I am persuaded that you have heard many sermons about Jesus as the Lamb of God – the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. This focus is on the imagery of Jesus as the unblemished sacrifice in the form of a lamb. Of course, this was an idea familiar with Jews who for centuries had practiced animal sacrifice, especially of sheep among other types of animals.
Today I would like to develop this thought but not looking at Jesus as the lamb, rather seeing Him as the shepherd. The Bible teaches that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb but it also teaches that He was the good shepherd as well. And I would like to explore that idea from the Old and New Testaments with you.
The work and character of a shepherd was quite familiar to both Jews and gentiles. Unlike today where machines and various trades and skills are made obsolete within one decade, the life and work of a shepherd remained the same for centuries.
- This is why someone in the 21st century AD can read the 23rd Psalm "The Lord is my Shepherd" written by a shepherd some 2700 years before, and understand exactly what the writer is talking about.
- We still have shepherds today and their life and work is pretty much the same as it was when David wrote that Psalm.
So this timeless image of the shepherd is used over and over again to describe Jesus' life and ministry. But the inspired writers did not simply compare Jesus to an ordinary shepherd.
Three Shepherd Types
They described 3 shepherd "types" that provided insight into His unique life and ministry. Insights that help us to truly know Christ Jesus our Shepherd.
1. The Promised Shepherd
One of the promises contained in the Old Testament was that God would send a shepherd to care and comfort His people.
A. A shepherd who will deal with his flock in tenderness and love.
9 Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
"Here is your God!"
10 Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him
11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
- Isaiah 40:9-11
B. A shepherd who will find and care for the lost and scattered sheep.
Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
And declare in the coastlands afar off,
And say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him
And keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.
- Jeremiah 31:10
C. A single shepherd who, like David, will provide for the needs of His flock.
Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.
- Ezekiel 34:23
Now, we know that there are several messianic images of Jesus in the Old Testament.
- A seed of promise – Genesis 3:15
- A suffering servant – Isaiah 53:1-ff
- A righteous king – Isaiah 32:1
These and many others referenced the position and mission of the Messiah to come, but were difficult for an ordinary person to relate to. However, the character and work of a shepherd and the needs of a flock of sheep – these were things that an ordinary person could understand on a physical and emotional level.
I can understand intellectually what a seed of promise is; I can appreciate the idea of a suffering servant; I can even picture in my mind what a righteous king looks and acts like. But a shepherd caring for his flock or a flock in need of a shepherd, these things I can feel and experience. I can know Jesus in many ways but knowing Him as my shepherd helps me to relate and respond to the human side of His nature.
When the prophets spoke of the messiah to come, using the shepherd imagery, they were addressing the everyday needs of ordinary people and how God was to send a "shepherd" to care for them on a daily basis. The food I eat, the way that I live, the protection that I seek each day are all provided by Jesus, my shepherd. And I am assured that He knows what it is like to be human because my Lord, through His prophets, described Himself in very human terms using the imagery of the shepherd.
2. The Good Shepherd – John 10:1-18
I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
When Jesus used the imagery of a shepherd to proclaim His messianic status, He did not simply refer to Himself as a "shepherd." He used the term "good shepherd" because He also wanted to contrast Himself and His ministry to the character and actions of the "bad shepherds" that led the people at that time. The passage in John 10 follows the healing of a blind man by Jesus.
- The story describes how the Pharisees and priests tried to discredit Jesus because He had healed this man of his blindness on the Sabbath.
- Faced with an undeniable miracle these Jewish leaders, the recognized shepherds of Israel, still refused to believe in Jesus and respond to His teaching.
- Jesus refers to them as being blind because of their sins and disbelief – and by implication useless as leaders.
In order to further emphasize their blindness He gives them a parable about shepherds. Before we read this passage we need a little background information to help us visualize the scene that Jesus is describing in this parable.
- Sheepfolds were enclosures made of stones or branches used as animal pens.
- Some shepherds used natural caves in the mountainsides to pen their animals at night.
- One feature of these folds is that there was only one entrance way for the sheep to enter and leave.
- Sometimes several shepherds would keep their flocks together in one large sheepfold.
- At night the sheep would be put into this enclosure and the shepherd would sleep in the entrance way.
- Sometimes another person would man a gate at night so the shepherd could sleep in his tent.
- The shepherds were familiar with their sheep to the point that when several flocks were penned together the shepherds could call their sheep out to follow and only their flock would respond.
The priests and Pharisees listening to Jesus' parable were familiar with these things so they needed no explanation.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them."
- John 10:1-6
The simple parable compares a true shepherd with a thief.
- The thief does not enter through the door but sneaks in over the wall in order not to be seen.
- The shepherd goes through the door and is recognized by the gatekeeper.
- The sheep both know and follow the voice they recognize as their shepherd.
- The sheep will not respond to the stranger (they do not know he is a thief) they just know he is not the shepherd.
What is amazing here is that the Jewish leaders listening to this parable do not yet understand that this story is about them. Jesus had said that they were blind as leaders and the fact that they did not "get" the parable simply proves it. So Jesus explains it to them and adds details so they do not miss the point.
Jesus leaves the parable style of teaching but in His explanation He uses metaphors to explain His position and identity. In this passage He describes 4 features that differentiate the good shepherd from the bad.
A – Legitimacy
7 So Jesus said to them again, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
When Jesus uses this metaphor He means that He is the legitimate way that leaders must come by if they are true shepherds.
The priests and Pharisees did not believe that He was the Messiah (the door) and so were illegitimate leaders. Jesus enumerates many of their evil motives.
He also assures that those leaders who do come through the door/Jesus will be blessed in their work and safe from attack. He might be referring to the Apostles who will become the leaders/shepherds of God's people in place of these present rulers.
B – Sacrifice
11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
Now Jesus changes metaphors and refers to Himself as the "good shepherd." One of the striking features of the shepherd was to what lengths he would go to in order to find lost sheep or to protect his flock. For example, David said to Saul that he fought both lion and bear in the care of his flock (I Sam. 17:36).
Jesus, in prophetic mode, says that the good shepherd is willing to sacrifice or "lay down" His life for the sheep. Now an ordinary shepherd would "risk" his life for the sheep but he would not sacrifice his own life for theirs. But Jesus in messianic prophecy (which they did not understand) reveals the heart of God's plan for salvation. The good shepherd laying down (not risking) but willfully giving up His life for the safety of His sheep.
This in contrast to the feelings and actions of the "hireling" a hired worker with no concern but to profit from the sheep. This is made plain by this person's reaction to a threat towards the sheep. Jesus may be referring to the suffering of the Jews in the past on account of the poor leaders that led them into idolatry and the present leaders who were discouraging people from coming to Him. They were not true shepherds and many had been appointed to their leadership roles not by God but by Rome.
The high priest position was given by Rome in those days and often purchased by rich families.
14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
Jesus once again uses the good shepherd metaphor to emphasize the quality of the relationship that true leaders have with their sheep. He makes a comparison between the intimacy He has with the Father and the intimate knowledge that exists between Himself and His followers. This is both a present fact and future promise.
His disciples first believe in Him (enter by the door) and are rewarded by an ever-growing knowledge of the good shepherd. Jesus expanded on this idea later on in John 17:3 when He said,
And this is eternal life, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.
Unlike the hireling who as leader is only interest in the sheep as a source of satisfaction for his own desires... The Good shepherd enters into a deep relationship with His flock that mirrors the relationship that exists within the Godhead.
Then Jesus goes once again into prophetic mode when He says that other sheep from another fold will be called into His flock. A reference to the calling of the gentiles into the kingdom through the gospel. Again, in complete contrast to the present leaders before Him who were loathe to consider any one else worthy to be included into God's household except themselves.
Jesus portrays the good shepherd as one who would have the ability to unify all men into a special intimate relationship with each other and with God.
D – Authority
17For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
The priests and Pharisees had authority as leaders given to them by the Law of Moses. However, they had overstepped their authority by adding to God's word with their own rules and regulations. And they had abused their authority by manipulating these rules to gain advantage or acted as hypocrites by teaching and imposing laws that they themselves never kept.
In contrast to their authority which has been conferred upon them and which they have misused, Jesus describes (again in prophetic form) His authority.
- His authority is based in Himself; it is not derived from someone else.
- His authority is based in power, the power over life and death which is supreme or divine power.
- His authority is exercised in love – not self service.
He does not give the details of His death and resurrection here, only the fact that He has the authority to both give His life and take back His life. His Apostles and the priests and Pharisees will remember what He has said here when the time of His death and resurrection comes.
His authority is in agreement with the Father in heaven who has given Him the command or commission to save mankind with His sacrifice. To the blind priests and Pharisees Jesus reveals the full plan of salvation in parabolic and prophetic form.
The final verses of this section show that His words had a certain impact on His hearers because some of them began to entertain the thought that He was more than just a teacher (vs.19-21).
19 A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?" 21 Others were saying, "These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?"
I said in the beginning of my lesson that we can see three "types" for Jesus as shepherd.
1. Jesus as the promised shepherd.
- A shepherd in the messianic type.
- The shepherd who will come and care for the sheep.
2. Jesus as the good shepherd
- A shepherd in the sacrificial type.
- The shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep and gather them into one flock,
3. Chief Shepherd
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
- I Peter 5:1-4
In this passage we see Jesus as shepherd in the ministry type. Peter instructs shepherds who have themselves come through the "door" which is faith in Jesus, to care for the flock (Jews and Gentiles united in Christ which is the church). The Apostle lays out the manner that the chief shepherd (Jesus) cared for them as Apostles and how He wants the shepherds who have come to Him, how they should care for His flock. They, the present shepherds, are to shepherd the flock as Jesus shepherded the flock:
- Serve willingly and eagerly as a response to God's grace towards you.
- Not out of duty, or guilt, or a desire to gain money or other worldly things.
- Do not use this role as a way of exercising power and control over others.
- Use it as an opportunity to model Christ, the Good shepherd to the flock.
- And just as the Good shepherd was rewarded with the salvation of many souls because of His sacrifice (this is why He laid down His life – to gain the eternal life of His followers)
- The Chief shepherd will award this same joy to those who lay down their lives in service to the flock.
Every believer receives eternal life but it seems that shepherds in the mold of Christ will also share in the type of joy that He experienced.
So we come back to Paul in Philippians 3 where he declares,
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...
- Phil. 3:8
And today we have gained some insight into knowing Christ Jesus as our shepherd. But what have we learned exactly? I do not know what you have taken away from this presentation in addition to the points and ideas I have made.
But I can tell you 2 things I have learned, how I have come to know Christ from my study:
1. I have learned that I am a sheep.
- I like to think that I am a lion or a stallion, or an eagle – but in reality I am just a sheep.
- I am quite vulnerable to attack: easily lost, easily injured, and needing protection. I think back on my life as a lost sheep and how close I came to destruction…
I have realized that I put myself in grave spiritual danger when I forget that I am just a sheep. And like a sheep I cannot just go off by myself, or care for myself, or be something other than a sheep. It is quite a humbling moment when you realize that you are just a sheep and not really a lion. Satan's most effective lie in seducing me is to seduce me into thinking I am not a sheep
2. Jesus is not only the promised shepherd or the good shepherd, or the chief shepherd, HE IS MY SHEPHERD.
We get so used to calling Him "Lord" and of course that is who He is, but we forget that He never referred to Himself as that. In describing His relationship to me, He called Himself the good shepherd. I have learned that I cannot have an intimate relationship with Him unless I begin relating to Him as my shepherd. If I want to know Him more, I need to consciously rely on Him for protection, direction, sustenance, comfort, understanding, etc.
In my everyday interaction with Him as my shepherd, I begin to experience the true eternal life reserved for those in His flock/kingdom/church. Of course He is my Lord, my Savior, my God, but knowing Him as my shepherd helps me maintain my physical and spiritual balance until Jesus, as the Chief Shepherd, comes to transform me from a sheep in a physical body to an eternal being in a spiritual body.