“I AM…” – How Jesus Meets Our Deepest Needs
4. The Good Shepherd
John 10: 11 - 30
This week we’re going to see Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” and I’m going to open with a story. Several years ago in Palestine, a tour bus rode through Israel’s countryside. The tour guide explained the scenery, the history, and the lifestyle. In his description, he included a portrayal of the ancient shepherd/sheep relationship. He told how the shepherd builds a relationship with his sheep—how he feeds them and gently cares for them. He pointed out that the shepherd doesn’t drive the sheep but leads them, and that the shepherd does not need to be harsh with them, because they hear his voice and follow. In the middle of spinning his pastoral tale, he suddenly realized he had lost his audience. They were all staring out the bus window at a guy chasing a flock of sheep. He was throwing rocks at them and whacking them with sticks. The guide became so agitated that he jumped off the bus, ran into the field, and confronted the man, ‘Do you understand what you have just done to me?’ ‘I was spinning a charming story about the gentle ways of shepherds, and here you are mistreating and assaulting these sheep. What is going on?’ The light dawned and he blurted out, ‘Man. You’ve got me all wrong. I’m not a shepherd. I’m a butcher.’ A perfect example of what a ‘good shepherd’ is not.
Let’s find out what a Good Shepherd is. We’re going to see that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, lays down his life for the sheep and in doing so distinguishes Himself from hired hands, creates a bonded relationship with His sheep, unites His sheep, and secures His sheep.
1. Jesus is The Good Shepherd v. 11a
In Palestine during the time of Jesus, the occupation with the largest employment was shepherd. Now, here in the west, we tend to think of shepherds as sentimental beings with their arms full of cuddly lambs. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Though many held the position, the job itself came with little fanfare. Sheep are helpless, defenseless, straying, dirty animals that require constant oversight, leading, rescue, and cleaning or they will die.
Being a shepherd is tiring. But shepherds aren’t usually in the business of shepherding for their own profit. Rather, a good shepherd knows how to serve their sheep. Jesus says that as the Good Shepherd, he “lays down his life” for the sheep.
When Jesus speaks the words, “I am the good shepherd.” He’s separating Himself from all the other shepherds. Jesus isn’t just a shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd and there isn’t another shepherd like Him.
Sometimes we see the word “good” and we look at it like an evaluation. There’s “average” and then there’s “good” which is better than “average” but not quite “excellent.” Sometimes we see “good” and we think “beautiful” or “useful.” Jesus’ statement here doesn’t allow room for there to be an option that is higher than “good.” He is not just the “good” shepherd. He is the “best” shepherd and there are no other shepherds that even come close to reaching Him. Jesus is in a class all by Himself. Now that we’ve established that the Good Shepherd is set apart, let’s see exactly why He’s in a class by Himself.
2. Jesus Lays Down His Life for the Sheep (v. 11b – 18)
One of the roles of the shepherd was to rescue and/or defend helpless sheep from predators. Robbers and wild animals such as wolves and bears were a constant danger so shepherds had to be willing to put their own life on the line to protect the sheep. What Jesus is saying here is that he doesn’t just risk his life for the sheep, he voluntarily lays it down for them in a sacrificial way. Jesus doesn’t merely risk his life and lose it in some type of accident. He lays it down and that is exactly what qualifies him to be the good shepherd.
Jesus’ laying down his life for the sheep does 3 things:
A. Distinguishes the Difference between a Good Shepherd and a Hired Hand (v. 12, 13)
Our standards for our own homes and our own car and our own toys and our own tools is higher than our standards for the things of others. That's not good. It's one of the things Jesus came into the world to change. But that's the way human nature is apart from the transforming grace of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus knew it and used it to contrast his commitment to his own sheep with the commitment of hired help.
He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
To the hired hand, sheep-tending is just a job. (It's just rental property or car.) They don't really care about the sheep. They are doing this to earn a living, not because they love sheep. So they say, “No job is worth your life. If you're just working for a living, then you sure don't need a job that might kill you.” So if a pack of wolves attacks your sheep, and you're just a hired hand, you run. You don't risk your life and fight the wolves. Who cares about a few sheep? Who cares if the place gets trashed; it's not our house anyway. We understand and can relate to these hired hands.
But Jesus shows that he's not like that. He's not a hired hand. He's the good shepherd and the owner of the sheep. The difference is that the hired hand loves his life more than the sheep, but Jesus loves His sheep more than His life. 4 times in this passage Jesus says he lays down his life for the sheep.
The test of a true shepherd and a false shepherd is in what the shepherd does when a predator appears. The false shepherd cares only for himself and his reputation. The true shepherd shows who he is by being prepared to die for the sheep. Follow the voice of the shepherd who is in a class all by Himself, Jesus Christ.
B. Creates a Bonded Relationship between the Good Shepherd and the Sheep (v. 14, 15)
Do you see the incredible relationship that’s at work here between the shepherd and the sheep? Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” The term “know” is an intimate term that describes the love relationship between a husband and a wife.
Real intimacy makes us feel alive; like we’ve been found, as if someone finally took the time to look into the depths of our soul and really see us there. Until then, until we experience true intimacy, we will feel passed over and ignored. True intimacy doesn’t come from the hired hand. It’s only found in the Good Shepherd.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the simple truth is that Jesus loves you and knows you and claims you as His own. Jesus knows you, you know Him, the Father in love knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father. If you are a follower of Christ, you are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and Jesus Christ. You are bonded with Christ in a relationship that will go as deep as you want it to go. Are you willing to know the Good Shepherd? Or will you settle for the hired hand?
C. Unites the Sheep into One Fold (v. 16)
Jesus’ words here are part of a conversation that began with Jewish religious leaders back in John ch. 9. Jesus’ statement to these leaders implies that His mission and the advancement of Christianity is just beginning. The work is not yet complete and, actually, it continues to this day. So, until the work is complete, Jesus is calling sheep. He is calling Jews and Gentiles (all of mankind) to follow Him. Those who hear that call to salvation and respond by placing their faith in Christ will become one flock with one shepherd. This idea was revolutionary. Jews and Gentiles despised each other and here Jesus is saying that there won’t be factions with separate leaders. Just one group, one party, one fold, with one leader, one shepherd, Jesus Christ. Do you know that Good Shepherd? He is calling out to you.
As we close out our time together, I want to invite you to do something that might make you uncomfortable. I’d like you to close your eyes. While you’re doing that, I’m going to jump in my Bible to Psalm 23 and let me read this parallel passage and listen to God’s Word as it provides some practical application to our passage on The Good Shepherd.
Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Jesus’ sheep hear His voice, He knows them, His sheep follow him, and their eternal destinies are secure. But listen, there are those who stand indicted because they are not His sheep and they don’t hear His voice, and He doesn’t know them, and they do not follow Him, and they will perish for having never been in His hand.
When we recognize our status, we understand that Christ is saying that our safety does not depend on our immature, futile grip upon him, but on his hold on us. “No one will snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. We are doubly safe.
This brings incredible relief to those of us who are true children of God. You know, John 10 was written to people who considered themselves to be sheep. Do you consider yourself one of God’s sheep? Then your position as part of the Good Shepherd’s flock is already established. Are you going through a dark valley? Are you afraid? Remember that your Shepherd is with you. Are you cast down? Depressed? Helpless? Have you settled for the hired hand? Cry out to your Shepherd. He will pick you up, love you, lead you and restore you. Remember, He’s not the mistreating and assaulting butcher. He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you distinguishing Himself from anyone else, allowing you a bonded, uniting, secure relationship with Him.