We finish this week’s lesson in John 10.  Before you read, allow me to make some comments about shepherding in the Middle East.  It is so different from what we know in the West – with our ranches and huge herds. 

  • flocks were not large … usually about 25 sheep
  • the eastern shepherd “leads” the sheep … he does not “drive” them
  • the shepherd carries 4 pieces of equipment … his scrip (a pouch to carry his food), a sling as an offensive weapon, a staff (a club like piece of wood that hangs on his belt – a weapon) and his rod (the crook that you see in pictures … to pull wayward sheep back … to place across the entrance to the fold.  The shepherd holds the rod low at the entrance forcing the sheep to slowly crouch underneath it to get into the fold.  This allows the shepherd to examine each sheep for any injury that has come its way during the day.) [look at Ezekiel 20:37]
  • the “fold” is the pen which encloses the sheep for the night … in towns, it is a common area used by many shepherds and the flocks are mixed together … in the wilderness, it is a blocked area usually surrounded by rock walls and brush collected by the shepherd.
  • shepherds use their voice or a small flute-like instrument to call their sheep … it is unique to each shepherd … and their sheep now the sound … and respond.  Other sheep do not respond.
  • the shepherd will risk his own life to protect his sheep when mortal danger is near.  Remember how David talked about killing a lion and a bear to protect his sheep (1 Samuel 17: 34 – 36)

Now … read John 10 with those images in your mind.  See what impresses you in these precious words from our Lord. 

Jesus makes three remarkable claims about His own identity in this chapter.  The first is in verse 7.  His claim is that He, Himself, is the gate for the sheep.  It is His person that allows the sheep to go in and out in safety, in security.  And the realization hits home … how in the world do we live our lives in and out of the struggles, the battles, the dangers, the fears that this world throws at us?  How can we keep functioning with any sense of peace and calmness in our own souls?  Oh, yes … it is because of our gate-keeper.  It is because Jesus, Himself, gives us that security.  His sheep know that He provides the fullness so that we can move about our lives with security.  And, with that picture in mind, hear Him say, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”  That’s what abundant life means … it means we are secure with Him! 

His second claim is in verse 11.  He is also the good shepherd.  The word “good” means “intrinsically good, intrinsically beautiful”.  The Lord Himself is that for you.  That means that He is on the watch for you.  He is carefully watching for the dangers, the threats that come your way.  And He was willing to give His life for you.  That’s what a good shepherd does.  He does not bolt and run when the going gets rough!  He will not leave you.  He will be beside you in the most difficult circumstances that you must face.  He is right there … with His rod and His staff.  You are safe.  Do you believe that?

Don’t miss verse 16.  There is indeed one flock … His flock of His followers … but there are many sheep-pens, many folds.  In this context, Jesus is most likely referring to the fold of Judaism … He has other sheep, the Gentile believers who will be brought into the flock.  He did not require them to be a part of the Jewish fold.  In fact, Paul addresses that very question in the book of Galatians.  Converts did not have to become Jewish before they could accept Christ.  How does the verse apply to us, today?  There is one flock … Christ’s church, His body on this earth.  And it is scattered all over the globe.  They do not exist in one sheep-pen.  That is why there are different ways to worship, to exist together, in different places.  Don’t make the Jewish mistake of exclusivity – of thinking that all must look and act just like you to be a part of Christ’s flock! 

There is about a two and a half month time span between verses 20 and 21.  The first of this chapter is somewhere around the Feast of Tabernacles.  That is in the fall, the harvest.  Verse 21 begins with the Feast of Dedication.  That feast is in the winter.  It is Hanukkah.  It is the 8 day celebration of the Maccabaean revolt that finally regained freedom for Jerusalem from Antiochus Epiphanes in 164 BC.  The Temple had been horribly desecrated and defiled during Antiocus’ reign.  It had gone so far as offering pigs on the great altar before the Temple.  The rooms of the Temple had been turned into brothels.  It was a capital offense to circumcise your baby boys.  In fact, if you did circumcise your baby on the 8th day … as Jewish custom required … as were caught … you were crucified with your baby around your neck.  The horrors are beyond anything I can even imagine.  Judas Maccabaeus led the revolt that finally freed Jerusalem.  Then the process of cleansing the Temple and rededicating it began.  It is that hard won freedom … that return of light and freedom to Jerusalem … that Hanukkah celebrates.  So … it is now December. 

His third claim comes during this festival of celebration.  It is in verse 30.  Jesus makes a public statement regarding His identity and equality with God the Father.  It is a claim to deity.  And the Pharisees did not miss it!  To those religiously blind eyes, He was committing blasphemy.  And that offense deserved the death penalty.  Feel the rage and violence that fills the air. 

Jesus retreats.  Not because He is afraid … not because He could not safe Himself … but because the time was not yet right.  His “hour” was not yet here.  His arrest and sacrificial death must happen during Passover, not the Feast of Dedication.  I am intrigued by the location to which He retreats.  He goes back across the Jordan River to where John had been baptizing.  That would be where Jesus had been baptized by John.  That would be where He had received the confirmation from the Father that He was, indeed, beloved and pleasing to the Father.  Maybe He needed that reminder.  He knows what lies ahead for Him. 

And the people continue to come … and they believe.  Nothing, nothing, nothing is powerful enough to stop the plan of God for the redemption of people.  Not then … and not now.  No government, no tyranny, no charismatic opposition has the power to thwart the plan of God.  He is still sovereign over the affairs of men.  Even in the madness in our world at present.  I find peace knowing that. 

Close today by hearing again these beautiful, strenghtening words from our Lord …

My sheep listen to my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.