Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 21, 2024

John 10:11-18 Commentary

Jesus’s rich self-revelation as the Good Shepherd gives us a number of aspects to highlight in a message about God’s provisional care. Within his identity as the Good Shepherd, there’s a stark comparison to the “hired hands” we silly sheep get wrapped up in following—only to be abandoned to the hand’s selfish bravado. There’s the repeated reference to the Good Shepherd’s willingness to die for his sheep. Then there’s the deep knowing that characterizes the Good Shepherd’s relationship with his sheep and that he purposefully integrates all of his sheep from different folds into one flock. Finally, there’s the fact that Jesus describes the Father’s love for him in terms of his Good Shepherding.

Of course, all of these are related and interconnected, creating a rich sense of God’s commitment to care for us. As I show in the textual point below, this is only bolstered by comparing what Jesus describes about himself in John 10 with what the prophet proclaimed as the Sovereign Lord’s work in Ezekiel 34.

In a world filled with people looking for saviours, knowing how to tell a hired hand from the real deal will save us a lot of heart ache. It seems to me that most people aren’t looking for a saviour in the conventional evangelical sense, but we are looking for people who we think can make our lives better. For political saviours who promise to save us from our economic and social fears. For relationship gurus and social media influencers who will save us heart ache by unlocking the missing magic that is keeping our families from being the picture of what we think they ought to be. For the next miracle drug, diet, or procedure that will save our youth, our vitality, our physical appearance. The list goes on and on.

But truly, how many of our political, social, and economic systems are designed towards care? Capitalism creates consumers and a push for profit by creating cycles of perceived need and a sense of lack. Online influencers aren’t paid for making the difference in one person’s life; they are funded by voluminous traffic. The irony of looking for a saviour in these spaces is that any we find are likely to be a hired hand who themselves are ready to move on to selling the next fear or product when the one they are currently promoting loses its lustre.

The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, is so constantly present that it’s like we forget he is there to turn to in our times of need. Maybe we look to the hired hands because we don’t like having to admit that we are sheep who belong to someone besides ourselves. We can fool ourselves into thinking that the hired hands are more like us, and in turn, we might become like them—successful, with power over others, and able to hold everyone at arm’s length.

Because the intimacy with which the Good Shepherd knows us can be unnerving for people used to hiding parts of themselves from others. And the fact that we have to submit to being God’s sheep before we can actually know God is its own whole thing for the stubborn streaks in us to work out.

And yet, and yet, Jesus says over and over that he is the Good Shepherd. Each time he describes another layer of his commitment. Being there in the times of trouble when others leave us high and dry. Knowing us and being known by us. And then there’s the big one, repeatedly telling us that he lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus talks about his willingness to die for us three times in these short verses.

He emphasises that he was not coerced or forced in this decision by anyone—God the Father or human powers—but that it is a reason why the Father loves him so much. The Father expresses this love because the Son is using his power for the good of his beloved. Because in a world of sham saviours all too willing to be hired hands for the grift, Jesus commits himself to the whole she-bang. Jesus the Good Shepherd not only lays down his life for his sheep, but for them he also takes it up again. Jesus’s resurrection is just as much for our good as his death is; in fact, it is necessary for our salvation and for the powerful Messiah to show his victory.

The Good Shepherd is there for it all with his sheep, from beginning to end. Amen.

Textual Point

There’s clear agreement among biblical commentaries that Jesus is alluding to Ezekiel 34, where God promises to be Israel’s shepherd because the human ones (i.e., the hired hands) have done such a poor job of it. The first ten verses of Ezekiel 34 are a condemnation of the nation’s “shepherds” and in the remaining verses, God promises to get to the task. God will search for, look after, rescue, gather, and pasture the sheep in good grazing land. God will tend to the sick and injured and pursue justice against those who take advantage of the needy because God cares so deeply for his sheep. And all of this will be a revelation so that “they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people… You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Illustration Idea

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.” It’s a saying that covers a number of reasons to not get involved in a situation that requires intervention. Sometimes it’s because we’ve got our boundaries sorted and we’re learning to not stick our nose in everything. But most of the time, we mean it as a commentary: not my job! I don’t get paid enough for that! I didn’t make the mess, I’m not cleaning it up! It’s the attitude of the hired hand, but it’s never the attitude of the loving Good Shepherd who cares for the mischievous and well-behaved sheep all the same.


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