The obedient sheep of God – are you obedient to the Lord and to His instructions.
When I read this passage of scripture, a few memories are brought back to mind for me. One of those memories I shared with all of you in last week’s sermon. I learned very early on to fear my parents, especially when mom would say to both me and my brother when we would act up, “wait until your dad gets home.” We had to learn right away that it was in our best interest not to be disobedient!
I remember when we used to go to the store and how mom would always say just before we went inside, “you better not act up.” When we got a little older, they would let us go a couple aisles over from them by ourselves, and to show you how well trained we were, pop could clap his hands a couple of times and we would immediately make our way over to him! Now, me and my brother had our moments, just like other children, when we would act up but I would say that we were some pretty obedient kids. Again, we figured out very early in our lives that it was better for us to be obedient to them rather than face our parents after being disobedient.
So, when I look at this passage of scripture in John 10, I smile at the obedience of the sheep in regards to how they followed the shepherd. Knowing that Jesus was speaking of Himself as the shepherd and those who follow Him as the sheep, it makes me consider our obedience to the Lord. Are we being the obedient sheep of God?
The Nature of Sheep
In my sermon last week, you will recall that I remarked how we, mankind, think of nature as being uncontrollable. I stated that we struggle with controlling our own pets, let alone wild animals. Yet, sheep are very remarkable animals and I feel that the Lord often used sheep as an example for how we ought to be in our obedience. I want to dive into the nature of sheep for just a moment, but I also want to dive into why we should be more obedient to our good shepherd.
Trust must be earned
In the opening verses of John 10, Jesus speaks of how sheep can recognize the voice of their shepherd and will follow him wherever he leads them (John 10:3). This is a very remarkable feat. Why is this feat that has been done for centuries such a remarkable feat?
Well, in their nature, sheep are very meek animals. This means that they are animals that aren’t violent or strong but they can be very submissive – they’ll follow anything if it does not pose a threat. However, at the first sign of danger, whether that is a strange sound, strange animal, or even people, sheep will do their best to run away. This is their best defense. In order to protect themselves, sheep will flock together with other sheep or like cattle, but still, at the first sign of danger, they will scatter away.
Jesus speaks to this when He says, “they (sheep) will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:5).” So, what I want you to understand is that shepherds have to put in some diligent work to earn the trust and obedience of sheep in order to get the sheep to willingly follow them wherever they lead them.
So, to do this, shepherds must first prove to the sheep that they are not a threat of danger. This could begin with an offer of food and by doing this enough times, sheep could realize that the shepherd is not a danger to them. Over time, after putting in much work, shepherds will be able to feed, to care, and to provide protection from the dangerous threats that sheep require. So, a good shepherd essentially provides everything that the sheep require in order to be able to live out its life peacefully.
One thing I believe we can take away from all of this is that it is very beneficial to the sheep to trust and obey the shepherd. It is truly a blessing for the sheep because all of their needs are supplied and taken care of. Do we understand that it is good for us to be under the care of the good shepherd? We see Jesus say a couple of times within this passage of scripture that He is the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14).
Trusting Our Shepherd Just as the Sheep
I want to point out that all who have lived in the world or are living in the world today and tomorrow are like cattle in a wide open field. Many of us start out grazing in this field aloof to all that is around us.
This is a thought I have been touching on for months and for years now. Many of us graze in this field eating from the field and not knowing what is good for us to eat. At the very same time, many of us drink water from the field not realizing what water is good or not good for us to drink. We stand aloof in this field not even realizing when we are in the presence of danger. So, I say to you today that we require a good shepherd that will watch over us, keep us, and will care for us while we graze in this field.
Servants sent to the flock
Now, the Lord was well aware that mankind would need a shepherd after man’s fall in the garden.
Jesus actually describes the Lord’s actions for caring for the flock in Old Testament days in the Parable of Wicked Vinedressers (Matt. 21:33-40). In that parable, Jesus spoke of a certain landowner that planted a vineyard and leased it to vinedressers. I want you to understand that the landowner in that parable is God and the vineyard that was planted was the world. The gardeners (or vinedressers) were the children of Israel.
Jesus stated that when vintage time had come, the landowner sent his servants to the vinedressers to receive fruit from the vineyard (Matt. 21:34). The servants, I want you to understand, were the prophets who the Lord repeatedly sent to the children of Israel in order to direct them in the way of the Lord. Unfortunately for those servants, we are told in scripture, that when they came to the vinedressers, they were beat, killed, and stoned (Matt. 21:35-36).
So, in Old Testament days, the Lord sent His prophets to the flock that was the children of Israel and while some of Israel may have listened, ultimately the prophets were rejected. The flock, in this instance, were rejecting those that were being sent to watch over them by God.
Thieves, robbers, and hirelings
We will see Jesus say within my passage of scripture for today’s sermon, that outside of the servants that God sent, there were more that came to the flock.
We will see that Jesus said that all those that came before Him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8). Jesus, I want you to understand, was actually speaking of the religious leaders of His day. Now, the thief, Jesus tells us, came to steal, and to kill, and to destroy the flock (John 10:9). So, the thieves and robbers, we should understand, were there to bring harm to the flock. They were a danger and they were a threat to the flock. Any of the flock that followed them were opening themselves up to danger.
Because we are like sheep, we are susceptible of putting our trust in anything if we feel it does not pose a threat to us – we have to be wary of this. Remember that Jesus spoke a word and said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15).” This is a warning we must take seriously while we graze in this field!
Now, Jesus also tells us of another that came to watch over the flock but this one was hired to help – this is a hireling; the hireling was not the shepherd (John 10:12). In fact, we will see that the hireling (one hired to help) did not even care for the flock (John 10:13). In the face of danger, we are told that the hireling flees and leaves vulnerable a flock that is aloof and already vulnerable itself. They would leave the flock vulnerable to the wolf that desires to catch the sheep and scatter the sheep!
So, of these three people, we see that none of them were good for the flock and certainly not worthy of the trust and obedience of the flock. I must ask, why do we give our trust and obedience to people who are thieves, robbers, and hirelings? Who are you obedient to and who do you follow?
The good shepherd
Again, let us remember that in order for a shepherd to gain the trust and obedience over his flock, he has to put in some work. A flock that had already rejected the Lord’s servants and been betrayed by thieves, robbers, and hirelings, would require a great amount of work.
Now, we will find that the Lord was more than willing to step up to the plate and put in the work to earn the trust and obedience of the flock. We know because He first sent His servants to the flock. When this did not work, the Lord personally made a visit to the field in the form of Christ. The field was not made of simply one flock but multiple different flocks that He came for as well (John 10:16).
To earn the trust of the flocks, Jesus came meek and lowly – He came just like one of us who grazed in the field. This, the Lord did to show that He did not pose a threat to any of us. In scripture, Jesus declared that He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17). This means that He came to give the flock an opportunity at life. As we see here today, Jesus stated, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).”
Earning the flock’s trust
To prove even more that He was not like those that came before Him, we will see that Jesus tells us that not only was He the good shepherd but that He was the door to the fold as well (John 10:7). Where the hireling would leave the sheep to fend for themselves in the face of danger, Jesus is stating that the only way to get to His flock was through Him!
You see, back then, a sheep pen did not have a physical door that could be opened and closed to the pen. A good shepherd would block this open doorway with his own body so that nothing could go out or nothing could come in unless he moved out of the way. The good shepherd was acting a shield and protector!
So, the Lord was stating that He is the protector of the flock! Now, compare His actions to the actions of the hireling that would run in the face of a threat from a wolf. Jesus said that He would be in place to protect the flock from the wolf and lay down (give) His life for the flock in the face of this danger (John 10:15)! Do you see the great lengths that the Lord was willing to go through for the flock in order to earn the flock’s trust? Is God not worthy of your trust? Is the good shepherd not worthy of your obedience? Has He not earned both of those things? I would certainly hope so.
Going Where He Goes
So, the onus is now on we who are of the flock in the field to either put our trust in the one that truly worked for it (and still does work it) or continue to reject His efforts. I must ask, what other “gods” or idols have put in the work the Lord has in order to gain your trust and obedience? Again Jesus declared to us that He is the good shepherd. He can declare this because He put in the effort and the work, and we have the benefits of His work.
Not lost and scattered
With Him as our shepherd, we have absolutely everything we need. Our shepherd gives us food to the full so that we want no more (I say this spiritually). He is our shield and protector from the wolves, thieves, and robbers out in the world that pose a dangerous threat to us. In other words, our good shepherd provides us with absolutely everything that we need and we have come to know peace under His watchful eye. This is our blessing and our great benefit to being the obedient sheep of God.
As I have said in recent weeks, we have come to realize that we would be lost and scattered in the field without Him. This would leave us wide open to those that seek to harm us and devour us. Meaning, this would leave us wide open to the predators that come into the grazing field. I believe that we have all grown so used to having our provider, caretaker, and protector that we fear being in the field without His watchful eye. We are a God-fearing people. We have become obedient and draw ever closer to our shepherd.
Now, not cattle grazing in the field are sheep. You see, some of the cattle in the field are stubborn and refuse to be led by Christ. Sheep, regardless of what you may hear about them, are not ignorant animals nor are they stubborn animals. They are actually considered to be one of the most docile animals in the world. Yet, there is another type of cattle that is in the field that Jesus spoke of that He will one day separate from the sheep. This cattle is a bit less docile than the sheep – it’s a bit stubborn.
Jesus said, “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left (Matt. 25:32-33).” To the sheep, Jesus said that because they trusted Him and obediently followed Him, they will inherit the kingdom (Matt. 25:34). The stubborn goats, on the other hand, will be told to depart from the Lord and be told to go away into everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46). So the lesson that we learned as children pops back up again – it is better to be obedient than be disobedient.
The chief prophet
There are great benefits to having the Lord as your shepherd while you are in this field that is our world. At the same time, there are great benefits that extend beyond this pasture.
First, in the book of Hebrews, the writer in the closing benediction, called Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep because of the everlasting covenant made through His blood. The everlasting covenant is a promise of an even better pasture for us who follow after Him to graze in. Then, in his first letter, Peter wrote, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away (1 Pet. 5:4).” Jesus is the good, great, and Chief Shepherd that comes with great rewards to the obedient sheep of God.
God is moving us to another pasture as I speak to you today. We are on a journey with the Chief Shepherd and, again, I tell you that it is best that we continue to follow closely behind Him so that we can reach that everlasting pasture in the Lord’s kingdom. Do this with great fear in your heart of what will happen should you fall out of line by being disobedient. Let us remain the obedient sheep of God and follow closely our Chief Shepherd.