“I Am the Good Shepherd”

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. ~ John 10.11-6

On the second Sunday after Easter 1523, Martin Luther began his sermon on this text by saying—

This is a comforting Gospel, which so beautifully portrays the Lord Jesus and teaches us what manner of person he is, what kind of works he does, and how he is disposed toward men. And there is no better way to understand it than to contrast light and darkness and day and night; that is, the good shepherd with the wicked one, as the Lord himself does.

The contrast Luther refers to is this: that unlike the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders, whom Jesus compares to thieves and robbers, He is the good shepherd because He will lay down His life for the sheep. He is both the door of the sheep (10.7) and the good shepherd come to seek and to save all whom the Father has given to Him.

There is another contrast revealed by Jesus declaring Himself to be the good shepherd. In the culture of the day, the Jewish religious elite considered shepherds to be men of questionable character. Shepherds were denied civil rights. They were prohibited from holding legal office. They were not accepted as witnesses in court. Knowing this, Jesus deliberately identified Himself with a despised class of people. He chose an occupation considered by those at the top of the socio-economic ladder to be at the very bottom of that ladder. He did this because He came to exalt the humble and humble the proud.

Such was the disdain of the religious elites toward shepherds that they considered them to be sub-human. However, shepherding required several very important human qualities such as character, intelligence, integrity, courage, compassion, and commitment. Good shepherds were highly responsible. They loved their sheep, and while it was rare for a shepherd to die for his flock, if the circumstance arose, a shepherd would lay down his life for the life of his sheep. Now as far as we know, teachers of the law were not required to die to save the lives of their students. Shepherds were. And did. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The language of sacrifice punctuates Jesus’ declaration. For example, He says He will lay down His life for the sheep five times in John 10.11-18 (11, 15, 17, and twice in 18). The language of sacrifice describes how much Jesus loves His sheep. He will lay down His life for them because He loves them. And because He willingly lays down His life, Jesus saysHe will take it up again. This is the charge He received from God the Father (10.18).

Sheep is a metaphor for people. Jesus must lay down His life for us because, like sheep, we have gone astray. Rather than follow the LORD as our Shepherd, we have each turned to follow our own path. We have sinned by pursuing our own version of the truth. However, there is no such thing as your truth and my truth. There is only God’s truth and we have rebelled against Him and His truth.

Having declared our independence from God we have now become His enemy. To make matters worse, as is always the case, sin over-promises and under-delivers. So rather than create a utopia, our sin has created chaos, ruin, and further alienation from God and neighbor.

Here is the truth. All have sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Since we are powerless to save ourselves, Someone must come and lead us back to God. Someone else must satisfy the just judgment of God against us for our sin. Someone else must lay down their life as the atoning sacrifice—the propitiation for our sins. This Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the good shepherd because He will lay down His life for the sheep.

Jesus says He willsave the sheep by dying for them. He will safeguard their lives by giving up His own. He will perish so the sheep may be saved. This is the paradox and the irony of the gospel. Jesus dies. We live. Noting the irony of what Jesus says, Scottish Puritan John Brown wrote this in his commentary on this passage:

The thought naturally rises: But if Jesus (sic) lay down his life for the sheep, how can he subsequently take care of them? It is to meet this thought that Jesus says: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again,” that is, I lay down my life to secure these blessings; I take my life again that I may bestow them. Because I die, they are saved from death by my dying; because I live, they live also by my life.

Because He is the good shepherd Jesus will lay down His life for the sheep and He will take it up again. His death saves us from death. His life gives us life and life abundantly. His death for the good of the sheep proves Jesus is the good shepherd. His resurrection gives life to the sheep proving He is the resurrection and the life. His death opens the door to the sheepfold. His resurrection guarantees we will go in and go out and find pasture; that we will experience life now as well as the life after this life. Jesus is the good shepherd because He will lay down His life for the sheep.

Seven hundred years before Jesus came as the Good Shepherd, the prophet Isaiah foretod His arrival and His ministry. Listen to Isaiah 40.10-11, where the prophet says:

            Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,

                        and his arm rules for him;

             behold, his reward is with him,

                        and his recompense before him.

            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.

Jesus protects His people by giving us everything we need for life and godliness. Whereas shepherds in the West drive their sheep, shepherds in the Middle East lead their sheep. In the same way, and because He is the good shepherd Jesus leads His sheep. He never drives them. He doesn’t have to. He knows His sheep and calls them by name. His sheep know His voice. They follow Him because He knows the way. They follow Him because He is the Way.

As the good shepherd Jesus knows the safest path through the valley of the shadow of death. And because He knows the way, Jesus knows that sometimes the safest path is the longest path. Where we prefer the shortest path, Jesus knows the shortest path is not always the best path. He knows this because Satan thrice offered Him the shortest path—tempting Him to by-pass the cross in order to claim the crown. But Christ refused. Sometimes the safest path leads through the valley of the shadow of death. Even so, Jesus knows the way. The same Jesus who said, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” also said, “Believe in God; believe also in Me.” And the same Jesus who said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” who said, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Sometimes Jesus will lead us, like Peter, through places and circumstances we do not want to go but He knows we must go if we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. The path may frighten us, but as the old hymn says, “I may not know the way I go but oh, I know my Guide. His love will never fail.” Jesus is our Guide. Jesus knows the way because Jesus is the Way.

  • His love will never fail.
  • He will not mislead us.
  • He will never leave us.
  • He will never forsake us.
  • He will never leave us in the dark.
  • He will not lead us to the door then deny us access.
  • He will be us in death as He is with us in life.
  • He will lead us to everlasting life because He is the one, true, and only Good Shepherd.

Our path may be long, our journey arduous, and the route difficult, but Christ is leading the way. He will make us lie down in green pastures. He will lead us beside still waters. He will restore our soul. He will lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He has prepared and is preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies—and His. We will enjoy a feast in the presence of enemies He has already defeated: sin and death.

Christ the Good Shepherd forfeited His life to free us from the fortress of our sin and to save us from the wrath of God. Christ the Good Shepherd has taken up His life again to guarantee our resurrection from the dust of the earth. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God’s grace is eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.

You think about that.

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