Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 10

Thieves and Robbers

That the blind would lead the blind was nothing new. Our Lord, the great Teacher, however, was the One to make the profound statement for the benefit of His disciples, and thus raise the overall consciousness of the blindness of those claiming to be leaders of the people. “We are not blind, too, are we?” the Pharisees, encamped among the followers of the Christ, had asked. Jesus’ response was that since they claimed to see, their sin remained; they were blind, and it was not going to be easy to get them out of the darkness of their ambition and truncated thinking.

In setting down this parable, the Lord was exposing the Jewish hierarchy as a pack of thieves and robbers. Through this process He clearly established that He was the only legitimate shepherd of the sheep, for there was no one else who could enter by the doorway of the cross and the glorious resurrection.

The pretenders were identified as thieves and robbers. Thieves and robbers do not like their “con game” brought into the light of public scrutiny and resort to violence to hush the mouths of those who give others warning. The death of Jesus was plotted with increasing fervency by these thieves and robbers, unwittingly furthering His plan to be shown clearly as the Great Shepherd who entered the fold of the sheep through His great suffering and subsequent triumph.

 

 

The Shepherd’s Voice

Domestic sheep are amazing “critters,” especially unique among all the animals of God’s creation. They are the most dependent of the farm animals, needing a shepherd’s care in being born, in being fed, and in being protected. They also are the most affectionate, and can be trained to listen for the voice of the sheepherder and to follow his lead. Shepherding on the North American continent is done much differently than shepherding in Jesus’ time. With its vast tracts of open grassland, North America will have up to tens of thousands of sheep in one herd, and the shepherd will trail behind a herd on the move while a bunch of trained sheep dogs will head the flock in the proper direction. Flocks in Israel of the New Testament era were much smaller; the shepherd knew each sheep, and walked before them to the pasture of the day.

“This figure of speech Jesus spoke them,” recorded the apostle John, “but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them” (John 10:6). This figure of speech many still do no understand today because they have not really listened to the voice of the Shepherd as revealed in the written word. Refusing to pay attention to the Lord’s teaching on salvation and the church, they have instead heard the siren call of other voices, and have wrecked their eternities on the rocks of false doctrine.

 

 

The Door of the Sheep

Jesus exemplified the patience of God. In using a parable to explain that the Jews should listen to His voice, the Lord made it clear that He was the Shepherd of all sheep and that He would lead them where they needed to go. The apostle John, looking back on the situation with his inspired memory, noted the response: “This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand the things which He had been saying to them” (John 10:6). The Shepherd of the sheep was very patient, so He changed things around a little in making one more attempt for them to comprehend.

Jesus the Shepherd is also the only Door of the sheep. The salvation and protection He tenders are worth immeasurably more than anything the world can offer, an important truth emphasized or punctuated by the death of the Shepherd on behalf of the sheep. Be saved by entering through the only Door. Then continue to find pasture.

 

 

The Abundant Life

All the religionists in Christendom know that there is an offer in the sacred scriptures of an exciting, satisfying, meaningful, joyful, and peaceful life. Consequently, the “thieves and robbers” mouth such promises, calling “sweetness” what turns out to be gravel in the hearer’s throats. Fleshly presentations of health, wealth, and happiness are substituted for rejoicing in the Spirit. The trappings of imposing buildings and smoke-filled rituals are instituted in place of fellowship with God. Emotional “times of worship,” contrived to get people to “feel” closer to their Creator, are employed in place of the “words of Spirit and of life.” Having experienced the empty promises of the collection-oriented religionists, many turn disgustedly away, assuming the Jesus’ words as revealed in the Bible about the abundant life are devoid of meaning. But His words and fellowship are not vacuous; men simply need really to taste the pure word and see that the Lord is good.

Jesus came from heaven to earth to bring the abundant life to those who love Him. He was successful in His mission, and that abundant life is available for Jew and Gentile. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus and who is not experiencing that abundance can blame only himself.

 

 

The Good Shepherd

People are, with good reason, compared to sheep. They need rescued and the need reoriented. They need direction and protection. Without a good shepherd the sheep languish and are lost, perishing in a wilderness of confusion and spiritual danger. In the spiritual realm there is a narrow footpath to victory, with deep pits on both sides and with vicious predators jumping from hiding places along the way in an attempt to scare the sheep and cause them to jump off the trail. Without a good shepherd indeed, the sheep languish and are lost.

Every age has its philosophers, prattling mostly nonsense cloaked in glowing words. Not one of them died for the sheep. The world has its “great religions,” with their “gurus,” their “prophets,” and their “holy fathers.” Not one of them died for the sheep.

If the sheep are interested in the One who can lead them to green pastures, all they have to do to figure out who is the true shepherd is to listen to John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

 

 

The Other Sheep

“Behold, your king is coming to you,” exclaimed the prophet. “He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). As many as hundreds of thousands packed the route from the Mount of Olives to the temple buildings west of the Kidron, and the heavens heard the shouts of “Hosanna to the son of David!” But within a few days the crowds that had wafted their triumph sounds into the air now slipped quietly out of town as the One they expected to be their Deliverer had gasped His last breath on a Roman cross. They misunderstood the meaning of salvation and the mission of their Messiah.

The nation of Israel was a physical nation, and God used the physical to set the stage for the communication of the spiritual. An individual was part of the nation by physical birth, and the sign of the covenant relationship with God was physical circumcision. The temple was physical, the sacrifices were physical, and the priesthood was physical. Consequently, most of the people looked for a physical deliverance from Roman oppression through a physical Messiah like King David, and looked for the physical restoration of their land. They misunderstood the meaning of salvation and the mission of their Messiah.

The sheepfold of Christ is the church. Jesus, while still in the flesh, contemplated that Gentiles would “hear” His voice, and would become a part of the church. “For He Himself is our peace,” wrote the apostle Paul, “who made both groups into one … that in Himself He might … reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14-16). Praise God that the “voice” of Jesus is still calling the sheep into the one sheepfold, that those of us who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ! (Ephesians 2:13).

 

 

One Sheepfold

God likes the number “one.” “Hear, O Israel!” cried the Almighty through Moses. “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). God worked hard to pull Israel out of the paganism and polytheism rampant in those times, and establish the monotheism that is that the core of all Biblical teaching. The message is hammered home on every page of the sacred writ: there is only one God!

Jesus Himself emphasized the importance of the number “one” in many ways. The shepherd, He said, would leave the ninety-nine safe sheep to go after the one sheep that was lost. “Enter by the narrow gate,” He stated in another place. “The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13,14). In talking about the one gate and the one way, the All Knowing warned, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The wolves come in to rip and tear over the number “one.” It is “two,” they smilingly say, or “three,” or “many.” “All roads lead to heaven; choose what path you want to follow.” Jesus, narrow-minded bigot and intolerant egoist that He was, insisted, “They shall become one flock, with one shepherd” (John 10:16).

God likes the number “one.” In so doing He has made the choices each person must make simple and understandable. There is one way of salvation: obey it. There is only one Shepherd: follow Him. There is only one sheepfold: be in it.

 

 

Jesus’ Initiative

Christianity is a religion for the mature. It is not for children. It is not for “spiritual welfare” cases. It is for those who have the responsibility level of being able to make decisions within the general guidelines offered by the New Testament. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free!” exclaimed the apostle Paul. “Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The Law treated followers of God as children, making every decision for them. The gospel of Christ calls believers to a level where they do not need to be told precisely what to do, to a level where they exercise initiative and do the right thing for the glory of the King. In this, Jesus Himself led the way.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free! Free to be responsible. Free to seek and to save the lost within scriptural boundaries. Free to contemplate creatively how to make the most of the opportunities with outsiders. Free to exercise initiative in laying down our lives for the brethren. Free indeed! Free at last! Free, therefore, forever!

 

 

Demonized for Duty

The Lord Jesus had just made some bold and far-reaching statements to His entourage, which included Pharisees. Using variations on the theme of a good shepherd, sheep, and a sheepfold, He firmly stated that those falsely wanting to be leaders of the sheep were thieves and robbers, whereas He would prove to be the Shepherd by coming in through the doorway of His own death. All His sheep would hear His voice, and follow Him. The thieves, robbers, and wolves came to destroy, but He came to bring abundant life. He, the Good Shepherd, had authority to lay down His life for the sheep, and He had authority to raise Himself up again. These riveting statements were like rifle shots, pinning His opposition firmly to the wall, giving them no quarter but surrender.

Those who walk in the footsteps of Christ can expect to be “demonized” likewise for doing their duty, carrying the message of salvation to the lost. “And indeed,” observed the apostle Paul, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

 

 

Happy Hanukkah!

In 165 BC the Jews under Judas Maccabeus drove the Seleucids out of Jerusalem. These descendants of the Greek general Seleucus, one of the four eventually to inherit the domains of Alexander the Great, had progressively tried to control the Jews, and under the kingship of Antiochus Epiphanes, had even sacrificed pigs on the altar before the Temple. The Maccabeans, then, in delivering the city from the Syrians, had to cleanse or dedicate the Temple after its being profaned by pagan perversions. This dedication took place in December of 165 BC, and was celebrated as a yearly feast by Jews of New Testament times, and is still observed by those claiming to be modern Jews as “Hanukkah.”

These hostile emissaries from the Jewish movers-and-shakers were not interested in examining the evidence that Jesus was indeed the long sought Messiah. Blinded by ambition and avarice, they approached the Lord looking only for a response which could be used to hang Him. This was how they greeted the “Rabbi” and wished Him “Happy Hanukkah!”

 

 

Internal Security

In the record of Jesus’ sojourn on earth written by the apostle John, the Lord often spoke of sheep. “My sheep hear My voice,” He stated, “and I know them, and they follow Me.” This, from the Lord’s perspective, is a great theme — the Good Shepherd, looking for lost sheep, calling each sheep by name, leading the sheep, dying for the sheep. The sheep will do well to pay attention to the lessons offered by the Shepherd, that they may remain under His care.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” wrote the apostle Paul. The Spirit bears witness through what is written in the Bible first of all, and the faithful obedient saint has internal security — knowing God, hearing His voice, and having eternal life.

 

 

The Oneness of God

“No one,” noted Jesus, of His sheep, “shall snatch them out of My hand.” A mere breath later, He stated, “no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” No one, then, should be surprised at Christ’s next statement: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Yet, the Christ also affirmed, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all …” The mystery of the God-hood is great!

“I and the Father are one,” emphasized Jesus. And when He made that statement, “The Jews took up stones to throw at Him” (John 10:31). Human nature has not changed.

 

 

Blasphemy?

Those who manipulate mobs do not use reason, but exploit the emotions of the throng, playing on pre-conceived notions or traditions. The Jews, for example, had their own vision as to what the Messiah would be like, having no concept that He would be Immanuel, “God with us.” When Jesus forgave the paralyzed man, let down on stretcher through a hole torn in the roof, the scribes and Pharisees began their murmuring, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). They were correct in thinking that only God could forgive; they failed to draw the conclusion as to who was standing there before them. Similarly, when He made the statement, “I and the Father are one,” they picked up their rocks to stone Him to death. The pre-conceived notions of the Jewish hierarchy was used by their own inner movers-and-shakers to provoke this instantaneous response.

No! They were just like their ancestors and most of earth’s residents; they always resisted the Holy Spirit. “Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp” (John 10:39). Blasphemy? Rather, it was simple, undeniable truth!

 

 

Scripture Cannot Be Broken

In His reasoned presentation to the Jews concerning their charges of blasphemy, the Lord Jesus Christ made reference to a powerful and important principle. “The Scripture,” said He, “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Man, by contrast, tends to operate on the “ratchet principle.” If the previous agreement or spoken promise points positively for his benefit, he makes the wrench of commitment take hold to pull hard in his favor; but if the offer suddenly requires more of him, he tends to let the ratchet of responsibility slip. In consequence, he generally tries to play a similar game with God, especially since He who is invisible is not physically present to enforce the terms of His covenant in the courts. Basically, rebellious and selfish man tries to ignore God when he wants to do what he wants to do, but expects Him to answer positively in a time of need or in the day of death. The faithful Father, however, is not into playing games; He has a plan He has purposed, and is kind enough to have its intent and details announced to the fallen race.

“God is faithful,” was the simple clause of Paul (I Corinthians 1:9). He will, without exception, execute His wrath upon all who are not properly immersed into Christ and who do not continue faithful in His word and church. He will faithfully uphold those faithful and suffering saints who end up being a spectacle to the world and to the angels. God has spoken, and the scriptures cannot be broken.

 

 

Knowing and Understanding

There seems to be a tendency in the male half of the human race, when difficulty arises in marriage, to want a quick fix. “Let’s just get this thing handled,” they often say, “so we can get on with the business of getting important things done.” What is often forgotten is that the marriage relationship is what is important, and the tasks are secondary to and for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the relationship. In reference to fellowship with God, there is often a similar, simplistic and short-sided view, operating under the perception that forgiveness of sins is the important and all-encompassing task. But God wants mankind to know and understand that His desire is for each person to have a personal and intimate relationship with Him (much like marriage) — a concept which He calls “fellowship.”

The continuing challenge for the invisible, immortal God is to move man from a focus on the physical realm to a comprehension and appreciation of the spiritual realm — centered particularly on the Christ of glory. The beginning point in that movement as it directly related to Christ was the performing of miracles in Israel’s midst. These signs, accomplished in the tangible and visible sphere, were the touchstone of revelation, the point of contact by which the Jew could begin to follow the threads of heavenly instruction to the comprehension of Him who is now unseen. “Believe the works,” said the Christ, “that you might know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

 

 

Back to Beginnings

The pressure on Jesus was severe and His life was in increasing danger because of His claim to be one with the Father. For those who have never had to live a life of constant watchfulness, it is difficult to relate to the fear and tension factors experienced by the Christ, who was daily exposed to death. But our Lord, during the days of His flesh, constantly had to outwit His adversaries, showing up where He was not expected to be, and not being where He was expected to show. As the December Feast of Dedication closed out, the Jews’ anger flared as Jesus stated that He and the Father were one, and Jesus was forced once again to flee. “Therefore they were seeking to seize Him,” is the inspired note, “and He eluded their grasp” (John 10:39).

This was Jesus’ final push in the hinterlands among the common people. Not only a reasonably safe haven, the “place where it all began” was a great location to wrap up loose ends and draw the last of the people to Himself through the memory of John the Immerser’s testimony.