Theme: How a Church Becomes Scattered and How it is Saved
John 10:11-18 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and doesn't own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. 13 This happens because he is a hired man and doesn't care about the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, 15 as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father."
Dear friends, how often do we think that just because we have the right to do something, we’re right about how we do it? The first thought is “right” in the sense of ability, the second thought is “right” in the sense of appropriateness. I think our culture is rife with this attitude and it’s dangerous. People think that because they have the right to free speech, everything they say is right. At work, those employees who have been there the longest often feel like they have special rights or privileges.
This attitude is present within the church too. It can happen that pastors believe their opinion should outweigh others because they have a divine call from God. But just because you have a right, that is, to speak to the congregation on behalf of God, doesn’t mean you’re always right. It can happen to members, when they think that they should get more sway in decision-making or they should get all the projects passed that they want, because they give so much in their offering.
This very attitude is before us in our text, when Jesus speaks of the difference between Himself (the Good Shepherd) and the hired man. Jesus is talking about taking care of His church – the flock. When we read these words, we want to think that the hired man is some enemy or imposter. But Jesus is really pointing at us – His followers. Believers have been given the privilege, the right, to be representatives of Jesus on earth. We are caretakers of the Church. We call this the office of the keys and Jesus first gave it to His disciples on Easter Sunday. Ever since, believers have the right to use God’s Word in their lives and the lives of others – to bring the law and to bring the gospel. But just because you have the right, doesn’t mean you’re always right.
As hired hands, in that sense, we are not as qualified as Jesus. What He says about the hired man, applies to us. Too often we flee from the call of God and we scatter the flock with our own agendas. The original disciples did this very thing on Good Friday. They were hired men who let down their Lord and His flock. They guaranteed faithfulness to Jesus. Peter defiantly said, “Even if all others forsake you, Lord, I never will.” But they all fled when the wolf came. The first thing they needed to realize, as we do in our calling, is that it takes humility to follow the Lord. This helps guard against an attitude of entitlement, which makes us think that just because we’ve been given a special privilege from God we are perfect in the way we carry out that privilege.
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus told a parable that got to the heart of this issue. He said, Luke 17:9-10 Does he [the Master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"
We are what Jesus said – unworthy servants. We don’t deserve a congratulatory pat on the back because we serve God. That is what we should do. And for every time we get something right, there’s usually a host of other things we’ve gotten wrong. Just because we are called to a special purpose does not guarantee that everything we do is right. Rather, this reality causes us to constantly work on our approach. It leads us to test all things – whether from a pastor or from a neighbor, in light of God’s Word. It keeps us on our toes to be sharp in God’s Word. Because, despite our mistakes, we are still called by God.
The main problem with the hired man is described in verse 13: Jesus says that the hired man doesn’t care for the sheep. Now that sounds a bit too harsh to be describing the typical Christian. We may not be perfect but most of us care a lot about others, and we go out of our way to show it. But remember who the comparison is with – Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Compared to Jesus, we do not care about our fellow neighbors as much as we should. Sometimes we are good at ignoring that fact because we choose to compare ourselves with the world, or other Christians, instead of Jesus. But God holds us to the standard of His Son because that’s who we represent.
The Church of God becomes scattered when we fail to care for others as Jesus would. This also probably happens more often than we want to admit. I think most often an uncaring attitude springs forth when we diminish the worth of others. Isn’t that really what the hired man does in the text? He sees the sheep as a mere commodity – something he is given charge over but not something that is valuable to him. Therefore, he refuses to risk his neck to protect them. How different is the care that Jesus provides! He knows His sheep and they know Him. He has a personal relationship with them. They are not interchangeable parts of a greater whole, they are precious on an individual level.
When we recognize this about the nature of caring for others, that it must be personal, it helps us come to grips with our shortcomings – the times when we have fled from our post as representatives of Jesus among His flock. A lack of care can spread like a disease among a church. It happens when we treat others based on appearance. When we measure their worth based on what they can offer us. An uncaring attitude runs rampant when we look at serving one another as a burden and not a blessing; when we quit serving because others are not meeting our expectations. An uncaring attitude flourishes when we treat the church like a business venture, and we measure success based on the budget numbers or annual stats. An uncaring attitude is glaringly present when we go out of our way to avoid others, instead of offering a simple word of support or taking a genuine interest in their lives. An uncaring attitude is most harmful when we use the Word of God to beat others down or to hold them under our vain expressions of self-righteousness. The examples could go on and on. Lack of caring destroys the church.
Most of the time, you don’t have to look hard to see if a church is a caring one or not. And at every step of the way, the personality of a congregation is reflected in how personal its members and mission are. Do we care about others as we should or do we act more like a hired hand? This is a question worth asking regularly.
Through Jesus, we see how the Church is saved. He knows the sheep. He cares for the sheep. He seeks out the lost sheep. He laid down His life and He took it back again. Essentially, everything that Jesus is is contained in this imagery of Him as the Good Shepherd. This simple title describes who He is in the fullest sense and what He provides in our lives.
The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep. He cares so much that not only does He refuse to abandon the flock in danger, He goes out of His way to seek the lost and straying. Jesus taught that in the parable of the Lost Sheep, how as the Good Shepherd He willingly leaves the rest of the flock to search out someone who is lost. To be lost is to live in sin or to follow a false teaching about who God is. Remember that that point was so important to Jesus, so much a part of who He is, that He gave two other parables saying the exact same thing (Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Prodigal son). If it’s important to the Good Shepherd, it should be important. Therefore, as we represent Him with caring for others, we speak against sin and we warn against false teaching. But we seek the lost with personal care, knowing that Jesus gave His life for all.
Jesus cares so much that He seeks out those whom others do not – those whom others think don’t belong in God’s Church. But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. This saying was directed at the Gentiles, who at that time were deemed outside of the kingdom of God by many of the Jews. But that wasn’t the case – Jesus cares for all people. The only ones outside are those who reject Him. If we tend the flock as we should, we won’t exclude others just because they are different than us. We won’t bring judgments or accusations in matters that God leaves to our freedom. We won’t accept others because they match the description we imagine when we think of a Christian. We won’t make membership in God’s Church about projecting a self-image of strength.
How are we doing at this point as we think about our lives? Sad to say, factionalism continues to be a problem in churches, even in our own. Self-righteousness leads us to judge others of a different religion, or a different denomination, while also ignoring our own inconsistencies, sins, and failures. [Plank and speck syndrome]
But there’s a host of other variables to consider as well. How well are you doing at trusting Jesus when He promises what He does? Do you believe that He cares for you, that He seeks you out, that He knows you by name? Because sometimes when we have insecurities in those areas of our faith, we project them on others around us. It’s good to ask if you trust Jesus, or if you have allowed the hired man to have the final say in your faith? Did you come to hear Jesus today, or did you come for some other reason – perhaps Christian guilt, a family member’s request, or simply out of habit? Sin doesn’t just affect us on the side of being Christ’s representative. It beats upon the door of your heart more than ever when you consider being a child of God by faith. Satan wants to rob you of your own hope in Jesus before he even thinks about you as a mouthpiece. He doesn’t just want to pluck away the fruits of your faith, but to rip up the whole plant by the root.
Don’t let Satan deter your hope in the Good Shepherd. Don’t come to hear me, or anyone else – come to hear Jesus. Don’t come out of guilt or fear, come for peace and joy.
This lesson today is a difficult one to balance. We need to heed our calling to preach the Word – to represent Jesus. We are hired as laborers in His vineyard. We are all members of the same body – called to the same purpose. And this is a great privilege. It may not always feel like that, and it may not be a glorious earthly calling to be a hired representative, but it is a blessed privilege to follow Jesus and display His glory. We need to remember those things. But we also need to trust the Good Shepherd. Our confidence is not in men or women, in church buildings or legacies, or in synods or denominations. If it is, the Church will be scattered because we will lack the care that Jesus gives. There is a purpose to all of those things, but only with the right balance.
Likewise, when we are unfaithful, when we fall into the cycle of vanity that makes us thing we have the right to do and say what we please – we need to repent. We need to remember how important humility is to this whole thing. This is all summarized in one thought: As much as we learn about ourselves in this text, we learn even more about Jesus. And that’s the right balance.
Sometimes there’s so many ways the Church becomes scattered, we neglect the one way it has been saved – Jesus laid down His life and took it again. He did that for the lost. He did that for those currently outside the flock. He did that for the person we’d least expect Him to do it for. And, He did that for you. Focus on Him – the Good Shepherd, the one who saved the Church and you will have that balance. Amen.