W. H. Westcott.
It will be noticed that the first five verses of this chapter are spoken as a parable to the Pharisees. Apart from an understanding of the truth conveyed therein, the whole of the chapter must be an enigma, even where certain verses are enjoyed by Christians.
Chapters 9 and 10 are closely connected; and on careful examination we find that the blind man's cure and its consequences are really the explanation of the parable; or, rather, that the Lord puts in the form of a parable the truth which exactly unfolded the position which He Himself occupied, in company with the blind man cured.
The sheepfold expresses the guarded enclosure of the Jewish faith, in which all the Jewish believers were kept up to the time of the coming of their Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. Morally they were supposed to be shut off from the nations around them by the laws and worship of Jehovah. Evidently no person possessed the right to lead the sheep, until He came whose right it was. (Ezek. 34) There had been impostors who came not in the appointed way, who preferred claims over them — hirelings, and not shepherds. But Scripture had pointed out certain marks by which the true Shepherd was to be known. His very birthplace, the character and glory of His Person, and the circumstances of His life were foretold. The only One who ever possessed these marks — and who thus came in by the appointed way, the door — was Jesus. To Him the porter opened; and we may easily see that John the Baptist — or the Holy Ghost through John — flung the door wide open, at the commencement of the mission of Jesus.
His voice was heard and recognized by the waiting remnant, i.e., those souls who possessed true faith in the midst of the unbelieving mass of the Jewish nation. At the end of chap. 8, we see how the mass rejected Jesus, notwithstanding the mighty grace which longed to bless them. Being thus refused by them, the sheepfold could no longer be the place for the sheep. Jesus as a divine Person takes His place outside, and it became a necessary consequence that the true sheep must also come out. For the believers of that day it was a question of either going on with a religious system which rejected Jesus and refused Him His place, or going right outside to Himself, whatever the consequences might be.
Unconsciously the man of chap. 9 was led into this position. Disowned by neighbours and relatives, he is at last excommunicated by the religious authorities, because he persisted in giving Jesus credit for being what He was, and for doing what He had done. So now, if we persist in giving Jesus the only place of which He is worthy, we shall find how decidedly the religious world of today endorses their action towards the blind man cured, and casts us out.
Was he the loser? The man had lost his religious status with the Jews. His communications with friends and relations were all broken off; he was for the moment against all the religious opinion of the day, and was regarded as a stupid upstart. Again we ask, was he the loser?
There could not have been a more fitting moment surely for the blessed Lord to appear on the scene; and by privately disclosing His own personal glory to the solitary outcast (chap. 9:35-38), He vindicated his position against his opponents (compare Isa. 66:5), and showed the incalculable gain that accrued to one who was outside of any, or every, religious system in the company of the Son of God.
Such is the position unfolded to us in the parable at the beginning of chap. 10. Although rejected by the corrupt Jewish professors, the sheep had really heard the voice of the Shepherd Son of God, and had followed Him outside of all that he had known and valued.
But the Lord now goes on to describe the marvellous gain that this man (and with him all who occupy a similar position with Himself) had received. The ninth verse points out instantly three blessings which were the common and known portion of those who entered in by Him, the rejected Shepherd. It is well known that neither salvation, liberty, nor food, in the sense of this verse, could be enjoyed by Old Testament believers.* By pasture we understand that the sheep have access to the place where the food grows.
*Blessed as it was to know Jehovah in the old dispensation, its chief characteristics were 1 a priestly order between Jehovah and His people; 2 the repetition of sacrifices which never settled permanently the question of sin; and 3 the consequent impossibility of the believer's happy approach to, and delight in, God. The veil was not rent till Jesus died.
It will be noticed how the Lord throws the door open to any poor sinner; and if one were now to enter in by Jesus, i.e., avail himself of that blessed, rejected Saviour, he would straightway be saved, and become a sheep. What does a man want with pasture?
Now there are four things which may be said to constitute that pasture. The first is life (v. 10); the second, intimacy (vv. 14, 15); the third, unity (v. 16); and the fourth, security (vv. 27-30). With regard to the first, life, Jesus says, "I am come that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (v. 10, R.V.) The life which all the sheep have is "in abundance," i.e., there is no stint of it. How much we have apprehended of it is another question; it is ours. It is a life completely beyond any imputation of sin Rom. 8:1-4), a life of victory over sin and death (1 Cor. 15), a life, too, of relationship and favour with God (John 20:17), and of fellowship with the Father and the Son. (John 17:3.) Nothing less than this, let me repeat, is the portion of Christ's sheep.
The ground on which it is made ours is necessarily His death, for how else could the judgment that lay on us be removed? As He says, "The good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." We have now no fear in approaching God.
The second thing is Intimacy. Most will have learned that in the Revised Version there is no break between verses 14 and 15 of John 10 It reads, "I am the good Shepherd, and I know Mine own and Mine own know Me, even as the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father." We are baffled by the depth of such a statement, but its nature is clear; that just as there was an unbroken freedom of intercourse between Jesus and the Father, even so it is our portion to have the same character of intercourse with Him, as our Shepherd. He once more reminds us of the basis of it — His own death. We are learning, I trust, what this is. Jesus was ever in the Father's bosom (John 1:18): John rested on His (John 13:23). What Jesus enjoyed with the Father, John was free to do with Jesus. Oh! to think that such a home has been opened to us as the Shepherd's breast! Young believer, this is a special privilege for you (Is. 40:11), to have no reserves with Him. There are none on His side; let there be none on yours.
The third thing is unity. Gathering the Jewish sheep out of that religious system which had so long held them, the Shepherd tells (in v. 16) how He was about to associate others with them, doubtless believers from amongst the Gentiles ("not of this fold"): and that there would be one flock, and one Shepherd. There is a great cry for practical unity amongst Christians today, but how many of those who seek it are aware that the only ground upon which it is possible, is that we should rally round the One Shepherd? You may devise new rules that appear to afford a wide basis for unity: but, at best, it will only be like a new enclosure — an abiding contradiction to that liberty of following Himself, which the Lord points out as the portion of all His sheep. It is only as you give the Son of God His place, and allow Him to have His way, that practical unity can be realized.
Moreover, it is blessed to see that it is in the midst of the company thus rallying round Him as one flock, that we have unfolded the Father's love to the Son (v. 17, 18), and the Son's perfect accomplishment of the Father's will. Would that we knew more of Him! Depend upon it, there is a power and a warmth little dreamed of by most, in such a place. It may be "winter" outside (v. 22), but not for those within who are reposing on Jesus' breast. No chilling blasts are felt within the circle of the Father's love.
The last thing is security. The Jews challenge the Lord's rights to the sheep, when they ask Him if He is the Christ (v. 24). This leads our Shepherd to state clearly enough (for any who have ears to hear) that He has indeed rights over the sheep, and that He will never, no never, give them up. Being the Shepherd, the sheep heard His voice, and followed Him. This was a very convincing fact, that should have brought home to everybody the truth that Jesus was the true Shepherd come at last (contrast v. 8). He tells the Jews seven things about His sheep which may well gladden our hearts. Four things mark their intimacy with their Shepherd: — (1) They hear His voice. (2) He knows them. (3) They follow Him. (4) He gives them eternal life.
Let me point out, without going into detail, that He says "I know them," before He says "I give unto them eternal life." It is in the full knowledge of all that we are, that Jesus has bestowed upon us eternal life.
The remaining three things are — (5) The assurance that they shall never perish; (6) That they are protected by the Lord's own hand; and (7) That anyone attempting to get them would have to reckon first with the Father, who "is greater than all," and whose hand covers them likewise.
Nothing could be more conclusive an answer to the Jews' cavil about Jesus' rights to the sheep, than the fact that the Father had given them to Him. It is this that makes us so precious to Him that He will never let us perish.
As we survey the wealth and freshness of such a place as this, into which the Son of God has brought us, we feel that they are, indeed, green pastures. Truly, "the Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want." Some may say, "How shall we be supported, if we act upon such truth?" Well, dear reader, if the blind man was a beggar at the beginning of chap. 9, receiving from man's hands from day to day, he was still a receiver at the end of the chapter, only now not from man, but from the Son of God. Jesus never calls your faith into a path where His faithfulness will not sustain you, and His resources are equal to every emergency. Even if you have to go into a desert with Him, remember He can, out of your "five barley loaves, and two small fishes," not only feed the "five thousand" around you, but give you a goodly twelve basketsful for yourself as well. W. H. Westcott.