I am the good shepherd
(Painting: William Dyce)
John 16:5-16 speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit. One of the tasks of the Spirit is to teach us more about Jesus and the salvation He brings (John 16:14). This is what we want to accomplish with our study this week; getting to know Jesus better. We will only be able to do that if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Take time to pray that you will be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as you do this study.
The Shepherd of the sheep
The image of the shepherd is well known in the Bible. Our initial reaction, when we think of “shepherd” is to think of Psalm 23. It is interesting to see that this image is repeatedly used in the Old Testament to depict kings or rulers of God’s people. The sad thing is that it is often used in a negative sense (i.e. the rulers are depicted as bad shepherds who lead the sheep astray). A good example of this can be found in Isaiah 59:9-12 and Ezekiel 34, where the shepherds are depicted as people who only have their own interest in mind, abusing the people for their own gain. John 16 uses the image of Jesus as a shepherd but the picture that is painted of him is the complete opposite of that of the abusive shepherds. So let’s follow the footsteps of the good shepherd (also called the great shepherd in Hebrews 13:20).
The focus for the following will be John 10:1-4
In this section we find a few characteristics of the relationship between the good shepherd (Jesus) and his flock (believers). Look at these characteristics/features again in the section below and then ask yourself how each of these relates to your relationship with Jesus.
1. The shepherd is trusted to keep the sheep safe. (vss.2-3)
2. The shepherd calls his sheep by their names. (vs.3)
3. The shepherd leads his sheep and goes ahead of them. (vss.3-4)
4. The sheep listen to his voice and know/recognize his voice. (vss.3-4)
5. The sheep follow the shepherd. (vs.4)
After doing this exercise let’s talk about life change.
When we read the text it becomes clear that it wasn’t only the shepherd who was interested in the sheep, but also other strangers whose intentions were not necessarily good. Within the context of the text (John 10:7-10) it becomes clear that the strangers that Jesus is alluding to are the religious leaders of the Jewish people; the people who were supposed to teach them about God and how to follow God. Unfortunately they have become like thieves and robbers who only want to get to the sheep for the gain that is in it for them. That is why Jesus uses the image of the gate (cf. vss.1, 8 & 9) in contrast with the thieves and robbers who would climb over the wall not to be seen by the gatekeeper.
1. Why do you think Jesus calls the Jewish religious leaders, thieves and robbers? (vss.1, 10) You might also want to read 1 Timothy 4:16.
2. In verse 5 the sheep react in two ways when they encounter a “stranger” (read also “thieves and robbers”). What are these two reactions? Why do they react in this way
3. If we were to identify the “strangers” in 2009, who do you think they would be?
4. What tempts people to follow a “stranger”? Why?
Jesus is the entrance
The people don’t understand the message of the image that Jesus used (vs.6). In the next verses (7-15) he explains it to them. He uses two images to describe himself. In verses 7-10 he calls himself the entrance gate for the sheep and in verses 11-15 he explains why he is the good shepherd.
1. According to verse 9 what happens to anyone who enters through the “gate”?
2. The sheep do not only stay in the safety of the sheep pen. They leave the safety of the pen going in and out through the gate. What is the purpose of their leaving and returning?
Let’s apply this for life change:
The fact that we can “enter” the pen (i.e. that we might be saved) and leave the pen (i.e. to be spiritually nourished) provides abundance in our lives (vs. 10 – “life to the full”). Can you name a few practical examples of this?
Jesus the shepherd
The focus for this and the next section will be on John 10:11-18
Starting at verse 11 Jesus now applies the image of shepherd to himself. We have already looked at some of the characteristics that depict the relationship between the shepherd (Jesus) and his sheep (believers). However, now Jesus’ interpretation of the image of the shepherd changes a bit.
1. When we look closely at verses 11 & 15 we find a brand new image that Jesus uses of himself as the shepherd. What does he mean with “laying down his life” for his sheep?
2. Do you think a normal shepherd would be prepared to do this for one of his/her sheep?
3. Did Jesus keep this promise? If yes, where and when?
4. One would expect the people hearing Jesus say something like this to be discouraged. Yet there was (is) no need for that. Why? You should be able to find the answer in verses 17-18.
5. What benefit, if any, does the death of the shepherd (Jesus) have for the sheep (believers)? Read John 10:28.
After focusing on the work of the good shepherd the image now shifts to the so called hired hand (vs.12). In comparison with the good shepherd (Jesus) these hired hands (religious leaders of the Jewish people) do not take good care of the sheep.
Read verses 12-13, 28-29 again and then answer the following questions.
1. What is the attitude of the hired hand towards his work and the sheep?
2. What happens when the wolf attacks the sheep?
3. How are the sheep protected against the attack of the wolf? Read John 10:28-29.
Think about it:
Many pens – one flock
Although Jesus might have sheep in many different pens in many different places, they all belong to one flock with one “owner” shepherd.
1. Look at verse 16, what does Jesus do to ensure that all his sheep become one flock?
2. What does this verse teach us about the unity of the church of Jesus Christ? Try and name at least three things.
The Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah)
John 10:22 mentions a feast that we do not read much about in Scripture. This feast commemorated the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in 165 BC after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes. (Those who want to read more about Judas Maccabeus and this period of the history of Israel can click on the link: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=672&letter=J#2338).
This was the last great act of deliverance that the Jewish people had known so it must have been a symbol of their hope that God would again deliver his people. It was an occasion for gratitude towards God whose mercy had resulted in renewed opportunity for temple worship and especially at a time when people scarcely dared hope for it.
The feast began on the 25th Kislev, which would place it somewhere in November-December on our calendar. The manner of its observance resembled that of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Study 4 for more on the Feast of the Tabernacles).
Read John 10:22-30
1. How would one recognize the sheep that do not belong to Jesus? (Vs. 26)
2. Jesus makes promises to his “sheep” in verses 27-29, what do these promises mean to you?
Something to think about:
Walther Lüthi (Lüthi, W. 1960. St John’s Gospel. Edinburgh and London.) reminds us that we could easily repeat the mistake of the Jewish people in Jesus’ time. “Nowadays we can understand only too well these people, in their militant mood, rejecting a Shepherd who let’s Himself be crucified. A God, who fights His battles like a shepherd, and with sheep, is no more popular today than at the feast of the dedication of the temple. That is where the hidden danger lies for us: it is so easy to whip up a crusading mood over shameful wrongs of the world and, in so doing, to deny the Shepherd and no longer hear His voice.” (p.144f.)
Take time in prayer to thank Jesus for being your shepherd and for all the privileges that go with that. Perhaps this is a good time to rededicate your life to the Shepherd.