Psalm 23; John 10:1-21
My dear brothers and sisters,
Psychologists identify a personality disorder in some patients with limited language skills, so much so, they find it hard to understand idiomatic expressions. They understand a literal understanding of words, but expressions can sometimes just pass them by.
If I say am a bit blue today, they might look for some blue on my face. If I am happy as Larry, they might ask who Larry is and where I bumped into him, and why he is happy. Saying “Bob’s your uncle” might call for questions about how he is related to Bob.
It is difficult to communicate with people having this disorder. You might be talking till you’re blue in the face, and they’ll still not understand.
The Pharisees found the figure of speech of our Lord too hard to understand.
Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. (John 10:6, NIV)
Their problem was not that they had a personality disorder; their problem was an inability to believe. In the language of John they lived in darkness, they were without spiritual sight, without spiritual hearing, they were spiritually dead – and as a result rejected the Christ who God sent to take this sins of the word and paid the penalty for it.
The first striking point of the figure of is the two types of shepherds.
God appointed the leaders – all of them: kings, prophets and priests – to act as shepherds of his people. The care the leaders was supposed to give was like that of shepherds caring for a flock of sheep. With only a very few exceptions like Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc., the bulk of the leaders failed both God and the people.
Ezekiel 34 tells the story of bad shepherds.
Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. (Ezekiel 34:1–5, NIV)
Our Lord likened then to thieves and robbers. A thieve in this verse is someone who takes what does not belong to them. But robbers takes from others with violence. Such was Barabbas and the two men on both sides of Christ the day He was crucified. Again in verse 10 our Lord refers to them as stealing and killing. They have no regard for the people they are supposed to care for. When danger comes, they look after their own interests and leave the flock exposed to danger.
Such leaders were the Pharisees; Jesus Christ addresses them. We have seen that they had no regard for the man who was paralysed for 37 years, other than that he carried his bed on a Sabbath; likewise, their concern was not that the blind man was healed, but he was healed on a Sabbath.
They rejected Christ and wanted to kill Him – which is what they did in the end. Of them Jesus Christ said:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44, NIV)
That’s why they would rather climb into the sheep pen by some other way. They tried to bypass Jesus Christ as the One sent by God to seek and to save the lost. In trusting in their self-righteous achievements to please God, a Mediator to them was obsolete. Paul sums it up in Romans 10:
Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3, NIV)
My dear friend, any so-called church leader who does not stand by the authority of the Word of God; those who questions the works of God in creation; those who questions clear truths about the Person of Christ, his birth, ministry, death and resurrection – is a thieve and a robber. Anyone who preaches a salvation by good works, is a thieve and a robber.
It has become politically correct to not call sin when the Bible does so – especially when it comes to marriage and gender issues – and ministers are steering away from the Bible’s clear teaching about these issues; when doing so, they fall in line with the Pharisees copy what they did: they are robbers and thieves, denying people the saving and healing grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Sadly, their flock is too happy to be lead by the blind. Paul writes in 2Timothy 4:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4, NIV)
Sure, there are so-called Christian leaders who are hirelings who do not care for the flock; they jump walls to enter, while they reject the only One, Jesus Christ. They are blind in their unbelief, and in their blindness they lead their flock in even deeper darkness. Our Lord calls them robbers and thieves.
Let’s take this example. It comes from an interview between Dr Michael Horton and Dr Robert Schuller:
SCHULLER: We are not justified by faith.
HORTON: No, it is by grace through faith.
SCHULLER: By grace through faith, that’s right.
HORTON: But what I’m asking is this. Justified from what? The wrath of God?
SCHULLER: Oh! I’ll never use that language.
HORTON: But the Bible does.
SCHULLER: Yes, the Bible does, but the Bible is God’s book to believers primarily. Listen, and then call me a heretic if you want to, but I’m interested in attracting people, and not driving them farther away. There is language I can and will use and there are times, if we are wise, there is language we will not use….If God is a God of love, how do we handle this concept of wrath? At the outset, on the surface, it appears to be a contradiction; maybe it is. I tell you this, I have come to the conclusion that I haven’t stepped into the center of truth until I’ve dared to step into contradiction. The Bible is a contradiction: Old Testament–Law, New Testament–Grace. Jesus is a contradiction; totally human and totally God.
Another, this time by the ever popular Joyce Meyer. She speaks about Christ on the cross:
“He could have helped himself up until the point where he said I commend my spirit into your hands, at that point he couldn’t do nothing for himself anymore. He had become sin, he was no longer the Son of God. He was sin.”
She goes on,
“The minute that blood sacrifice was accepted Jesus was the first human being that was ever born again.”
Where does she get this from?
Add to this the teachings of prosperity preacher Joel Osteen. But add to this the ever-growing chorus of church leaders who twist Bible verses to sound less harsh to people of the LGBT community, or even interpret it in such a way that the LGBT community actually finds it acceptable. You can’t sidestep the teachings of Christ and then proclaim to unrepentant sinners they will go to heaven. We don’t look down on people with gender issues; but when we do address sinful relations, we acknowledge our own sinfulness, while we point to the saving work of Christ for all sinners. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says,
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NIV)
The most unkind act of a shepherd is to see the sheep grazing in the paddock with poisonous plants, but leave them there because they really like the taste of the weeds.
The Good Shepherd
When we get to this point, everything changes and becomes a reverse of thieves and robbers. We hear the good news of salvation.
Our Lord is both the gate and the Good Shepherd. He is the gate because He is the only way to and for salvation. “No one comes to the Father but by Me”, Jesus declared in John 14:6. Through Him God created everything; by Him all things hold together; by his death his Father was satisfied and granted righteousness to those who believe in Him. No-one else will ever do in the sight of the eternal God – who is one with Christ, and one with the Holy Spirit. There is no other mediator between God and man.
In the morning the shepherd goes to the pen where the sheep of other shepherds also sleep. It might just be possible to understand that Christ’s church lives amongst the sheep of other owners. In chapter 17 our Lord prays that his Father would not take them from this world, although they are in this world. But those who belong to Him listens to his voice when He calls because they know Him. Through Him they are led in and out, and through his life – which is the living bread and the living water – they have life and life to the full.
Let’s look at verse 4: “When He has brought out all his own, He goes ahead of them.” What a verse: not one short, because He knows them by name, and He knows the number! He leads like a genuine shepherd, like the one we read about in Psalm 23. Robbers chase sheep and frightens and scare them; the Good Shepherd leads calmly with authority.
When danger comes, He does not disappear like they hireling – no, He lays his life down for his sheep. He declares in verse 17-18,
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18, NIV)
That’s why He can give this promise,
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 will 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. (John 10:27–29, NIV)
The big question now is, what do you make of Christ, that fact that He laid down his life, that fact that He calls, and that He gives eternal life? The Pharisees heard and saw all of this, and yet they remained stone hard. In unbelief they eventually they disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked that a murderer be released. They killer the Author of life. (Acts 3:13-15)
And yet, He rose again. and once again He stands as Saviour before us. What do you say about Him? Is He your Shepherd? What flock are you a sheep of?
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 18 December 2016