we need to flourish in this life. He will always provide for us. Illustration: Those who enter the Kingdom of God by means of the sacrifice of Christ can rest comfortably in the knowledge that He is always looking out for us. In fact, the Bible promises everything we need for both life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Those who seek to enter by any other means will always be left with an empty feeling. Jim Carrey, the famous actor, turned political satirist, tried another way. He put all of his effort into becoming a world-famous movie star and then discovered that his chosen lifestyle didn’t satisfy the deep longings of his heart. He said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see it’s not the answer.” Then there’s Jesus. He said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” There is no other place to turn to find what we’re all looking for … meaning and purpose that will last forever.
JESUS, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, LOVES US (John 10:11-15 — I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep). At the beginning and end of these verses Jesus reminds us that He lays down His life for His sheep! The assumption is that the sheep are in mortal danger and can only be saved by the death of the Shepherd, the One who loves the sheep. This is the greatest evidence that Jesus loves us. He lays down His own life and does so of His own choice. You’ll never see a hired hand do that for the sheep! If a wolf were to come around, he would never think to put his own life on the line for some sheep owned by another. He flee and protect himself, leaving them to face the predator on their own. But not Jesus! He lays down His life for His sheep. This sacrifice is what demonstrates His love for the flock under His care. And why does He love us? Because we have relationship with Him (I know my own and my own know me). Our relationship with Jesus mirrors His relationship with His Father (the Father knows me and I know the Father). In the same way that they know and love each other Jesus and His followers also know and love each other. Oh, yeah, one more thing: As for the sheep in other folds? This refers to the Gentiles for whom Christ would also die to make all His people one (Galatians 3:28 — So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus).
Application: So why do we follow Jesus? We have a great deal of confidence that He is worth following. Who wouldn’t when you know that He leads, liberates and loves you? This brings me to three concluding questions for any you have yet to enter God’s kingdom through Christ. (1) If you’re not following Christ, who are you following? (2) If you’re not following Christ, why aren’t you (3) If you’re not following Christ, do know where are you going?
Conclusion: Thirteen years ago, several shepherds were eating breakfast outside the town of Gevas, Turkey, when they were surprised by a lone sheep that jumped off of a nearby cliff and fell to its death. They were stunned, however, when the rest of the nearly 1,500 sheep in the herd followed, each leaping off of the same cliff. When it was all over, the local Aksam newspaper reported that “450 of the sheep perished in a billowy, white pile” (those that jumped from the middle and end of the herd were saved as the pile became higher and their fall was cushioned). The estimated loss to the families topped $100,000,an extremely significant amount of money in a country where the average person earned about $2,700 annually. “There’s nothing we (could) do. They were all wasted,” said Nevzat Bayhan, a member of one of the 26 families whose sheep were grazing together in the herd.
Now this will probably sound pretty critical and uncompassionate given their loss, but those sheep died because they were left to themselves in a dangerous environment without a shepherd’s presence to protect and guide them. So they did what most sheep are prone to do … they followed one of their own … even though that choice led to their deaths. Sheep need someone to watch over them, so do human beings. When people ask Christians why we follow Jesus, one really good answer is that He is the Good Shepherd who leads us, liberates us and loves us.