11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. – John 10:11-13
What does Jesus expect from us, His disciples? We can answer this question based on what Jesus says to His original twelve disciples, His larger group of disciples and to everyone else He comes into contact with during His earthly ministry. What Jesus says to them, He also says to us.
In “The Great Commission” Jesus tells His remaining eleven disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus expects us, His disciples, to be baptized. Because of Jesus’ words in “The Great Commission,” there should be no such thing as an un-baptized Christian, although we can go to heaven without it. In another version of “The Great Commission,” Jesus says that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Jesus does not say that “whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned” (emphasis added). How are we to understand a biblical character like the “good thief” on the cross (see “The Crucifixion” narrative from Luke, chapter 23), who (presumably) was never baptized? How are we to explain Jesus’ words to him: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43)? Although there will always be exceptions, Jesus still expects us to be baptized.
Also, in “The Great Commission,” Jesus tells His remaining eleven disciples to teach: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus expects us, His disciples, to be taught. Or, more precisely, He expects us to be willing to be taught. Jesus commands us, for example, to love one another and to forgive one another. Of the many commands of Jesus, these two are arguably the most difficult to obey. Why? Because not everyone is very lovable or very forgivable. What this means is this: Jesus expects us to be willing to be taught things we may not like. Of course, there’s a difference between being taught and actually learning. There have been times in our lives when we have been taught many things and, yet, have learned absolutely nothing. This is also true with the commands of Jesus. You can tell this is true by the number of people we don’t love and don’t forgive.
Another expectation that Jesus has for us is to be forgiven. Or, more precisely, He expects us to accept forgiveness. After His resurrection, Jesus appears to His remaining eleven disciples [actually, in this instance, ten: Thomas was not with them (see John 20:19-31)] and says: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23). Of course, we can only be forgiven if we first confess our sins. So, naturally, Jesus must also expect us to repent. Jesus’ disciple Peter, on his missionary journey to the people of Judea, Galilee and Samaria says: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19). What if we don’t repent? Jesus tells His original twelve disciples to treat us as they would “a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). What this means is that, if we refuse to repent and accept forgiveness, we will eventually be thrown out of the Christian community. We will no longer be Jesus’ disciples. Like the expectation above about loving one another and forgiving one another, this expectation is very difficult, too.
Finally, Jesus expects us to be a member of His flock. Jesus, Himself, continually speaks of sheep and shepherds (see Matthew’s and John’s Gospels, in particular). He even calls Himself “the Good Shepherd” (see John, chapter ten, above and below). If we are to understand Jesus’ sheep and shepherd imagery as an expectation of His for us, then He must expect us to (1) know Him (see John 10:14), (2) listen to His voice and (3) follow Him [“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27)]. How do we, His disciples, (1) know Him, (2) listen to His voice and (3) follow Him?
During His earthly ministry, we would know Jesus face-to-face, listen to His voice personally (He, Himself, would speak to us) and follow Him personally (He, Himself, would lead us). But, since His ascension into heaven, He does all of this for us through His original disciples and their successors. In the twenty-first chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Apostle Peter to “feed my lambs” (verse 15), “take care of my sheep” (verse 16) and “feed my sheep” (verse 17). All of Jesus’ original twelve disciples receive His command to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is near” when He “Sends out the Twelve” on a missionary journey (see Matthew, chapter ten). All of Jesus’ original twelve disciples and His larger group of disciples receive His command to preach that “the Kingdom of God is near” when He “Sends out the Seventy-Two” on a missionary journey (see Luke, chapter 10). Finally, as mentioned in the second and third paragraphs above, Jesus gives His remaining eleven disciples “The Great Commission” to (1) make disciples, (2) baptize and (3) teach (see Matthew 28:19-20). And, with the deaths of Jesus’ original disciples, their ministry has passed on to their successors, the current leadership of the various Christian communities. It is they who shepherd the sheep: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). It is they who remind us of the expectations that Jesus has for us, His disciples.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” – John 10:14-18