May 25, 2014
Have you ever felt like it’s not worth it to follow Jesus? Perhaps you were going through a severe trial and you wondered, “If Jesus is the Lord and He loves me, then why is He allowing me to go through this trial?” You thought, “Life was better before I believed in Christ. Then I didn’t have all the problems that I’ve had since I became a Christian.” Perhaps you struggle with disappointment because your Christian experience isn’t all that you thought it would be or all that others seem to experience. So you wonder, “Why should I follow Jesus?” Our text answers that question simply and forcefully:
Since Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, you’d be crazy not to follow Him.
Jesus is still speaking to a mixed audience. The Pharisees were there, and Jesus’ teaching here will again result in a division among them (10:19-21; see 7:43-52; 9:16). Also, the man born blind, who Jesus healed, was there, along with other believers. Jesus’ words here were aimed at warning, instructing, and assuring them. He warns them about false shepherds so that they will not follow them. He instructs them about Himself as the good shepherd and what He provides for His flock. And He assures them of His sacrificial care for them and of the fact that He will accomplish His purpose with them. I will point out five truths here about Jesus, the good shepherd:
Jesus contrasts Himself with these self-centered religious leaders:
John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” This is Jesus’ fourth “I am” claim in John’s Gospel. “I am the bread of life” (6:35). “I am the Light of the world” (8:12). “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7). “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14). Four times in these verses Jesus repeats that He lays down His life (10:11, 15, 17, 18). In the first two He repeats that He lays down His life for His sheep. The last two times, He emphasizes that He lays down His life so that He may take it up again. I could spend the entire message here, but let me point out four things:
While Jesus set His sights on the joy set before Him as He faced the cross (Heb. 12:2), at the same time His giving Himself for us as sinners was the greatest act of selfless love in the history of the world. As Paul says (Rom. 5:7-8), “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died voluntarily, in obedience to the will of the Father (John 10:18). He wants us to know and to feel His deep, selfless care for us. The word translated “good” has the nuance of excellence or beauty. The beauty of Jesus, the shepherd who gave Himself to rescue us from God’s judgment, should draw our hearts in love to Him.
He laid down His life “for the sheep.” He died in our place. We should have faced God’s righteous eternal judgment because of all our sins. But Jesus intervened with His own blood to pay the debt on our behalf. Jesus is the only one who has ever lived who did not have any sins of His own to die for. So He alone was qualified to die for us who deserved to die. As Paul wrote (2 Cor. 5:21), “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God imputed our sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us.
He laid down His life “for the sheep.” Paul expressed this in other terms (Eph. 5:25, emphasis added): “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” The sheep are those whom the Father gave to the Son (John 10:29), whose names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). In John 6:37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” He added (6:39), “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”
In 10:26, He tells the Pharisees, “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” He does not say, “You are not of My sheep because you do not believe,” but rather the reverse: “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” The determinative factor is whether they were Jesus’ sheep, whom the Father gave to the Son. It was these that Jesus came to die to redeem. He did not fail in His mission!
This truth is often misunderstood and attacked because it is alleged that if Jesus died only for His sheep, then we can’t offer the gospel to all people. But that is a false allegation. Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42). The almost final verse of the Bible appeals (Rev. 22:17), “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” So this truth in no way limits the invitation to all people to be saved. God pleads with all to be saved.
Rather, this truth looks at the death of Christ from the standpoint of God’s intent or purpose. Jesus died actually to pay for all the sins of His sheep, whom the Father had given Him from all eternity. And He promises that He will not lose even one of them (John 6:39; 10:28). So this truth should assure us: If you believe in Christ, you’re one of His sheep for whom He died. And He promises to keep you unto eternity. His purpose will not fail (Eph. 1:11).
We just saw this (John 6:39), “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” It’s also in our text (10:17, 18) where Jesus repeats twice that He not only will lay down His life, but also that He will take it up again. Many may claim that they will lay down their lives, but Jesus is the only one who legitimately could claim that He would take it up again. His resurrection verifies that the Father accepted His sacrifice (Rom. 4:25). So as the good shepherd, Jesus lays down His life for the sheep.
John 10:12-13: “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.”
Jesus is contrasting His own sacrificial love and care for His sheep with the false shepherds of Israel, whom He here calls “hired hands,” who only cared for themselves. The difference is that Jesus owns the sheep because He bought them with His blood. But when predators come, the hired hands are more concerned about saving their own lives than they are about saving the sheep. It’s no great loss to them if the sheep perish, as long as they escape with their lives.
The contrast means that if you follow the good shepherd, you can be assured that He cares for you more than for His own life. If you’re one of His sheep, He promises (10:28), “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
John 10:14-15: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
We saw the same truth in 10:3-4, where Jesus said that He calls His own sheep by name and they follow Him because they know His voice. Each night as the sheep would re-enter the fold, the shepherd would examine each one, to see whether there were any injuries or problems that needed his care. He knew every sheep in an intimate, personal way, and the sheep knew the shepherd so well that they would not follow the voice of a stranger (10:5, 8).
Jesus does not mean that our relationship with Him is just as intimate as His relationship with the Father, which would be impossible. The Father and the Son know each other perfectly with no barriers between them. Jesus knows us perfectly, of course, but our finiteness and sin create barriers on our end to our knowledge of Him. So the comparison means that our relationship with our good shepherd is reciprocal, just as the relationship between the Father and the Son is reciprocal. Knowing God and His Son is the essence of eternal life (17:3). And the crucial matter on the day of judgment will be whether Jesus knows you (Matt. 7:23). He knows all people, of course, but He was talking about knowing you in a personal, intimate way.
The apostle Paul, who knew Christ more deeply than almost all other believers, made it clear that knowing Him is a lifelong quest (Phil. 3:8-14). As Hosea (6:3) exhorts, “Let us press on to know the Lord.” So each of us needs to ask, “Is that my quest? Am I seeking to know my good shepherd better each day?”
John 10:16: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
This is also a remarkable verse that we could spend an entire message on. Jesus was referring to the Gentiles, who were at that time outside the fold of Israel. He states the necessity (“must”) to bring them and the certainty that they will hear His voice and become one flock with one shepherd. This is the missionary mandate that Jesus later gave in the Great Commission to take the gospel to all nations (or people groups; Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). And, Jesus promises the success of the mission: “They will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
This ties in to what we saw in verse 11, “the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus did not die in vain. He died to secure the salvation of His sheep and He strongly asserts that He will succeed. There is no uncertainty or desperation in His voice: “I hope that these other sheep will listen to My voice, because I really want them in My flock. But it’s up to them to decide.” No, it is certain: The Father gave them to Jesus, He died for them, and they will hear Him and they will come into His flock.
Sometimes those who deny the biblical truth of God’s sovereign election and effectual grace argue that this teaching will stifle evangelism and missions. They charge, “If all the elect will be saved, then why witness? Why send out missionaries?” The biblical answer is, “Because God ordained the means as well as the end.”
Paul was in Corinth and he was fearful. He was thinking about leaving when the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said (Acts 18:9-10), “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Paul didn’t yet know who the Lord’s “many people” were. But the Lord knew and He assured Paul that they would come to faith as Paul preached the gospel. Paul later said (2 Tim. 2:10), “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” They were chosen before the foundation of the world, but they obtained salvation when Paul endured hardship to preach the gospel to them.
And the Lord still has people whom He purchased for God with His blood “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). But to gain eternal life the Lord’s people must go and tell them about Jesus. The truths of election and effectual calling assure us that our efforts will not be in vain.
John 10:16 also shows us the true unity and diversity of the church. We are one body in which there is no distinction between the races (Col. 3:11). Gentiles are now fellow-heirs with the Jews of the promise in Christ through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). The glory of the church is when those from diverse racial and social backgrounds join together in harmony to praise God for His great salvation. That’s part of the glory of heaven (Rev. 5:9)! Remember, in Jesus’ day the Jews hated the Gentiles, whom they viewed as unclean dogs. They couldn’t conceive of them as being on equal standing before God. Peter had to overcome his racial prejudice to go and give the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and his guests (Acts 10). He later got called on the carpet by other Jewish Christians for doing so (Acts 11).
But God gets more glory when those who are enemies in the world become one flock in harmony in Christ. For that reason, we should labor to make this church as racially diverse as our city is. In 2005, Flagstaff was about 70% white, 16% Hispanic, 10% Native American, 1.8% black, and 1.2% Asian. My understanding is that unless there are language barriers, the church should not divide along racial lines. I’ve always felt great joy when I meet believers from other races and cultures and even in spite of our language and cultural differences, there is an instant bond of love in Christ. We are one flock with one shepherd!
One other truth in verse 16 is that the Christian life is not to be lived in isolation, but in community with other believers. Sheep aren’t independent creatures. To thrive, they must be part of a flock under the protection of a shepherd. Sheep that stray from the flock get eaten by the wolves. So even though you may not like some of the sheep that the Lord has brought into His flock, you need to work hard at harmonious relationships. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as much as you do in fact love yourself (Matt. 22:39). If you just come to church and leave, without getting to know well some of your fellow believers, you’re missing one of the main sources for growth and encouragement in your Christian life.
Thus the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. He knows them personally and they know Him. He brings all of His sheep from different races and backgrounds into one flock under His care.
John 10:17-18: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
Verse 17 is difficult to understand, but Jesus did not mean that He earned the Father’s love by laying down His life. The Father and the Son always loved one another with infinite love (17:24). D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 388) explains the thought this way:
It is not that the Father withholds his love until Jesus agrees to give up his life on the cross and rise again. Rather, the love of the Father for the Son is eternally linked with the unqualified obedience of the Son to the Father, his utter dependence upon him, culminating in this greatest act of obedience now just before him … [the cross].
There could also be the thought that Jesus’ willing sacrifice elicited the Father’s eternal love in a fresh way. For example, I have loved Marla for over 40 years now. But perhaps she does something that reflects her love for me and my love for her wells up in a fresh way so that I say, “I love you for doing that for me.” The love was there before her deed, but her deed called forth my love once more. (I’m indebted for this explanation to a message on valleybible.net.)
But the main point Jesus is making is that His death was not a tragic accident where He was a helpless victim. As Acts 4:27-28 puts it: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” The sinners who crucified Jesus were responsible for their sin, but at the same time, God used them to fulfill His purpose to save Jesus’ sheep from their sins.
Jesus’ teaching again caused a division. Some blasphemously argued that He had a demon and was insane (10:20; see, also, 7:20; 8:48, 52). Others countered (10:21), “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” They may not yet have come to saving faith, but they were moving in the right direction. They saw that Jesus could not be demonic or insane. The only other option is that He is the Christ, the Son of God (20:31). He is the eternal Word in human flesh (1:14).
Two things prove that Jesus could not have been crazy or demon-possessed: His words (“These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed”); and His works (“A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?”). Study Jesus’ words and His works as recorded in the Gospels, with the prayer, “Lord, show me the truth about Jesus and I will obey You,” and He will answer. Jesus said (John 7:17), “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” But you can’t play games with God. The key factor is, are you willing to follow Jesus if the evidence reveals that He is of God? John is saying that since Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, you’d be crazy not to follow Him.
To come back to the original question, “Why follow Jesus?” Following Him may result in more trials, maybe persecution, or even martyrdom. The author of Psalm 73 was honest about struggling with the same question. Since he had begun to follow God, he had experienced increased trials. He looked at the wicked who seemed to be prospering and thought (73:13a), “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure ….” His answer came when he went into the sanctuary of God and considered eternity. The wicked would come into judgment; but of himself he remembered (73:26), “My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
The abundant life that Jesus gives consists in having God Himself as our portion, both now and forever. That’s why you should follow Jesus as your good shepherd.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation