I once stole a painting from church.
Well, actually, “lost” might be a better word.
Before you judge me, let me explain. I was a young associate pastor in charge of maintenance at my church, and it was my duty to paint the children’s ministry room. As I was prepping the walls and taking down the pictures, I had to remove a particular painting that was getting on my nerves. Perhaps I just forgot to put it back up.
Maybe you have seen this picture? Does this sound familiar?
It is a portrait of the Son of God sitting on a rock. His golden surfer hair hangs just above his shoulders. His piercing blue eyes look straight into your soul, complimented only by a Mona Lisa smile. He has a beard that would make Chuck Norris jealous.
On His lap sits a small lamb that appears to be His personal pet. There is no name tag or collar around its neck, but you can tell for sure,
He knows its name.
This picture is beautiful and disturbing at the same time. It is beautiful because Jesus refers to Himself in the Scriptures as our “Good Shepherd.” We feel safe in His strong, but gentle presence. We take comfort in the fact that He knows our name.
It is disturbing because it is not exactly biblically accurate. I’m not talking about His blue eyes; I mean the image of Jesus coddling a lamb. Jesus didn’t have any real sheep in His ministry. He wasn’t an actual shepherd; He was a carpenter and a rabbi. The people following Jesus were humans, not animals.
At first glance it may seem like a nice picture of Jesus. What’s the harm?
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
JOHN 10:1-5 NLT
In the time of Jesus, everyone would have known what he was talking about when he described shepherds, sheep, gatekeepers, and sheep pens. Shepherding was a familiar occupation within the life of 1st century communities.
Imagine a terrain outside the city full of mostly desert, but scattered pastures. Shepherds would hike the dusty hillsides looking for areas their sheep could graze. They would carry a walking staff and often times a sling
shot. Both were used for protection; but mostly for guiding the sheep. Sometimes they would scoot the sheep along with their staff. But, if the sheep wandered too far off, they could use their slingshots to accurately hit targets near the sheep to create a noisy ruckus and bring them back to the fold.
As the sun would go down, the shepherd’s mind would turn from provision to protection. He would become more guarded as he kept watch over the sheep against the predators and threats that lurked in the shadows.
He would begin to direct his sheep toward a large communal sheep pen made of rocks. The rocks were stacked a few feet high and set up like a semi-circle with an opening at one end.
It was not unusual for multiple shepherds and flocks to use the same pen in the area for safety at night. There were plenty of predators such as wolves and mountain lions that would love to sink their teeth into a little lamb. After all the sheep were gathered, leaves and branches were laid across the top of the pen to create a covering. The shepherds might take turns keeping watch at night as they guarded their flocks from harm.
At dawn, the shepherds would walk out to the hillside and turn and face the sheep pen. With only their voice, they would call the sheep out of the pen to their side. One by one the shepherd would call the sheep by name. The sheep knew the voice of their shepherd. One by one they would leave the pen and head toward his voice. They recognized their shepherd’s call. That was the voice that cared for them, guiding them toward green pastures and protecting them from the enemy.
When Jesus gives this incredible illustration, He is talking directly to the
religious leaders of that day. He draws a parallel between the way He sees
spiritual leadership and a good shepherd of his flock.
After Jesus explains this, the religious leaders still don’t get it.
“Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.’”
JOHN 10:6-18 NLT
Jesus says a lot of truly remarkable things here. In fact, they are so inspiring that paintings of this passage fill up churches all over the world. If you aren’t careful, you will miss the best part. Jesus declares, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
The religious leaders and any of Jesus’ original audience would have immediately pictured exactly what He is talking about.
Remember how I told you the sheep pens were semi-circle structures of
stacked rocks? The entrance didn’t have a gate that kept the predators out. There was no little door on hinges that he could close and lock tight. At night, the shepherd would occupy that space with his physical presence. He would literally become the gate to the sheep pen.
Jesus is saying that He stands as the gate to all His sheep.
If a lion, wolf, bear, or any predator wants to attack his sheep pen, they
are going to have to go through that gate. They are going to have to take on the shepherd himself.
Jesus says that not only is He the Good Shepherd, but He is the very gate
that protects the sheep. According to Jesus, there is only one way the enemy is going to get to His sheep.
Over His dead body.
Jesus wants you to know that He is watching over you. He says later in the
chapter that “nothing can snatch you from His hand.” You can trust Him. As you get to know His voice, He wants to help guide your life. Like He says in this passage, the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but He came to give you life. He will show you the way as you trust and follow Him.
Jesus is also showing you something about manhood. You are not His pet sheep that sits on His lap. He mentions a “gatekeeper” in the story. Yes, you are in His flock, but you are also becoming a shepherd like Him. Jesus is transforming you. Just as He is brave and watchful, He is changing you to be more like him. God wants you to be like Jesus and become a shepherd to those around you within your life. He wants to give you His strength to help you grow into manhood, and that requires stepping into more responsibility with what He has entrusted you.
You may start off as a shepherd boy or gate keeper with small responsibilities; but the more faithful you become, the more God will begin to trust you. He will not just trust you with opportunities, but with what He considers more valuable than anything – people. The more watchful you can become, the more God will send people into your life to serve and lead.
Are you single? Are you interested in ever finding a woman or having a
family? Be watchful over the areas of your character so you can grow into a shepherd that He can trust with one of His daughters.
Do you enjoy business or entrepreneurship? Do you dream of running your own company or organization one day? Be watchful over your character. God wants you to grow in your responsibility so that He can trust you to lead, not just as a CEO, but as a shepherd to a flock.
Jesus shows us that true manhood is taking responsibility for what God has entrusted you, no matter the cost. Be on guard, keep your eyes on what He has already given you. Steward your life, relationships, and decisions like they all belong to God. He takes joy in training you up to become a Shepherd like Him.
You are not His pet. You are His shepherd in training.