THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP
"'Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them and they follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice.'
"Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what He was telling them." John 10:1-6 NIV.
Jesus was obviously familiar with the ways of the Middle Eastern shepherd and his sheep. Unlike countries where sheep dogs are used to herd sheep or where the shepherd drives his flock instead of leading them, as a young lad Jesus had probably watched the sheep following the shepherd like pets. They knew his voice among the voices of many shepherds and followed him out of the communal pen in the mornings when he took them to the best pastures and the quiet waters.
We need to read John 10 in context to understand what Jesus was saying. He was in the middle of a serious debate with the Pharisees. They had accused Him of being demon-possessed because He had healed a blind man on the Sabbath and, according to them, desecrated the Sabbath. They claimed to be followers of Moses, although Jesus knew it was a smokescreen for their wickedness.
As spiritual leaders and faithful shepherds of their people it was their duty to care for the "flock" but they were actually false shepherds because they refused to access the sheep pen by the gate. Moreover, they accurately fitted the accusation God had levelled against the shepherds of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel.
"The word of the Lord came to me, son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
"'You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth and no one searched or looked for them.'" Ezekiel 34:1-6 NIV.
What an indictment against the leaders of God's people! It was as relevant to the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus' day as it was to the leaders in Ezekiel's time.
"Therefore Jesus said again, 'Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.'" John 10:7-8 NIV.
Just so that no one would misunderstand Him, Jesus spelled it out clearly. His people were leaderless and scattered. "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matthew 9:36 NIV. Their leaders were cruel and heartless taskmasters, not shepherds who cared for the flock. They were hirelings who were only out to plunder the sheep.
Once again He placed before them the startling truth - 'I AM'! "'For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them...I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered...I will shepherd the flock with justice." Ezekiel 34:11-16 NIV.
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