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Mar 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Thieves and Robbers

Matthew 9:35-36; Luke 15:3-7 and John 10:1-4, 11-15

Intro: Perhaps you’ve heard of the catacombs in Rome

I have taken tours through one or two of them
– they are underground burial sites
• a labyrinth of tunnels in and around ancient Rome
◦ hallways with rooms off to the sides and some open spaces
◦ niches dug in the walls where bodies or bones were placed
• paintings and engravings decorate some of the walls
– some of the earliest Christian symbols appear near where believers were laid to rest
• the fish, an anchor, the dove
• also, the good shepherd, with a sheep slung over his shoulders

The shepherd image had been branded into Israel’s imagination
– most famously, Psalm 23, which begins:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want

• the image appears several more times in the Psalms

Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture
(Ps. 100:3)

• also, in the prophet Isaiah

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young
(Isa. 40:11)

– the image is also passed from God to Israel’s leaders

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand
(Ps. 78:70-72)

• in the prophets the image also depicts the failure of Israel’s leaders

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! (Jer. 23:1ff)
. . . prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? (Eze. 34:2ff)

We miss a lot in John chapter 10

That’s because we don’t know much about shepherding in Israel at the time of Jesus
– it was not the industry that it is in our country today
• here, sheep are mostly bred for food – back then, it was for wool
• there’s a story in 2 Samuel where a sheep is like was a household pet
– for example we don’t understand what Jesus meant by,

I am the door of the sheep

• in the open countryside, shepherds would build a makeshift pen
◦ not having a gate, the shepherd would place his rod over the opening
◦ the sheep would enter one or two at a time
◦ that allowed the shepherd to count and inspect them

I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. . . . I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant (Eze. 20:35-37)

• at night, the shepherd would lie down in the opening
◦ so the sheep would have to step over shepherd to get out
◦ also, any predator would have to go through him to get to the sheep

Years ago, Philip Keller published A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23
– it’s schmaltzy (for my taste), but lots of Christians found it helpful
– the point is, there’s a more to the shepherd image than what we see on the surface

It is no surprise to find the shepherd image in the Synoptic gospels

When the crowds seemed to Jesus to be like sheep with out shepherd,
– he was looking at them through eyes of a shepherd
• again in Matthew (where Jesus lumped several animal metaphors together):

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mt. 10:16)

– in Luke 15 we find three parables of something lost and then found
• the lost coin is the most impersonal item that was lost
◦ what touches us personally is the widow’s desperation
◦ but one coin could replace another
• it’s different in the parable of shepherd when he hoists his sheep on his shoulders
◦ the personal dynamic is most intense with son who was lost
◦ but that was exactly what Jesus wanted to emphasize

John remembered Jesus saying more about shepherds than Matthew, Mark or Luke
– whereas the Synoptic gospels see the first disciples as fishers of men and women
◦ for John, it was shepherding that defined the disciples’ calling
◦ as he told Peter in chapter 21:

Feed my lambs . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep (Jn. 21:15-17)

– Matthew and Luke both tell of a shepherd carrying a sheep on shoulders
• but in John 10, the shepherd image is much more intimate

There is an important verse here we don’t want to miss

This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying (Jn. 10:6)

Initially, no one understood what Jesus was communicating
– his statements were common knowledge
• their first thought would be, “Everyone knows that. So what?”
• it would be like me saying, “Some people ride bus to work”
– the reason this is important is because John illustrates what he is doing
• he presents a statement, much like the Synoptic gospels would
◦ only they do not always provide an explanation
• John indicates the depth of meaning that was missing prior to Jesus’ resurrection
– so by pointing out that the people did not understand him at first,
• draws attention to the next stage of Jesus’ teaching
◦ the stage when he takes them below the surface

We only have enough time to explore two statements

The first is in verse 8

All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them


– in the Synoptics, Jesus clears out temple near end of his ministry
• later, the priests and elders challenged his actions

By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them? (Mk. 11:28)

• he saw the trap the set for him and dodged the question
◦ but immediately afterward he told a parable
◦ and in the parable was the answer to their question
– a man planted a vineyard, put some people in charge of it, and went to another country
• from there, he sent messenger to collect the proceeds from the crop
◦ the renters refused to pay, abused his messengers, and sent them back empty-handed
• finally the owner sent his son, whom the renters killed
◦ this answered the question of Jesus’ authority
◦ vineyard was God’s temple and Jesus was God’s Son
• after hearing the parable, the priests and elders

were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them (Mk. 12:12)

Thieves and robbers is not a reference to the Old Testament’s law-giver
– nor to the psalmists, prophets, or sages who wrote The Proverbs
• they were the recognized authorities who managed the temple
◦ they had taken it over and treated it as if it belonged to them
◦ remember what Jesus said when he cleared it out?

Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers (Mk. 11:17)

• it was the priests and elders who usurped authority over the temple
– many religious institutions today are run by thieves and robbers
• there are more than a few pastors who treat church finances as their personal bank account
• or board members who are given contracts without taking outside bids (not just unethical, but illegal according to IRS law)
◦ in other words, people in leadership for themselves, not others
◦ manipulating, exploiting, spiritually and psychologically abusing people
◦ using their position to enrich themselves, meet their ego needs,
◦ or have victims on whom they can vent their anger each Sunday
• Paul made it clear that he was nothing like this type of preacher

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ (2 Cor. 2:17)

our authority, which the Lord gave [is] for building you up and not for destroying you (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10)

The second statement we’ll explore is in verses 11-13

The hired hand is in a category similar to that of the thieves and robbers
– in fact, the hired hand is an accomplice – he abandons sheep to them
• he cares nothing for the sheep
• we’ve seen this as we’ve followed Jesus around Jerusalem
◦ the crippled man that the religious leaders cared nothing for
◦ and with the blind man, they couldn’t care less that he was healed
– Jesus defined the good shepherd as one who lays down his life
• I’ve always assumed this was specifically a reference to his death
◦ that, of course, is included,
◦ but laying down one’s life is not a one-time event
◦ it is a lifestyle of taking care of others
◦ it is an ongoing commitment to others

The hired hand performs his service for money
– the good shepherd performs his service for love

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (Jn. 15:13-14)

– we lay down our lives every time
◦ we leave what we want to be doing to meet another person’s need

Conclusion: I know that Jesus is still laying down his life for me

There is no other way to explain why he puts up with me

If this story is meant to wake us up to anything
it is to awaken us to how near Jesus is
and how much he cares
and to the fact that it is possible to know his voice,
to know him and to follow him—
today, and always

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