Dear radio friends,
In John 10:11 we have these wonderful words of Jesus: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” These are the words that the Lord Jesus is speaking to us right now—words that tell us not only wonderfully who He is (He is the Good Shepherd), but also what He has done, and they explain the cross of Jesus Christ for us. He tells us that, as the Good Shepherd on the cross, He gave His life for the sheep, for me, for all those who, by grace, believe in Him and have been chosen graciously by the Father.
Whenever we sit at the feet of the Word of God, whenever we come under the pure preaching of the Word of God, whenever we take the Bible into our hands, then as believers we ought to understand and acknowledge that this is talking about me, and it is telling me what Jesus is and what Jesus has done for me.
Let us look at these wonderful words of Jesus: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” Let us look at that personally, as the Lord speaks to us.
First of all, let us hear in those words today His own willingness to die the accursed death in our place. The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep. He gives it. Later on in verse 15 of John 10 He will say, “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He gives, He lays down His life. In other words, the Lord is saying, “I do this voluntarily. I do this willingly. I do not do this out of an external compulsion placed upon Me or because I am forced by something outside of My control or ability. I do this voluntarily.” The Lord makes this explicit in verse 18: “No man taketh [my life] 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 commandment have I received of my Father.”
Jesus died freely, voluntarily, with no external, outside force compelling Him to go to the cross. He went to the cross because He would. That is of utmost importance. That is of the greatest importance! That tells us everything. We must remember, first of all, that Jesus is God in the flesh. God, the true and living God, never does anything by compulsion. The true and living God always does all that He does freely for His own name’s sake. So repeatedly in the Bible we find God saying, “I will do this for My good pleasure, because I am pleased to do so.”
Also the cross of Jesus Christ was caused by the voluntary will of Jesus. He was pleased to do this. He was pleased to do this out of His own eternal and perfect love for us. The apostle Paul will say in Galatians 2, “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.” Jesus Christ, then, went to the cross, not because the power of His enemies was greater than His, or because somehow He fell into a tragic train of events that were beyond His ability to cope with. No, He lay down His life: “I give My life for the sheep.”
This is what He had said so eloquently in Psalm 40, prophetically. In Psalm 40 Jesus had proclaimed, “I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God.” He poured out His soul, says Isaiah in chapter 53. He poured out His soul unto death. With all the desires of His heart, He was determined to pay our debt upon Calvary’s cross and redeem us from the torments of hell. We must never suppose, even for one moment, that the Lord had no power to prevent these sufferings; that He came to the sufferings of the cross because He could not avoid them. No, He willingly placed Himself before the wrath of God that we deserved. Willingly, out of love, He mounted the cross, there to provide a perfect salvation for us.
Let that sink down into your heart. Observe all the immediate events that led up to the cross, beginning in the upper room when Jesus said, “One of you shall betray Me,” by which He made it impossible for the traitor, Judas Iscariot, to remain within that room. That night he went out to accomplish his plot of betraying Christ. Jesus said, “The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed.”
Remember when Jesus stands at the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane and leaders of the Jews come forward with their band of soldiers to capture Him, He says to them, “Whom seek ye?” And they say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He responds: “I am He.” And they all fall backward. They had no ability to take Him. Later He will say to Peter, “Put up thy sword,” when Peter tried to defend Him with his sword. “Put up your sword, Peter. Thinkest thou that I cannot pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me twelve legions of angels?”
Jesus Christ went to the cross willingly, out of love for the Father, out of love for you and for me and for all God’s people. He never faltered, He never wavered. He was steady, He was unrelenting, He was unstoppable. The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep.
Learn of that. Embrace that. Cherish that precious truth. Shall we not weep?
For whom does Jesus willingly give Himself? For those who are unwilling. That word “unwilling,” as referring to us, is really too mild, far too mild! We are the ones who, according to Scripture, have turned everyone to his own way. We are the ones who would not have Him rule over us. We are the ones who would say with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” We are rebellious, evil sinners of ourselves.
But it was the eternal grace and love of God that gave His Son to take our place. And it was the Son who willingly took our place, in obedience to the Father, and in love for the Father and for all the sheep given to Him of the Father.
You say to me, “Who are these sheep for whom He willingly gives His life?” Jesus answered in verses 29 and 30: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” The sheep for whom He willingly gave Himself are those whom the Father had freely chosen and given to Him out of mere grace. For them, voluntarily, willingly, the Good Shepherd gave His life.
Secondly, hear in these words not only a willing Savior but also a Savior who is the sacrificial Shepherd. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. I lay down,” He says, “my life for the sheep.” For the sheep means literally in the place of or in the behalf of the sheep. It means that our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, knew that something was coming to the sheep, something was owed to us. What was owed to us was eternal death. He knew that we were responsible for something that was so horrible that it must surely destroy us, something that we could not avert, something that we could not take away, something that would utterly damn us. And that something was the punishment that was owed to us for our sins before a holy and a righteous God.
The Good Shepherd declares: “I will sacrifice My life, I will give My life in the place of these sheep. I will substitute My life for the sheep.” He declares here the wonder of the sacrificial, the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Substitutionary. That is, God took His Son and put Him in the place of His sheep. Instead of destroying the sheep, God smote the Shepherd. God placed His own Son under the weight of the sins that His sheep had committed in order that the sheep might not perish but that the Shepherd might make an atonement for them, for all of their sins. Substitutionary. Particular. For every sheep. Jesus dies for the sheep, in the place of the sheep. That is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Hear His word: “I gave My life in your place, My child. Before the throne of God you, My child, appeared. Eternal justice drew a holy and a righteous sword upon you. You had profaned and attacked the holy God with your sins and you deserved eternal destruction. That sword should have been brought down upon you. But I lay down My life for the sheep. I said to the Father, ‘I will stand in their place. Let the guilt of the sheep be imputed unto me.’ And justice was done.” God gave the Shepherd to experience all the wrath that our sins deserve. Did not men nail Him to the tree? Yes, they did. But it was God who put His Son to grief. It was the Lord who brought this upon Him out of eternal grace. God gave His Son that we might have life eternal. That is the cross of Jesus Christ!
You must embrace that. You must cherish that. You must love that with all your heart. This is the wonder of salvation. This is the wonder of the love of God. See Jesus at the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane having come under the full consciousness of the cup, having prayed three times as He sweat great drops of blood: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup be taken from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt.” Now He arises, refreshed through prayer, and He goes forward.
And what were His words? These were His words to the mob: “Whom seek ye? I have told you that I am He: if therefore ye seek me, let these [that is, My disciples] go their way: That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, of them which thou gavest me, have I lost none.”
That was not simply one man being surrounded and attempting to save other eleven men from a mob. No, His words are the words of the Good Shepherd. These are the words that He enters into the court of heaven, before the justice of God. He says, “Let these go their way—all those given to Me by Thy eternal love and grace. Let not Thy justice fall upon them. But let that justice now fall upon Me. For I am the Good Shepherd. And I give My life for the sheep. I lay it down for the sheep. No man makes Me do this. I do this willingly for the sheep.”
What held Jesus to the cross? The nails? No. The nails did not hold Him to the cross. It was His eternal love. Willingly, sacrificially, as the substitute for the people of God, in love for the Father and in love for all of His own sheep, Jesus willingly took their place and laid down His life. He endured what we could not endure, in order that we might have life eternal with Him.
That is the Good Shepherd. That is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, finally, you and I must see today a loving Shepherd. A willing Shepherd. A sacrificial Shepherd.
Why did the Good Shepherd willingly give His life as a sacrifice in our place? If Jesus had done no wrong at all, if He was the innocent, perfect Son of God who had no sin, why was He nailed to a cross? And why was He abandoned of God so that He cried out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And, if Jesus was mighty God (and He is!), then why did God allow His Son to be nailed upon a cross, to be spit upon, to be whipped with cords, to be mocked by soldiers? Why?
There is only one answer. Eternity will not be enough for you to get your heart around this answer. The answer is: Because the Good Shepherd loves His sheep. We read in verses 14 and 15: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
That word “know” is often used in the Bible for “love.” It is the knowledge of love. The love of God is not ignorance. The love of God is not infatuation. The love of God is not merely surmising something and having an infatuation. But the love of God is perfect knowledge. The Father knoweth me and loveth me. And I know the Father and I love Him. Within the triune being of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is the spotless wonder of perfect knowledge and perfect love joined together. From eternity to eternity, before the world was, before the sun shone in the heavens, before there were mountains or stars, God loved His Son and His Son knew and loved His Father. And out of that love He died for us. “As My Father knoweth Me, so I know My sheep. I know them in that perfect love of the Father.”
Think of it. The love of the Good Shepherd is not merely an infatuation. It is not merely a temporary attraction. It is not merely something that will end in the grave. Oh, no. It is the eternal love of the Father for the Son. As He loved the Father, He loves us. And as God loves Himself and wills to glorify Himself, so has God loved us. Not a love that dies. Not a love that can be reckoned in earthly years. Not a love bounded as the oceans are bounded by a shore. Not even a love like the universe, in which the stars are bounded by the created hand of God. But a love that has no limit. The love of God: “I know My sheep, know each one. I love them. That is why I lay down My life for them.”
Cherish that! Hold that fast. Believe that. Embrace that by the gift of faith today. The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. Let the wonder of that be upon your soul. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know and love My sheep. And I lay down My life for them.”
Do you know that? Do you hear Him? We began by saying that the child of God must always hear this personally, through faith. Do you hear this? “I am the Good Shepherd,” says Jesus. The Good Shepherd gives His life for me! The Good Shepherd says, “When I sent Judas out into the night that I might be betrayed, I thought of you. When I stood at the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane, and all the reality of the cup of God’s justice was held out to Me, I thought of you. When I was in Caiphas’ judgment hall and everyone showed contempt for Me, and Peter outside was denying My name, when there was no friend or guardian at My hand, I thought of you. When one word from Me would have struck them all dead, or I could have summoned heaven’s legions of angels and Gabriel and Michael would have been by My side, I thought of you. When they cried out before Pilate: “Away with Him! Crucify Him!” It was then that I knew your name and I knew your sins and I loved you and I went to the cross for you. And when, at last, they crucified Me and they lifted Me up on the hill of Golgotha, and the three hours of darkness enveloped the cross and the agonies of the hell that was yours were poured over My soul, then I knew you. Then and there I loved you. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
You and I are left speechless, lost in wonder and in praise.
Let us pray.
Father, what shall we render? How shall we respond to such love, such grace? The Holy Spirit has convicted us that we are unworthy, filthy, corrupt sinners, worthy only of destruction. And Thou hast given a Good Shepherd to save us from our enemies, our sins, and bring us into the fold. All praise, all glory be to Thee. May our lives be a fit testimony of Him who hath loved us so exceedingly. In Jesus’ name, Amen.