When speaking to His followers, Jesus Christ declared Himself the Good Shepherd. It's a bold and revealing statement. Calling Himself the Good Shepherd speaks volumes about His compassion.
But it doesn't end there. You're not a shepherd unless you're herding sheep. And the sheep, well, that would be us. This is message number 8 in a 12-part series called His Name is Wonderful.
Chuck titled today's message, The Shepherd of the Sheep. Reality is a tough teacher. We have all been taught by her on occasion. We have come to a certain subject thinking we know our way around. But after facing the facts as they are, we've had to change our opinion.
As it was burst by a very sharp pen would burst a balloon. I say all that to say that I used to believe that the Lord's calling us a sheep was a compliment. But it took one day with sheep for me to realize that it is not a compliment.
You need only spend some time in a very unusual setting which we don't in these United States that often. Though there are shepherds and there are still great flocks of sheep, most of us do not spend time with them. Therefore, we think it's a bit of a compliment for the Lord to call us His sheep.
Really, it isn't. All those thoughts faded from my mind rather quickly when I spent time with sheep. I could share a number of things that I observed but let me limit them to four when I put realism to the very lovely pastoral scene of shepherds and sheep as we see them on the landscape. First of all, sheep are stupid and they are stubborn. No one has ever seen a trained group of sheep in a circus.
Isn't that amazing? You can train all different kinds of animals, even the carnivorous beasts. You can train massive elephants.
You can train the chief of the jungle, the lion. You can even train snakes but you cannot train sheep. Stupid to the core and stubborn all the way. Second, sheep are dirty and wayward. Remember the words, all we like sheep have gone astray. Sheep don't learn from previous mistakes. They go again and again and again to the very same mistakes.
They don't learn from them. They are dirty. If you've ever seen the southbound part or the south part of a northbound sheep, you know what I'm talking about. They are very unclean. They smell atrocious.
They can't even keep themselves clean. Three, sheep are defenseless and dependent. Interesting thing about sheep, they're not fast. They're cumbersome. They're awkward.
They're top heavy. Little spindly legs. They have no way of defending themselves by camouflage.
They stand out on a field. They lack the ability to stand and fight. Even their mouths are small.
They haven't much of a bite. Fourth, sheep are easily frightened and confused. I'm told that sheep can run off the end of a pier or over a cliff, a precipice, and one will follow another.
Confused and panicked. It's a funny thing when you ask children about what animal they would like to be if they could be an animal. I don't think I've ever heard a child say a sheep. They'll say an elephant or a tiger or a leopard or a giraffe, even a snake.
But they'll never say a sheep. Nations are known by certain animals. Our United States of America by the noble eagle that soars in the sky. Great Britain, the stately lion. Russia, the rugged bear. China with its pandas. Arabia with its horses. Australia with its kangaroo and the soft little fuzzy koalas. But no nation calls itself a nation of sheep.
That's a bit of a put down and insult. Suddenly we feel no further need to defend the thought of being called God's sheep. We are only grateful that we have a shepherd.
We are only grateful. And how comforting it is to know that though we are in every sense of the word, stubborn and stupid and dirty and wayward and defenseless and dependent and easily frightened and confused, we have a shepherd. And he doesn't leave us because we are all of the above and a thousand other things. Three times in the New Testament, we have a special focus on the shepherd and our Lord Jesus calls him that himself that in John chapter 10 to begin with. He calls himself here the good shepherd. In another place, he calls himself the great shepherd. And then finally, we see him pictured by Peter as the chief shepherd. There are other scenes in the Old and New Testament, but let's just focus for the sake of time on these three, shall we?
John chapter 10 pictures him as the good shepherd. Unlike other countries, sheep seem to be mainly raised in Palestine, or at least a great number of them are. And they are not raised to be killed as in other countries. They are really raised for their for their fleece, for that wonderful wool that grows around them, which means that sheep came to stay in the flocks in Palestine.
They were often killed, of course, for sacrifice. But for the most part, the many sheep are brought on the scene to be raised there and to be left there till they die to produce the wool. And so when we find our Lord referring to himself as our shepherd, he has in mind the staying power that it takes to shepherd a flock that will be around for many years. Truly, truly, I say to you, says Jesus, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. The first thing I notice about the good shepherd is that he knows his sheep. Notice it says in this verse that he calls the sheep by name. I haven't spent enough time with shepherds to know how this is done, but I've read a lot about it. And apparently there are nicknames and even certain sounds that a shepherd can give, certain clocks and clicks and certain motions he can make to let the sheep know he has that one in mind. He can call them by name as they go through the gate or the passageway. Verse four tells us that when he puts forth all his own he goes before them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Isn't that an interesting relationship? Though rather small brain inside the head of a sheep, it has the ability to know the voice of the shepherd. So the second thing I notice about this shepherd is that he gives us leadership. Not only does he know us, he goes before us. And being the good shepherd he never leads us into wrong paths.
Isn't that an interesting and wonderful thought? We have all had friends or we thought were friends who would have led us astray. Some of you have had partners who turned bad and even attempted to rip you off and maybe they did. Some of you have even had mates who turned against you. But the shepherd never turns against the sheep, the shepherd of ours. He goes before us, he knows the right path to take and he always leads us in the right way.
Drop down to verse 11. I am the good shepherd, says Jesus. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The third factor I would point out about the good shepherd is that he is a sacrificial shepherd. He sacrifices for the sheep.
He looks out for them. If they are being attacked he will put himself between the attacker and the sheep. One glaring flaw easily detected in the fold is the difference between the hireling and the true shepherd. Again, because we are not familiar with sheep, that is that familiar with sheep, we are not even familiar with the word hireling.
One of my sources wrote this. A real shepherd was born to his task. He was sent out with the flock as soon as he was old enough to go. He grew into the calling of being a shepherd. The sheep became his friends and his companions.
And it became second nature to him to think of them before he thought of himself. But the false shepherd came into the job not as a calling but as a means of making money. He was in it simply and solely for the pay he could get out of it. He might even be a man who had taken to the hills because the town was too hot to hold him. He had no sense of the height and the responsibility of his calling.
He was only a hireling. Carlisle's father once took this imagery costically to his speech. In a certain town they were having trouble with their minister.
It was the worst of all kinds of trouble. It was trouble about money. Carlisle's father rose slowly and said bitingly, give the hireling his wages and let him go. We'll say more about this in a moment but one of the characteristics of a faithful shepherd is that he's not in it for the money. He is unlike the hireling in that sense.
He's a good shepherd. In Greek there were two words that could be used for good. One was simply the quality of a thing. The other attached to that word or the word itself, not only the thought of being good but winsome, lovely, attractive. There is more in the word that is used for good, by the way, and it's that second rendering here than just goodness.
There is fidelity, there is commitment, there is love. I suppose if we were to ask around the world what someone's favorite passage of scripture would be, I'm just guessing that it would be the 23rd Psalm. I have heard military men use it when afraid of the battle that was before them. I have heard people use it who really were distant from God and knew nothing of Christ. In fact, there are many people who can quote the 23rd Psalm who don't even know the shepherd. But there is something about knowing the Lord as the shepherd that attracts one to him.
It is a very magnetic name. Turn from John 10 to Hebrews 13 for the second scene or view of the shepherd. Over in Hebrews 13 toward the end of the letter, verse 20. Now the God of peace who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever and ever.
Amen. This is one of those several benedictions you will run across in reading through the Bible. This is a benediction frequently used by pastors as they come to the conclusion of a service. Or at the end of an ordination ceremony. This is an appropriate benediction. A closing comment even has in the scriptures an amen. I believe it.
Look at what it says. We often hear these words but we seldom analyze them. This is a reference to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is said to have been brought up from the dead. And interestingly he isn't pictured as the conquering majestic king but he is shown here to be the great shepherd of the sheep. That means the one who came back from beyond is the one who has power. In the Old Testament the greatest reference to power is the exodus. In the New Testament the zenith of power is pictured in the resurrection of Christ. And here he is coming back from beyond not conquering all the foes but a great shepherd of the sheep. What do we find this writer asking for in his benediction? Verse 21, may he equip you in every good thing to do the Lord's will and may he work in us that which is pleasing in his sight.
No wonder he is called great. Turn to 1 Peter 2 and verse 25. For you were continually straying like sheep.
Here it is. It's the characteristic of a sheep to stray. You were continually straying like sheep but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. I'm going to ask you something that may be a little bit painful for you to call to mind but can you remember a time in your life when you strayed? I'll give you a moment in case it's been some time. A few of you instantly can remember a time.
It was rather recent but some it's been years. When you look far enough back I don't think there's a person listening right now who cannot find a time when you strayed. You wandered a long ways away from the Lord.
No interest in returning. And he came to find you. You remember that?
I can recall several times. I didn't discount the faith or detest the name of Christ but in a period of doubt my faith was thin and I slipped away from the close nucleus of his will. And I recall before I even cared about returning, I confess to you, he sought me and he found me and he pulled me back. Maybe that is your story as well. You know the Lord doesn't have any trouble finding us wherever we are.
He doesn't have any barrier. One of our associates and I were in an old bookstore several weeks ago and interestingly we met up with a fellow whose arms were lined with tattoos. Not the kind of fellow that you would think would be interested in old books but the more we talked the deeper we realized was this man's faith. I mean he really, really knew the Lord. He happened to be interested in the 16th and 17th century Christian writers. That tells you something about it.
Just reading that stuff is a challenge to say nothing of being a student of it. And the more we talked the more we discovered how God had found him. We asked him how he became interested in the Lord and how he got interested in books. He said well the Lord found him while he was in the joint which is the vernacular for the slammer. He was in prison. Wandering far, far away from the things of God and the Lord found him there and put his arms around him and drew him unto himself and loved him to faith and to light and to life and the tattoos are still there.
They'll be there till his death. But what a change in heart. The great guardian and shepherd of his soul while he was straying from the fold found him. All of this reminds me of a wonderful story Clarence McCartney tells. I wonder if you have ever been in the highlands of Scotland. The shepherds are a wonderful folk in some respects the most wonderful folk in the world. In one of those highland villages there was a shepherd who had a little daughter. He would take her with him when he went out over the moors to tend and fold the sheep. Most of all the daughter liked to hear her father call the sheep with the shepherds call.
Sounding free and beautiful down the wind over the moors. By and by the little girl became a beautiful young woman and went off to the great city Edinburgh or Glasgow to take a post. At first her letters came regularly every week.
Then the intervals between them grew longer and finally they ceased altogether. There were rumors too in the village that the shepherds daughter had been seen in gay company and in questionable places. One day a lad from the village who knew her well saw her in the city and spoke to her but she pretended that she had never seen him before. When the shepherd heard this he gathered a few things together and clad in his shepherds smock.
Can't you picture that? Clad in his shepherds smock with his plaid wrapped around his shoulders and his staff in his hand set out for the city to seek and to find his lost daughter. Day after day he sought her on the avenues and in the slums and closes of the city but in vain. Then he remembered how his daughter loved to hear him give the shepherds call. Again he set out on his quest of sorrow and love this time sounding loud and free the shepherds call. Passers-by turned with astonishment to look on the shepherd in his smock with his staff as he went up and down the street sounding the shepherds call. At length in a house on one of the degraded streets of the city his daughter sitting in a room with bad companions suddenly looked up with astonishment on her face. There was no doubt about it. It was her father's voice the shepherds call.
Flinging wide the door she rushed out upon the street. There was her father who took her in his arms and carried her with him to their Highland home and there he loved her back to decency and to God. Imaginary though the story may be it carries with it the true message that you cannot hide from the shepherd. You cannot ignore his voice. There is something irresistible about the sound of the shepherd. He finds you, he calls you, and you're drawn back to him. I am so grateful, so grateful that he does not leave us when we wander from him. As the good shepherd he watches over us and he protects us. He knows us by name. As the great shepherd he seeks us when we stray and equips us for service. Well it's comforting to know that even in our stubbornness our rebellion the good shepherd continues to pursue us.
There's much more that Chuck Swindoll wants to show us. He's teaching from John chapter 10 about the shepherd of the sheep. Stay with us because we've preserved the closing moments of today's insight for living to hear a personal comment from Chuck. If you'd like to learn more about this ministry we invite you to visit us online at insightworld.org. This daily Bible teaching program and all of its companion resources are prepared just for you.
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Here's Chuck. On Sunday mornings thousands of people attend the worship services at Stonebriar Community Church. But when I deliver the sermon I like to imagine that I'm speaking to one person at a time. Matter of fact, when we built our church we intentionally designed the worship center for intimacy. For instance, I don't preach in a dark theater style setting.
Instead, all the lights are kept up high so that people can easily follow along in their Bibles. And it also allows me to look into the faces of those who are attending. Our hearts often connect through our eyes. Well, my one-on-one approach to preaching on Sundays parallels my relationship with you on the radio. With each sermon I'm thinking about you.
I'm imagining the struggles you may be facing. I'm asking God's Spirit to touch your life in ways I could never orchestrate on my own. It's as though we're riding together in your car or sitting down across from each other for a cup of coffee.
Though you and I have never met, sometimes it feels like we've been personal friends for a long, long time. And now, as we conclude yet another year of connecting through Insight for Living, I'm personally inviting you to reciprocate what you've received all year long. We brought Insight to you. And now we're inviting you to bring Insight to others.
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Thanks, Chuck. By responding today, you can be the one who delivers this gift of grace to a listener in need. Get on this contact information to get in touch with us. To give online, go to insight.org slash donate. Or if you prefer, you can also call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. Or once again, you can give online at insight.org slash donate. I'm Bill Meyer. Chuck Swindoll continues to describe Jesus, the Shepherd of the Sheep, Thursday on Insight for Living. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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