"Now, the training strange and lowly,
Unexplained and tedious now:
Afterward—the service holy
And the Master's "Enter thou."
—F. R. Havergal
These "Verily, verily's" of our Lord, which might be rendered, "In most solemn truth," never seem to be used at the beginning of a discourse, but always to illustrate, or emphasise some preceding statement; so that the last part of chapter 9 is closely connected with the opening verses of chapter 10. Those hirelings, who cast the man out because he said that Christ opened his eyes, are here contrasted with the true shepherd, who cares for the sheep. The allegory of this chapter, like the parable in the fifteenth of Luke, is given to us in three different sections. We have (1) the sheepfold and the (under) shepherd (vv. 1-10); (2) the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep (vv. 11-18); (3) the safety of the sheep (vv. 25-30).
I. The Sheepfold. This was an enclosure, into which the sheep were put for safety during the night (v. 1). This may have reference to the old theocracy, that position of privilege, which belonged to the Jews as God's chosen and protected people, and into which no man could honourably enter, but by the door of birth—the seed of Abraham; or it may represent that new provision of security which Christ Himself was about to establish for His sheep, through the giving of His life for them. It is a sheepfold, there is no mention of goats here.
II. The Entrance. There is an entrance, but only one. "I am the Door of the sheep" (v. 7). It is through Him who died for them that they enter into the safety and quiet of this spiritual and heavenly fold. "He that entereth in by the door is a shepherd of the sheep." The sheep and the true shepherds all enter in by the same door. There is none other Name whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12). He is no shepherd of the sheep who has not, first of all, appropriated Christ for himself, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If he enters not by this door into the sheepfold ministry, "the same is a thief and a robber," and those sheep which have entered by the door will not follow him. Christ is the only open door into the salvation of God, and, praise Him, it is open for all "I am the Door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (v. 9).
III. The Porter. "He that entereth by the door... to him the porter openeth" (v. 3). It is a marvel to us how commentators should ignore or belittle the porter, lest they should press the allegory too far. In point of fact, the porter is second in importance to Him who is the Door, and undoubtedly represents the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Who abode with the sheep, and was their only comforter during the weary hours of night? The porter. Who could take the Door (Christ) and open it and close it at His will? The porter. Who alone had the power to admit a shepherd into the fold? The porter (Acts 13:2). All who would enter in by the door shall have the porter's help and encouragement. It is the Spirit who takes the things of Christ and shows them to the seeking soul.
IV. The Shepherd. "He that entereth in by the door is a shepherd of the sheep" (v. 2, R.v., margin). The reference here is to the under shepherd, who has the liberty of the porter (Spirit) to go in and out, and to lead, and feed the sheep. The hirelings in chapter 9:34, cast out the true sheep of Christ's flock. They know not the voice of strangers. It is important to note the nature of the shepherd's work and influence as stated here. It is—
1. PERSONAL. "He calleth his own sheep by name." There is no mistaking the purpose of a true shepherd when he comes into the sheepfold. He has not thought of thrashing or amusing the sheep, his chief object is to call them out into a larger place of blessing. To this end he deals with them definitely and personally. All the faithful under-shepherds of Christ's flock rightly divide the Word: they call the sheep by their proper names, and seek their individual good.
2. PROGRESSIVE. "He leadeth them out." It is not enough that the sheep are safe and at rest in the fold, they have to be lead out into fresh healthy pastures. The fields at the disposal of the shepherds are as broad, far reaching, and as rich as the whole Revelation of God. But those who have not examined those rich pasture lands will not be likely to lead the sheep into them.
3. EXEMPLARY. "He goeth before them." The true shepherd leads by example, as well as by precept. He does not say, "Go," but "Come." He goeth before them in doctrine and in practice (Titus 2:7). Not as lords over God's heritage, but as examples of the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Paul wrote to Timothy: "Be thou an example of the believers in Word, in conversation, in chanty, in spirit, in faith, in purity." To the Corinthians he said: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." The shepherd leads into green pastures, and by the still waters, not into the howling wilderness of that "higher criticism," which offers only doubt and perplexity to a hungry soul.
3. PROTECTIVE. "A stranger will they not follow..for they know not the voice of strangers" (v. 5). The true sheep know the voice of a true shepherd, and will not be led away by the call of a stranger, who has climbed up by some other way. Some religious teachers have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof (Holy Spirit); from such turn away. The sheep that have a faithful shepherd are too well taught to become the followers of any hireling, or thief, who may don the shepherd's attire.
V. The Intruders. "He that entereth not by the door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." It does not matter much what that "other way" is, so long as it is another way, it is an ignoring and a denial of Him who is the Door—and of Him who is the Porter—a denial of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Those who will not enter by the door of grace into this Kingdom will have some climbing to do, and in the end rewarded only as thieves and robbers. The "other way" that some prefer is the way of legalism, or learning, human works, or human wisdom. They will climb away for years to get into the fold, rather than submit to enter by the door. But all such climbers are, in their hearts, at enmity with the Shepherd and the sheep, and seek only their own base and selfish ends. "The same is a thief." There is no other way for a sheep, or a shepherd, for salvation or service, but by the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Door. "I am the Door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved."
The Lord Jesus Christ is the good or perfect Shepherd. All that ever came before Him—in His stead—or that shall yet so come, are thieves and robbers. There is only one Good Shepherd who can lay down His life for the sheep and take it again (v. 18). There is perhaps no image of Christ that has so powerfully appealed to the imaginations of men in all ages as the "Good Shepherd." Let not the familiarity of the term rob us of the great sweetness and depth of precious teaching that it reveals.
1. "He Giveth His Life for the Sheep" (v. 11). This is the outstanding characteristic of the Good Shepherd. He is not only ready to sacrifice His life in defence of the sheep, but has a command from the Father to lay down His life for the sheep (v. 18), that the sheep might have life through Him in abundance (v. 10). The scope of the teaching cannot be limited to the mere metaphor. The metaphor is used to help us to grasp the fullness of the truth. That Christ taught redemption here is surely beyond doubt, when He said, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I might take it again" (v. 17; Heb. 13:20). The Father loved the Son because He willingly obeyed this command to lay down His life for the salvation of all who would enter in at this door into the sheepfold (1 Peter 2:25).
II. His Sheep Hear His Voice. "They shall hear My voice" (v. 16). Every soul who would follow Christ must individually hear His voice. That voice may be heard through the written Word, or in the preaching of the Gospel, but it will be recognised as His voice and His call to a new and separate life. Christ's first message was to the Jewish flock, but He had other sheep—multitudes of them—which were not of that flock, but which belonged to every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation, "them also," He said, "I must bring," for the death that He was about to die was to be "the propitiation, not only for our sins (Jews), but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). This present dispensation is the time of the bringing in of the "other sheep" which He has, as the gift of the Father, and they are hearing His voice, through the preaching of the Word, and following Him. To Him is the gathering of the people to be
III. He Knows His Sheep. "I know My sheep" (v. 14). As to the extent or limit of this knowledge, it is impossible, except by sheer presumption, to define. He knows their name, their nature, and their need. The Lord does not judge as man judgeth, by outward appearance; He judgeth the heart. He discerns the hidden spirits of men, whether they are merely carnal or Christ-like. All His sheep have a love for, and a disposition like the Shepherd Himself. "If any man love God, the same is known of Him" (1 Cor. 8:3). The Good Shepherd does not judge His sheep by their cry, for many will say on that day, "Lord, Lord," to whom He will say, "I never knew you."
IV. His Sheep Know Him. "And am known of Mine" (v. 14). This knowledge is akin to that which exists between the Father and the Son (v. 15). This affinity is the deepest and most sacred of all relationships. We may know Him as we know the sun that shines in the Heavens, and yet know but little of Him. The sheep know the Shepherd because He has manifested Himself to them, so we "know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true" (1 John 5:20). "I know whom I have believed" (2 Tim. 1:12). This is eternal life, to know Him and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.
V. His Sheep are Owned by Him. "He who is an hireling, whose own the sheep are not" (v. 12), is here contrasted with Him who laid down His life for the sheep, as an evidence that they are His own. The flock of God hath been purchased by His own blood (Acts 20:28). Jesus was speaking as the Good Shepherd when He said to Peter, "Feed My lambs...Feed My sheep" (John 21). "Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price."
VI. He Cares for His Sheep. "The hireling fleeth because he careth not for the sheep," but the true Shepherd is very careful over His sheep (v. 13). The wolf-like Satan finds his greatest enemy in the Shepherd of our souls. It is the privilege of the sheep to be without carefulness, for "He careth for you," therefore cast all your care upon Him (1 Peter 1:7). The Shepherd is most careful about the safety and supply of the sheep—about their defence and their food. His wisdom and His power are being continually exercised on their behalf. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the close of the age."
VII. His Sheep shall all be Gathered into one Flock. "There shall be one flock and one Shepherd" (v. 16). Meanwhile, His sheep are in every clime and country, speaking almost every language under Heaven, and divided by many sectarian folds, but all have heard His voice, and know Him, and are known by Him, having by one Spirit been baptised into one body. But when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, those who are still living on the earth shall be caught up with those who have gone to sleep, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:16-18). In the evergreen pastures of the Heavenly Kingdom He shall lead His flock, and they shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. "The Lord is my Shepherd...and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (Psa. 23:1 and 6).
It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the porch of the temple called "Solomon's," when the Jews, who were bewildered about the character and doings of Jesus, came about Him, saying, "How long do you mean to keep us in suspense? If Thou be the Christ tell us plainly" (v. 24). He had been telling them all along by His words and works, but they believed not (v. 25). Never man spoke more plain than He, but to those who are wilfully or judicially blind, such evidence is of little value. "Ye believe not," said Jesus, "because ye are not of My sheep" (v. 26). By their persistent unbelief they proved themselves unfit to enter the sheepfold of His chosen ones. "They could not enter in because of their unbelief" (Heb. 3:19). This question of the Jews gives Him an opportunity of explaining more fully the relationship and privilege of His sheep.
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