John 10:1-5, NIV

1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep
pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief
and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the
shepherd of his sheep. 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.

4 "When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead
of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his
voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they
will run away from him because they do not recognize a
stranger's voice."


September 17, 2011
The purpose of a sheep pen is to keep the sheep safe from
predators, thieves and other rogues. With that in mind, suppose
life were one great sheep pen. Here's how Jesus described it.
There are walls all around with only one entrance, where a
watchmen stands guard. Shepherds enter by the gate. If you see
someone climbing over the walls, that's trouble.

It's a dangerous world for sheep. What protection do they have?
Only the goodwill and smarts of a true sheepherder. Sheep might
be considered stupid but they have one great advantage -- 
recognizing the voice of the one who cares for them.

It is said that if several flocks are mingling together on common
ground, it's not difficult to re-group them. When their own
shepherd calls them, the sheep will come. They voluntarily sort
themselves out from the others.

Since sheep know their shepherd's voice, they will not follow a
stranger. Sheep are led, not coerced. They are smart enough to
know the danger of being corralled by a stranger and will run
in fear to get away.

Jesus explains in this little story that a good herder knows his own
sheep, calls them by name and guides them out through the door.
When they are all outside and gathered around him, he begins the
daily exercise routine by leading them away, presumably for green
pastures and fresh water.

The context for this story is that many people were debating
whether Jesus was a good man who did the works of God or was
he a dangerous individual who must be stopped? Could they trust
the claims he was making - that he was sent from God? That he
was light for the world, bread for the hungry, and now with this
new teaching, that he is a good shepherd?

Trust can be difficult to gain. There's so much deception. Or as Jesus
said, so many thieves and rogues climbing over the walls. The only
thing we have to go on is recognizing the presence of the shepherd
who truly cares for us. We have to be alert, attentive, listening
carefully. The sound of our shepherd's speech awakens our mind
and resounds throughout our being.

In reality, knowing who to trust can be very tricky. It's easy to get
burned and not want to trust anyone again. How can we know
who to believe! What makes good sense to one person sounds
unbelievable to someone else. Messages come at us constantly.
And at times our way of life is not like a peaceful sheep pen
but in chaotic disarray.

I feel that way sometimes . . . until very faintly, off in the distance,
I sense a familiar voice calling my name. When I follow that
summons, it brings me back . . . into the fold of my Good Shepherd.


September 18, 2011
Knowing someone by name may not seem like such a wonderful thing
today, because we are constantly getting mail from strangers (many
of whom could fall into the category of thieves and robbers) who have
our name, address and phone number, plus our social security
number, credit rating, likes and dislikes, and who knows what else.
But this is not the picture God had in mind for his creation.

Jesus wants us to believe in a God who cares for each of us individually,
knows us inside and out, and loves us unconditionally. With the
imagery of the sheep and the good shepherd, he shows us what God
intends for us. It is not chaos, hardship, nor fear. On the contrary, we
are meant to be lovingly cared for in every way, and to follow close on
the heels of the good shepherd every day. Peace not fear. Trust not
worry.

Life is not only like a giant sheep pen, it is God's sheep pen. We belong
to our Creator, not to the robbers climbing over the wall. It's been
God's dream from the beginning that we choose to follow God' voice
and not allow the rogues to tear us away. The ancient covenant is as
old as Genesis wherein God said, "I will be their God and they will
be my people."


                                                John 10:6, NIV
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand
what he was telling them.


No date
Jesus on one hand tried to explain that he has come from God and
that if they believe in him--they will receive life, eternal and abundant.
If they welcome and take him in, their souls will never be hungry or
thirsty again. If they follow him they will not walk in darkness but have
the light of life.

On the other hand his listeners were completely baffled. Not accepting
Jesus yet having to admit that Jesus did command great power and
authority, Not wanting to believe in Jesus and wanting to call him evil,
despite the fact he preformed miracles and did some good. To the
Jewish people in John's gospel, Jesus was an enemy and they were
determined to fight him, even to plot his death. They had to save the
masses of people from following an impostor.


September 19, 2011
What was it his listeners were supposed to understand? We in the
Christian church have two thousand years of teaching about Jesus
being our Good Shepherd. But these people were hearing these
words in real time: Shepherds enter by the gate; mischief climbs
over the walls.

 

Here they were looking at Jesus, trying to determine what they should
do about this man who seemed to come out of no where and caused
such a stir among the common people. Yes, he could heal people with
just a touch of his hand. Yes, he drew huge crowds wherever he went.
But as they listened to his little story, from their perspective, they were
the ones who entered by the door and Jesus was like someone
crawling over the fence and invading their territory.


                                            John 10:7-10, NIV

7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate
for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and
robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate;
whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go
out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and
destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.


September 20, 2011
Those who were listening to Jesus didn't understand. I guess Jesus
didn't look the part. So he switched gears, and decided to try again
using a different analogy. A herdsman has many roles, all of which are
necessary to protect the sheep.

In the region of the world where Jesus lived, sheepfolds had no
swinging gate. The shepherd himself became the gate by extending
himself across the doorway at night. That way, if wild animals came to
attack the sheep, they would have to first get by the herder who was
literally laying down his life for his sheep. Thieves and butchers would
also have to deal with the guardian before they could carry off one
of his sheep.

At night when the shepherd made his bed at the entrance to the
sheep pen, he was keeping the sheep in and keeping everything else
out. It reminds me of church camp years ago when I was a volunteer
counselor. One of my worries was where the kids were while I slept?
Were they sleeping safely, or were they out and about doing whatever
they pleased? Those cabins had a half dozen windows which were
tempting exists for the adventurous.

But the sheep pen had no roof and therefore needed no windows.
Since sheep do not climb walls, there would be no going in and going
out with the shepherd in the doorway. In that sense, he was a barrier
against whatever might happen in the dark. His actions meant life for
his sheep and a peaceful night's rest. If harm came over the wall,
the sheep would run and cry out, alerting the herdsman to come to
their aid.

I'm reminded of Jesus' prayer for his disciples shortly before his
crucifixion. It's recorded in John 17:15: "My prayer is not that you take
them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."


September 21, 2011
If Jesus protects us from harm, how does it happen that we suffer?
Where do the bad things come from? How do they get into our lives?
I suppose in Jesus' analogy, evil climbs over the wall. According to
Christian teaching it goes back to another story in the Bible, all
the way to the beginning, in the garden of Eden.

Freedom, liberty, free will. How we humans love those words. And
what a curse they must be to God! We want to be free to think and
do for ourselves. God wants us to belong to him, as a child belongs
to a parent. Or even as a husband and wife belong to each other in
a mutually loving relationship (The prophet Hosea illustrates this
most clearly).

Adam and Eve, representing all of mankind, wanted the freedom to
choose how they would live their lives, on their own without any
constraints from their Maker. After all, without the liberty to say "no",
"yes" is meaningless. So God granted the option we call freewill, on
condition that they understand there are natural consequences to
every decision. Not only would Adam and Eve be free to live and let
live their sons would also be free to live and let live. Which turned
out badly because one brother killed the other brother.

That's were the problem comes in. If I want to be free to decide my
own life, then everyone else is also free to chose whatever behavior
they deem advantageous at the moment. When rogues choose to
climb over the wall and attack the innocent, there's bound to be
suffering.

I'm reminded that in the garden called Gethsemane on the night
before Jesus died, he prayed a prayer that has become well-known
around the world. With anguish, sweat and tears, Jesus pleaded
with his Father in heaven, "Not my will, with your will be done."

That plea from the lips of Jesus was just the opposite of what Adam
and Eve coveted. Out of loving compassion, Jesus wanted to
reverse all the tears and pain caused by that ever-present human
desire to do our own thing. He wanted to right the wrongs, and
usher in an age of peace, justice, and righteousness where we all
pray, from the depths of our heart and soul, "Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on
earth as it is in heaven. . . . "


No date
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come
that they may have life, and have it to the full." Again Jesus sets
two options before us and shows the sharp contrast. One gives
life, the other destroys.

Abundant life is to be had as I stay close to the true shepherd.
Distractions, diversions, bigger and better, more and more,
flirtations with evil--these are the temptations of the thief who
tries to lure me away and do me harm. Run to Jesus and live.

Of course, not all the evil and suffering we face is caused by bad
choices made by ourselves or others. Some things we just can not
explain. We can not imagine why they happen. God is good; evil
can not come from God. So where does it come from?

An insight I received from Pastor Sam Smucker at the Worship
Center in Lancaster is a take on what Jesus said about the thief and
robber in this passage. God is good. God gives life in abundance.
God builds up. It is the thief that destroys, takes from us, and kills.
It is the devil's eternal desire to destroy the good which God has
created. Not only is God at work in this world, the evil one is also
at work. It is God's intention that we live a life full of an abundance 
of good. It is the adversary who inflicts the suffering.


                                            John 10:11-13, NIV

11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his
life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who
owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons
the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and
scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand
and cares nothing for the sheep.


September 22, 2011
Another contrast. This one less dramatic, not as sharp. There are
hired hands, those who get paid to tend another person's sheep.

Like the one who mows your lawn, cares for your children, cooks your
breakfast at the local restaurant, paints your house while you vacation.
You never know what they are doing (or saying about you) while you
are not there overseeing their work. Hopefully you trust them, but
you never know.

Jesus points out what we all know. There's a big difference between
the owner and the one who works for the owner. We are now at the
third attempt of Jesus to get his point across to his listeners in an
attempt to get them to see what he is talking about and believe him.

Yes, I can heard protests. There are hired hands that take better care
of the "sheep" than the owner ever could. And that might be why you
are hired instead of the owner doing the job himself. But Jesus is
speaking in general terms. The hired hand in this story is not you,
it's the other guy, down the street!

Ah . . . The contrast is very sharp and dramatic. Jesus said the good
shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep, while the common
laborer will run away when the wolf comes. Those two reactions
are poles apart. Jesus makes a big assumption when he claims the
hired hand cares nothing for the sheep, but his point is made with
boldness. Jesus said he himself is the good shepherd who will
lay down his life for his sheep.

The one who works for hire will see his own life as of more worth
than a flock of sheep belonging to another man. Observing this,
we would agree with the hired hand. What jolts us out of our
drowsiness is the claim that a good shepherd would not think as
we do. He does not agree with us. His flock of sheep is worth
his life to save!

Which should silence us for awhile as we ponder what this means.
That Jesus is the Good Shepherd who did in fact lay down his life,
who did greatly value my life and the lives of all others. Jesus, my
good shepherd, gave up his life, to protect me from the evil one,
to give me abundant life, so that I may dwell with him in his
Father's house forever.

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