INTRODUCTION: Who is your hero?
It seems that everyone is looking for hero. Verhaps it is the need for a role model, to follow someone’s example as a leader. Perhaps it is something deeper. Perhaps it is our need to see glory, our need to worship.
And yet, heroes let us down. Sooner or later, we discover kinks in their armor, flaws in their character. We find out that they are less than perfect, not as selfless as they first appeared.
Actually, we use the word “hero” today rather loosely. We have sports heroes and
superheroes, but few of them have ever saved anyone, and fewer still would put their lives at risk for someone else. And very few indeed would voluntarily lay down their lives for another.
And yet, in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, we find Jesus telling us that that is exactly what he would do. He would voluntarily lay down his life: “I am the good shepherd.” he says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Is Jesus a hero? No. He is far more than a hero. He is the God who can lay down his life and who can take it up again. No one but God alone could become flesh in order to die and raise himself up from the dead.
Jesus does not lay down his life because we are worthy of his death or because we are so valuable. He does not lay down his life because we deserved it or somehow earned this infinite expression of love. We were not strong or good or godly or righteous. We were weak, ungodly, and sinful. Yet Christ died for us. This is how the Apostle Paul says it in Romans 5:68,
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. “No one takes it from me, “he says, “but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
LET’S LOOK AT THE CONTEXT
In John 9 and 10, Jesus has healed a man who was blind from birth. In the history of the world, nothing like this had ever taken place. Jesus saw the blind man and said that he would open the man’s blind eyes to show that he, Jesus, was the light of the world. He made mud with his spit, put it in the blind man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man went. He washed. He came back seeing.
This caused quite a stir. Everyone wanted to know how this had happened. The man told people that Jesus had healed him, so they took him to the religious authorities to find out what all this meant.
Now the religious authorities were quite jealous of all the attention that Jesus was getting and they had already decided that if anyone confessed that Jesus was the Christ, they would cast him out of the synagogue.
Never mind that, the healed man knew that he had been blind and that Jesus ha given him his sight. The religious authorities could not intimidate him into saying anything against Jesus, so they cast him out.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, found him, and opened his spiritual eyes so that the man came to faith in Jesus and worshipped him (John 9:34-38).
False Shepherds and the Good Shepherd
Jesus has something to say to the Jewish authorities. They were the ones who were truly blind. They were blind because they would not see. These religious authorities were the leaders of Israel. They were false shepherds doing everything they could to protect their own position and reputation. They were abusive to the sheep and did everything they could to intimidate the people—the sheep—and turn them away from Jesus Christ.
Jesus takes them on, head-on. He denounces these false shepherds as thieves and robbers. They have no right to rule and repress the people. They are out only for themselves. Their care neither for the truth nor for the sheep. They use scare tactics to keep people from following Christ. They have cast out the blind man, but Jesus puts another twist on it: They think they cast the man out; Jesus called him out. Jesus says in effect:
“All who enter the sheepfold of Israel without proper messianic credentials are thieves and robbers. But I am the true shepherd. I have entered the sheepfold of Israel by the door. I have the qualifications. I fulfill the prophecies about the Messiah. I have the messianic credentials. You think you have cast the man out. No, I have called him out. The sheep hear my voice. I call them by name and I lead them out. The sheep follow me because they know my voice. They do not follow false shepherds. They flee from strangers. True sheep do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
1. JESUS IS THE DOOR TO LIFE
Now that seems pretty clear, and perhaps my paraphrase made it even more clear than Jesus intended it to be because John tells us that the Pharisees did not understand what Jesus was saying to them. So Jesus changes the illustration.
John 10:7 ESV So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
What does he mean? What does it mean to be the door of the sheep? Well, the purpose of a door is to let people in. You enter a room by going through the doorway. Jesus says that he is the way in. In to what? He tells us in verse 9:
John 10:9 ESV I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
“If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” Jesus is clearly the door to salvation. Again, we read in verse 10,
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
So Jesus is the door to life.
Notice that Jesus does not say that he is a door. He says that he is the door. His words are emphatic: “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”
It is He and no other who enables men to enter salvation. There is a certain exclusiveness about “the door”. If there is one door then men must enter by it or stay outside. They cannot demand another door.1
Some people think that all religions are superficially different but fundamentally the same. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who grew up in India, says that that’s not true. All religions are superficially the same but fundamentally different.
Truth by its nature is exclusive. As Andy Bannister says,
If it is true, as Christianity claims, that Jesus was crucified, died, and rose from the dead, then it is not true, as Islam claims, that Jesus never died in the first place and that somebody else was killed in his place. Both claims cannot be true. Truth is exclusive.2
Jesus claims to be the only door to salvation. He will declare in John 14:6,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”
Some people think that it is arrogant to believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Rather, it is arrogant to think that we can dictate to God the conditions of our entry into eternal life. Who are we to say that there must be other ways to God than putting our total and exclusive trust in the one who died for us and rose from the dead?
“I am the door,” Jesus says. “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”
Jesus says that he alone is the door to eternal life. He alone is the means by which we can be saved.
Saved from what? Saved from the consequences of our sin. Saved from perishing. Saved from condemnation. Saved from the wrath of God. This is exactly what we read in John 3:16 and following, that verse that so many of us know by heart:
John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The next verses show that Jesus came to save us from condemnation:
John 3:17–18 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
The final verse of that same chapter 3 tells us,
John 3:36 ESV Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Jesus is the door to salvation. He is the door to eternal life.
1.1. Contrast with Thieves and Robbers
Jesus contrasts himself with those who claim to be the Messiah but are not. They are thieves are–robbers. Why does he characterize them as thieves? They are thieves because they did not enter through the door; they did not come to the positions of leadership by legitimate means. They are thieves because they take that which does not belong to them. Jesus here makes reference to
Messianic pretenders who promise the people freedom but who lead them into war, suffering and slavery. The freedom Jesus wins for his people… will be achieved not by sword and shield, but by a cross. If large crowds are taken up with the pretenders, the real sheep do not listen to them.3
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jesus comes “that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
There is only one means of receiving eternal life…, only one source of knowledge of God, only one fount of spiritual nourishment, only one basis of spiritual security—Jesus alone. The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviours—its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots—and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come ‘only to steal’), ruthlessly trample human life under foot (they come ‘only… to kill’) and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come ‘only… to destroy’). “Jesus is right. It is not the Christian doctrine of heaven that is the myth, but the humanist dream of utopia.”4
But there is another means they use to kill, steal, and destroy: the very words they use. The message of the false shepherds and false messiahs only leads to destruction. There are people who walk the streets of Port Vila and the paths to your village who are false teachers. They teach from books other than the Bible, the Word of God. They follow the teachings of prophets rather than the teaching of Christ and the apostles that he designated in the New Testament. Their promises are empty. They are waterless clouds and fruitless trees. These false shepherds lead people astray, but they have no effect on the true sheep for verse 8 tells us that “the sheep did not listen to them.”
1.2. Life Abundantly and the Prosperity Gospel
The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Now here is a verse that has been much abused. The abundant life! What is it?
The prosperity gospel preachers tell us what our itching ears want to hear. They tell us that Jesus came that we might become financially rich. Jesus does not want you to be poor, they tell us. He wants you to be wealthy. If you have faith, you can have anything you want. Jesus came to satisfy your greed! Just have faith. Give me your money, and God will replace it with more.
There is a gross injustice in this kind of preaching. First of all, it is not the gospel. The Bible never said that the gospel is the power of God to make us rich. In Romans 1, Paul tells us that the gospel concerns God’s Son and that “it is the power of God unto salvation.” Jesus did not come to make us rich. He came to make us righteous. He came to reconcile us to God.
Can we measure the abundant life that Jesus came to give us in terms of money? Jesus warns us about the desire for money:
Luke 12:15 NLT Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
The Scriptures are full of warnings about the deceitfulness of riches:
Mark 4:18-19 ESV And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Luke 18:24-25 ESV Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Luke 1:53 NLT He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
Luke 6:24 NLT “What sorrow awaits you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now.
1 Timothy 6 shows quite clearly that the abundant life is not about money. There Paul warns Timothy about those who think that being a Christian is a way to get rich:
1 Timothy 6:5-11 NLT These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. 6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.’ After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.’ So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.’ But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.’ For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.
To reduce the gospel of our crucified and risen Lord to the false teaching that he came to make wealthy is as pernicious as any of the false cults that we find around Vanuatu today. It is a twisted, perverted gospel. lt is a different gospel that is not the gospel at all. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, but that has nothing to do with money. The abundant life is a treasure that cannot be measured in vatu, dollars, or yen.
Romans 14:17 NLT For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
It does not take a work of the Spirit of God to make people want more money. We are naturally greedy. Jesus does not appeal to our greed. He does not say, “If anyone will come after me, I will make him rich.” He says, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to deny ourselves and embrace the cross.
Jesus himself leads the way in laying down his life for his sheep.
2. JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP
2.1. Jesus, the Good Shepherd
Jesus now changes the image. He is the door—the only door—by which we can enter into the abundant life, the eternal life, that God wants for us.
Now in verse 11, he makes another great “I AM” declaration.
John records seven great “I am” statements made by Jesus:
- John 6:35 ESV – “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
- John 8:12 ESV – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
- John 10:7 ESV – “So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
- John 10:11 ESV – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
- John 11:25 ESV – “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,”
- John 14:6 ESV – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- John 15:1 ESV – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
So we come to the fourth great “I AM” declaration by Christ: “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (John 10:11 ESV).
Jesus has contrasted himself with the false shepherds of Israel, the religious authorities who use scare tactics and intimidation to try to control people and maintain their power. They will do anything to hold on to their position of power and influence: they kill, steal, and destroy.
2.2. Hired Hands
Now he contrasts himself with the hired hand, those who lead not out of love or concern for the sheep. They lead simply for the money. Unlike the false shepherds who will do anything to protect their position, the hired hand will abandon his post at any sign of danger.
John 10:12-13 NLT A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock.” The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.
The hired hand has no investment in the sheep. They don’t belong to him. He is not a shepherd. He does not have a shepherd’s heart. So when the wolf comes, he flees and the flock is scattered. The hired hand does not have the courage to stand up to the wolf. Instead of fighting off the wolf and protecting the sheep, he lets the wolf attack the sheep and scatter them.
Jesus also speaks of wolves in Matthew 7.
Matthew 7:15 NLT “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.
Here is the problem with wolves: they look like sheep. They are disguised as harmless sheep but they are vicious. How is it that they look like sheep? Well, they look like Christians. They are false prophets. They pretend to speak for God, but they say things that God never said.
They have strange new doctrines, new teachings, new revelations, new insights that no one else has ever seen. No one else has ever seen them because they are not in the Bible. These wolves are kind, and suave. They smile, and say lots of nice things to people. They look very spiritual. They look like Christians. The use Christian words and vocabulary and say lots of things about God and about Jesus. But what they say is false. They confuse the people and lead them astray.
The Apostle Paul saw the same problem in Ephesus. In addressing the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20, he said in
Acts 20:29-30 NLT I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.’ Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following.
So Paul tells the shepherds of Ephesus,
Acts 20:28 NIVO Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has
made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
True shepherds keep watch over themselves and over all the flock. When they see a false teacher drawing away believers with some false teaching, they drive them out. They protect the sheep. But the hired hand will not take the risk. He will not stand up to the wolves. He will not stop the false teachers. He does not have the courage to lead. He is not the shepherd. He will not risk himself for the sheep. He does not care for the sheep.
2.3. The Shepherd’s Relationship with the Sheep
The hired hand does not care for the sheep, but the true shepherd has a very different relationship with the sheep:
John 10:14 NIVO “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-There is a mutual knowledge.
John 10:3 ESV The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
What a marvelous intimacy between the good shepherd and the sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls us by name. We hear his voice. He leads us out. He knows us, and we know him. Can you grasp it? He knows my name.
2.4. The Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep
The thief kills, steals, and destroys. The wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. The hired hand flees in the face of danger. But the good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Four times Jesus tells us that as the Good Shepherd, he will lay down his life for the sheep.
Dying for one’s sheep must have been a rare event in Palestine. The shepherd David killed both lions and bears in defending his sheep. It was never the intention of shepherds to die for their sheep. Whenever a shepherd died for his sheep, it was by accident.
The shepherd planned to live for his sheep, not die for them. “A” good shepherd does not characteristically die for the sheep. “The” Good Shepherd does.’
This is …
not some sentimental demonstration to prove his love… The sheep are in mortal danger. In their defense, the shepherd loses his life and in his death the sheep are saved. That is what makes Jesus the Good Shepherd. He carries a cross, not plastic explosives.’
…the death of the Palestinian shepherd meant disaster for his sheep. The death of the Good Shepherd means life for His sheep.’
The Good Shepherd must die so that the sheep may live. The Good Shepherd had to die that we might have life and have it abundantly.
3. JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO TAKES UP HIS LIFE AGAIN
John 10:16-18 ESV And I have other 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.” For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Who is this Jesus? Who is this Good Shepherd that can voluntarily lay down his life and voluntarily take it up again? “No one takes my life from me,” he said. “But I lay it down of my own accord.”
“I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” Who is this who has the power to die and raise himself up again? Who but God could lay down his life and take it up again? Who but God could save us from the wrath of God? Who but God could give us eternal life?
Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. Have you heard his voice? Have you heard him calling your name? He calls you to himself. He alone is the Good Shepherd. He alone can save you from your sin. He alone can give you life in abundance.
1 Leon Morris, John, p. 508.
3 Carson, John, p. 385.
4 Carson, John, p. 385.
5 Leon Morris, John, p. 510.
6 Carson, John.
7 Morris, John, p. 510.
See also “Gospel of John”:
- John 01:01-05, 14-18, “God in the Flesh”
- John 01:06-08, 19-34, “The Witness”
- John 01:35-51, “Finding the Messiah”
- John 02:01-11, “Believing”
- John 02:13-25, “Christ Cleanses the Temple”
- John 02:23-03:15, “You Must Be Born Again”
- John 03:01-15 “The Purpose of the New Birth”
- John 04:19-24, “The Seeking God”
- John 05:01-18, “Jesus: Who Does He Think He Is?”
- John 05:19-29, “Jesus, What right do you have?”
- John 05:30-46, “Jesus’ Witnesses”
- John 06:01-71, “No Appetite for the Bread of Life”
- John 07:01-39, “History’s Most Controversial Person”
- John 08:02-11, “Guilt – What to Do with It”
- John 08:12-30, “Jesus, the Light of the World”
- John 08:31-36, “Life’s Greatest Freedom!”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 12:01-19, “The Triumphal Entry in the Shadow of the Cross”