John 10:1-18 by Revd Amanda Denniss

John 10.1-18 Following Jesus

I’ve been living for the last few years in the middle of London.  I’ve loved living in the middle of our capital city, but I grew up in the countryside and I’ve missed the beauty of wide-open spaces.  So for me it’s been the most precious gift of God to come and live in this beautiful valley. One of the things I’m already enjoying in the valley is walking through such beautiful countryside.  On our walks we’ve seen sheep.  They were normal sheep.  Munching grass in a field.  Wandering around.  There was no shepherd there.  No sheep dog either.

In our passage from John’s gospel this morning, Jesus is telling us who he is and what it means for us to be in relationship with him.  Jesus describes himself as a shepherd, but John tells us in verse 10 that the people listening didn’t understand what he was telling them. These people lived in a rural society and were surrounded by countryside and sheep and shepherds.  You’d think they’d get the point.

Prayer So let’s ask for the Lord to bring this passage to life for us this morning.

Psalm 25.14 ‘The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.’

  1. We belong to a shepherd who is leading us forward into new pastures.

When Oliver and I went for a walk together and saw those sheep in a field, we didn’t see a shepherd.  But somewhere there is a farmer who owns them.  Somewhere there is a farmer who makes sure they have enough to eat and who checks up on their health and calls the vet if they are ill.

In the passage we’ve read from John’s gospel, Jesus describes himself as our shepherd and us as his sheep.  It’s not a very flattering picture for us.  But Jesus is a very, very special shepherd.  In Jesus’ picture the sheep are in an enclosure, in a sheep pen, and there is a watchman who stands guard at the entrance to the pen.  In verse 3 John says, ‘The watchman opens the gate for him, for Jesus, 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.’

Jesus owns his sheep.  He owns us.  We belong to him.  That can be a scary thought for us.  We’ve lived in a world where we’ve seen and experienced people in authority who have abused their power over us.  People we should have been able to trust.  People in government.  Our employers.  Maybe even our parents or teachers.

Jesus is speaking against a background of Jewish leaders who had failed to care of their people.  They had exploited them and abused them.  In the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 34.2, the Lord says, ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?’  And God goes on to say that he himself be the shepherd to his people, ‘I will rescue my flock….I will bring them out from the nations…I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel…I myself will tend my sheep…I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…I will shepherd the flock with justice.’ (Ez 34.10-16)

Jesus is making the most extraordinary claim when he describes himself as our shepherd.  He is claiming that he is fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophesy and he is God who is going to care for his people as the good shepherd.

What does that practically mean for us?  Jesus says he knows us each by name.  He speaks to each one of us.  Because we belong to him, we recognise his voice.  Just think for a moment of someone you know really well.  Your mum.  Your dad.  Your husband.  Your wife.  Your child.  A good friend.  When they phone up and say hello, you don’t need to ask who it is.  You recognise their voice.

Jesus is promising we are going to recognise his voice like that.  This is a promise for every one of us here this morning who is trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savour.  As our good shepherd.  Jesus is speaking to us.  Each of us can hear his voice. This is a promise for each one of us.  Jesus says to each one of us, ‘Listen to my voice.  You will recognise my voice because you belong to me.’

I believe this is something that Jesus wants each of us to grow in.  Hearing his voice.  I believe this is particularly on the Lord’s heart for us in this new season. Jesus speaks to us as individuals and he speaks to us as a church.

I have been appointed as rector here with responsibility for the Itchen Valley Parish.  In the next weeks and months I’m going to be seeking to listen to Jesus as I get to know you.  What is he saying?  Where is he wanting to lead us?  But this isn’t just for me.  Let’s be a people who listen to Jesus.  Let’s join together to listen to him and discern where he is leading us for this new stage on our journey together.

This is a season when we are going to be expectant to hear Jesus’ voice.  We’re going to grow in hearing his voice together.  We belong to a shepherd who is leading us forward to new pastures.

What do we know now about where Jesus is leading us?

  1. Jesus is leading us into abundant life.   Jesus is going to lead us more and more into a life that’s rich and fulfilled.  He is leading us into a place where we can be happy and well fed sheep!

When Jesus talks about this wonderful life that he’s come to give us, he stops for a moment using the picture of himself as a shepherd and uses the picture of a gate.   He describes himself as the gate.  Imagine for a moment an enclosure-a sheep pen- where the sheep have been put to keep them safe from danger.  The only way for the sheep to get in to this safe place is through the gate of the sheep pen.  Jesus describes himself as the gate.  Look at verse 9, ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  He will come in and go out and find pasture.’

We are people who are in danger.  Jesus has come to rescue us from this danger.  We are in danger without Jesus of separation from God.  We are in danger from the enemy of our souls-Satan-who intends to harm us.  Jesus describes our enemy as a thief.  He says in verse 10, ‘The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy.’

But Jesus says, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

What does this good life look like?  Jesus once again speaks of himself as our shepherd.  Look at verse 14, ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.’

Jesus and our Heavenly Father have a relationship of wonderful love and intimacy.  They know each other completely.  Inside out.  Our heavenly Father is always pointing to his beloved Son Jesus and saying to us, Look at him.  He is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.  And Jesus is always looking to his Father and pointing us to him.  They love each other and know each other through and through.

The amazing thing is Jesus is saying to us, I want to have that same loving relationship with my sheep that I have with my heavenly Father.  This is not just about head knowledge.  Though it is about that.  We need to know the truth in our heads that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with our Father.  He is the gate into this abundant life.  He is the one who died on the cross to make this possible.  We do need to know that truth with our minds.   But Jesus’ desire is to lead us to a deep relationship of intimacy and love that we can experience in our lives.  Not just head knowledge but heart knowledge.

  1. Jesus going to bring in other sheep

Jesus is our good shepherd who loves us.  He speaks to us.  We hear his voice.  Jesus goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him on paths that are going to lead us to abundant life in relationship with him.

We could all get very cosy and think it’s just us and Jesus.  But Jesus is saying this to us, verse 16, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them in also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.’

Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience.  They had got used to the idea that they were the chosen people of God.  God’s special people.  But they had lost sight of God’s plans. God had called them to be a light to the gentiles.  God had chosen them (Exodus 19.5-6) to be his treasured possession, but also to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  God’s intention was for them to show the surrounding nations what it was like to be in relationship with the one true God.  God’s plan was always to bless all the nations.  Israel had failed.  Now Jesus had come to fulfil God’s plans.Jesus says, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them in also.’  The people listening to Jesus didn’t understand what he was talking about.  Some thought he was demon possessed.   Some thought he was raving mad.  (verse20)

Jesus is saying the same thing to us today.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them in also.  Jesus wants to bring other people into relationship with him.  He is very serious about this.  In verse 11 Jesus says, I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  Jesus died on the cross to bring other sheep into the sheep pen.

What does this mean for us?  Jesus wants to bring other people in our church.  More sheep into his sheep pen.  And these sheep could look very different to us.

If the Jewish people listening to Jesus had understood what he was saying, they probably would have been even more horrified.  It would have been almost unthinkable for a Jewish person to have a close relationship with an unclean gentile who didn’t follow their rules on purity and cleanliness.

Jesus wants to bring other people in to relationship with him.  It’s very possible they won’t be like me and they won’t be like you.  We know that in the book of Acts the early church has to wrestle with the issues when gentile believers came into the church.  Things had to change.  For them it meant considering which foods they could eat and issues around circumcision.

Jesus says to us, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them in also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.’

The best, the very best thing that we can do is listen to Jesus’ voice and follow him.  He is our good shepherd.  He has promised to call us each by name.  He is calling us forward to follow him together.  Jesus has promised that we will recognise his voice.  Jesus is going to lead us into good pastures.  In to an abundance of life that we can only dream of.  It is the desire of Jesus’ heart to bring other people into the Itchen Valley churches.  He wants us to join in with his work to bring in those people.  He is going to show us where he is at work and the people that he wants us to share both our lives and the gospel with.

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