The Good Shepherd
John 9 is occupied with the incident of the man whose eyes were opened by going to the pool of Siloam and washing. This man having been thus wonderfully blessed, became a kind of target for the opposition of the Pharisees, they cross examined him, and he had a rather trying time, and at the end of the questioning the Pharisees threw him out of the synagogue because of his confession of what the Lord had done for him. Then the Lord Jesus took the opportunity of finding the man and revealing to him who He really was. He said, “Do you believe on the Son of God?” and the man replied, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” and the Lord Jesus said “I who speak to you am He” (vv.35-37). The man believed and worshipped Him.
Now in chapter 10 the Lord begins to speak publicly and I think we find an explanation of what was really happening. Verse 6 says, “this parable spoke Jesus unto them”, so here we have one of His parables. He was talking in parabolic form under the figure of a shepherd and sheep who were in a fold. He pictures Himself, the true Shepherd, coming into the enclosure that we might call the Jewish fold. God had called those people out originally through their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and, like a number of sheep, enclosed them so that they might not be defiled by the corruptions that filled the world all round about. The very essence of their position as Jews was that they had to keep themselves apart from the Gentile nations with their idolatries, they were like an enclosed garden to use another figure (Isa.5), but here it is as a fold of sheep.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:1-2)
The Lord Jesus said, in effect, ‘Now there have been pretenders’, people pretending to be the long promised Deliverer, Messiah, but they were frauds, thieves and robbers, they did not enter the sheepfold by the appointed way. God had indicated a certain door through which the true Messiah, when He came would enter. For instance, He must be the son of the virgin, that was plainly declared in Isaiah 7:14, and there were many other things indicated which showed a kind of pattern of entrance. The true Messiah would fulfil these prophecies, He would enter by that door. If you read the remarks of Gamaliel in Acts 5 when he put a spoke in the wheel of the Saduceean hatred against the apostles, he reminded them about Theudas and Judas in the days of the taxing, he mentioned two of these fraudulent individuals who came professing to be the real Christ.
“To him the porter openeth: and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” (v.3)
‘No,’ the Lord said, ‘the real Shepherd of the sheep would enter by the door that God had indicated, and the portal will open to him and the sheep will hear His voice and he will call His own sheep by name’. Now the average Jew would say, ‘When this wonderful predicted Deliverer comes to our nation, this great Messiah, He will make Israel a vastly greater place than it was ever before.’ Was that what He came to do? No. The Lord Jesus now, in parable form sets out the divine program of events. He had come, the true Shepherd and He had come into the Jewish fold where there were many sheep in those days, many Jews, but amongst them were His own sheep, those who really responded to His voice. In the first chapter of John’s gospel we get mentioned a few of His own sheep, Andrew, Peter, Nathaniel, and there were others whose names were not mentioned there, but these responded, they believed, they received Jesus when He came and proved themselves to be what He called ‘His own sheep’.
Now what does He do? “He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out”. That would have been a great surprise to the ordinary Jew. ‘What is He saying? You mean to say that the Messiah, this great promised Deliverer when He comes is going to come amongst the sheep and a certain number of the sheep are going to recognise Him and listen to His voice and are going to be called His own sheep, and He is then going to lead them out?’ Yes, that was what He was going to do. The poor man in the previous chapter was thrown out of the synagogue, he was outside the Jewish fold, and the Lord is virtually saying, ‘Yes, that is what I am going to do, I am going to call my own sheep and I am going to lead them out’. But into what? That is a very pertinent question. The Lord knew everybody would ask that question and so He answers it in the succeeding verses.
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (vv.4-5)
When He puts forth His own sheep He says, “he goes before them”. What that meant for Him! He was the first to go outside. Yes, He was rejected, He was crucified, He “suffered without the gate” (Heb.13:12). Jesus was going to call a people outside the Jewish order of things, this is what He has been doing for almost two thousand years, calling souls out into that which He has instituted, the direct fruit of His own death and resurrection. He goes before. He died, so to speak, out of the Jewish fold in order to start something which is entirely new, and He says the true genuine sheep would follow Him into this outside position as regards the Jewish fold.
“This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (vv.6-9)
It is a parable, which they did not understand, but the Lord Jesus goes on to further explain the matter when He says to them, “Verily, verily, (or ‘most emphatically’) I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep”. He is talking to those brought up in Jewish circles, the ‘Jewish’ sheep of the pasture, those of whom the psalmist wrote, “the sheep of thy pasture” (Ps.74:1, etc.). God called them into that privileged position, but now Jesus is saying, ‘I am going out of this before you by death and resurrection and you are going to follow me, you are going to be identified with me, and my exit will be your exit from the Jewish fold. Those who came before me were thieves and robbers but you did not hear them, I am the door.’ He is speaking not now of the door of exit but of the door of entrance because He says, “By me if any man enter in....”, and then he specifies three things. First “he shall be saved”, secondly, he “shall go in and out” and thirdly, “find pasture”. We will pause here a moment and look at this. The Lord Jesus was saying in effect, ‘I am going to introduce salvation in its true and proper sense for those who are My sheep and who I am leading out of the Jewish fold’. The dear saints of God who lived in Old Testament times could not talk about justification or even forgiveness as we can. If we had lived in those Old Testament times having heard the law, one day we would think ‘I had forgotten the law! that which I did yesterday was a transgression of that holy law of God!’ And so I would have to go to the priest and I say to him, ‘I am very troubled, yesterday I did this, but I realise now I ought not to have done it. What ought I to do?’ He would reply, ‘You must bring your sin or trespass offering.’ And when, according to the law of Moses, you brought that offering, when you saw it offered you could have walked away with a comfortable feeling in regard to that particular sin, that trespass that conscience told you you had committed. There was one offering in relation to that one trespass. But I might say to the priest, ‘I have committed a hundred and one sins, thousands even, I have done many things.’ The priest could not say, ‘You stand absolutely clear of all your guilt.’ But that is what we can say today, that is what the preacher of the gospel is entitled to say. He is entitled to quote the verses in Hebrews 10, “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for that after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (vv.14-17). It has been very well said that that means He remembered them once, but no more. You would not say, ‘I will do that no more’ if you had never done it at all, it infers you did it once. God remembered them once when Christ died.
“All our sins were laid upon Him,
Jesus bore them on the tree,
God who knew them laid them on Him,
and believing thou art free.”
We Christians ought to realise the wonder of what we enjoy. We have salvation in its fullness which could not be known or enjoyed by the pious believers before Christ came. They might know, they were one of God’s favoured ones, but they could not have what we have, the knowledge of what has been accomplished sacrificially in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Christ said He would lead His sheep into liberty, they would go in and out. I am going to give an application of that. No Israelites could go in to the tabernacle, to God’s dwelling place. Even the priest, if he went into the holy place could not go in to the holy of holies. On one day every year the high priest, and only the high priest, could, only with the blood of the great sin offering and, enveloped in a cloud of incense, could go tremblingly into the enclosure where was the ark and the cherubim and sprinkle the blood. What was the Spirit of God saying in that? We are told in Hebrews 9 that what was signified was this, that the way into the holy of holies was not yet made manifest. Jesus is saying here that it is going to be made manifest as the fruit of the Shepherd coming, and going out of the fold by His death and resurrection. Today the saint can go in to the holiest by the spirit, not yet in body, but in spirit in a way that no Old Testament saint could do; and he can go out.
That was another thing prohibited. Supposing a young Jew had said to the high priest, ‘I am concerned about these poor Gentiles, I would like to go on a mission to Rome or Athens.’ The high priest would have said, ‘My dear boy, you cannot do that, you must keep yourself from them.’ What a terrible business there was in the book of Nehemiah when some Jews started marrying Gentiles. They could not go out, they were to keep inside the enclosure of the Jewish body with their temple and sacrifices. There was no real liberty to go in and there was no liberty to go out. They had no gospel to preach in all the world. The Lord Jesus said to the disciples after His resurrection “Go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15), and this was an absolute novelty. Nothing like that had ever been said before. So the Lord Jesus is here describing the divine program for the age in which we are living. We are living in a wonderful age where there is salvation in its fullness made known. We have liberty of access into the presence of God in spirit, prayer, thanksgiving, praise and worship, and we have instructions to go out, and we find pasture.
In this He is still using the figure of the sheep, saying there is good spiritual food. The Christian has the opportunity of having the heart filled with what really nourishes and fills up. There are too many Christians today who are like sheep nibbling a poisonous pasture, they are trying to find their joys in all kinds of things that have no kind of spiritual good for them whatsoever, and they are often half starved. They are not feeding where they might feed. I only say that as a practical word. That is how it appears to me. I am not throwing stones at you any more than at myself. In this very enlightened day there are ten thousand things bidding for our attention. I am sympathetic. When I was young I was not tempted to waste valuable time nibbling away at all kinds of things that exist today because they were not there. I was able to read my Bible more when I was young, now I am old I do not think I have so much time because of other things. The program of the Lord Jesus is this, He comes amongst His own people, the Jews, He is rejected, cast out, and so He draws out His own sheep. Are they the losers? No, they are great gainers, they are brought into salvation, into liberty and into pasture.
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (v.10)
He now contrasts Himself with the thief. It would be right of me to say to all of you there would be no life at all for anybody save on the basis of the work that Christ has wrought. His death lies at the basis of all life. The life that will be enjoyed in a coming age of millennial blessing here on earth is on the basis of the death of Christ, but to us today there is not only life but life “more abundantly”. I think it is a good thing to ask ourselves, ‘Am I going in for the real abundant life which Christ has made known and revealed?’ I am afraid we have got to look at ourselves whether we are young Christians or old Christians, there is a life which is not merely the divine spark, so to speak, which is in every true saint, but life is often used in Scripture in a second sense. We use it in ordinary conversation, there is a young man of the world who says, ‘I am going out to see life’. You cannot look at life? Life puzzles the scientists, what is it? We can tell the difference between a live person and a dead one, you cannot see it, but you can see it in is manifestation. I know what the young man means, he means he is going to have a jolly time and perhaps a bit of sin and the bright lights of the city and is going out to enjoy himself, he is interested in the things the world calls ‘life’. Now we Christians have got life, we are brought into the knowledge of God as our Father, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, we have most blessed things to occupy our hearts affections and our devotion to our risen Lord. These are things that are really life. The Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. He came to reveal an abundance of such things that we may walk in the power of an abundant life. It is a wonderful fact. This is the divine program which the Lord had before Him when as the good Shepherd He gave His life for His sheep.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” (vv.11-13)
Now He contrasts Himself not with the robber but the hireling. Here is a shepherd who is only looking after the sheep for his wages, he has no vital interest in the sheep, he does his duty we hope, but in an emergency he is not going to sacrifice himself on behalf of the sheep so when the wolf comes, he runs away because the sheep do not really belong to him and he does not care for the sheep, there is no kind of link between him and the sheep that he is supposed to be attending and watching.
“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (vv.14-15)
There is a very slight alteration in the translation which makes the meaning of our Lord more clear, “I am the good Shepherd, and I know my sheep, and am known of my sheep, and the Father knoweth me and I know the Father”. He is saying in effect there is a link, a very great intimacy between Himself as the Shepherd and the sheep who are really His. This is something you will very rarely find today. If I were to appeal to a shepherd here who has sheep he would tell me he has a very good man who looks after the sheep, but they are his sheep, there is a vast difference between the human mind and the poor sheep. There cannot be actually very much concert between them, but the Lord says there is in this case. He is using the figure to illustrate what, by the grace of God, we now know. He says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and there is going to be, between the sheep and Myself, an intimacy which in its wonderful character is reminiscent of the intimacy which exists between the Father Himself and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ’. That intimacy is established on the basis of His death, “I lay down my life for the sheep. Here indeed is a wonderful thing, a thing of course you cannot find in the man who is merely the hireling, there is not this intimacy which the Lord indicates here. How can it be?
In the light of what is revealed in the epistles I can confidently tell you how it can exist, it exists through the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the indwelling Spirit. In Romans 8 the indwelling Spirit is presented to us in its various capacities. We find that He is life in the believers’ heart, He is the One who gives us the knowledge of the Saviour, He is the One who has the power of discernment. In 1 Corinthians 2 it is by the Spirit that it is given to us that we are enabled to hold happy intimate communion with our risen Saviour. The Lord is thus saying, ‘I am going to institute something which far outshines anything that was known in the days before I came. I am going to bring My sheep into this wonderful position where they may have intimate knowledge and communion with Me.’ He does not say how He is going to do it here, therefore I appeal to the epistles to make it plain that He does it in the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God to those who believe.
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (v.16)
There are other sheep, Gentile sheep, sheep who never were enclosed in the Jewish fold, and “them also I must bring”. Oh, thank God for that! I was never in the Jewish fold, I was one of the poor Gentiles. I have heard people speak of the ‘Three musts’ in John 3, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (v.14), there is nothing without the sacrificial death, “you must be born again” to Nicodemas (v.7), because of our utterly lost and ruined state, and John the Baptist’s words, “he must increase, and I must decrease” (v.30). Now here is a fourth must and He has been doing it for hundreds of years, He is doing it today. Only recently I heard a young man who had just returned from the Congo and I saw some slides of these people among whom God is working, there are some extraordinary sheep among the tribes of that land. In the coming age God is going to show the exceeding, surpassing riches of His grace in His kindness to us through Christ Jesus”. Think of the angels looking at the whole of this awful tragedy from the fall of Adam and onwards, and they have seen these creatures, these fearful looking individuals redeemed, their very faces beaming with happiness, clothed simply and by and by they will shine with the image of Christ. The angels must rejoice. It is very wonderful that God should be kind to Israel and put them in a glorious position here on earth, but the Lord said He would gather these other sheep also, and He must bring them. They would hear His voice.
“And there shall be one fold, and one shepherd”. The word now is not fold, the word is flock. This statement is expounded in Ephesians 2 where we find how God makes both one, those whom He called out of Jewish circles and those whom He called out of Gentile circles, there is one flock and one Shepherd. Some of you might be saying, ‘That is all very idealistic, this is the ideal, but look at the practical things today.’ Yes, practically, sad to say, we come very short. There are many dear Christian people so entangled in false religious systems that they do not rejoice in their salvation, they do trust Christ but they feel perhaps they have got to go to purgatory, and until they get out of purgatory they could not exactly rejoice, yet they do truly trust the Saviour. They are not even in the enjoyment of the salvation that we may rejoice in as knowing the Saviour, they have no liberty, the adversary has got to work to spoil it. Yes, but he will not spoil it forever, the saving grace of the liberty is there, even though the adversary may have spoiled their present enjoyment of it. I can imagine some of you saying, ‘What did the Saviour say? There is going to be one flock and one Shepherd?’ The shepherd is the centre of the flock, it is so in Jewish circles. Here as a rule there are some sheep dogs, but in those ancient days the shepherd was the centre, and he did know the sheep and the sheep did know his voice. If you look at people in their unconverted condition there are all kinds of strange folk, but they are all in the one flock once saved. We may have people in one chapel here, and some in that meeting hall there, and some in that mission, but when the Lord Jesus comes and the dead saints are raised and the live saints are transformed, there will be nothing but the one flock. Your -isms, and your parties and your missions and every difference will vanish. We shall then see the one flock called into the presence of the one Shepherd. What He purposes that He will do, and we can thank God for that.
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. ” (vv.17-18)
Again He makes it most plain that this is based on His death and resurrection. It was necessary if all this was to come to pass. He came to do it, and we sit back and say, the wonderful thing for us is that it is all done, divinely accomplished.
“There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings.” (v.19)
I close by calling your attention to the last verse I read. The Lord had been unfolding these wonderful things but there was a division therefore again among the Jews at these sayings. I hope there is no division here because of these sayings. I hope there is nobody who is going to shake their heads and say, ‘I do not care if Jesus said this, I shall go my own way, I want to live my own life’, no, I hope we have all said, ‘Lord Jesus, what a wonderful saying, and we praise and bless You for it. Our faith is centred in You, we repose our souls upon the great work to which You predicted You were about to accomplish by death and resurrection. We receive these sayings, we rejoice in them, and upon them our lives are going to be lived’. It is a grand thing. I am an old believer now, but I have been walking (perhaps very feebly) in the Christian path for many years. It was in May 1890 that peace with God entered my soul. It is a long time is it not? It will soon be 68 years, and I sometimes tell people it is the only thing I know which, as you go on through life, gets better and better. Everything else wears out, the things that charmed you when you were young do not last. If, when I was a small boy somebody put a sixpence in my hand I would have been delighted, but I should not be transported with enthusiasm if you offered me a sixpence today. I met a dear pilot at Blyth recently, and he said, ‘Do you know the last time we met?’ I said, ‘No, I do not’. ‘Why’, he said, ‘ it was during the Welsh revival. I was a little boy and you stayed with my father to give out tracts and when you left my father said to me, “Son, carry one of Mr. Hole’s bags to the station”. And so I carried your bag to the station. The last time we met I must have been only 12 years old and you gave me a sixpence and you were my hero!’ That would not be the case today, things wear out. What pleases the little child, I now think little of. Things wear out. But what does not wear out is the path of the shining light, it is more and more unto the perfect day. I hope there will be no division among us as to these sayings, and that every one of us will say, ‘Lord Jesus, You are the object of my faith, it is centred in You and in the work that You accomplished. Let me pay attention to the things that You have indicated as being the divine program for the moment in which I am privileged to live’. If that be so then there shall be blessing indeed.
F B Hole