Christ Jesus gave us the parable about shepherds, sheep and sheepfolds, and I am the first to admit I have no first-hand knowledge about sheep – at least not the four-legged variety.
This, however, was not the case for the original hearers of the parable. They would have understood the shepherd knew his sheep and they knew him. It was common for shepherds to name the sheep in their flocks, and there was such familiarity that sheep knew their shepherd’s voice. Shepherds are said to have had their own distinct calls to summon their flocks.
The sheepfold could be just about any enclosure from a pen made of limbs and stones to a cave. A sheepfold only had one door because it was important that the sheep be kept safe and secure. Jesus said a person entering anywhere but the door was a thief and robber since the shepherd would obviously use the door.
An under-shepherd, hired by the shepherd, would guard the sheepfold door. As the gatekeeper, he would only welcome the shepherds whose sheep were in the sheepfold. The shepherds would come, call their sheep, and then lead them out to green pastures.
Jesus emphasized that the sheep knew the voice of the shepherd leading them. Anyone other than the shepherd would be unable to lead the sheep, and in fact, they would flee from a stranger.
The Pharisees, John said, did not understand what Jesus said in this parable. The Lord as the great Shepherd was nothing new, but the well-educated Pharisees would not make the connection when they heard the parable. They did not understand because they had no desire to comprehend Christ’s teaching. They had such conceit in themselves and their own knowledge that they would not allow themselves to come to an understanding of the parable.
Christ Jesus explained the parable to them, saying He is the “door of the sheep.” Shepherds not only led their sheep out of the fold, they also led them into the fold, and Jesus is the door that all believers must pass through to enter the flock, or church.
Those who came before Him were “thieves and robbers,” a reference to the religious leaders who only had their interests at heart. They had no concern for the salvation of lost people. They were not shepherds and definitely had no love for people, and Jesus said, “but the sheep did not hear them.” There have always been people who knew salvation was found in Jesus alone.
Again Jesus said, “I am the door,” and he explained that salvation is only through Him. “If any man enter in,” or if a man has faith in Jesus, he will “go in and out, and find pasture.” The only true freedom is found in Jesus, and it is in Him that we have spiritual growth.
Other people have come with bad intentions, but Jesus has come that believers “might have life, and that them might have it more abundantly.” The thief only wants to destroy, but Jesus came to give life.
Christ Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Lambs had always died for man, now the Lamb of God has died for all who believe in Him. In contrast to the hireling who flees when the sheep are in danger, Jesus owns the sheep because He has died for them.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and Jesus knows us in a very special way that goes beyond mere recognition. He knows our nature and our needs. In speaking of the relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep, Jesus said He is “known of mine.” We first know Jesus by our surrender to Him, believing in Him as Lord and Savior, but knowing does not stop there. We grow in knowledge as we follow the Good Shepherd every day, and His voice is always growing ever more recognizable and sweeter.
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. Reach him at email@example.com