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Read John 10:1-18.

Maybe its time that Jesus drew some firm lines. One could say that he’s been sort of soft with this talk of coming to save rather than condemn. At first it seems like this is a teaching that defines who’s on the inside and who’s on the outside. Isn’t there some point when we must define “us” against “them”? Isn’t there a point when we say that you are either with us or against us?

1) What’s this talk of other sheep about?
At first it seems that Jesus is talking about leading his sheep out and separating them out. But then he seems to switch his emphasis and say that he’s going to gather up all these other sheep that we don’t even know about and we’ll all be one.
Is Jesus saying that there are many paths to God?
Has Jesus gone all fuzzy and mushy?

It’s sort of alarming to hear about other sheep. Sometimes it would be nice to really be the only sinner that Jesus died for, because then I wouldn’t have to put up with all those other sinners!

Just when we think we’ve sorted out our own flock, Jesus tells us there are more out there. That’s like a really big family reunion: Sometimes, it’s tough enough to go there and deal with the relatives you know you have. But then you have to go and deal with some you’ve never met!

Here’s one of the more challenging aspects of following Jesus: He’s always flocking his people together. There’s this nice idea that we can just follow Jesus in our hearts and have a one-on-one personal relationship. Love Jesus, forget the church. After all, Jesus is fine, but church? Those are the others and that’s where we have the problem.

As long as Jesus is going to be drawing all these other sheep in, someone needs to be around to sort them out and tag them, right. Let’s be sure he hasn’t put some sheep in the wrong pen after all. Let’s be sure a goat hasn’t snuck in. We can do that for Jesus right?

No. We cannot. Because Jesus doesn’t want any hired hands. The hired hand isn’t the same as the shepherd. Hired hands are not committed to sheep. They are committed to their own connection to a flock. And when that connection is a threat, they leave it all behind.

Jesus is perfectly capable of gathering his flock and owning each and every sheep. We are not hired hands. We are just sheep.

But who “manages” this flock? This probably isn’t the right question to ask. But as they say, Jesus is the Answer.

2) Gate and shepherd. Center and circumference. Something very important is being said by Jesus that should determine how we understand ourselves as church. How we should understand the boundaries and limits of our fellowship. It is a teaching that plainly indicates that Jesus is both the center and the circumference of our flock ...

In lesson on shepherding Jesus makes two simple, but extremely important statements:

3) Centered Set and Bounded Set

The Bounded Set is a fenced off group. We can draw a boundary and clearly define who’s in and who’s out. This works. But it begs the question: Who draws the line and who determines who is inside the fence and outside the fence?
  • We sometimes think of church and membership this way. With congregational membership it’s easy enough. But when we talk about being a member of the body of Christ, then that becomes a much more intimidating task. Are any of us truly qualified to draw that boundary definitively? Probably not if we’re honest. There will always be some cases that test us.
bounded set

centered set
The Centered Set is another way of understanding how we group and organize. Think of how animals in the wild or in the free range gather around a watering hole. It’s a source of life. Your cattle and sheep might gather there, but so do other little animals. A flock and herd form as sheep move closer to the center. The center is a source of life. All these animals gathering together haven’t been caught and caged, they are coming together for a common purpose – water and life.
  • Is it possible to have any limits then? Is there a point at which a sheep or goat just isn’t in the set? Sure. But in Jesus’ language, he says that the same center sets the boundary. Shepherd and Gate

The Shepherd – Jesus is saying that he is the shepherd. His sheep know his voice. The sheep know Jesus’ voice. Those who recognize the truth and salvation in Jesus’ word are drawn to him. They follow. We follow. [Lynn Anderson once described how sheep follow their shepherd. He described the scene of three shepherds coming over a hill. The three parted company and went in different directions. They each called for their sheep and the sheep went in the direction of the call of their shepherd.]

The Gate – We cannot tell the shepherd how to enter thru the gate, or how to open the gate. He is messiah and the criteria that define messiah. We cannot define the role of messiah and then fit Jesus into it.
Jesus is the entry to life and salvation. Jesus is not saying that we get to draw the boundary. He is the gate, not us! We are sheep, not gatekeepers.
Exclusive and Inclusive – Jesus is the only way, but it is a way that is open to all. Jesus stands at the gate. And if you want to get to sin and death, Jesus is standing in the way.

So how do we know him? The sheep know his voice.

The question is not “Who is with us?” The first question is “Are we with Jesus?”

Jesus knows his sheep. We can spend a lot of time trying to figure out which sheep are Jesus’ sheep. Or, we can just follow Jesus voice and those heading in the same direction to the source of life we can safely assume are his sheep. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep. Do you know the Good Shepherd? Are you following his voice?

The good shepherd knows his sheep. He knows their name. We are not forgotten overlooked or missed.
God came down and dwelled amongst us smelly sheep. He’s not a hired hand who's paid to take care of us. He’s the Good Shepherd who paid to save us.
The question is, are you in Christ? Are you following the voice of the shepherd? Are we?

1 Corinthians 8:2-3 ... The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the one who loves God is known by God.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 15 March 2009

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