The more we study the ways of the Lord Jesus, the more we shall find what is unfathomable in goodness and beauty. In this chapter what extremes meet in reference to Him! What power, and yet what submission! There are heights of moral glory, and yet depths of humiliation. He presents Himself as the Son of God, and yet He enters in by the door, and has the porter opening to Him.
The Person of the Lord Jesus will always afford food for our souls, if we study Him; and while we shall be humbled by it, we shall be strengthened with the consciousness that all that He is He is for us. The heart delights in Him as one it can feel as its own, and yet admire and adore.
At this time the Lord had been fully putting Israel to the test. Chapters 8 and 9 shew us how entirely He was rejected. In chapter 8 His word is rejected, and in chapter 9 His works. Thus the result of His coming is, that He is cast out, and He says, “For judgment I am come into the world”; and because of their treatment of Him they are culpably guilty. “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now, ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” Then He as much as goes on to say, Not one bit of it is in vain. He has come as He ought, and in the prescribed way, “by the door”; and God would own and make good His coming, though He was rejected and set at naught. All His sheep should come to Him, and He could say, “I have spent my strength for naught and in vain, and yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” If He had come acknowledged as a king in glory and power, He would have had many follow Him; but now, though He was the lowly and despised One, He would have all who really wanted Him. “He that entereth not by the door, but climbeth up some other way, is a thief and a robber.” All these great messiahs, setting up to be some one (and there were plenty of them), were no better than “thieves and robbers.” We see at once here who it is that comes in by the door, and the first thing we find in Him is absolute submission; and notice that this, though true of the Shepherd primarily, is true also of all who follow the Shepherd. All power and real effective service will be found to spring from entire submission.
There was entire rejection for Jesus, as He said, “Dogs have compassed me,” and again, “My bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax.” It was a painful thing thus to be met— everything deepening and darkening towards death as He passed along, but He went through it all, and thus entered in by the door in perfect submission. Those who found Him must be brought into the same place too, for it was there He found them. See the blind man: where did he find Him? In the place of his rejection. Christ is before him when they “cast him out.” There is not one such poor sheep whom His voice cannot reach. He meets souls just where they need Him; in distress or difficulty, no matter what, He suffers Himself for them. He went in by the door, and He was the true shepherd—not of Israel indeed, for they as a people rejected Him; but He is the shepherd of the sheep—of all whose consciences and hearts were touched. He is “the shepherd of the sheep.” Does He use His power in claiming them for Himself? No! He is the submissive One coming in perfect dependence on God. Thus, when Lazarus was dead, He did not move until He had a word from God to do it. He took the form of a servant; and a servant must be dependent and obedient.
“To him the porter openeth.” “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” He was here in complete humiliation, and this was His perfectness as man. God, His Father, does not spare Him the suffering, but He opens the door. As a fact He has come, and the sheep hear His voice. Though trodden upon by the goats in the way, He does not care for it, but goes after the sheep; and the sheep know that He cares for them. They understand that He has an interest in them, for they “hear his voice.” Why did He bear all the contempt poured upon His words and works, Son of God as He was? It was for the sake of the sheep. He was content to bear the trampling of the goats for the sake of the sheep amongst them.
Then, again, there is perfect ability in Him to deliver them. He is not going to leave them amongst the goats. No: “he leadeth them out.” He draws their hearts: He makes Himself known to them, and charges Himself with their safety and deliverance. “He goeth before them.” “When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them.” What then? are there no dangers and difficulties in the way? With Israel, when brought out of Egypt, and over the sea, were they in no danger of losing their way? Yes: but there was the cloud to guide them. Was there no danger from enemies in the way? Yes: but there was the captain of Jehovah’s host. So now with His sheep, He leads them out, and does not leave them. He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him. See what certainty is found here.
Persons may make this remark or that; but if I know it is Christ’s voice, it is enough for me. “Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp.” It is not now for me to remain in the Jewish fold. “He leadeth them out.” But some will say, How do you know it is not your own will you are following? It says, “They know his voice.” The sheep know the voice of Christ, and if they have not got His voice, they stop until they have. There is one voice they know. There are plenty of other voices, but they do not know them. Sheep are silly, stupid creatures; but they know the Shepherd’s voice— that one voice. The moment Christ’s voice has reached me, it is enough; and this gives a peace and quietness in one’s path that nothing else does. It is not great wisdom or great strength that gives this, but it is hearing the Shepherd’s voice and knowing it. If not the Shepherd’s voice, it is dreaded. “A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him.” The Shepherd does not frighten. He gives strength and confidence; and, His voice having once reached the heart, nothing else is needed. This is when the eye is single. If double, a man is unstable in all his ways—not in one, but in all.
Never was divine love so shewn forth as in Christ coming down so low; and it was because He is what He is that He could do it. If Adam left his first estate, it was sin; but Christ could humble Himself, and it was the perfectness of love. While He entered in Himself by the appointed way, He is the door—the entrance to the way for every one else. They would not, as Jews, have been warranted in leaving the Jewish fold, if Christ had not come as the door into another thing. He was the warrant, and so with us. By Him we may come out and enter in and find peace and blessing. What marks the sheep is that Christ is their door. He is the door for the sheep. They could not say they were saved because Jews, though they had God’s oracles and much advantage every way; it was only by Christ they could be saved. Mark, it says, “If any man enter in, he shall be saved.” It does not say, if they follow on well, but if they “enter in.” There must be the real hearing the voice of the good Shepherd. If he enters in, he is saved; and he cannot enter in without being saved. Then there is a path to follow, doubtless; but that is the result of being saved. We shall find it difficult oft-times, Satan tripping us up, the world and the flesh; but the door is to “go in and out” by. There is liberty of heart. I can go out into the world to testify of Christ, because my soul is in the safeguard of Christ Himself; not pent up in ordinances, nor in monasticism. There is food also, and they “find pasture.” They enjoy all the truth of God’s word.
Christ’s sheep thus have safety too. “None can pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” They have liberty, “go in and out,” and they have all the food God can give. They “find pasture,” and what more will they have? They will have the glory by-and-by. Then He contrasts Himself with all these false teachers that have gone before, and says of Himself, “I am come that they might have life.” Not content with giving life only, He gives it “more abundantly”; as in Romans, “They that receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one Jesus Christ.” Here we serve in life; then we shall reign in life. What liberty, what abundance of all things it gives, when we see that He is our life! He gives life more abundantly. Cost what it will, He is intent on saving them. “He giveth his life for the sheep.” As though He said, I am devoted to you, and I am determined to get you out of this wretched place in which you are: I will get you out, cost what it will. “I am the good shepherd, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He has so given His sheep life, and now He will give all that they want in life. (See the contrast of these hireling shepherds.) It might be said, if He has given His life for them, He can do nothing more. But no! it is not so with Him. See verse 14, “I know my sheep and am known of mine.” There is not only caring for the flock as a whole, but for the individual sheep: “and am known of mine.” Paul knew He “loved the church, and gave himself for it”; and he knew also that He loved him, and gave Himself for him. Then there is as true a relationship of love between Christ and the sheep now as there is between Him and His Father (v. 14, 15).
Further, “There shall be one flock, one shepherd.” Jew and Gentile were to be brought into the church of God. “Therefore doth my Father love me,” He says, “because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” This shews the wonderful value of the work done. It is a motive for the Father’s love! Yet however low He might go, even to laying down His life, He could take it up again. He had power [title or authority] to do it; but He was in the place of obedience. “This commandment have I received of my Father.” He had power, but He was the obedient servant. What a difference there is between Him and us! We could not take up our lives again, if we laid them down. It was in virtue of His divine title and power, as well as love, that He came so low for us.
Verse 19 (and downwards) shews us the different way in which the Jews heard and received His sayings to what His sheep do. Christ’s voice has power in the heart, and this is the secret of the difference between them and the goats.
And, again later on, see the full security and extent of blessing they have in virtue of the Shepherd’s title and power. “I give unto them eternal life.” It is a life that is eternal, not that which is to be taken away again. Whoever has heard Christ’s voice has eternal life. It must be eternal life that Christ gives; for if one of His sheep could perish, Christ must perish. And it must be a holy life, too, that He gives, for the same reason. What Christ gives must be holy, for He is holy. “They shall never perish.” A sheep is a perishing thing; but His sheep do not perish. We may fall asleep, or we may be changed; but the same life that we have now in Him and with Him we shall have then at His coming. There are two points in which this blessed security consists. First, Christ is in them, as their life; secondly, “None shall pluck them out of my hand.” They are in His hand. The Father has given us to Christ, and He is to do the work for us. The Father’s love is concerned, and He is able to do it all. You must get some one more powerful than God, if you can be plucked out of His hand. The Father sent the Son and the Son has sent the Spirit, so that all three are concerned in our salvation.
There is then salvation, and eternal life for the sheep; but how are we to know who are the sheep? They are those who know His voice. How sweet the thought that, as the Shepherd, He leads them all the way! It is hearing Christ’s voice that distinguishes the Christian, though there are sorrows and troubles, difficulties and perplexities. Hearing Christ’s voice has absolute authority and power for him, “perplexed but not in despair.”
How wonderful that He should have thus come down to let us hear His voice! How precious here to be taught that Jesus and the Father are one, that the glory of the Son’s Person is identified with the security of the sheep, both against inward weakness and outward violence, as it is with the height and depth of the love of which the sheep were the objects! The Father and the Son are one in divine essence, as they are in efficacious love to the sheep.