To date in this series on the seven “I AMs” of Jesus in John’s gospel, we have seen Jesus as the bread of life, the light of the world, and the gate to the sheepfold. This week, we see him as the good shepherd.
I Am the Good Shepherd
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own 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 cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” – John 10:11-18, ESV
Last week, we looked at the rock-walled enclosure where the sheep of multiple owners are kept, perhaps even all the sheep of a single village. We noted how the gatekeeper, or porter, sleeps across the entrance to the sheepfold in order to keep the sheep inside and danger outside. Each morning the shepherds come to the porter to collect their sheep and lead them out of the enclosure for the day.
A shepherd does not go into the pen looking for his sheep, but rather stands at the gate and calls them. He may sing a familiar tune, or make a nonsensical sound that his sheep will recognize while others ignore it. Some even play a familiar melody on a musical instrument, like a flute. Whatever call he makes, each shepherd’s sheep recognize it and come to him, and they will follow that sound for the remainder of the day.
Jesus is not just “a” shepherd, but “the” shepherd, and not only “the” shepherd, but he is the “good” shepherd. Jesus is the καλός (kalos) shepherd. He is the shepherd of nobility, intrinsically good, the one who inspires respect and admiration, even affection.
The contrast between Jesus as the good shepherd and the failed, self-serving religious leaders of Israel could not be greater. These are same “shepherds” of the previous chapter who excommunicated the formerly blind man for refusing to say Jesus is a sinner for healing his blindness. Add to that the fact that the good shepherd reconnected with the man following his being tossed out of the synagogue, and the picture is complete.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. – John 9:35–38, NIV-1978
The Good Shepherd Offers His Life for the Sheep
The men and women of the Secret Service who are assigned to protect the president do so knowing that part of their job is to take a bullet for the president in the case of an attack. It is their job, and they willingly accept that responsibility. It’s a part of what they’re paid for.
Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15:13). For Jesus, laying down his life is not a job, but rather an act of love. Under the old covenant, it was the sheep who died for the shepherd in endless tabernacle sacrifices. Now, in a reversal of roles, the good shepherd is going to voluntarily die for the sheep. That’s a stunning truth.
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep Know One Another
The eastern shepherds know their individual sheep, and we have noted how the sheep know the voice or the song of their own shepherd. The shepherd often calls the sheep by name. He knows their individual needs and their nature. He knows which are prone to wander off and those that stay very close. He knows which are afraid of heights, and which tend toward shaded areas. He knows their appetites and habits.
Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.
The Good Shepherd Builds a Single Flock
The gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has always been the gospel for all nations just as God’s temple was to be a house of worship for all nations (Isaiah 56:7). Even prior to his death, Jesus was shattering the cultural, ethnic, and gender barriers by speaking to the Canaanite woman and the Samaritan woman. Jesus refused the isolationist attitudes of the failed shepherds, choosing rather to reach out to the entire lost world.
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd. – John 10:16, ESV
Note also Jesus distinguishes between a “fold” and a “flock.” The fold of sheep from many shepherds has become a single flock with a single shepherd.
The Good Shepherd Conquers Death
Jesus voluntarily laid his life down for us, for the sheep. It was a divine suicide, if you will, the most selfless act ever performed by any human being. But Jesus’ voluntary death was overcome by his triumphant resurrection, his victory over death.
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. – John 10:17-18, ESV
Jesus can do this because just as the Father has life in himself, so also the Son has life in himself (John 5:16). Let there be no question, our good shepherd is God in the flesh.
The resurrection of Jesus is the core, the hub of the Christian faith. Without it, we are lost, liars, losers (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). But with it, we are super-conquerors (Romans 8:37), made new in the likeness of Christ (Colossians 3;10). We are buried with Jesus in baptism so that just as he was raised from the dead, we too can walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
But here is the ultimate word of victory – bank on it!
Because I live, you also will live. – John 14:19b, ESV
Jesus came to Israel exactly as the scriptures said he would. He came singing his shepherd’s song. He sang it then, and he sings it still, the song of the good shepherd. Listen for it! Hear his voice and follow him.