Five Minute Devotions: John 10
John 10 is a series of events that builds off the tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders that reaches a new stage of conflict in John 9. Following Jesus’s healing of the man born blind, the Jewish leaders grumble and Jesus gives them this extended parable of sheep and shepherding.
This would have been familiar imagery to those the first century. Shepherding was a common profession. It was an important profession. It was a historic profession. Jacob’s skill in shepherding came from the years spent on Laban’s farm. His family took up the trade in Egypt, settling in the land of Goshen. The greatest king of all Israel was the shepherd boy David.
So when Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in John 10, that title carries some weight. Literally translated, he is calling himself “that good shepherd.” Not just a qualified and competent keeper of sheep, but a particular shepherd: the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34.
As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered…
Protector of the Sheep
One of Jesus’s more enigmatic statements is that he is the gate of the sheep. While this is commonly interpreted to present Jesus as our access into salvation—and that would be correct!—there’s another facet to the imagery we often miss.
In the evenings, the shepherds would herd their sheep into pens. There was no formal gate for these pens, just an opening in the stone wall. The shepherds would take turns lying in the opening, serving as the gate for the sheep.
George Adam Smith, the great 19th century Bible scholar, once recounted a conversation he had with a Middle Eastern shepherd in his day. The shepherd was speaking from a Middle Eastern, Muslim perspective, and yet, when asked to describe how he cares for the sheep, this shepherd responded:
When the light has gone, and all the sheep are inside, I lie in the open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door.” – G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John
Christ is our access and our protection. He guides us by still waters and green pastures. He places himself between us and spiritual harm. Even though we go through the valley of Death’s shadow, we need not fear its evil.
Knower of the Sheep
If you’ve ever looked at one sheep, you’ve pretty much looked at them all. Show me two sheep and I would not be able to tell them apart. But when the shepherds went to go back out to the fields in the morning, they would be able to identify their sheep among all those in the pen. They would be able to lead them out for the day. Because they know their sheep and their sheep know them.
The second aspect of Jesus’s metaphor is his knowledge of his sheep. Ezekiel 34 again tells us the kind of shepherd he would be.
I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak – Ezekiel 34:16
He knows his sheep. He knows their condition: whether they’re lost, straying, injured, or weak. This knowledge allows him to apply the right care. He knows which sheep are prone to wander, so he sets a constant eye on them. He knows which sheep are slow, so he prods them. Knows which sheep are weak, and treats them more gently. Knows when to offer a soft word and a harsh one. He knows each and every one of them.
There is great comfort in this. The better a shepherd knows his flock, the better he can care for it. Christ knows us. He knows us from beginning to end, top to bottom. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, our fears, our wounds, our past sin.
The Sacrificial Sheep
Lastly, the Good Shepherd himself becomes a sacrifice for his sheep. Think of how many sheep, through all those Old Testament sacrifices, were killed on the behalf of the shepherd. Since the beginning of time, sheep had been led to the slaughter to be symbols of the remission of sin, now Jesus says that he, as the shepherd, will be sacrificed for all the sheep.
He turns the system upside down, laying down his life so that his sheep might live. Today’s choice is whether or not we will live in that victorious life.
Great Shepherd, we thank you for your protection, your provision, your presence, and your sacrifice. As you laid down your life for our sake, we also offer our lives to you in your service.
How is Jesus answering the Jewish leaders’ questions from John 9?
What is their reaction to Jesus’s answer later in John 10?
It is commonly claimed among skeptics that Jesus never claimed to be God in the Gospels. What would the Jewish leaders say to that?
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