Read John 10:1-21.
I was reading today about bad leaders (or bad shepherds, if you will). This Chinese leader named Mao Zedong once launched a campaign to exterminate sparrows because they ate grain seeds. Many millions in China enthusiastically followed this shepherd. They destroyed nests, broke eggs, and shot sparrows (and other birds) out of the sky until their population was devastated. But a few years later, Mao Zedong’s followers realized that grain seeds weren’t the only thing the sparrows ate. They ate insects. So without the sparrows the insect population exploded, which impacted crop yields, which in turn contributed to a famine.
There was another shepherd or leader named Inalchuq (pronounced in-all-kuck) who was the governor of a city of the Khwarezmian (pronounced core-ezz-mee-in) Empire. He once executed an entire Mongol caravan. But there was a problem. The problem was that the Mongol leader at the time happened to be Genghis Khan. In response to his caravan’s slaughter Kahn wiped out the entire Empire.
A shepherd of Cambodia named Pol Pot executed anyone in his country who was suspected of being intelligent. Before his reign was over he killed about 1.5 million of his own people.
Stalin killed at least 34 million of his own people.
Bad leaders, or bad shepherds, making bad decisions, and leading their followers astray.
The Good Shepherd
In today’s passage from the book of John, Jesus is talking to the Jews about himself as a shepherd. He begins by explaining how the true shepherd is the one who comes into the sheepfold through the door and how others who break in are thieves and robbers. If you’re interested, you can read more about the door Jesus entered through in our last blog post from the book of John.
Jesus continues: 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 because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will flee from him because they don’t know his voice.
But the crowd he was speaking to didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about himself as the true and good shepherd of Israel and of all who would follow him. So he switches to different imagery, the imagery of a door. (There’s a great church in Portland where I live called “Door of Hope.” If you’re ever in my neighborhood, I hope you’ll check it out.) Jesus is the good and true Shepherd, of course. But he’s also the door to eternal life with God.
So he takes this new approach and says: Truly, truly, I say I’m the door for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, and my sheep didn’t listen to them.
I am the door.
If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came so you may have life and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand who doesn’t own the sheep sees the wolf coming and flees. He leaves the sheep and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he’s only there for the pay, he’s not there for the sheep. But I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that aren’t from this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, and one shepherd. This is why the Father loves 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 will. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
After these words there was division among the crowd of Jews. Many said he had a demon and was crazy. But Jesus said these things immediately after he restored the sight of the man born blind from birth. So others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Choosing Your Shepherd
If you’ve walked planet earth for any length of time at all, you already know there’s an endless supply of bad leaders or shepherds out there. Like you I’ve endured my share of them. Bad teachers, bad coaches, bad bosses. Bad leaders. Bad shepherds.
But the one shepherd I’ve found to be good, always, without fail, is Jesus. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a pastor one night after attending his Bible study. I was about to change careers, from firefighting to writing, so I asked him if he had any advice. He said, “Study Jesus.” My response was polite, but inside I was laughing him off, because, after all, I had studied the Bible for thirty years. I had studied the Bible diligently for thirty years. I’m a note taker. I’m a note keeper. I’m serious about it. I had been serious about it, for thirty years. “Study Jesus,” he said. Hah!
But I thought about it further, and came to the conclusion that I really had nothing to lose anyway, so, why not? I dove in and began to really study Jesus, and Jesus blew my mind.
The more I study his life and his words, and the more I strive to follow his words, the more I find him to be the good Shepherd. In fact I’m experiencing this cycle where the more I study him, the more impressed with him I become.
He truly is the good Shepherd.
Always. Without fail.
I’m so glad I chose to listen to Jesus’ voice and to follow him.
I hope you will too.
(If you have questions about following Jesus, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shepherd and Sheep image via Pixabay-Public Domain