“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.” (John 10:14-15)
We have all probably read or heard this portion of scripture at one time or another, but I never really caught something that Jesus was saying until this morning. Read that passage again with me and stop at the sentence where Jesus talks about having other sheep in addition to those in this pen. Did you ever see that before? I guess I just glossed over it, but if we want to know why Jesus delays his return to this earth, maybe we can extrapolate from this verse that he is doing some 'sheep gathering' so the pen is more than full - it is overflowing! He was talking with his disciples when he shared these words - telling them truth in simple story form so they can begin to understand it. His 'pen' wasn't full enough - he had more work to do in order to gather more sheep into the pen. He needs to gather and bring them into the fold - meaning that this 'pen' we call Christianity and the churches that make up his 'pens' aren't really 'full' yet. There is more room to grow!
Do you know what the response was to Jesus' teaching that day? It was a 'split' in the Jewish ranks. Why? Truth divides the sheep from the goats every time! Think of the 'religious' as the goats and the ones Jesus called his 'disciples' as the sheep. There are a lot of 'goats' in this world, concerned about all the rules they have to keep in order to attain some form of 'right-standing' with their god. Goats serve a 'god' of some form, but not the One True God. Sheep follow the Shepherd - their very existence and sustenance is because of his tender care over his flocks. We aren't one big 'pen' of believers, but many 'pens' spread hither and yon - soon to be gathered into his presence all as one, but now we are in a kind of 'holding pen' we call our local church. It is within these 'pens' we find we can feed and grow, share and multiply.
Look at what Jesus says again - I need to gather and bring them. Gathering sheep may be one thing - getting them to all move in the same direction at the same time may be quite a different task! If you have been part of a local church for any time at all, you know exactly what I mean by that statement! It isn't easy getting all of the 'sheep' to get moving in the same direction. Some doddle along, not overly concerned about the pace being set by others. There will be some who are always out front of the rest, just ready to 'move out' at a moment's notice - attentive, quick to respond, always listening to the Shepherd's voice. We may find others just so intent on whatever it is they are focused on that they are totally unaware the rest of the flock is about to move on to the next place God has prepared for them spiritually.
Churches are filled with all kinds of sheep - some may label them lazy or crazy, regular or 'out there' - but regardless of what 'label' we attach to those sheep within our 'pen', they are all under his care and watchful eye. All must be brought along - not just gathered in. I think this is the purpose of the 'pen' we call our local church. God intends for our 'pen life' to be the place where we are gathered with the purpose of us being 'brought along' in this Christian walk. It is a place for us to grow - to be brought out of where we have lived for so long in unsheltered and unsafe spiritual, emotional, and physical conditions. Then he brings us into a place where we learn to walk together - providing for our spiritual needs, healing our emotional hurts and hang-ups, and then helping us to break free of those things that have bound us physically. Be gathered, but don't forget he is also doing the work of bringing us along! Just sayin!