As we saw last time, in vv. 1-5 of chapter 10 the Lord introduced several metaphors taken from ANE sheep farming. In vv. 7-10, which we considered last Lord’s Day morning, he expanded on one of those metaphors and likened himself to the gate of the sheep pen. Now, in vv. 11-18, he expands on another and likens himself to the shepherd.
v.11 “I am the good shepherd” is the 4th of the seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. Ordinarily, of course, shepherds would rarely die in the line of duty, but there was danger. We remember David having to fight off a lion and a bear that threatened his flock. But, as we will see, the Lord is not only prepared to die for his sheep, he came precisely to do so.
v.14 Now we are given to see the nature of the death the shepherd must die for his sheep. They are in peril and he gives up his life to save them. Remember, as the Lord made clear in v. 9, he is talking in this passage about salvation. Interestingly, the Mishnah, the collection of rabbinical law from about this period, specifies that if only one wolf attacks the flock, the shepherd is required to defend the sheep, but if two or more attack it is an “unavoidable accident.” [Baba Metzia 7:9] The Good Shepherd, however, gives his life for the sheep without condition.
v.15 The shepherd’s knowledge of his sheep and theirs of him is akin to the mutual knowledge of the father and the son. He is making the point that it is an intimate knowledge. The particularity of the shepherd’s relation with the sheep, which had been introduced already in vv. 3-5, is now emphasized again. The Lord is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (1:29) and the Savior of the world (4:42), but he is as emphatically the one who came to save those the Father gave to him (6:37) and those who are his sheep. As Paul will put it, Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.
v.16 However many sheep there are, they will all listen to Christ’s voice – whether his own human voice during the days of the ministry or his voice as mediated by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. Here, clearly, the sheep pen refers to Judaism and the “other sheep” refers to the Gentiles. The book of Acts tells the story of the beginnings of this mission to the nations and some of the first sheep, not of the original sheep pen, to hear the Lord’s voice and follow him. The “I have other sheep…” indicates that they are already his sheep, even though they have not yet been called or brought. This is the doctrine of election taught from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Think of the Lord’s telling Paul that he had much people in the city of Corinth prior to the conversion of those people. Paul had to stay to preach so that those sheep might be brought in. The result is that those brought from the first fold of Judaism and those not from that fold will eventually form one flock with one shepherd. That is a pre-Pentecostal way of saying what Paul says in Ephesians 2:11-22, our text for the session visitation this year. Verse 16, by the way, is engraved on the tombstone of David Livingstone, the great missionary to Africa.
v.17 That is, the Father loves the Son for his perfect obedience to the Father’s will.
v.18 A very important point. In one sense, of course, the Lord was arrested and then murdered by evil men. But it is supremely important to know that this was always God’s plan and Jesus’ plan. As we read in Acts 4:27-28, the early Christians understood full well that though their deeds were their own evil, the executioners of Jesus were only doing his will for him and the Father’s will. He came into the world to lay down his life and he did it. And, of course, at any point, had he wished, he could have escaped that cruel death. He told his disciples at his arrest not to attempt to help him. “After all,” he told them, “do you not know that if I asked, the Father would send twelve legions of angels to my aid!” Instead, we see him in the Gospels orchestrating events to ensure that his death happens at precisely the right place, in precisely the right time, and in precisely the right way. This was a murder, to be sure; but far more it was, in plan, in intention, and in the event itself, his own sacrifice offered for the sins of his people. And again, as so often in the Lord’s speech, he gives the credit for this plan to his Father and says that in all that he is doing and will do, he is only obeying his Father in heaven.
In this great text, we are given an account of salvation from its beginning to its end. We see the great sweep of salvation. You are aware that, in the Bible, salvation, the salvation of sinners, your salvation and mine, is explained and accounted for in a variety of ways because salvation itself has several different moments, or aspects, or dimensions.
- We can think, in the first place, of our salvation in terms of our election before the foundation of the world.
We clearly have that here as the Lord speaks about his sheep, many of whom, as he says in v. 16, have no inkling of him yet as their Savior; indeed, many of whom do not yet even exist in the world. We, you and I, all of us Gentiles who are truly Christians, are after all, the “other sheep” to whom the Lord made reference in v. 16. Before the Lord Jesus came into the world, before he laid down his life, God already knew his people, had already chosen them for salvation. This is a difficult doctrine, to be sure, but that it is the teaching of the Bible there can be no doubt. And not here only but everywhere in the Bible.
Think of such statements as these.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…” [Eph. 1:3-5]
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called, and those he called, he also justified…” [Rom. 8:28-30]
And in this same Gospel of John we hear many times, in one way or another, that the Lord Jesus came into the world to save “the people the Father had given to him.” Indeed, we are going to get that point made with emphasis in the very next paragraph, in vv. 26-29. You have the same thing in the Lord’s great prayer in chapter 17. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.”  “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…”  – a statement very like our verse 16 here. “Righteous father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they [that is, his disciples] know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them…”  And we have the same in John 6:39 and other places in that great sermon on the bread of life: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
So we can think about our salvation as the plan and purpose of God before the world was even made; a covenant or agreement between the Father and the Son that the Son should come into the world to save God’s chosen people, his sheep. And, given the fact that no one can frustrate the will of the Almighty, no one can prevent him from accomplishing his will, we rightly say that once it was God’s plan to save us by Christ, our salvation was a certainty. We were saved, in one sense, before the foundation of the world.
- But, of course, in the second place, we can also speak of salvation as that deliverance from sin and death that Christ Jesus effected for us by his life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead.
The eternal plan of God did, of course, have to be carried out. A price had to be paid for our sins. It had to be done in real history, in time and space. It could not simply be the idea of such a sacrifice. It may be that there was never another plan than this – Jesus Christ is described in the Bible as the “Lamb slain before the creation of the world” that is, the plan that he should come into the world and suffer and die for our sins was laid in eternity past – but the plan still had to be executed, the suffering born, the sacrificial death of the perfect lamb offered to the justice of God. This Christ did and here in John 10 we hear him say that he never had any other intention but to lay down his life for his sheep. He came into the world to die for us. And that death is our salvation. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” [Mk 10:45]
This is just how Peter sums it up in his first letter.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to your from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake. [1:18-20]
When that work was done on the cross, there is a true sense in which it can be said that we were saved, at that very point. That is the way the Bible very often speaks. The angel told Joseph before Jesus was born, “he will save his people from their sins.” Paul speaks in a similar way. “…if, when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…” We were reconciled to God, we obtained peace with God through the death of his Son. “When we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly.” “Since we have been justified by his blood…” In these and many other statements like them the Bible represents our salvation as being accomplished, as happening, as taking place on the cross and all of the blessings of that salvation coming to us at that time.
So just as we can say that we were saved when we were chosen and brought into God’s plan of salvation, long before we even existed; so we can say that we were saved when Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, in our place, and paid, on our behalf, the debt of our sins.
- And, then, in the third place, we can speak of our salvation as that work by which we are drawn to Christ in faith.
There is a sense in which we are not saved until we have responded in faith to the Lord Jesus, until we have heard his voice and answered his call to follow him. This is the way the Lord speaks here in v. 16 when he refers to his other sheep who must still hear his voice.
In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, you remember, the Apostle Peter said to those of his hearers who were responding to his message that the promise was for them, for their children, and for all who are afar off, for all whom the Lord our God shall call.
The rest of Acts is the story of the Lord calling those who are afar off. Jews and Gentiles in the towns of Galatia, Lydia and the jailer and their families in Philippi, large numbers of people in Corinth and Ephesus, and so on. They were the sheep that were not of the Jewish fold and they too heard the Lord’s voice and followed him. When, in fear he cried out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Paul said to the Philippian jailer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved and your house.” But Paul’s voice and his words were but the form the Lord Jesus’ voice took and the jailer and many others recognized the Good Shepherd’s voice in the voice of his preachers and became a part of that one fold with one shepherd.
It is all the same salvation, of course. Whether we are thinking about it from the vantage point of the plan and the choice that God made long before the world was made – when he chose to save his sheep by his Son –, or from the vantage point of its accomplishment in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, or from the vantage point of its actual application to a human soul at the time the Lord calls one of his sheep to faith in himself and that sheep begins to follow him. Indeed, we can also think of our salvation in terms of its consummation when Christ returns. In Hebrews 9:28 we read of the Lord Jesus appearing a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Salvation can be seen too from the vantage point of its completion and of our being raised in perfection to eternal life.
See how great a thing salvation is? The greatest thing in the world. Before the world was made it was God’s plan for the world, when Christ made the world – remember he was the active creator; John has already told us that in chapter 1 – he made that world that he was already committed to save from the sin and death into which it would so soon pitch itself. When Christ came into the world his sole errand was to save his people from their sins. Think of how many other things he might have done for the world, how many problems he might have solved, how many gifts he might have given us, how many ways he might have changed the world. But he did but one thing: saved his sheep from their sins. And now, all through the history of the world and still today the great story is the outworking of Christ’s death and resurrection in the souls of men and women, boys and girls, as the Holy Spirit applies to them the blessings of eternal life. And, where is the world going but to the consummation of this salvation at the end of time. People nowadays are mesmerized by political, social, and technological developments in our world. But this is mere background. Our election on Tuesday are a bagatelle compared to the outworking of God’s salvation. Someone will be saved next Tuesday, many will be no doubt — many sheep brought in — and in eternity to come it will be celebrated as their day of grace and salvation long after its consequences for American politics have been forgotten, buried in the mists of time. It is the cardinal sin of the media. Not that they cover the election, but that they never cover the one truly magnificently important story going on before them in the world. But then, no wonder, for as we will see next time, most media types are not Christ’s sheep. Why does Christ delay his return? Because there are more of his sheep to be called, more who will hear the shepherd’s voice and follow him. When the last sheep has been added to the flock, the end will come! No more wars, no more elections, no more politics.
See too, how great salvation is because it is the work and the preoccupation of the Triune God. The Lord Jesus is always referring to the Father’s plan and the Father’s people; the Lord Jesus came to save those the Father had given to him; and the Holy Spirit is the one who opens ears and hearts so that the sheep of God, otherwise blind, deaf, and dumb like the rest of sinners, can hear the shepherd’s voice and see him to follow him.
Everything turns on this salvation. Everything contributes its part. The old writers used to speak of the “Chain of Salvation”: God the Father ordained it, Christ merited it, the Spirit applies it, the Word promises it, the sacraments seal it, faith receives it, the mouth confesses it, and good works bear witness to it.” [Modified from Wollebius, cited in Heppe, xlviii]
And this is, as our Savior says here, the great story of the world. I was reading this past week the wonderful account of the first convert of the early missionaries to India. William Carey, who you may remember is often thought of as the father of the modern missionary movement, had gone to India himself. Seven years into his service he still could not point to a single person who had become a Christian through his preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had almost abandoned hope of any converts.
Krishna Pal was born into an orthodox Brahmin family. A carpenter by trade, he was involved as a Brahmin in teaching Hindu ‘mantras’ (short hymns repeated during meditation). However, he could find no peace for his own heart and no remedy for his own sin which, unusual for Hindus, he was very conscious of and troubled by. Several missionaries had explained the gospel to him and offered him hope for forgiveness through the redemption of Jesus Christ, but to no avail. And then, on the 25th of November, 1800, Krishna was bathing in the river and conducting his Hindu worship when he slipped and fell, dislocating his shoulder. He was in such excruciating pain that friends sent for the Christian missionary doctor, John Thomas. Thomas went to his house, accompanied by William Carey and another man. With their help he finally managed to get Krishna’s shoulder back in place and then used the opportunity provided by the injury to speak to him once more about sin and salvation. They left Krishna with a Christian mantra to use:
“Sin confessing, sin forsaking,
Christ’s righteousness embracing,
The soul is free.”
Krishna came to recognize a deeper meaning in this chant than in his Hindu mantras and soon thereafter began to attend Bible studies at the mission. On the 22 of December Thomas asked Krishna if he understood the truths he was being taught. He replied with conviction that “the Lord Jesus Christ had given his very life for the salvation of sinners, and he…believed this.” The missionaries wanted to be sure and continued their interrogation. They were looking for a complete dependence upon Christ for salvation. This they felt they found in Krishna and at the end of the meeting they sang together, in Bengali, Watts’ hymn, “Salvation, O the Joyful Sound.”
On the 28th of December Krishna was baptized along with William Carey’s son, Felix. Krishna was the first fruit of a great many converts who would come to Christ in the months and years ahead. Krishna himself suffered for his faith, was evicted from his home by his Brahmin landlord, was shunned by family members, was hauled into court, but he remained steadfast in his loyalty to Christ and brought others in his family to believe in Christ with him. Later on one of the missionaries noted that virtually all the members of that local church who were converts from Hinduism had been first influenced by Krishna Pal and his family.
He struggled to live a godly life, as all Christians do. He had a temper and he sometimes lost it. At one point he had to be disciplined by the church, but he quickly confessed his sin and sorrow and was restored and died in August of 1822 a faithful Christian man, the father of a Christian family, and the spiritual father of many other Indian believers. [Taken from Evangelical Times (Nov. 2000), 29]
What is that but the Lord calling his other sheep, their recognizing the shepherd’s voice, and following him. No one comes but the sheep, but they come, inevitably, inexorably they come, no matter the opposition, they come. For the Lord Christ himself is bringing them. Just as no one could take his life from him or prevent him from laying it down for the salvation of his people, so no one can prevent him calling his sheep or prevent them from hearing his voice.
For this is salvation and that is the work of Almighty God from beginning to end. Hear him:
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” [Isa. 46:10]
“He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” [Dan. 4:35]
The history of this world is the story of God’s salvation, the shepherd dying for the sheep, and they being called to follow him and doing so. Who understands this understands everything. Who does not understand this, whatever else he or she knows, knows nothing of real and lasting importance. God’s salvation is the meaning of it all. The reason this world continues, and the only reason, is that this wonderful salvation is not yet complete. The shepherd has some sheep yet to call. May God call a goodly number of them right here in the months and years to come!