The Good Shepherd.

Deuteronomy 1-2, John 10

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” – John 10:1-4 ESV

God leads. He always has. But the problem is that few want to follow Him. Even the people He chose as His own possession found it hard to follow God faithfully and fully. Theirs is a story of repeated doubt, disbelief and disobedience. In these early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recounted for the people how God had led them all the way to the land promised to their forefather, Abraham. He reminded them how God had fulfilled His covenant to give them the land, but how they had refused to go in. Fear replaced faith and they allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by the difficulty of their circumstances rather than trust the word of their God. So God disciplined their disbelief and disobedience by denying them entry into the land and forcing them to wander around the wilderness for 40 years, until that stubborn generation died off. And yet, in spite of their rebellion, God continued to lead them and care for them. Moses reminded them, “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing” (Deuteronomy 2:7 ESV). God had shepherded them all throughout their time of wandering. He had never forsaken them. He had never turned His back on them. And during that time, the younger generation had been able to watch God lead and learn to obey His voice. So that by the time they found themselves standing on the edge of the Promised Land, they would be ready to not only hear the words of God, but obey them. A big part of following God is learning to listen and obey – even when it doesn't make sense. God told the second generation, “Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you” (Deuteronomy 2:24-25 ESV). Following God was going to require faith.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our faith should be motivated by God's faithfulness, because He is trustworthy. God keeps His word. He fulfills His promises. He is fully capable of accomplishing what He says He will do. But doubt in the word of God always leads us to disbelieve the faithfulness of God. To doubt what God says is to doubt who He is. It is to disparage His character. But there is not basis for questioning the character of God. His track record is impeccable. We may not always understand why or how He does things, but we cannot and should not doubt His motives or question His sovereign will for our lives. For those who truly follow God, who have allowed their lives to be led and shepherded by God, they can look back and see His hand on their lives, guiding, directing, and protecting. That was what Moses had told the Israelites as they stood on the border of the Promised Land the first time. “Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place” (Deuteronomy 1:29-31 ESV). God had proven Himself faithful, time and time again. “Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 1:32 ESV). In their case, hind sight did NOT prove to be 20-20. The sheep stiff-armed the Shepherd.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the book of John, we read those familiar words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). In this chapter Jesus established Himself as the one who had come to lead the sheep of God. He came to provide abundant life for the sheep. He came to lead them to green pastures where they could find nourishment and security. He came to provide protection from harm. But for all of that to happen, the sheep would be required to hear His voice and follow Him. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4 ESV). There is a picture of intimacy and trust here. The sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. They know Him and have learned to trust Him. They may not know exactly where He is leading them or what He has in store for them, but they trust Him. Following is an expression of faith. There were those in Jesus' day who struggled with His claim to be the Son of God. They asked Him, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!” (John 10:24 ESV). “Jesus answered, ‘I told you, and you do not believe’” (John 10:25 ESV). He had shown them signs. He had performed miracles. He had given them plenty of proof. But they did not believe. Jesus told them, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock” (John 10:26 ESV). They didn't recognize His voice. When Jesus spoke, rather than hear the voice of God, they simply heard the words of a man. And the response of many was, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” (John 10:20 ESV).

When Jesus calls, His sheep hear His voice. There is an intimacy and familiarity between Jesus and His sheep. They recognize Him because they belong to Him. And when He calls, they follow. When Jesus called His disciples, they not only heard Him, they willingly followed Him. And yet, by all indications, they didn't even really know Him. In almost every case, they had just met Him, and yet when He said, “Follow me,” they dropped what they were doing and obeyed. There was a recognition of relationship they didn't even fully understand at the time. They heard His voice and did what He told them to do – as a practical expression of trust.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

After 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness, under the steady, ever-present hand of God, the second generation developed an increasing familiarity with the voice of God. They learned to listen to His voice and do what He told them to do. He had proven Himself faithful all those years. He had been a good shepherd. Oh, they would still struggle with obedience and trust. They would still doubt His word at times. But there would be no basis for their doubt and no excuse for their distrust of God. God will always be proven faithful. He will always come out trustworthy. The problem is never God's faithfulness, but our faithlessness. We doubt. We fear. We disbelieve. We disobey. But God is faithful. It is amazing to think that Jesus came to lay down his life for the sheep. He didn't just come to lead us, He came to die for us. He said, “For this reason the Father love me, because 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. This charge I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18 ESV). Ultimately, Jesus' leadership required His own death, and He gave up His life willingly and gladly. He lead through death. He rose again so that we might understand that there is life after death. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28 ESV). He calls. We hear. He leads. We follow. And our ultimate destination is eternal, not temporal. Jesus reminds us, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). He is the Good Shepherd and He is leading us to a land of green pastures. But we must follow faithfully. We must trust His Word. In spite of what we may encounter along the way, we must believe that what He says is true and what He has promised He will fulfill.

Father, You have led Your people faithfully for generations. And You sent Your Son to not only be our sacrificial lamb, but our Good Shepherd. He has laid down His life for us, so that we might spend eternal life with You. But for the time being, we find ourselves wandering in our own form of wilderness. Things here are not always easy. It is sometimes hard to hear His voice over the confusion and chaos of this world, but He is speaking. He is calling. Give us ears to hear and hearts to listen. As He leads, help us follow – faithfully and expectantly – with our eyes on the future reality of eternity. Amen