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Shepherds and Jesus

The topic reported in John 10 is one that I literally think about all the time because I take my role in the body of Christ literally and seriously. I don't do that because I am afraid I would be zapped by the Lord if I didn't; I do it out of reverence and respect for the Lord and gratefulness for what He does through me when I allow Him to flow through me like He wishes.

In chapter 10 of John, Jesus begins to specifically address shepherding or pastoral care and He does so now because what we saw in the case of the blind man was present in epidemic proportions in Jesus' day. It exists that way now in the church as well.

A man was blind....someone that the shepherds of Israel were supposed to be caring for.

Instead, he had to beg on a roadside. The shepherds let that sheep fend for himself the best he could. They were supposed to take care of people like him. They didn’t. Then he gets healed and made whole and they don't care! So, it is natural that Jesus would start talking shepherding right after that.

In the background is the reality that everyone there was aware of what the Lord had said about shepherds in Ezekiel 34. When I realized I was to pastor people I found this sobering passage and it is in my head all the time. I want to share it now so we will see the context of this passage in John 10 in terms of what the hearers knew before Jesus started speaking in what we now know as John 10:1 and following.

"And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?’” (Ezekiel 34:1-2)

A shepherd is supposed to make sure that his flock has what it needs before he gets what he needs.

"You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.” (Ezekiel 34:3)

A shepherd is not supposed to feed off the flock and benefit from it as much as it benefits from him.

"The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4)

A shepherd is supposed to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring back those driven away and seek the lost. When God gives anyone an anointing or a role or authority, they have it in themselves the ability to do it in a righteous way. Otherwise God would not give it them; He would give it to someone else. In other words, when He gives someone authority, He has confidence in His ability to work through that person, in His grace and in their capacity to allow Him to minister to the one who has been given to oversee.

So, when a shepherd does this instead:

"The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4)

This is a double tragedy. Not only do the sheep get neglected and abused but the shepherds are wasting their grace. Next, Ezekiel says something intriguing:

“So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered.” (Ezekiel 34:4)

God is addressing the shepherds, so why does God say this: “they were scattered because there was no shepherd”? He words it like this because He is speaking about what functionally was happening. Those men were shepherds in name, but weren't really shepherding the sheep.

When a spiritual leader, be he or she a pastor, teacher, mom or dad or husband, etc. doesn't live for those he or she is given to care for, the people will drift. God was, through Ezekiel, just telling the news so the shepherds of Israel would know what was happening to them but apparently it didn't provoke them to love the sheep.

“So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.” (Ezekiel 34:5-6)

Hear the Lord's heart for His people! Hear the Lord's heart for US!

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: ‘as I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.’” (Ezekiel 34:7-10)

God's intention is to deliver sheep FROM NEGLECTFUL AND ABUSIVE LEADERS that have the capacity to shepherd them...but do not do so. That is a hard word for shepherds who are careless and this is why I think about it all the time. Nothing is as important to God as are His people.

“For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’” (Ezekiel 34:11)

Then GOD replaces those shepherds.

“As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”(Ezekiel 34:12)

He leads them out....draws them together.

“and I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.”(Ezekiel 34:13)

He feeds them.

“will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.” (Ezekiel 34:14)

He gives them the ability to rest.....filled and satisfied.

“will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 34:14)

This is the heart of God concerning shepherds and sheep and most of us are both shepherds and sheep!

So with the birth of Jesus the Lord manifests on the earth and roughly in the year 30 Jesus begins doing what was prophesied in Ezekiel 34 and in John 9 we see a hurt, hungry sheep in the blind man virtually ignored by the shepherds of Israel because he wasn't much use to them. This is the context of John 10 and Jesus, whose Spirit provoked Ezekiel to write what we know as Ezekiel 34, is heartbroken and outraged.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)

In this passage Jesus is the "good shepherd"; the "sheep" are the Jewish believers; the "sheepfold" is Judaism. Jesus is the “gate” as the way to life; the "other sheep" are Gentile believers and the "gatekeeper" is God the Father. The blind man has stepped out of the sheepfold of the Pharisees and has stepped into the sheepfold of Jesus.

For us there is an additional implication: the Body of Christ is the sheepfold, Jesus is the shepherd and the gate, the sheep are believers, the other sheep are people who will be believers...or those who have fallen away and the gatekeeper is the Father.

In the Church today, many are falling by the wayside - not partaking in the Body anymore, isolated and withdrawn. We are to watch for those given to us to be "folded" back in and drawn back into the sheepfold (but not driven by condemnation, guilt, etc.)

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)

Who has taken Christians out of the fold?

Often it has been the shepherds! How can I say such a thing?

“he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door…the same is a thief and a robber.”

Jesus is the Way. Whenever a person exerts authority in their flesh, whenever a person exerts authority using law, whenever a person exerts authority employing manipulation, guilt, fear, etc. they come into the fold some other way. That person literally “climbs up some other way”.

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:2)

All through the body of Christ, God sets up mentoring relationships - pastoral relationships. When Jesus does this and when someone recognizes it and then honors that and Him by stepping trough that door, that person lives out John 10:2:

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:2)

“To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)

The word "doorkeeper" literally means "one who watches". This passage illustrates the concept I put into the pastoral relationship article I wrote, cunningly named “The Pastoral Relationship”.

It speaks of how God ordains a pastoral relationship, speaks it to the pastor, and then opens the door to the sheepfold. When that happens, the sheep given to that person for whom to care, recognize it and respond to it.

Can you see how conspicuously absent is any manipulation on the shepherd's part? Why is that? It’s because it is not necessary. When God is in it there is no need to manipulate people.

“To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)

The shepherd speaks and simply leads them out. He brings them forth. There are two things to see here:

1) Note that as sheep we are not to be driven, yet many of us are. We are driven by fear, doubt, guilt, other people, circumstances, etc. We are NOT to be driven; we are to be led! We are to be brought forth - led out.

2) We are to be led out of what? Surprisingly, we are to be led out of a safe place into a less safe place, but where good food and water is to be found.

Have you ever been around a sheepfold or a pen that sheep are kept in? There is no fresh food in those places, no room to romp…no running water. It’s just a place to hole up and be safe at night. However, in the light we can venture forth into a less safe place, trusting the shepherd (Jesus through a yielded person) to where there is fresh food, water, room to romp.

Another thing a shepherd leads sheep out of is whatever has ensnared them. Although here specifically Jesus is talking about a sheepfold, sheep get entangled in brambles, they fall into crevices and the shepherd leads them out of those places too. What would that represent for us? It represents unforgiveness and bitterness, strongholds and oppression, fear, guilt...you name it.

How does the shepherd know this is necessary? He spends time with the sheep and actively watches over them. So, the shepherd leads the sheep out.

“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3)

Remember: Jesus was originally saying this for the benefit of the original hearers. They would soon have a new shepherd, Jesus, and they would be tempted to not follow Him, just like we are. Others would scale the walls of the sheepfold: guilt, control, spiritual territoriality, etc. to try to carry off sheep.

The sheep, though, “know his voice”. This is why it is so important for a spiritual leader to walk in after the Spirit. If people who belong to the Good Shepherd and have ears attuned to His voice hear another voice and melody in the voice of the "undershepherd" (their earthly pastor), who are they really following?

Are they following Jesus through the person or are they following the mere person through whom Jesus wants to work? They are following Jesus only if that person walks in the Spirit but it they hear another voice and melody in the voice of the "undershepherd" (their earthly pastor) they are following the person.

“Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5)

I often think that the reason so many people "church hop" is not because they are rebellious, rather because the leaders are strangers to them, not manifesting the voice of Jesus consistently.

For one thing, how can one "church hop" if there is only one church?

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4-5)

A lot of movement among the fragmented remains of the Body of Christ represented by countless standalone congregations and denominations is just that: people fleeing strangers in hopes of finding someone who will lead on behalf of the Good Shepherd.

John 10: 6 says that Jesus used an illustration that the people did not understand so, as a Good Shepherd who loves His sheep...Jesus explained Himself:

“Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:7-10)

When Jesus says this, everyone there knows He is addressing the shepherds of Israel as thieves and He contrasts what they do with what His goal is for us: zoe life. In the modern day body of Christ many try to use the Word as law and the Word is clear that law brings death.

Whenever a leader tries to "law" people into submission.....he feeds them death. According to this verse, that makes that leader a thief - a thief that steals from the person, kills the person and destroys the person.

Jesus, on the other hand, and any leader that walks consistently by the Holy Spirit manifests life (zoe = God-derived life) in the person and, further, not just life but abundant life. The Greek word translated here as "abundant" means superior and superabundant life - excessive life, more “zoe” than we need or can use!

Why do so many in the body of Christ leave so many "worship services" feeling empty and dead? Perhaps it’s because there is no life in many of those services. The sheep need to be fed!

Jesus goes on to contrast Himself with the shepherds of Ezekiel 34 and the shepherds of His day and, sadly, many of the "shepherds" (pastors) of today.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Jesus spent Himself for His people. A godly shepherd today will do that.

He doesn't drive $100,000 cars while his people hitchhike or wait hours for a bus.

He doesn't live in mansions while his people live under bridges or in homes with holes in the walls.

He doesn't ignore their pain because it makes him uncomfortable.

He gives his life for the sheep. He’s right in there with them.

“But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” (John 10:12)