Read John 10:1-11. What aspects of this metaphor of the church as a sheepfold speak of unity? See also Psalm 23:1-6.
In the modern world of large cities, it has become very rare to see animal husbandry of any kind. Most people now know little of the relationship between sheep and shepherds.
However, when Jesus told this parable, people understood Him well. When He said, “I am the good shepherd”, they immediately recognized and appreciated His reference to Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd.” The image was not only clear but also full of emotional value that made it vivid. In ancient Near Eastern culture, and still today in the Middle East, shepherds are known to be dedicated to the care of their sheep, regardless of the challenges. The figure of shepherd has become one of the dearest images used in Scripture to describe the character of God and His relationship to His people.
The image of God’s people as sheep is an interesting image. One impression we often have of sheep is their harmless and defenseless nature. Thus, they are dependent on a good shepherd for protection and guidance. They are, quite frankly, seen as stupid. Sometimes, inadvertently, sheep get lost, and the shepherd will seek them and bring them back to the fold. Young sheep often need to be carried and require extra care. Patience and understanding is needed to care for sheep. In many ways, this is a perfect image to represent the church. The church member has nothing to fear but everything to gain in a relationship with the Shepherd.
Jesus also emphasized in this parable the importance for the sheep to listen to the voice of the shepherd. When the conditions require it, it is possible to protect a few flocks of sheep by placing them in the same enclosure or sheepfold. How can they be separated later? All that is required is for the shepherd to stand at the door of the enclosure and call. His sheep will recognize his voice and come to him. “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4, NKJV). Listening to the voice of the Shepherd is crucial for the church. In fact, the unity and safety of the people of God depend on their proximity to Him and directly are related to their submissive obedience to His voice.
People don’t generally like to be depicted as sheep. Nevertheless, why is that such an appropriate metaphor for us? What should this image tell us about our need of the Shepherd and our need to obey His voice?