John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep”.
Throughout the Bible the imagery of shepherd and sheep is used to portray the relationship of God and His people. Also, sheep illustrate the waywardness of sinners and their need of shepherd care.
Probably one of the most well-known portions of scripture is Psalm 23. It begins:
'The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake' (vs 1-3).
The prophet Isaiah speaks about the shepherd care of the God of Israel:
‘He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young’ (Isaiah 40:11).
The first part of Isaiah 53 v 6 likens sinners to straying sheep going their own away in rebellion against God while the second part speaks of the substitutionary Saviour who bore the judgment our sin deserves:
‘All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’.
The Lord Jesus told a simple, yet meaningful story about the rescue of a lost sheep to illustrate the joy in heaven over a sinner repenting:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:3-7).
Here in John 10 Jesus speaks about the relationship between Him and His sheep. His sheep are those who hear His voice, follow His lead and have received His gift of eternal life. His sheep are under His shepherd care.
Care is the important word. A shepherd cares for his sheep by leading, feeding and defending them against sickness and predators. The story of the shepherd youth, David, in the Old Testament is remarkable. When he stood before the king of Israel, Saul, as he volunteered to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath, Saul looked at him and said: “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:32). David, a young man of faith, was undaunted either by Saul’s discouragement or ‘big mouth’ Goliath. He told Saul:
“Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:34-36).
David was a true under shepherd for the sheep that belonged to his father. He went on to become the LORD’s under shepherd to His people Israel as their anointed king.
Great David’s greater Son also came as the Saviour Shepherd to Israel, but not only for them He also came to be the Saviour Shepherd for all who will hear His voice and become one of His sheep wherever they are in this world. Indeed in the discourse here in John 10 He tells his audience that He would have sheep beyond the fold of Israel:
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Let’s look at four things about the Good Shepherd.
1. His Divine Identity 2. His Good Character 3. His Willing Sacrifice 4. His Personal Assurance
1. His Divine Identity
When Jesus says “I am the good shepherd” it seems like a straightforward self-identification and in one sense it is. Yet, when Jesus used the personal pronoun and present tense verb, “I am” it had a significance infinitely greater than a mere self-reference. On another occasion Jesus said an unusual statement to His antagonists as they argued with Him about His identity: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). At first read we would think this is bad grammar, but it certainly is not. “I AM” is actually a divine title or name. Jesus was identifying Himself as God. When Judas and his motley crew came to arrest the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, this is what we read in John 18 vs 4-6:
‘Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground’.
‘He’ is added after “I am” to give better sense in English. Now what would have made these men go backward and fall forward before Christ? Divine compulsion. They were in the presence of deity.
The background of this title or identity comes from what the LORD said to Moses at the burning bush in the Sinai desert. We read in Exodus 3 vs 13-14:
‘Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ”.’
So what does this mean? It means that the LORD God is the ever existing, all-powerful, ever present Lord of eternity and history. That is how Jesus identified Himself and the fact that He came into history and time to provide salvation for the world in the place and at the time of His choosing is evidence of His claim.
“I couldn’t believe that!” says someone loud and clear. “I’ll allow He was a virtuous man and His teaching good, but God? No way”. Well, remember we can choose what we wish to believe, but based on the record of the gospels we are confronted with how Jesus identified Himself and who He claimed and demonstrated Himself to be and we must either accept Him or reject Him according to His own word. If He is less than who He claims to be, then He is not worth a ‘second glance’ for He would be at best a deceiver and charlatan.
That said, the good news of the gospel is, He is an almighty Saviour worthy of your trust, deserving of your praise and able to bring you finally to heaven. The thing to realize about Christ and the gospel is that unlike the claims of men and the uncertain hopes of religions which put all the burden of outcome on the behaviour of their followers, Jesus promises and guarantees eternal life and an assurance of outcome to all who believe in Him.
2. His Good Character
Says the Lord Jesus, “I am the good shepherd”. He is the shepherd of Psalm 23 for He is the LORD being one with His Father in nature and attributes. But in calling Himself good He contrasts His character with those He calls “thieves and robbers” and a “hireling” (John 10:8, 10, 12). Their character is self-evident. He is good in the way that God is good. One day a young Jewish ruler came to Jesus; the conversation went like this:
‘“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments”’ (Matthew 19:16–17).
The relevance of the word good depends on its context of use. We talk about a good neighbour, or a good time or something that tastes good. But when we think of God as good we are thinking of good in an absolute and essential sense. God cannot be other than good. The LORD proclaimed His name to Moses in Mount Sinai and among all that He said, He reminded Moses that He is “abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6) or “loyal love and faithfulness” (NET). The nature of God is love and His abundant goodness or kindness along with His faithfulness and indeed everything else He told Moses, demonstrate the character of His unchanging nature. Therefore, when Jesus speaks about Himself as the good shepherd, He is telling us that He is unfailing in His love and kindness as the shepherd of His sheep. In Him is the absence of all that is evil, bad or deceitful, while present in Him is all that is pure, wholesome and genuine. He can be trusted for He will ever be true to Himself nor will He ever abandon His sheep.
His character is therefore displayed by what He does: He “gives His life for the sheep”.
3. His Willing Sacrifice
Christ as the good shepherd was willing to die for the sheep. A shepherd in protecting his flock in ancient times could very well have laid down His life in seeking to protect and defend his sheep from predators whether animal or human. Christ laid down His life at the Cross in order to give eternal life to His sheep. He laid it down in the ‘struggle’ against the greatest ‘thief’ of all time, the Devil. The Lord Jesus makes the contrast: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Devil, from we first meet him on the page of Holy Scripture, is in the business of stealing, killing and destroying. He ‘stole’ man from God by deception originally and the result was that sin came into the world by the first man’s act of disobedience and he energized Cain to murder his brother Abel. His greatest prize is to steal our souls and make sure we our condemned in eternal judgment along with him and his angels forever (Matthew 25:41). Don’t let him do that to you.
Jesus laid down His life for the sheep. He did so on the Cross, but not only did He lay down His life in sacrificial death, He took it again in glorious resurrection. He said:
“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).
The Lord Jesus gave His life for those who were already His sheep and He gave His life so that multitudes of others could become His sheep. You could become one of His sheep today and know His saving power and shepherd care. Obey His voice, believe in Him and receive the gift of eternal life He promises to all who do.
4. His Personal Assurance
So what kind of assurance and comfort does this shepherd give? Using the figure of a door into a sheepfold where the shepherd or shepherds would have stayed or lay down while the sheep were in the fold,
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). He gives the assurance of salvation and the ‘pasture’ of spiritual provision. Moreover He gives His sheep the assurance of eternal life and the guarantee that they will never perish:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
This is the assurance of double security. If I’m one of His sheep I am in the hand of Christ and this means that I am also in the hand of His Father. It’s a safe place to be in a dangerous world.
Jesus knows His sheep and they know Him for they hear and obey His voice by following Him. Does He know you as one of His sheep?
In modern farming, it’s rare to see sheep following a shepherd. They drive them today with dogs and quads it appears. One day, a number of years ago I was making my way to the ‘Auld Lammas Fair’ in Ballycastle on the North Antrim coast. Coming around a bend on one of the narrow roads in the Glens to my surprise I met a shepherd leading his flock of sheep. In his hand was a ‘shepherd’s crook’ as he led them along that quiet country road in County Antrim. It was a pleasant sight and seemed to me that I had just witnessed a ‘true shepherd’ with his flock.
The Good Shepherd is the True Shepherd. He is worthy of your trust today. May you be able to sing the following words of the hymn writer in truth:
There’s a shepherd who died for the sheep; ‘Tis Jesus, the blest Son of God; And all who believe in his name Are saved through His sin-cleansing blood.
I believe Jesus saves And His blood washes whiter than snow, I believe Jesus saves And His blood washes whiter than snow.