HOW TO OVERCOME OPPOSITION AND EXPERIENCE LIFE TO THE FULLEST

David Smallbone was a music promoter from Australia, that experienced financial ruin and came to the U.S. with the promise of a job, only to discover, that it fell through. With his pregnant wife, and six children, they struggled financially; but as a family sought God and saw God provide day by day for their needs. What seemed disastrous caused tremendous spiritual growth in them all. This is the heritage of Christian recording artists, Rebecca St. James and later the group started by her two brothers, called ‘For King and Country.’

We often assume that the fulness of life that Jesus promised is without trials, tribulations, and even hostility and opposition. However, we see that Jesus, who lived life to the fullest experienced all of these things in his life, but triumphed. How can we, like Jesus, overcome opposition and live the abundant life?

Looming over the conversation that Jesus is having with some of the religious leaders, of the religious sect known as Pharisees, is the judgment that they will experience over their dereliction of duty toward the people. The Pharisees not only embraced the law of Moses, but also the oral traditions of the elders, but because of their self-righteous understanding were blinding many of them to who Jesus is. While the common people heard Jesus gladly, the Pharisees as a group, found themselves in contention with Jesus and his teachings. 

D. A. Carson explains the connection between John chapter 9 and 10.

The thematic break between chapters 9 and 10 is not as radical as first appears. The healed man has been roughly treated by the religious authorities, and thrown out of the synagogue. What John next writes, then, is that many thieves and robbers destroy the sheep, while the good shepherd leads his own out from the sheep pen and into his own flock.[i]

Jesus was making a place for those who were sheep without the rightful shepherd. Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, we discover that the leaders of Israel were in large part responsible for the exile. They had not only neglected the people, but took advantage of them for their own gain, while moving them further away from trusting in God. We cannot fully grasp the significance of what Jesus is saying to these Pharisees apart from understanding this issue of leadership found in Ezekiel.

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.[ii]

Here we find in John 10 a fulfillment of this prophecy, where God, himself is the good shepherd searching for his lost sheep. It is this background that helps us with the intensity of conversation that is now flowing between Jesus, the good shepherd and these false shepherds.

Gerald Borchert explains the intensity of the hostility which was a part of the previous chapter.

The present text begins by placing the reader immediately into a context of hostility. By beginning the mashal [parable or an analogy] in this way, the reader cannot help but recognize the connection between the hostile opponents of Jesus in the previous chapters and the hostile enemies of both the shepherd and the sheep in this chapter.[iii]

One of the most significant metaphors in Scripture is the picture of a shepherd in relationship to his sheep. People were familiar with this imagery of political leaders as shepherds of the nation. The nature of the relationship between leaders and people was one of dependency. Sheep are a very vulnerable creature. Here in John 10, Jesus explains the contrast between himself as ‘the good shepherd,’ who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep, and those who were simply hirelings or shepherds who were serving themselves at the expense of the people. Jesus points out this contrast between himself and these religious leaders who were abusing God’s people by explaining some of the key characteristics of a good shepherd of which Jesus is the ultimate expression and example of.

THE FIRST CHARACTERISTIC OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS THE SECURITY THAT HE PROVIDES

Safety and a sense of security are fundamental needs of sheep, as they are defenseless against predators. What is true of sheep is equally true of human beings. A sense of security and safety is one of the underlying foundations on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Jesus is present with us in our trying moments, and particularly in times of opposition. In John 9, Jesus sought out the man who had been thrown out of the synagogue and revealed himself as the Messiah to him. He became part of God’s flock.

A. The Metaphor of Shepherd and sheep.

Jesus, in using this metaphor or figure of speech, describes the core issue of tension between himself and these leaders who are in conflict with him. They were driven by self-interest, whereas, Jesus is motivated and concern for the interest of people.

Because the Pharisees are blind leaders, they are bogus shepherds, and come under the category of those designated in 10:8 as thieves and robbers.[iv]

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.[v]

The sheepfold was a place of security, not a place for intruders. Such a sheepfold would likely have been either a circular or square enclosure, probably constructed like a high stone fence or wall and perhaps topped with vines. The entrance would have been the only break in the wall, and once the sheep were safely inside at night, the watchman/guard (either a servant or a shepherd, usually an assistant) would lie down across the opening and serve both as the protector for the sheep and as a gate to the sheepfold. Unless an intruder was willing to confront the watchman, the only way into the sheepfold was to climb the wall.[vi]

Jesus states here that those who try to apprehend the sheep by trying to ‘climb in by some other way’ are thieves and robbers.’ What we need to understand is that by stating this, these leaders were basically thieves and robbers, which was deeply insulting.

Some applied the label of ‘robberies’ or ‘plunder’ figuratively to officials exploiting a province (a useful comparison for Jesus’ application to the elite here). The image was hardly friendly. …Thus thieves in Tannaitic parables most often stand for pagan nations oppressing Israel; that Jesus would apply the image to Israel’s leaders would not commend him to their sympathies.[vii]

B. A Personal knowledge of each believer.

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.[viii]

God knows our name. He knows each of us intimately, even as a good shepherd knows his sheep and their unique characteristics. We notice here in our text that the sheep know his voice and follow him out of the fold to go to the pastures where they are nourished. The security of the sheep is not so much that they are in a sheltered area, but that they are near the shepherd. He is the one who protects them and leads them to where they can be nourished. There is a close affinity that Shepherds had with their flock.

Shepherds normally become very familiar with their sheep, which would usually not be difficult if the average flock size was about one hundred. ‘Calling by name’ most of all indicates familiarity, and often a degree of affection.[ix]

How do you perceive your relationship with God? Do you see God as loving, personal, and deeply familiar with you? Do you see the Lord Jesus as your Shepherd, providing and protecting you? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that we need not worry because God will provide what we need.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?[x]

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.[xi]

C. The nature of following the shepherd.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.[xii]

Those who belong to the good shepherd follow him. Why? Because they respond to his instruction. What does it mean for us to know the voice of God? Or to frame the question differently, ‘how can we hear God’s voice?’ It simply means that we listen to or obey the Scripture.

In Scripture, God’s voice was his message to his people through the law and/or prophets; thus Israel was to ‘hear,’ that is, ‘hearken to’ or ‘obey’ God’s voice. …Knowing Jesus’ voice also means knowing Jesus, a covenant relationship of intimacy no less serious than Jesus’ relationship with the Father. …Just as ‘hearing’ Jesus connotes ‘heeding’ him (given a frequent biblical connotation of ‘‘hear’’), so knowing him connotes ‘following him’, that is obedience. Temporary following, perhaps because one saw signs, is not what John means here, for it cannot yield life; following means discipleship, implying a new kind of life and following to the death, even as one of the sheep.[xiii]

To really know the voice of God means that we continue to follow Jesus, by obeying his word right to the end of our lives.

D. The entrance into the sheepfold.

Jesus is now explaining the nature of being part of God’s covenant people, or being one of God’s sheep. The gate is actually Jesus. We must come to Jesus in order to come to God.

Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.[xiv]

The reason these Pharisees did not understand was because they were not hearing or obeying God. This was the reason they did not hear the voice of the good shepherd, Jesus. If they had really known God, they would have positively embraced Jesus.

Jesus had said, ‘All who come before me are thieves and robbers.’ Who was Jesus talking about?

Don Carson explains something of their past as a nation of being deceived by false messengers.

It sounds, rather, as if reference is being made to messianic pretenders who promise the people freedom but who lead them into war, suffering and slavery. The freedom Jesus wins for his people will be achieved not by sword and shield, but by a cross.[xv]

Just like a gate allows access into another place, so it is in the kingdom of God. The way into God’s kingdom is by going through the gate. The gate or way into the kingdom of God is through a person. Later in this gospel, Jesus explains that he is the way or gate into God’s presence and kingdom.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[xvi]

THE SECOND CHARACTERISTIC OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS THE SHELTER GIVEN TO ENRICH OUR LIVES

What is a shelter but a place of refuge from the elements. Jesus describes coming through him to another realm in life. It is a place where not only is safety found, but a place of enrichment and enjoyment. 

A. The contrast between the good shepherd and the false ones.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.[xvii]

What will we be saved from? We will be saved from deception, destruction, and death. We will come to a place of truth, protection, and life.

The only basis for spiritual security is Jesus alone. The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviours – its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots – and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come ‘only to steal’), ruthlessly trample human life under foot (they come ‘only…to kill’), and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come ‘only…to destroy’). Jesus is right. It is not the Christian doctrine of heaven that is the myth, but the humanist dream of utopia.[xviii]

The perfect place will only occur when Jesus comes again and creates it.

B. How the provision for this life is accomplished by Jesus.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.

The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.[xix]

The cost for this abundant, eternal life is the laying down of the good shepherd’s life for us, his sheep. Here in this analogy, Jesus introduces two new characters, the hireling and the wolf. While the thieves and robbers are wicked, the hireling is simply committed to self over the care of the sheep. This becomes evident when danger is introduced into the flock. The hireling is invested only in his salary, not the life of the sheep. When it becomes too difficult and dangerous, the hireling flees and abandons his responsibility. The hireling does not care for the sheep, whereas the good shepherd is so invested in the well-being of the sheep even to the point of giving up his life to protect them. The wolf is the predator that comes to devour and scatter the sheep. We know that we have a spiritual adversary, the devil who seeks to devour us. Safety for our souls is only found in drawing near to our good Shepherd, who will protect us and shelter us from his attacks. 

THE THIRD CHARACTERISTIC OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS THE SACRIFICE THAT HE PROVIDES FOR THE LIFE OF HIS SHEEP

Here we discover the real cost of being the good shepherd. Jesus willing gives up his life for us. Jesus dies in our place in order to deliver us from sin and death.

A. The act of sacrifice comes out of a loving relationship.

We are immediately confronted with this personal knowledge that Jesus knows us and we know him.     

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.[xx]

In another metaphor describing our relationship with Jesus is the imagery of the loving exclusivity of marriage. Paul describes Christ love for the church as giving himself up for her (cf. Eph. 5:25), in order to make her holy and blameless. Jesus’ sacrifice has a purpose to it. We need to understand that this relationship with God brings about our transformation. What sin designs to do is to destroy the image of God in our lives, God’s saving work is designed to renew God’s image within us.

B. The other flock.

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.[xxi]

The sheep pen described here is the Jewish pen in which some hear his voice and are led out to pasture. This other flock that hears Jesus’ voice is the Gentile or non-Jewish world, which comes to faith in Christ. Paul talks about this mystery that is now revealed, the mystery of the church, particularly in his letter to the Ephesians, where he explains the union of Jew and Gentiles through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised by those who call themselves “the circumcision”…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ…

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…[xxii]

Jesus, here in John 10, is saying that there is ultimately only one flock and one shepherd.

C. The authority of Jesus.

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.[xxiii]

Jesus’ death on the cross, his sacrifice for sin is not the end of the story but the end of a chapter, with the resurrection the opening chapter of a new beginning. Our fulness of life only comes as a result of his death and resurrection. We follow Jesus into the new chapter, this new resurrected life.

D. The divided response of the Jewish leaders.    

The Jews who heard these words were again divided.

Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?’

But others said, ‘These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’[xxiv]

Once again we hear the divided expressions concerning Jesus, the miracle of the man who was born blind, now seeing. Some attributed this miracle to demonic powers, while others refuted this conclusion and stated that both the teachings and the miracle came from God.

We overcome opposition and experience fulness of life when we come to Jesus and enter into his pasture where our souls are nourished, despite the challenges that this ‘present evil age’ presents to us. We must consider that everything that we see is transitory, meaning it is all passing away, and that the real eternal elements of life are found in the relationships we have, first of all with Jesus and then with others. Jesus our good shepherd does bring security, shelter and has substituted himself on our behalf as a sacrifice for our sin, so that we can say like the apostle Paul, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (cf. Romans 8:31). This abundant life does not mean that there will not be challenges or difficulties, but rather that we will prevail despite them. 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’.[xxv]

We need to draw near to Jesus, that is the only way to overcome hostility and experience the abundant life that Jesus is promising us. It’s there, if we will receive Him.

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[i]     D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 379.

[ii]      Ezekiel 34:2, 4-5, 10-1, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iii]      Gerald Borchert, John 1–11 Vol. 25A, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 331.

[iv]     R. V. G. Tasker, John, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), 128.

[v]     John 10:1.

[vi]     Gerald Borchert, John 1–11 Vol. 25A, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 331.

[vii]     Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 804.

[viii] John 10:2-3.

[ix]      Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1, 805.

[x]      Matthew 6:26.

[xi]    Luke 12:6-7.

[xii]     John 10:4-5.

[xiii]    Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1, 808.

[xiv]    John 10:6-8.

[xv]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 385.

[xvi]   John 14:6.

[xvii]   John 10:9-10.

[xviii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 385.

[xix]    John 10:11-13.

[xx]     John 10:14-15.

[xxi]   John 10:16.

[xxii] Ephesians 3:11-14.

[xxiii] John 10:17-18.

[xxiv] John 10:19-21.

[xxv] Romans 8:35-39.

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