Sermon from John 10:1-15
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 1:6-7
In the verse above, Peter tells us that times of suffering actually work like a refiner’s fire on our faith. It burns away that which is temporary and unproductive, and it reveals that which is eternal and holy. I believe that this time of coronavirus is acting as a refiner’s fire in terms of leadership—it is revealing the quality of leadership as the challenges of this day are being met. It reveals not only the strength of leadership, but also the motives.
This is in all levels of society—not only government, but also business, healthcare, and even within our homes. Being quarantined with our families is revealing both the weaknesses and strengths of our leadership in the home.
The Gospel passage for today is all about leadership. John records Jesus’ comparison between two entities: thieves/robbers vs. the shepherd. The first comparison is in the way they relate to the flock. Thieves access the flock through illegitimate means: secrecy and stealth. By contrast, the shepherd accesses his sheep through rightful and lawful means. The gatekeeper recognizes the shepherd, and so do the sheep—the sheep know him and follow him.
Verse 6 tells us that Jesus’ listeners didn’t understand what he was saying. I don’t think this means they couldn’t grasp the metaphor of leading sheep compared to leading people. I believe what they didn’t understand was how it applied to themselves. They didn’t want to honestly look at the challenges in their own leadership and discover that they were leading God’s people in a way that was not legitimate or correct.
So as Jesus continues his illustration, he shifts the metaphor slightly to try to help them understand. He says, “I am the door for the sheep” (v. 7). Now this is a little bit unexpected. We would expect him to go straight to “I am the Good Shepherd.” He does get there (v. 11), but he makes an important point about the door first. What he is saying is that he becomes the measure of legitimacy when it comes to the leadership of the people of God—he is the only legitimate way to access God’s people. Jesus is the difference between a good leader and a false leader.
He goes on to flesh out the two defining criteria that determine whether a leader is good or false: intention and impact.
The motivating intention of false leadership is self-interest. “The thief comes only to steal” (v. 10). The prophet Samuel spoke of this in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, when the people rejected God’s leadership and demanded a human king. The gist of his warning was this: “Human kings exist to take. They will take your freedom, they will take your children, they will take control of your life.”
Now, don’t hear me saying that human leadership is always of that ilk. There are good and bad leaders, but we always have to be wary that the intentions behind human leadership MAY be self-serving. False leaders desire to take power and resources for their own benefit. This is revealed plainly during these times of suffering. Illegitimate leadership is always destructive to those being led by it.
On the other hand, good leadership selflessly gives rather than takes. It gives abundant life to those who are led by it. In our day and age, how we need good leadership that selflessly seeks to give rather than take, to build up rather than destroy!
In Jesus’ day, the people of God had been scattered, harassed, oppressed, and dominated by many other nations and powers. Jesus compares them to sheep under a bad shepherd, and he offers them the opportunity to return to safety and security under his leadership. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep.
Jesus gives us the model of sacrificial leadership that we can follow in every aspect of our lives—at home, in the workplace, in the pubic sphere. Jesus says that good leadership gives itself away, and our world desperately needs this right now.
He is not only our example, but he is still the best leader that we could ever follow. All of us are lost sheep who need a strong, loving, sacrificial shepherd:
For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.1 Peter 2:25
Have you given your life to the Shepherd of your soul? Do you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls you by name and offers to bring you to a place of abundant life? During this time of testing and refining, where are you placing your hope, and who are you following? I encourage you to place your confidence fully in the Good Shepherd.