“And when he putteth forth his own sheep,
he goeth before them,
and the sheep follow him:
for they know his voice.”
~ John 10:4
Neither space nor time will permit us to exhaust this rich treasure of God’s Word. Numerous draws could be made and the well would still be springing up in abundant supply. We shall have to pass over many things and yet, let us commune with our Lord in this text.
Immediately, we approach this passage knowing Christ says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). He is “that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). We know also that the sheep are His people, whom He “must bring” (John 10:16) to glory. This rich knowledge prompts the faithful declaration, “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7).
The overwhelming characteristic mark of His sheep is that they “follow him.” Not only this, but “a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him” (John 10:5). In all cases, in all conditions, the sheep follow the Shepherd.
We cannot escape the fact that “he putteth forth his own sheep.” This language brings to mind a forcible action. He puts them forth. Unfortunately, this may imply laxity or reluctance of the sheep, but let us rather consider it as revealing the mind of the Shepherd for not only does He put them forth, He “goeth before them.” This speaks then of His guidance of His sheep. He sends them forth to accomplish His purpose and goes before them to lead, prepare, and keep them in His way.
That “he putteth forth his own sheep” speaks of the purpose of the Shepherd. He does not put them out; He puts them forth. The harried mother, whose head is dazed by a dozen things that have gone wrong at once, will put the children out to play that she may collect her thoughts and set things back in order. However, that same mother will rise up in the morning with clear thought and put the children forth to do their morning chores. So, they are put forth with purpose and the Shepherd does this when He puts forth His sheep.
When the Shepherd puts forth His sheep, He also “goeth before them.” He puts them forth with purpose that He might lead them. He leads them to “green pastures,” “beside the still waters,” and “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:2-3). Not only does He lead them to the pleasant places, but He also conducts them through the dangerous miles. He leads them through “the valley of the shadow of death” and to a “table . . . in the presence of mine enemies” (Psalm 23:4-5). Because of His abiding presence, the sheep can say in the dark valley, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). The sheep need not be overly concerned about which path they are on at the moment, so long as the Shepherd is with them.
The dependence of the sheep upon their Shepherd cannot be overstated. They need to be put forth. They need to be led. They need to follow their Shepherd. Without Him, they cannot find the pleasant places of rest and restoration. Without Him, they cannot safely traverse the dangerous paths where they are refined and sharpened. Ah, but with Him, they are safe and rest securely for “they shall never perish.” They are “the sheep of his hand” and “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Praise God, what a Shepherd! Let us sing with Sis. Kathryn Parrish:
Praise God, what a shepherd! He died not in vain;
Oh, He knows His sheep, and He calls them by name;
He goeth before them, And they know His voice;
Him only they follow, And in Him they rejoice.