Throughout time, there have been those who do not care about Truth. Instead trying to make Truth more clear, they use it and twist it for their own power and purpose. As Jesus continued to teach and preach, this what He said about these people:
“‘All who ever came before Me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’”
The same thing that has gone on throughout the ages was happening in Jesus time. He was the Good Shepherd, but the religious leaders of His day were more interested in holding onto their own positions than in recognizing the Savior of the world.
The Lord explained to the people that when those who truly belonged to Him heard His voice, they would repent and follow Him, like a sheep follows after his shepherd. Those who fought His message showed that they were the same as all the other people in history that fought against the Truth of God.
A good example of this comes from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Seven hundred years before Jesus came to earth, the leaders of Israel were committing terrible sin. God rebuked these truly evil leaders by declaring that they were terrible shepherds for His people. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said:
“‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture,’” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for My people: ‘You have scattered My flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.’”
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time would have known this passage well. When Jesus talked about the bad and good shepherds, they would have known that this was what He was talking about. Jesus was declaring that the religious leaders of Israel were just like the terrible shepherds of old. He was declaring that siding with them was a choice to side with the enemies of God. There was no safe place in between. The people had to choose.
Jesus was also was proving that those who followed Him were like the great heroes of Jewish history, the mighty remnant, who stood strong in their loyalty to God regardless of the lies and confusion going on around them.
Jesus went on to describe what the Good Shepherd is really like. Not only does He speak perfect truth against the lies of thieves and robbers, He loves with perfect, sacrificial love. His sheep belong to Him, they are His, and He is willing to do anything for them, even if it means laying down His own life! This is what He said:
“‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.’”
In this story, the wolf is Satan himself. There are those who come and act as hired shepherds for the sheep. Their hearts do not love the sheep, they are only there to earn money. When the threat of a real enemy comes and there is danger, the hireling will run away. They have no devotion or compassion for the animals. But Jesus is entirely different. He is willing to die for them! He went on to say:
“‘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- and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 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.’”
Wow. Have you heard the voice of Jesus? Do you know what that means? Listening to Jesus’ voice means that you believe that what He says is true.
The blind man got to hear Jesus’ words and feel Him heal his eyes.
Peter and James and John got to hear Jesus say, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
You and I get to hear Him through the Word of God. We hear Him through fellow believers who speak words of truth to us by His Spirit. We hear His still, small voice in our own hearts as He guides and directs (Psalm 25 teaches us how to ask for His guidance). These are the ways that Jesus’ Spirit comes to us and teaches us in our time.
The Apostle Peter wrote about us in a letter. He said, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. And though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Wow!
What do you think Jesus meant when He said He had sheep “‘that are not from this sheep pen’”? Well, what does “this sheep pen” mean in the first place? From the passage in Jeremiah, we see that it is the nation of Israel. God called Israel to be His treasured possession, and the faithful sheep from that pen were very precious to God.
But now, Jesus was revealing that God’s plan of salvation went much farther than the Jewish people. He was going to bring sheep from other nations as well. In fact, there were going to be sheep from every tribe, nation, and language on the earth! Jesus laid His life down for the salvation of everyone who hears His voice and responds in faith!
At this point there is something we need to stop and think about.
There is something Jesus said that only takes up one, short sentence. But if we realize what it means, it will make us gasp. If we have any heart at all it will make us want to cry and bow down before Him in worship. If our hearts truly understood the magnificence of that sentence, we will want to kiss His feet in adoration and humility and gratefulness.
So here it is: Jesus said that His Father loves Him because He was going to lay His life down. He was also going to take it up again. He was talking about His death and resurrection. If we let ourselves think about that incredible act, it is enough to make us weep with sorrow and joy…for a million reasons. First of all, it means that the God of the universe loves us so much that He was blessed by the obedience of His Son when He gave His life up for us. Second, it means that God the Father and His Son…the Beings that created everything, are not only powerful, they are good. They are sacrificial on levels of breathtaking self-giving. Whatever cruddy things are going on in this broken and fallen world, we can live with unsurpassed joy knowing that at the center of everything is a God of Absolute Beauty, and He will have His way.
Yet there is more. Jesus said something that is breathtaking: “No one takes it from Me, I lay it down of My own accord.”
As Jesus faithfully trudged through this cursed world, living with sinful men, healing them and loving them and teaching truth, He was constantly choosing to go to the cross for them. He understood that the nation around Him, the very people He was spending His days serving, were going to kill Him. He put up with their lies and deception, He healed their children, He persevered over months and years giving the same glorious message of the Kingdom to dead and dull hearts. All the while, He was preparing to bear the full weight of their sin and shame. He was preparing to carry the complete and utter agony of punishment under the infinite justice of God’s wrath. And He was going to do it willingly. He marched through the swarming sin of humanity towards the terrible, horrific act that would bring the cure. He had come with a plan to rescue His sheep, and He not only had the power of love to give His life away, He had the power to raise His life back up again. And all of it was in complete, absolute willingness and delight to obey His Father. Wow.