When I was growing up I worked for a restaurant manager whom we affectionately called Larry the Scary Rex. The nickname came from the fact that he managed about how you’d expect a Tyrannosaurus Rex to manage.
He was loud like a T-Rex.
He ate like a T-Rex.
He drank like a T-Rex.
He fired people left and right – leaving destruction in his path -- like a T-Rex.
One time – he threw a sack of potatoes at my head – not so much like a T-Rex (I don’t know that they could lift it with their arm), but…it was mean like a T-Rex.
The point: Larry was not the greatest leader.
Maybe you know a leader like that.
Maybe you know one that flies off the handle.
Or one that only cares about himself.
Or one that you only work for because you are afraid of what would happen when you are no longer on the job market.
Is Jesus like one of those leaders?
Better? Somewhere in between?
Today we look at what kind of a leader Jesus is; and why he’s worth following. Before that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The lesson for today comes from John 10. But a bit of background: in John 9, there is a man who has been blind from birth. He’s never been able to see anything. Not the green trees, not the blue sky, not his mother’s smile. Until he meets Jesus. Jesus heals him, and he sees.
But not everyone thought it was amazing. A group of religious leaders – called the Pharisees – saw this miracle and were furious. Rather than focusing on the fact that Jesus healed the man simply by touching his eyes, they focused on the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath. After all, ‘any good religious leader knew that you never do any work on the Sabbath.’
The Pharisees are upset with this event because it caused even more people to follow Jesus and stop following them.
So…they hold an investigation.
They investigate the blind man.
They investigate his parents.
They investigate the blind man again.
Their goal is to prove that the man wasn’t blind, and Jesus was a phony.
But they couldn’t.
Because it was real.
But after a day of investigation, the jaded courtroom fails to convict Jesus of anything – Jesus has an opportunity to speak to them. The Pharisees are insistent that He is a disastrous leader to follow. Jesus argues otherwise:
Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 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. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (Jn. 10:1-5)
This is what we call a parable. It is a common literary device that Jesus uses in his teachings. In it, Jesus uses a simple everyday story to teach a deep spiritual truth.
In this parable, the everyday story revolves around a shepherd. Shepherding which was very, very familiar to the people of his time. It was an agrarian society. Sheep were used heavily. For clothing, for blankets, but also for sacrifices and food. To speak of shepherds in the 1st century was like speaking about Smartphones today.
That’s important. Because Jesus uses this parable to get his people thinking.
Not about “sheep shepherds”…
…but spiritual shepherds.
II. The Shepherd and the Front Gate
Check out verse 1 again. “Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber.”
This is pretty simple illustration. If you see someone jumping a chain link fence, they might not be legit. Best case scenario? They need to retrieve a soccer ball that went over the wall. Worst case scenario – they are up to no good. Regardless, they don’t have authority to go through the main gate. The only option they have is to hop the fence, hope it’s not electrified and avoid the barbed wire.
But the shepherd? The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. He doesn’t have to put his body in danger. He belongs there. Whether the gate is a simple keylock, a retina scanner or requires a security code, he enters through the main gate. In fact, the gatekeeper opens the gate for him. He says, “What’s up Bob? Hope your day is going well. Did you catch the game last night? Can’t believe Lebron lost again! Anyways – have a good day tending to the sheep.” He doesn’t question the shepherd, because the shepherd belongs in the sheep pen.
Now this is where the parable gets a bit tricky. We are talking about spiritual shepherds, not actual shepherds. Therefore, we are talking about a spiritual gate, not an actual gate. It is important that we identify the gate correctly, because identifying the right gate helps us identify the shepherd because he will be leading people through that gate.
So…what’s the right spiritual gate?
An invisible forcefield?
The place where the rainbow meets the sunset in the morning?
Some kind of Sci Fi channel thing?
“I am the gate for the sheep. …whoever enters through me will be saved.” (v.7)
Jesus is the gateway to eternal life. He is the gateway to forgiveness. He is the gateway to peace with God.
He alone offers forgiveness.
He alone promises peace.
He alone died and rose form the dead to prove his authority to do this.
He is the gate and he is the only way for you and me to enter eternal life.
That’s 1/ 2 the solution. Because if Jesus is the gate, then the shepherd is the one who comes to his people with the message of Jesus.
The message that he is the Savior.
The message of forgiveness.
The message of God’s grace.
Do you get it?
Jesus is not just the gate.
He’s also the Shepherd.
III. The Gate Jumpers
But that reverses the Pharisees thought process.
Because they were convinced that they were the right shepherds and Jesus was wrong.
They told people to wear fancy religious jewelry, to keep all the Sabbath laws, to try harder, do better and achieve moral greatness like them and that would be their gateway to eternal life.
But that wasn’t the gate.
It was throwing a grappling hook over the top of the fence, scaling it, jumping off the other side and tossing the sheep over the top to their ski masked buddy on the other side.
Do you get it?
The Pharisees were leading people away from Jesus. (the Gate)
They weren’t shepherding people in the right direction.
They weren’t shepherding people at all.
They were robbers.
Now maybe that doesn’t seem relevant to you. Because Pharisaism as a legitimate religious organization is not a big part of our culture.
There isn’t a Pharisaical Christian Church of America.
There isn’t a #PhariseesRule hashtag.
They aren’t even registered as a non-profit organization.
But that doesn’t mean that spiritual robbers aren’t something to be concerned about.
A spiritual robber is anyone trying to lead you spiritually apart from Jesus and his message.
Thing is that a spiritual robber usually doesn’t identify themselves that way: “Hi, I’m a spiritual robber. I am here to lead you away from eternal life. Nice to meet you.”
They are much sneakier than that.
I hear Jesus’ voice to wait until marriage, but…my girlfriend is so hot. It’ll feel good; I’ll follow the voice of lust.
Yes, I hear Jesus’ voice that I should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but…I owe a lot of money on taxes and they won’t check to see if my mileage is correct so…I’ll follow the tax cheating voice.
I know…Jesus says he is the only way to heaven, but that seems intolerant. At least, that’s what social media tells me. And I want those voice to like me, so…I’ll listen to the world’s voice instead.
If you are following any voice other than Jesus…
You aren’t following the shepherd.
You are following the robber.
And…if you are telling people to stop following Jesus,
If you are guiding people apart from God’s Word,
If you are leading your children away from Jesus, you aren’t just a lost sheep…
You are a thief.
You are stealing from God.
…nobody steals from God and gets away with it.
V. The Voice of the Shepherd
Jesus mentions it in this section. There’s another difference between shepherd and robber. A robber doesn’t know the sheep’s names. He simply grab’s a bit of sheep food, crouches on his knee and shouts, “Here Sheepy, Sheepy!”
The shepherd? He knows each sheep by name.
He knows Fluffy is the one that’s extra fluffy.
He knows Patch is the one with the patch over his eye.
He knows Marvin is the one that bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Marvin.
The shepherd knows his sheep.
He calls them by name.
Even when they have gone astray – he calls them by name.
And today – He is calling you.
By your first name.
By your middle name.
By your last name.
By your nickname.
By your maiden name.
By your online gamer name.
He knows the names you call yourself.
But he doesn’t call you by those names.
He calls you the names He has given you:
V. WHAT NOW?
Follow Your Shepherd
One of the most interesting things that I’ve ever seen is the way that a sheep responds to the shepherd’s voice. It works kind of like how it does with pets. When you call your dog, he comes running. When he hears your voice, he comes running. When he hears your voice, outside the house, on the driveway, barely even through the door, he jumps up onto your laps and starts running in circles because he is so excited that you are home!
Jesus said this: “The shepherd goes on ahead of the sheep and they follow him because they know his voice.” (v.4)
Are you one of Jesus’ sheep?
Not the voice of the world.
Not the voice of false teachers.
Not the voice of your emotions.
Follow your Savior’s voice.
He is leading your somewhere wonderful!
No matter what he has to give up to get you there.
Because that’s the sign of a Good Shepherd.
They are willing to give up things for the sake of their sheep.
A good shepherd gives up a bit of money to buy some extra sheep food for a hungry lamb.
A good shepherd gives up his time to stay until the next shift shepherd arrives.
A good shepherd gives up his sleep to hyper vigilantly keep watch for wolves.
How good a shepherd is Jesus?
I lay down my Life for the Sheep. (v.11)
Jesus gave up his life for you.
He gave up everything for you.
That’s how much your shepherd loves you.
Follow him. There is no better shepherd. Amen.