Perhaps the two most well known passages in all the Bible are John 3:16 and Psalm 23. The latter, in particular, speaks of the Lord as our Shepherd. What a comforting thought! It is poetry in motion, but not for poetry’s sake, for it is true. The Lord is my Shepherd! Let’s talk today about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. The hireling flees, because he is a hireling, and cares not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knows Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep.”John 10:11-15
“You’re hired!” Everyone likes to hear these words when at a job interview. The words hired and hireling have the same root, so we get the idea that a hireling is someone who has been paid to care for the sheep. It’s his job, nothing more. They are not his sheep, and he will not risk his life to save them from danger. He will say, “You paid me to lead them to pasture and water. You did not pay me to get mauled by a wolf. I’m outta here.”
As with every parable Jesus told, there is an underlying message. The hireling represents the church leader who is in ministry only for the money, and not for the souls of men. He is perfectly content to preach the Word as long as collections are good and church operations run fairly smoothly. But when conflicts arise, he runs. He is not willing to practice self-denial for the sake of the church he leads, but would sooner seek greener pastures than stay the course when troubles come. Why? Because he cares only for himself, not for the people to whom he preaches.
By contrast to the hireling, the shepherd owns the sheep, he knows the sheep, and he is known of the sheep. He cares for them deeply and would give his life for them. When danger comes, he does not even think of his own peril, but rushes bravely to defend his helpless sheep. He does not do it for the money, he does it for love. It is no small wonder, then, that God chose Abraham, a shepherd, thousands of years ago, calling him away from his father and family, to a strange land, and promising to make him a father of many nations. “I will be to you a God, and you shall be to Me a people.” Moses was a shepherd. And David was another notable shepherd whom God raised up and used mightily to lead the nation of Israel.
The word pastor, which many churches use to address their leader, comes from a word meaning “to feed,” and it is also translated shepherd. A true pastor, not a hireling, has a heart of love for his congregation. He cares for each one of them as himself. He makes sacrifices every day so that their needs can be met. He suffers hardships that many of them will never know, and he does it willingly, without hesitation, without regret, knowing that he is laying up treasure in heaven. And many a shepherd—or under-shepherd, as they are sometimes called—has laid down his life for his sheep. The more the shepherd loves and cares for his sheep, the more he resembles that Good Shepherd.
I AM the Good Shepherd
To me, the most exciting part of this entire passage in John 10 is wrapped up in the word know, found four times in verses 14 and 15.
I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knows Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep.
1. Jesus knows His sheep. In fact, He knows them all by name. That includes me—you too, if you are one of His.
But now thus says the LORD who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are Mine.”Isaiah 43:1
2. The sheep know Jesus. They recognize His voice, and they follow Him.
And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.John 10:4
3. The Father knows Jesus. There were some in the crowd who doubted the deity of Christ. They were familiar with His earthly family, and they could not understand that Jesus was more than just a man.
While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.”Matthew 17:15
4. Jesus knows the Father. He has an infinite knowledge of God because He is God. Yet beyond that, He has also spent His earthly lifetime cultivating a relationship with God in prayer and study of the Scriptures. Did He need to do this? Or was He setting a pattern for us to follow? I believe He did this for a pattern. Jesus veiled His glory while He walked this earth, but though fully man, He was no less God.
I and my Father are one.John 10:30
Why a Shepherd?
It was no accident that God chose a shepherd, Abraham, and became his Shepherd. Through the seed of Abraham came the Lord Jesus Christ—at once the Lamb of God, the Door of the sheep, and the Good Shepherd. In fact, the image does not stop there. He is also the perfect blood sacrifice, and the Great High Priest, presenting His own blood before the Father, and ever interceding for us. He is all in all. He is everything we will ever need.
John tells us that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. But did you know that He was also called the Great Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd?
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.Hebrews 13:20-21
And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that does not fade away.I Peter 5:4
Why a shepherd? Because we are like sheep.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:6
Sheep are dumb animals. They will follow the sheep in front of them right over a cliff. They will swear they have been left behind if they cannot see the shepherd, though he be standing directly behind them, because they do not have the sense to turn around. They are helpless. They carry a weight of wool that grows heavy with water, snared with briars, and filthy with dirt. They cannot wash themselves or remove the weight on their own, but must be sheared by the shepherd. They are fearful creatures, but they are also trusting, even if to their own peril. We are just like them.
The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.John 10:10, 16
My friend, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He has many sheep in His flock, but He has room for more. Are you one of the sheep that Jesus is waiting to bring into the fold? Don’t wait too long. One day the door will close, just as the door on Noah’s ark, and judgment will come. If you hear the voice of Jesus calling to you, the time to come is now.
I close today’s study with that beautiful psalm of David, the Shepherd’s Psalm…
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.Psalm 23
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Image credited to nikkiboruch.com