“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. (John 10.1-6)
There is no indication that at the beginning of this chapter, there is either a new audience or a new theme. Rather, it is a continuation of the discussion from the previous chapter, where not only did the Pharisees insist that their spiritual vision was 20/20, they also persisted in encouraging other Jews to follow them, confident that shepherding the people was their responsibility and that they were the infallible guides for an ignorant populace. The very ones who should have been the first to recognize the prophesied Messiah, welcomed Him as the Good Shepherd and then led others to follow Him - always decreasing so that He might increase (as John the Baptist said)??? ...they were the very ones seeking most emphatically to discredit Him and discourage others from seeing Him and seeking after God. Perhaps most serious of all, they presumptuously sought to exert control over the people of Israel.
In response, Jesus uses a triad of illustrations, ones with which his audience would be very familiar. Several prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah) used similar imagery to describe true and godly leaders verses false teachers, prophets and leaders. The prophets anticipated a future time when a good Shepherd would come, fulfilling all that God expected and desired. Shepherds were common in the Jewish culture - think of all if the biblical accounts that include shepherds as part of the narrative. Think of all of the well-known shepherds in Israelite history - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, Moses, David, the shepherds to whom the angels announced Jesus' arrival.
First, Jesus says the Good Shepherd will be identified by how He arrives. And that is through the gate. A thief or a robber will have to find some unauthorized way to sneak in. The genuine Good Shepherd will come with confidence - authority and authorization - and will seek entrance... or audience with the people... through only legitimate and straightforward, upfront means.
I wonder if perhaps John the Baptist was an example of a gatekeeper?
The sheep hear and respond to the voice of their Good Shepherd because of trust, faith and a history of past experience where the One associated with that voice has cared for, provided for, led, protected... in other words, shepherded. I've heard it said that sheep need a leader, not because they are dumb - but rather because they understand that alone, they are weak. Their Shepherd is their benefactor. He also knows each one by name. Each member of the flock is unique and an individual to the Good Shepherd. That speaks to the intimacy with which the Good Shepherd knows each member of His flock.
Perhaps the most striking-for-me words in this particular passage are the words "he goes on ahead of them." While living in Niger, we saw flocks of sheep - every day. As my husband likes to point out, there were typically two kinds of shepherds: those who walked on ahead and the sheep followed willingly... or those who drove their sheep forward in front of them, often beating them with their staff to keep them moving.
Jesus is a Shepherd to be followed. He goes before us - leading, providing, protecting. He is also our example. We who follow Him should tread in his steps: graciously, humbly, lovingly, patiently, teachably, sacrificially... yet confidently because when we hear His voice, we know it. We recognize Him, His majesty, His authority and His unchangingness.
He is the Good Shepherd.
If only the Pharisees had understood.
If only the Pharisees had understood.
this week's gratitude list