The Good Shepherd

By Rich Carmicheal

    Scripture Reading: John 10:1-30

    Because our Lord Jesus Christ is so awesome, the Bible uses a wide range of titles and descriptions to help us grasp all that He is and all that He does. Any one title or description is not sufficient in itself to depict His full glory. As a matter of fact, even as we take to heart all of the titles and descriptions collectively, we still have just a glimpse of His full glory. There is a day coming, however, when "we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). We now know only in part, then we shall know fully (1 Cor. 13:12).

    Even though no one title or description can completely capture the fullness of Christ, each one is nevertheless a gold mine of spiritual riches. This is true because Christ is so glorious, even a glimpse of Him is glorious.

    For example, consider with me one such picture of Christ: He is our Shepherd. When Jesus shares with us that He is our Shepherd, He opens a treasure chest of meaning to us regarding His nature, character and work. Here are some of the glorious truths embedded in the wonderful reality that Christ is our Shepherd:

    He is powerful and in control. The Bible associates the Lord as Shepherd with qualities such as power, majesty and rule. For example, Isaiah writes that "...the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him…He tends His flock like a shepherd…" (Isa. 40:10-11). And the psalmist cries out, "Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned between the cherubim…Awaken Your might; come and save us" (Psa. 80:1-2).

    This imagery is prominent in the following words the Lord spoke through the prophet Micah in anticipation of the coming of Christ who would serve as the great Shepherd over God’s people: "But you, Bethlehem...out of you will come for Me One who will be ruler over Israel…. He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace" (Micah 5:2,4-5). Jesus, as our Shepherd, is a Ruler who is strong and majestic, and whose greatness reaches to the ends of the earth. He is powerful and in complete control. He has disarmed the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross (Col. 2:15), and all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18). He is the Victorious One who is reigning now and who will reign forever. There is no threat, and will never be any threat, to His sovereignty. As we trust Him as our Shepherd, we have the confidence that He has the strength and ability to hold us firmly now and for all of eternity. As He Himself declares, "I give [My sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand" (John 10:28-29). Our Shepherd is strong!

    He is a good shepherd with a true shepherd’s heart. Jesus describes Himself not only as the Shepherd, but as "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11). Unfortunately, there were (and are) bad shepherds. As Jesus shares, "All who ever came before Me were thieves and robbers…" and "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…" (John 10:8,10). The Lord has a harsh word against such shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? ...You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally..." (Eze. 34:2-4).

    Jesus, on the other hand, is the Good Shepherd who genuinely cares for His flock, giving additional care to the most needy. We can be assured that He always has our well-being in mind. He has a true shepherd’s heart, placing the needs of His sheep above His own needs. He strengthens us when we are weak, heals us when we are sick, binds us up when we are injured, brings us back when we go astray, and searches for us when we are lost. He does not rule us harshly or brutally, but is gentle and humble toward us (Matt. 11:29). "He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those who have young" (Isa. 40:11). Our Shepherd is good, and we can trust Him completely.

    He knows us and cares deeply for us. The fact that we are compared to sheep is, in some respects, very unflattering. Sheep are, after all, rather stupid animals that are in need of endless attention, detailed direction and meticulous care. They are prone to wander and go astray, and they become lost easily with little or no capacity to find their own way home. Without the care of a shepherd, they are harassed and helpless (Matt. 9:36) and easily fall victim to danger.

    In spite of these flaws, however, or perhaps because of these flaws, a deep bond develops between a shepherd and his sheep. Jesus says that when the shepherd of the sheep enters the gate, "…the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:3-4).

    Our Shepherd certainly has deep affection for us. He cares for the whole flock and He also cares for each individual sheep. Just as He knew the name of Simon, Nathaniel, Zacchaeus, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Thomas – and the list goes on and on – so He knows you and me by name. Just as He focused His attention on individuals such as the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, the centurion, a small child, the thief on the cross – again, the list goes on and on – so He gives special attention on each one of His sheep. He knows us and He cares about us. He knows our joys, sorrows, problems, concerns, needs, strengths and weaknesses. He knows your situation at this very moment. And His desire, as the Good Shepherd, is to guide you and care for you.

    After all, if you have turned to Him for salvation, you belong to Him. Notice the personal language Jesus uses: "…I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father…" (John 10:14-15). Jesus has purchased us and redeemed us with His own blood. We are His sheep, the sheep His Father has given to Him (John 10:29). He compares our relationship with Him to His relationship with His Father. What wonderful bond and fellowship we have with our Shepherd!

    His love for each of His sheep is illustrated in this beautiful parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’" (Luke 15:4-6).

    He lays down His life for us. The ultimate expression of His love and concern for us is that He gave His life for us – "…The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11). We were completely helpless and hopeless in our own strength against the enemies of sin and death. Our only hope was that our Shepherd would conquer our enemies for us. And this He willingly did, even at the greatest cost to Himself. On the Cross He "took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:4-6). O what an indescribably precious gift to be set free from sin by the precious blood of Christ!

    Just as our Shepherd had the authority to lay down His life for us, He also had the authority to take it up again: "No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father" (John 10:18). In laying down His life for us, our Shepherd set us free from the enemy of sin. In taking it up again through the Resurrection, He gives us victory over the power of death! We can rejoice that our God "…brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep…" (Heb. 13:20). Our Shepherd "has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light…" (2 Tim. 1:10).

    He leads us to salvation and life. Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but is also the Gate or Door for His sheep, and He promises that "…whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:9-10). Our Shepherd is our source of salvation and life. He Himself is our life (John 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 14:6). He is all we need. He alone truly satisfies. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. He leads us to green pastures, to quiet waters, to restoration, and in paths of righteousness (Psa. 23:1-3). He is indeed "the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls" (1 Pet. 2:25) and He gives us eternal life (John 10:28).

    Our Shepherd "goes on ahead of [His sheep], and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice" (John 10:4). Though the way to the abundant pastures and quiet waters may be difficult at times, we know our Shepherd’s voice and heart. We know that He will always lead us to good places and never to harm. Even when the path takes us through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not fear, for our Shepherd is with us. His rod and His staff comfort us (Psa. 23:4). Even when enemies are nearby, our Shepherd feeds us, cares for us, protects us, and gives us peace (Psa. 23:5). A hired hand will abandon the sheep when a wolf is coming, but our Shepherd will never abandon us (John 10:11-13). He promises to be with us always. Our Shepherd is forever faithful to lead us to abundant life!

    His flock extends to all nations. Jesus shepherds His flock in the strength of the Lord and His greatness reaches to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2,4-5). His reign and rule crosses national boundaries, racial boundaries and social boundaries. Although He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 15:24), He brings in sheep from among the Gentiles as well: "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd" (John 10:16). Whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, we can rejoice that our Shepherd gathers us as one flock!

    He is coming again to reward and to judge. The Apostle Peter gives this encouragement to elders who serve well as shepherds of God’s flock: "…when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (1 Pet. 5:4). Just as the Chief Shepherd will reward these faithful shepherds, He promises to reward all of His sheep who serve Him faithfully: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world…’" (Matt. 25:31-34).

    What a majestic, powerful and loving Shepherd we have, and what a blessed privilege to be one of His sheep! He is worthy of our complete trust and our wholehearted obedience. "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care" (Psa. 95:6-7).