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Nov 11, 2012

Man's Best Friend

Passage: John 10:1-42

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life to the Full

Keywords: friend, shepherd, future, spiritual leaders, protection, provision, personal care


When we talk about "man's best friend," we usually think of what? Dogs. When Jesus talked about us, he used the metaphor of sheep. In that case, mankind's best friend is the Good Shepherd, Jesus. This message looks at some of the ways Jesus talks about Him being our Shepherd.


Man’s Best Friend

Life to the Full—John 10:1-42

November 11, 2012


Morning Intro & Connection: 

We have this saying in English, “A man’s best friend,” referring to what?  Dogs, or course.  (I guess you women get stuck with… cats! J)   

            That reminds me of a joke about the difference between dogs and cats.  With dogs, you feed them, brush them, love them and they think you’re god.  With cats, you feed them, brush them, love them, and they think THEY’RE God!  J

            What is it about animals that gets us attached to them? How do they worm their way into our hearts so often?  I’d like you to get acquainted with a few people around you today and share with them WHAT your favorite pet in life has been and WHY you think they were your favorite?


Today, we’re in a passage today that deals with animals, sheep to be exact.  Have any of you ever cared for sheep? 

ILL:  When I was a little boy, my next oldest sister used to board her horse at a stables called “Saddle Acres” which sat on the exact same site as the current Shopko on Regal and 44th not far from our current home.  It was also a riding school that was run by a former Col. in the U.S. Cavalry.  He had literally been an officer on horse during WW I. 

            But they also had a herd of sheep at the ranch.   Every spring, the sheep would give birth to their lambs.  I distinctly remember one spring when I was in preschool just a few blocks from here at Westminster Congregational Church. I thought it would be a great idea to take one of the lambs to class for “show-&-tell.”  My brave mother arranged it all.  We picked up the lamb at Saddle Acres and I and this little ruminant quadruped sat in the back seat of our green Pontiac while Mom drove. 

            Just about the time we arrived at the preschool, I discovered something about cute little furry lambs:  they aren’t house-broken.  This little guy, sitting so serenely on my lap, emptied his bladder all over my pants…which, of course, is every school boy’s nightmare—going to class looking like you just peed your pants…and trying to blame it on your pet lamb! Right! J


John 10

In today’s text, Jesus has just finished healing the man born blind.  He’s just had another run-in with the ruling religious authorities who basically thought it more important for people to keep their own pharisaical code of conduct about the Sabbath rather than keep God’s heart of compassion about the hurting.

            This very famous chapter about the Good Shepherd is still part of the story about the blind man.  In the original book of John in Greek, there was no chapter break here at chapter 10.  In fact, John 9:41 should really flow uninterrupted into 10:1.  Jesus’ words here are spoken in the context of his rebuttal to the Pharisees about their own heart and spirit-blindness.  Let’s pick it up in 9:39-10:6.  (Read) 


NOTE:  There is an important rule of proper interpretation that John slips in with that last statement in vs. 6—“Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.”  As believers in the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, we hold to the same rules of interpretation that the human authors of the Bible used—we interpret any passage as literally as possible, understanding as best we can its grammar and syntax as well as its historical context. 

            That doesn’t deny that different types of writing use appropriate rules of interpretation. 

EX:  John here makes it clear that this story about sheep, about sheep pens and doors and a shepherd are all a “figure of speech.”  Every language uses figures of speech—idioms like “Let’s put that need on the back burner,” doesn’t mean you’re going to cook that idea on the back of your stove.  As native English speakers, we know that phrase means we’re going to give that need a low priority for now. 

            Similarly, metaphors are “figures of speech.”  When I quote Shakespeare and say, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” I’m not stating that everywhere you go in the world it’s constructed like a theater stage.  What am I meaning?  That we all have different roles in life, that we come and go and that the whole world is a place where people live out their lives for others to see. 

            If I say, “Fred is a sheep,” I’m not saying he has four legs, grows wool all over his body and chews his cud.  What am I saying?  (That Fred is a follower, not a leader, and probably pretty passive about it.)


So a “literal, historical, grammatical and contextual interpretation” of this passage recognizes that Jesus is speaking in metaphoric language.  He isn’t saying that he is actually a door to a sheep pen or that we are actually sheep.  He’s using this figure of speech to teach about people’s relationship to him verses other potential leaders or authorities. 


Everything from vs. 7 on is really an explanation of the kind of relationship Jesus develops with those of us who are willing and wanting to be part of his “flock.”  But in the paragraph before that, Jesus is contrasting his care for people with other supposed “spiritual shepherds.” 

            Wherever there are animals of value, there will be thieves and cattle rustlers without virtue.  Wherever there are people, there will be relational “poachers” who see others as a means to satisfy their own desires. That’s part of the fallenness of sinful humanity in this world.  Don’t be surprised by it.  Don’t be shocked.  Don’t get disillusioned.  Get smart…get wise…get discerning…and get connected to the one and only Good Shepherd!


So let’s do a little “compare and contrast” in these first few verses. 

  • What are the characteristics of the “thief and robber” or the “stranger” who tries to get his hands on sheep that aren’t his?
  • What are the contrasting characteristics of Jesus as the Good Shepherd?


Stranger & robber:  don’t come to people through Christ; don’t pass their intentions or instruction by Jesus.  They don’t come in his spirit or heart or truth and grace.  They try and worm their way into our lives some other way—through some need or false idea or personal agenda.  They get into our lives, not through the life and heart of Jesus, but by some other means and certainly with some other agenda. 

            Remember, Jesus is speaking against the spiritual leaders of the day.  So often the people who rob others, who kill and who destroy them look like they should be the people leading and caring for us.  They may have some sphere of authority or responsibility that allows them access into our lives.  They may be pastors or priests, teachers or bosses, parents or in-laws.  I’m not saying we should be suspicious of everyone around us.  That would be paranoia. 

            But the harsh reality in this world is that the less people are like Jesus Christ in their view and care of others, the more potential exists that their relationship with us may be hurtful and damaging. 

ILL:  Do you remember where the idiomatic expression “Don’t drink the Cool-Aid” came from?  Jim Jones, a renegade Church of God pastor, back in the 1970s got a significant following of several thousand people in California with his “People’s Temple” cult.  In 1977 he convinced over a thousand of his followers to go with him to British Guiana and set up a settlement that became known as Jamestown.   1978, 912 of those followers committed mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. 

One of the cult members, Annie Moore, left a note, which in part stated: "We died because you would not let us live in peace.”  She wrote of the village 1,000 of them started in British Guyana called Jonestown,  “…[it’s] the most peaceful, loving community that ever existed." And about Jim JONES himself she said, “…[he’s] the one who made this paradise possible—much to the contrary of the lies stated about Jim Jones being a power-hungry sadistic, mean person who thought he was God—of all things….His hatred of racism, sexism, elitism, and mainly classism, is what prompted him to make a new world for the people—a paradise in the jungle. The children loved it. So did everyone else."


While that is obviously a very extreme case of following the wrong human shepherd, Jesus point is very clear: HE is the ONLY truly and totally “Good Shepherd.”  Human leadership tends toward self-interest and abuse of others under its care.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t many wonderful and great spiritual shepherds in the world.  But this message from Jesus should certainly cause all of us to stop looking to people, no matter how wonderful we may think they are, to provide what only Jesus Christ himself can provide. 


So rather than spend our time today trash-talking and bemoaning the disappointing state of many spiritual leaders, let’s put our focus upon Jesus.  He’s the only Good Shepherd.  He’s the only one who can deliver the relationship and care described in this metaphor.  Let’s stop expecting it of each other or of some spiritual leader who has disappointed us.  And let’s start experiencing it from the hand of God himself. 


Start with vs. 3“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” 

Remember my childhood experience with sheep?  Limited (and wet) as it was, I have many memories of trying to just pet those fluffy beasts in the pasture.  I’d squeeze through the fence and try to quietly sneak up on one of them.  Know what happened every time?  They would run away!  The whole herd of them would take off for the other end of the pasture.  I was a stranger.  They didn’t know me nor care to know me. 


Most people’s natural inclination in this world is to run from people who try and take some role of spiritual leadership in their lives.  Maybe that’s not such a bad tendency after all.  Maybe we’re meant to be a little leery of people who try to take a role in our souls that only God should have. 

            Later on in vss. 11-13, Jesus even talks about the “hired hands” who don’t measure up to His level of soul-care.  I think he’s pointing at the Pharisees.  And beyond the Pharisees, I think he’s even talking about pastors and priests and anyone who holds some position of designated spiritual authority over others.  When the heat gets high enough, everyone has their “breaking point,” that point where they will disappoint us, depart from us, dump us, because they aren’t God.  Apart from the life of Jesus at work in any of us, the “wolves” of life will scare us away from the prospect of laying down our lives for other people. 

It happens in marriages every day.   

It happens in churches all over the world.

It happens in friendships and mentoring relationships and families all the time. 

Only the life of Jesus Christ in us can turn us from “hired hands” to “sacrificial shepherds.” 


We’re PERSONALLY CALLED over and over again by Jesus.

But back to the relationship Jesus invites us to enjoy with Him.  “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  And, “…the sheep listen to his voice.” 


Jesus doesn’t just “know” our names; he uses them to call us.  The Bible is full of God calling to people:

  • God called to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “[Adam], where are you?”
  • He asked Cain, “Cain, why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast.”
  • He talked to Noah and said, “Noah, make for yourself an ark….”
  • To Abram after 100 years of waiting for his Isaac, God said, “Abraham, take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and…sacrifice him…as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
  • To Moses he called, “Moses!  Moses!  Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
  • Then there was Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi.
  • Jesus called every one of his disciples by name:  Andrew, James, John, Peter, Matthew.
  • He called out to Saul on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”


Every one of us who is a follower of Jesus has “heard” him call our name.  I heard him call my name when I was 8 years old.  My Mom heard him call her name when she was 45, my Dad when he was 53. 

Most of us have heard him call us by name.  We’ve come to that place in life where we heard the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, we knew that it was for us, and we knew we had to make a decision either to follow other voices in life or follow God’s call through Jesus Christ. 

But perhaps you are here today and you’re thinking, “I’m not sure I’ve heard God’s voice calling my name.  I’m not sure I’ve responded to Jesus and his offer of forgiveness.  I’m not sure I’ve learned what his voice sounds like because I’m not sure he is really MY Shepherd.”

As Paul said to the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 5:20, I would say to you, “…as though God were making his appeal through [me]. [I] implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  If you are here today searching for God, chances are it is God’s voice that brought you here.  Chances are that he has been calling to you for some time, asking you to follow Him. The proof that you are one of his sheep is that you WILL hear his voice and you WILL follow Him.  But the choice is yours.  Will you respond to his gracious invitation?  (PRAY)


Secondly, not only does God deal with us individually, calling out to us personally over and over again. We are personally LED by Jesus our Shepherd into life which is nourishing, full and abundant. (10:3b-4, 9-10)

10:3b-4—“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

 I grew up in a home where everyone was pretty “driven.”  We were driven to work hard, to play hard, to read faster, excel in music, achieve the best grades possible.  Several of us are “Type-A” drivers, not that that’s a badge of honor.  It is often a sign of dysfunction. 

Jesus doesn’t “drive” his sheep; he leads them.  There’s a big difference.  When someone leads you, they have already covered the territory you are about to cover.  When someone leads you, they can tell you what the path is like and where you should step.  They know the challenges and pitfalls.  They know where they are going and the best way to get there.  And they aren’t just pointing the way and taking off in another direction leaving you to fend for yourself. 

But Jesus’ shepherding leadership in our lives isn’t just taking us for a hike.  He’s taking us on “paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23) to “green pastures,” to good feeding ground in life.

John 10:9, 10—“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”


ILL:  Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area out of Leavenworth, WA several summers ago. 

We camped at Snow Lake, one of the lakes lower in elevation, partly because it was easier to get a camping permit there and partly because we were pretty bushed that first day just hiking the 6 or 7 miles in with full packs.  The next morning, after Andrew had lost his brand new retainer at the bottom of the lake J, we made the hike up into the high country.  Thankfully, all we had to carry that day on the steep climb was our day packs with lunches, water, snacks and jackets.  It was an amazing day!  We spent the whole day up there…

…glissading down snow shoots

…hopping streams

…playing with the mountain goats. 

Evening came way too soon and we headed down the rather steep descent back to our base camp. 

About midway between the Alpine Lakes and our base camp, we passed a group of women and young girls.  They were struggling.  Some looked absolutely exhausted.  Their big packs were loaded with gear.  They had hiked all day from the trailhead, past our campsite and where now making the most difficult part of the assent when they were most tired…and they had a LONG way to go with not a lot of light left in the day. 

They asked us if it was much further.  We hemmed and hawed.  “Well…not too bad…maybe…well….”  We kept on trucking down the mountain and launched into a lively discussion about why women really do need men when it comes to some parts of life’s journey! 

The closer we got to our campsite, the worse we felt about the night they were probably going to spend on the mountainside somewhere along that narrow trail.  But none of us turned around to rescue them.  None of us stopped and said, “Hey, we’ll take you back up the trail we just came down and show you the way.”  We just curled up in our sleeping bags after a nice hot dinner and had a good night’s sleep!


Jesus is NEVER like that…NEVER.  He NEVER leaves us to our own devices.  Even when we stubbornly wander away from him and the rest of the fold, he goes out searching for us.  He NEVER just points and says, “Go there…somewhere over there…up that narrow path where there may be untold dangers just around the corner.  Have fun and don’t get hurt!”

            No, he “goes on ahead” of us.  He’s covering with us the ground that we may be agonizing over. 


That has so many applications to every part of our life. 

  • Is the trail of life pretty steep, exhausting and dangerous right now?  He’s there…leading you.
  • Is God asking you to do something that seems impossible, go somewhere seemingly “god-forsaken”?  He’s already out in front asking you to just stick close to Him.
  • Do you not know what to do or where to go to find the kind of “food” and “green pasture” your soul longs for?  He knows…and he knows how to get you to that place of “life to the full.”  All we have to do is follow His lead.
  • Has he asked you to step out in faith and move into some ministry, someone’s life, some place or experience where you have a dream to take Him?  Surprise!  He’s already there, even when he’s asking you to take the Gospel to some place that seem devoid of Him. 


That doesn’t mean the road will be easy; it won’t be. 

That doesn’t mean there won’t be storms and mud and wolves along the way; there will be.

But Jesus will always be there ahead of us.  He’ll never take us someplace in life where he isn’t already there.  Try and think of a place in this world where you would most fear going—prison, the psych ward, war, a pagan village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, the inner city of some decaying city?  Got news for you:  God is already going ahead of you.  He’s scoped out the territory and he knows where the green grass is as well as the wolves.  And he’s NEVER going to run away from the threats and challenges confronting you.  He already went to the death to prove just how far he will go and what he will do to give us life and life “to the full” (Jn. 10:10).


The last thing I want you to notice among the host of other things Jesus tells us in this passage HE DOES FOR US is found scattered throughout this whole passage but particularly in vss. 22-30.  22 Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”


Notice how many times Jesus uses the term “MY sheep.” 

  • Vs. 14—“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” 
  • Vs. 26—“You do not believe me because you are not my sheep.”
  • Vs. 27—My sheep listen to my voice.”

When something belongs to you, whose job is it to take care of that “something”?  The owner’s.  Not the neighbors.  Not the previous owners.  Not strangers or relatives or friends.  Ownership makes a difference.  It’s like a universal, unwritten axiom of life.  We almost always take better care of things that belong to us than we do of things that don’t.   

  • When I see my neighbor’s tools lying out in his yard… in the rain, I don’t go running out, bring them in and dry them off.  But I do mine!
  • I can drive or walk by my neighbor’s flower beds all summer long and not stop to pull a single weed.  But I’ll spend hours weeding my own flower beds and vegetable garden all summer long. 


And when it comes to the things you take the best care of, do you take better care of things that are more expensive OR do you treat cheap stuff with more care than expensive stuff?  Expensive things, of course! 

            What’s the highest price you can pay for anything or anyone in life?  Sure, it’s your LIFE!  There is nothing more dear and precious to any of us than our own life.  Whether it is laying down your life on the battlefield or simply by laying down the remote or the book or the portfolio so you can pick up the baby.,.or the dishtowel…or the phone, giving up your life…any part of your life… for another person, is the supreme gift of love.

            Jesus is trying to tell us here about that we belong to Him.  He bought us with his own life (I Cor. 6:20; 7:23), he redeemed us with his precious blood (I Pt. 1:19), “a lamb without blemish or defect.”  People…those who are His sheep…are THE most precious thing God has spent himself for in the entire universe!  There is nothing more valuable to God after his own glory than YOU and me, HIS sheep.  God would gladly leave whole galaxies to collide in the vastness of space to rescue “his sheep”…US! 


So it only stands to reason that The Good Shepherd GUARDS & KEEPS all of His sheep.  Once he has purchased you by his blood and sealed you by His Spirit, there is NO WAY he is going to allow you to slip through His hand or be lost to the changing winds of time or of your own fickle, wavering heart.  Just look at vss. 28 & 29.

28 I give them [his sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them [his sheep] out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”


A few simple questions for a moment.

Vs. 28—How long is this “life” Jesus has given his sheep?  ETERNAL!

Vs. 28—When might some of those sheep that belong to Jesus “perish”?  NEVER!

Vs. 28—Who can tear us away from the almighty, nail-pierced hand of God the Son, Jesus Christ?  NO ONE!

Vs. 29—Who gave us to Jesus in the first place?  The Father.  And who or what is greater in any good way than the Father?  NO ONE.

Vs. 29—Who or what can take any of the Father’s sheep out of the Father’s hand?  NO ONE and NOTHING!


So HOW LONG will you be a sheep under Jesus’ care?  FOREVER!

HOW LONG will you be in His hand? FOREVER!

HOW LONG will you be in the Father’s hand?  FOREVER!

WHO will be able to pry you out of God the Father and God the Son’s intertwined hands?  NO ONE!!!


I’ve heard people who don’t believe this truth of the eternal security of God’s children say, “Well, but what about the person who decides to jump out on their own?  What if someone abandons the faith, turns their back on Jesus and walks awayMy answerAre they more powerful than God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all working together, all having promised that no one can thwart their divine work of giving eternal life and guarding eternal sheep??? 

  • God bought us with his own life.
  • God gave us “eternal”/forever life.
  • God the Father and Son wrapped their hands around us to hold us forever.
  • God adopted us into His forever family.
  • He  “…set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come,” (2 Cor. 1:22).

And people still say, “Well, I think you can forfeit your salvation.”  I don’t know how you can say that when you read these verses simply in John 10. 


Now if you have never heard God’s voice calling you to put your faith in His Son Jesus Christ AND if you have never responded to His call by accepting Jesus as your eternal Shepherd, then you have reason to doubt and be afraid.  But you have triple-coverage from the best Eternal Insurer ever, if you are a simple, weak, easily-confused, sometimes wandering, dumb sheep that nonetheless knows the voice of the Good Shepherd and wants to follow Him.  Nothing…not even YOU…can release God’s eternal grip on your eternal soul! 


So what should be our response to such amazing truth? Sometimes we can learn a lot from animals, even if they’re not as dumb and helpless as sheep.  You know how it feels when you come home and your dog is excited out of its skin to see you? Let me remind you for just 60 seconds what dumb animals called “dogs” feel when they hear the voice of their masters. Watch… and feel…what loving your master looks like.  And ask yourself where this kind of enthusiasm can be evidenced in our relationship with our Master, the only Good Shepherd, whom we love.


VIDEO:  first 1:15 of the following video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD3cgDRsDck