Dear Radio Listeners,
Today, turn with me once again to the 10th chapter of John. We are continuing to consider who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for His people, by considering together the seven “I Am” statements of Christ that are found in the Gospel according to John.
Last time, from the 10th chapter of John, we considered Jesus as the door of the sheep. Today we want to examine Jesus’ statement in John 10:11-18. Please take the time to read carefully these verses.
That Jesus is the good Shepherd of His sheep gives Him a beautiful identity. It identifies Christ as our great divine Pastor and Savior. A shepherd is a pastor. We are familiar with the fact that God has given us pastors in the church on earth. They are undershepherds to lead us into the green pastures of God’s Word by their preaching, by their love for us, and by their care for our souls, and to serve as our guides to heaven. True pastors are a great blessing to the church.
But we must know that when Jesus says here that He is the good Shepherd, He is identifying Himself to us as the Shepherd of all shepherds, the true Pastor of the church. All the ministers of the church really serve under Christ and reflect His office as pastor. All God’s people are really pastored by the good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. That is one of the reasons He is called the “good Shepherd.” “Good” here also means “excellent,” “eminent,” “choice.” That is what Jesus is as the Shepherd of His people. So He is not just “a,” that is, another shepherd. Jesus is the Shepherd of the sheep.
As such, Jesus is the revelation of God Himself to us. By these words, once again Jesus identifies Himself as divine, as Jehovah in the flesh. We may say this because in the Old Testament it was God who revealed Himself as the Shepherd of His people. You are familiar with the words in Psalm 23:1 where David said, “The LORD, that is, Jehovah, is my shepherd.” So also in Psalm 80 and Isaiah 40. Here, in John 10, Jesus declares Himself to be the Shepherd of the sheep. He is saying that He is the revelation of Jehovah as the Shepherd of the sheep. “I am,” again, means “I am God, the Shepherd.”
The fact that Jesus is the good Shepherd also identifies Him as the One who is perfectly qualified to fill this pastoral office over His people. The word “good” literally means “whole,” or “sound.” Jesus is our whole or complete Shepherd because He is fully qualified to be this for us. Part of that qualification is the fact, as we mentioned, that He is God. But belonging to this qualification is also the truth that Jesus is fully man.
A shepherd, in order to know his sheep and care for them, has to live among them. He has to be close to them. Jesus not only came from heaven to earth to be near His sheep, He actually became like them. The Shepherd became a sheep, took on our nature, and lived our entire life (except without sin). This is why He is the good Shepherd, perfectly qualified to know us and to care for us. He is like us in our flesh. There is no shepherd like this Jesus.
Let us not forget that these qualifications are Jesus’ in order that He might save His people. Oh, He does care for them, too. But that care of our divine Shepherd is chiefly this: He saves them from their sin, from death, from hell; He saves them for a place in God’s flock, for the fellowship with the Father, for eternal life with Him. And for this He is also perfectly qualified as the good Shepherd. He is divine because only the power of God can save us from sin and can give us a place in God’s flock and impart life to us. And He is man that He can bear our sin and die our death in our nature. Jesus, the Shepherd, became a Lamb, too. As John the Baptist introduced Him to the multitudes: “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Belonging to the beautiful identity of Jesus as the good Shepherd in John, chapter 10, is that He is contrasted with bad, or false, shepherds. As we said last time, in the context of John 10, Jesus condemns these false shepherds who operate in the sphere of the visible church on earth. He does not even call them shepherds here, for they are false, not true at all.
In the first part of this chapter He called them “thieves” and “robbers.” In this section, He calls these false shepherds “hirelings.” A hireling was not really a shepherd, though he had to fill in as one for a time. A hireling was hired by a shepherd to take care of his flock while the shepherd was away. Thus, the hired person did not really know the sheep. They did not belong to him. So he did not have any real love or attachment and, therefore, any real care for the sheep. He was a hireling, a mercenary. He did it for the money.
This is the way Jesus describes the religious leaders of His day and all false shepherds of the church by implication. The chief priests and the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who were supposed to be the pastors of God’s people, were really no shepherds at all. They did not know and love the sheep of God and they did not take any real interest in them. Therefore, they did not care for them. They acted like hirelings, watching them because there was something in it for them, perhaps even money.
But in contrast to these bad shepherds, Jesus is the good Shepherd of His sheep. Jesus is no hireling, taking pay to care for us. Jesus is not in it for money. In fact, taking care of us came at great cost to Him. Jesus is the good Shepherd because He is the true Shepherd, through and through. He is, by His very nature, our Shepherd. Besides, Jesus did not take responsibility for us as His sheep just for a short time. Jesus is our full-time, all-time Shepherd. He is our Shepherd from all eternity, for He assumed care for us when God first chose His sheep and gave them to Jesus to be saved. He was the Shepherd of His sheep all through the Old Testament. He was their Shepherd when He came on earth. He is our Shepherd now. And He will be our Shepherd to all eternity when every last sheep is in glory with Him.
Yes, dear listener, Jesus is the good Shepherd over against all bad shepherds. That is His identity.
And you know that even the faithful pastors of Christ are imperfect. They are sinful. Pastors of the church can and do assume an evil attitude sometimes toward the sheep of God. They can do wrong things with them. Even the best pastors are weak and sinful. Sometimes they act like hirelings. But you must remember that in the face of this, Jesus is the good Shepherd, your perfect, unfailing, ever-faithful Pastor. Every pastor in the church of Jesus Christ must strive to be like the good Shepherd.
Our text also speaks of the gracious care which Jesus, the good Shepherd, has for His sheep. For that really is the main duty of a shepherd, to care for the sheep of his flock. That care involves several aspects, as the Bible speaks of it. A shepherd has to protect and defend his sheep. Jesus does that. A shepherd has to feed his sheep, and Jesus does that, too. A shepherd has to provide rest for his sheep. And Jesus certainly does that. A shepherd must lead and guide his sheep, making sure that they follow him. Jesus does that also. The whole spectrum of the shepherd’s care is perfectly fulfilled from a spiritual point of view in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our text, however, emphasizes two main parts of that care of our shepherd for us: first of all, the fact that Jesus knows His sheep, and secondly, that He lays down His life for His sheep.
Jesus knows His sheep. In verse 14 of John 10, Jesus speaks of this as one of the chief marks of Himself. You will see that this again stands in contrast to a hireling. Because a hireling does not own the sheep, but is only hired to watch them for a time, the hireling really does not know them. He is not able to identify the various sheep in the flock. He does not know their nature and characteristics. A hireling cannot call the sheep by name. That is the way it was with the hirelings in the church in Jesus’ time, too. Like the chief priests and the scribes and the Pharisees-they were hirelings who could not really care for God’s people because they did not know the sheep. They could not minister to their needs because they had no real knowledge of their natures and their needs.
But in contrast to these hirelings, Jesus is the good Shepherd and He knows His sheep. Verse 14 expresses this beautifully. Literally, it says that Jesus knows His own. God’s people are Jesus’ very own sheep. They belong to Him. They are His very own possession and property. That is why He knows them. They are not someone else’s sheep. They are His very own. He knows them personally. He knows them with love and delight. Jesus even compares His knowledge of His sheep to His Father’s knowledge of Him and His knowledge of the Father. That is how intimate Jesus’ knowledge of His sheep is. He knows everything about them. He knows everything about you, child of God. Oh, He knows that, in general, we are sheep: dumb and weak, sinful, helpless and defenseless. But He also knows our specific persons and lives. He knows our trials and temptations. He knows our sorrows and afflictions. He also knows what sheep are not yet gathered. And, for that reason, He knows exactly what they need: the gospel of Himself which will be the means to save and gather them.
But why does Jesus know His sheep so well? How did these sheep come to be His very own? First, because they were given to Him by the Father already in eternity. These sheep are Jesus’ by eternal election. Jesus is not the Shepherd of all men. He is the Shepherd of a particular people. And He knows every one of them by name because God gave them to Him personally. Second, Jesus knows His sheep so well because He came into the world and became like them. He came and entered into the very nature and life of His people, into our sin and sorrows, into our weakness and pain, into our needs and wants. Our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, lived our whole life. And, of course, now He knows us because He is our glorious Lord in heaven. There He is all-seeing and all-knowing. He watches us with perfect knowledge, and He fellowships with us by His Word and Spirit. Do you know, dear listener, how perfect Jesus is in His care because He knows you?
In the second place, the gracious care of our good Shepherd is revealed in this: He lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus strongly emphasizes this in John 10: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…. and I lay down my life for the sheep…. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” In this, too, Jesus stands opposite the hireling. That is really the main point of difference which Jesus brings out in this illustration. Jesus wants it to be plain that if danger comes to the flock in the form of a wolf, for example, the hireling will leave the sheep and run away. He is concerned to save his own life rather than give his for the sheep. The hireling is selfish because he is not a shepherd but a hireling. But Jesus is the good Shepherd. And because He is, He gives His life for His sheep. He is not selfish. Jesus does not put His own life ahead of the sheep. Jesus is not afraid, either, of any danger to Himself. No, in His love and care for His sheep, He does not count His own life dear to Himself. He lays down His life for them.
We may certainly say that Jesus did that all His life long. The verb here is in the present tense, expressing continuous action. In Jesus’ whole life He was giving His life for the sheep. But we also believe that Jesus is referring particularly to the giving of Himself to the death of the cross. As the good Shepherd, Jesus knew that His sheep were facing the greatest danger of all: their sins and the punishment for them. Christ’s people were facing a guilt and a depravity that would cast them down into death and hell. They were facing an enemy that would separate them from God and banish them to everlasting desolation. And Jesus knew that they were utterly weak and helpless to save themselves. So He came to their rescue. And He gave His own life for them. Jesus’ sheep were going to lose their lives, but Jesus gave His instead. He took their place on the cross, bore their sins and guilt, died their death, and suffered their hell. Our good Shepherd became the sacrificial Lamb.
You will notice how the text stresses the voluntary and substitutionary character of this death of Jesus for His people. In real life a shepherd might be called on to lay down his life for his sheep, but it would be under pressure. It would be a forced giving up of self. Besides, it would be extremely rare that this would ever happen. But with Jesus, it is different. The good Shepherd gave Himself freely, voluntarily. He thought it out with carefulness and He performed the laying down of His life with deliberation. He did that because He knew us personally, because He loved His sheep and cared for them. What a Shepherd is Jesus!
Notice, too, how the text stresses that He gave Himself for His sheep. There is the substitutionary nature of His death. Jesus died in the place of His people, as a substitute. Not for all, but for His own, the ones given Him by the Father. And for those sheep, that death was effective unto salvation.
That is why we may speak of the blessed profit that Jesus is to His people as their good Shepherd. There is unbelievable profit in having and knowing this good Shepherd. Under the shepherding of this Jesus we are saved, saved from every wolf and bear and lion spiritually. Saved from sin and death, saved from the grave and hell, saved from the devil and his hosts. In this Shepherd there is pardon and peace, perfect security and safety. In this good Shepherd the sheep are saved unto life everlasting. For, remember, this good Shepherd took up His life again, having laid it down. He triumphed over death and rose to new life. And that life He gives to His sheep so that they join Him in glory. As Jesus says here, in verse 28, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” All through our life now we, as God’s people, are under the perfect care of this good Shepherd so that we arrive at that goal. From heaven Jesus protects us in all of this life’s trials and temptations and preserves us in salvation. Now in this life, He guides us through all the wilderness of this world to the safe pastureland of heaven. Now in this life, He feeds us with the water and grass of God’s grace, through His Word and Spirit. Now in this life, He gives us rest in our journey: our weekly Sabbaths.
What a Shepherd! What a care! What a prophet!
Do you know Him as your good Shepherd? You will see that in verse 14 Jesus also says that His sheep know Him. Oh, that, too, is a work of grace. Without God’s work in our hearts we could never know this good Shepherd, never know His knowledge of us, never know His love and care for us, never know His saving life laid down for us. But, you see, this good Shepherd also sees to this. The One who knows us makes sure that we also know Him. That knowledge is the knowledge of faith. Believe on Him, listener. And then live under the comfort and security of His Shepherd-care.
Let us bow in prayer.
Our gracious God and Father, we thank Thee that Thou has given Jesus to be the good Shepherd of His sheep and for those who believe on Him. We thank Thee that they have the knowledge that they are cared for by this loving, tender Shepherd, provided for in all of this life, and through Him, to receive the glory of the hereafter. We pray, Father, that Thou wilt continue to strengthen our faith in this divine Shepherd whom Thou hast given for us, to trust in Him fully, for the care of our souls and our bodies. In Jesus’ name, Amen.