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Lowell Brueckner

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The Good Shepherd and His Sheep


Before you read this article, you might want to refresh your mind concerning our topic by reading John 10.10-21.

I am giving classes in Spanish over the radio on the Gospel of John and having studied it with intensity again, I have seen that it has a purpose of taking us into intimacy with God. It shows us the fountain of intimacy is found in the Father and the Son and Jesus prays to the Father that we might enter into the same oneness and the same love. In this passage, we see the intimacy between Himself and His disciples by illustrating it to us, using the example of the Good Shepherd and His sheep.

If we are very familiar with portions of the Bible, such as this one, there is a danger that it may no longer impress us, or surprise us, as it did when we first read it. We must be careful that we do not lose the wonder of the gospel and the wonder of the One, who is its chief character.  I remember the one time that I visited Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, when John Piper was pastor. He preached that day on Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation for all those who believe.” He taught that the gospel not only affects the unbeliever, but it continues to move the believer all his life and on into eternity. Then, we sang the last verse of the old hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story”. That verse states, “I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting, to hear it like the rest…” Before us now is Christ’s teaching about the Good Shepherd and His sheep and it may be new for some and for others very familiar, but let us all give it our full attention.

I can never forget the time that we were driving through Mexico on the main highway between Saltillo and Mexico City. For some reason, traffic began to slow in the open country and soon we came upon a scene that was horrible and unforgettable. Strewed across the highway were five or six sheep, bloody and dead, and among them, lying still, was the little shepherd boy. Yes, in many rural families in Mexico, it was the youngest boy, who watched over the sheep, while the bigger fellows tended to more important things.

We see the same in a story in the Bible. Three older sons of Jessie were in the military, while David, the youngest, kept the sheep. Once he was sent on an errand to the battle front by his father and was to bring back news from his brothers. His oldest brother, Eliab, found him mixing and mingling with the soldiers and we can sense the derision in his words, “Why did you come here? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” Do you remember Samuel’s visit to Jessie’s house, when the young shepherd of the family was not invited to the feast? A Psalmist named Asaph records for us the story of David’s calling: “(God) chose David also his servant, And took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes that have their young he brought him, To be the shepherd of Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he was their shepherd according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Ps.78:70-72).

God saw that to be a shepherd was a good preparation for the day when David would become king. He saw it profitable to deal with shepherds and that through the experiences gained from this humble work, they could be useful to pastor the flock of God. He did the same with Moses, and Amos was also a shepherd, who kept his cattle in fields not far from where David worked. It was the shepherds of Bethlehem to whom the angels announced the birth of Christ and they spread that word all around.   

I think it should surprise us that, from all the noble titles that Jesus could have used to present his office and relationship with His disciples and all believers, that He chose this one… the Good Shepherd. He gives an example and marks a principle that we need to take into consideration concerning Christian leadership. I think of some of the pastors that have been important in my life… in the first place, my father. I remember his embarrassment when my grandpa, with great pride, introduced him to some friends: “I want you to meet my son. He’s a MINISTER!” Well, my grandpa should have remembered that my dad’s public education consisted of a total of six years of grade school. Also, I can tell you of my favorite author, whose books I find spread more and more into different parts of the world… A. W. Tozer, or I should say, Dr. Tozer. He didn’t get his doctorate through extensive education or personal effort, but it was an honorary doctorate awarded, I imagine, by some seminary. Tozer had a little more schooling than my father… eight years of grade school. When you listen to his recordings, you might be astounded at his vocabulary, but the accent remains that of a boy raised in the country. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones must be one of the most read authors in Europe. But the doctorate of Lloyd-Jones was not in theology, but that of a physician. God called him to preach, when he was practicing medicine. His denominational leaders tried to persuade him, without success, to attend their Bible school. I will also mention C. H. Spurgeon, who thought it was a mistake, when he received an invitation to preach in London, because he was only 19 years old and also possessed the accent of a villager. In that meeting there were only about 80 people attending, but he was asked to become their pastor and in a short time it was necessary to build a new and bigger church to hold the crowds. Today we call Spurgeon “the prince of preachers”.  

I don’t suppose that you have ever heard of Pastor Herman Williams. He was a sick child and could not attend the school on his Navajo reservation in Arizona, nor did he learn to speak English until he was around 20 years old. He was literally a shepherd, who kept his grandfather’s sheep. His grandfather was a medicine man. Alone in the fields, Herman heard voices and in the night he could not sleep without turning on a light. After he learned English, he wandered around the western United States, working on cotton or vegetable farms. He fought, drank and rode bulls in the rodeos until he came to Montana. There he worked for a Christian farmer. He knelt with the family around the supper table, as they prayed and went to church with them, as well. One evening, the Holy Spirit pointed him to Jesus. He thought that Jesus was the white man’s God, but when he found Him, he discovered a peace that took him totally by surprise. Returning home in the farmer’s car, he wondered how long this great feeling of tranquility could last. Several years ago, I heard him give this testimony and he said, “It happened more than 40 years ago, and it’s still there.”

That night the farmer’s wife gave Herman a Bible. It had a genuine leather cover and India paper. He took it to his room and laid it open on the bed. Kneeling in front of it, he began to cry. He had had a real encounter with Jesus Christ, but how could he learn more about Him, if he couldn’t read? The tears ran to the tip of his nose and fell upon the open page. When they dried, it left wrinkles, so that, whenever the Bible fell open, it always opened to the same page. Christian young people helped Herman memorize scripture verses and one day, a girl took Herman’s Bible to help him with a verse. The Bible opened where it always did and the girl looked at Herman and asked, “How did this page get wrinkled?” Herman was not going to tell a young lady about his tears, so her eyes fell back upon the page. “Hey, Herman, right here where the wrinkles are there is a great verse to memorize. It says, call upon Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, that you know not!” Herman used to pause for a few seconds, when he came to this crucial point in his story and then softly state… “And He has!” The Good Shepherd took this Navajo lamb and taught him to read and after that, He took him over the US and Canada, evangelizing and teaching his Native American people. I went with a friend to visit Herman in Arizona a few years before he died and he took me to his office. Books covered the walls on every side. We asked him, “How many books are there?” He answered, “About 1,500.” “And you’ve read them?” “Almost all of them,” he said.  

Church shepherds, first of all, should have a calling from the Good Shepherd. They also must be prepared by Him for their ministry. They should recognize the lowliness of their position. From this portion of the Gospel of John, we learn much about the ministry of Jesus:

1.   The first thing that we should know is that the Good Shepherd is meek and lowly of
       heart and he guides those who have a contrite heart. As God said through His prophet,   
       Isaiah, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose
       name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a
       contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the
2.    He is a generous Shepherd… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly   
       (v.10).  We learn that lesson, when Jesus fed the 5,000 men and their families. One
       disciple thought about what would not be enough money so that everyone could have a
       little. Jesus gave until they were all filled and their were 12 baskets left over.
3.    He is a loving Shepherd… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know
       me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the
       sheep  (v.14,15).
4.    He is an untiring Shepherd, who continually looks to add to His flock... And I have    
       other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my
       voice (v.16).
5.    He is an all-powerful Shepherd with absolute authority… I lay down my life that I may     
       take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have
       authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again (v.17,18).
6.    He is a Shepherd, who attracts trouble… “There was again a division among the Jews
       because of these words.”  Wherever and wherever that His name is proclaimed, there is
       division. His gospel causes problems and those who bear it are persecuted.

I want to mention three contrasts with the Good Shepherd that are found in this passage:

1.      In verse 10: Between Jesus and a thief… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life.
2.                  2.   In verses 12-15: Between Jesus and the hireling… He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd,   
                who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf   
                snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the 
                sheep…  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the    
                Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. He loses none of them (v.28). We have examples of 
                calling Zachaeus by name, and after the resurrection, he called Mary Magdalene. She did not 
                recognize Him, until He called her name. In the book of Acts, He calls, “Saul, Saul, why are you 
                persecuting Me.”  
           3.    In verses 20 and 21: Between Jesus and a demon-driven person… Many of them said, "He has a   
               demon, and is insane; why listen to him?"  Others said, "These are not the words of one who is 
               oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" One who has a demon speaks 
               and acts without heavenly authorization, but it was said of Jesus that no one ever spoke like He did. 
               The kingdom of darkness cannot emit light, but Jesus enlightens everyone who believes in Him.
The Lord is my shepherd,” David said. He must be Lord, because His sheep must follow Him confidently and exclusively. Many times, the disciple needs to go out, not knowing where he is going. Abraham’s case was not an exception, but a beginning. Philip (Acts 8:26-30) was in Samaria, when an angel instructed him to take the road that went down from Jerusalem to Gaza, but he did not tell him how far he should go or why. It was quite a walk from Samaria to Gaza! It was more than 60 miles and we have no idea where he met the Ethiopian. Peter (9:31 through chapter 10), the apostle in Jerusalem, left without knowing his destination. He healed a paralytic in Lydda, raised a woman from the dead in Joppa, but it is clear that the purpose of his trip was to arrive at Caesarea. Then, we turn to chapter 16 and we read the story of Paul and his company crossing a great part of what is Turkey today, from east to the west coast, without knowing where they were going.

This is the life of the sheep that follows the Good Shepherd. He does not give him a map or show him where he will arrive in this life and He does not allow him to seek his way independently. His word is a lamp to our feet, but is not meant for long distance illumination. Moment by moment, he must remain close to the Shepherd, listening to His voice, experiencing His meekness, His generosity, His love, His power, and sharing His mission and His reproach. Trust and commitment must be complete.


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