Jesus, the Good Shepherd
October 15, 2023

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

Passage: John 10:11-30


News headlines can be exhausting. Day in and day out, we learn that our world is filled with political corruption and controversy, wars and international conflicts, anti-Semitism and racism, inflation, labor disputes, arguments about internet mis-information, tragedies, natural disasters – it’s almost too much for us to handle. Indeed, for many of us, it is too much to handle. A growing number of people – especially young people – report psychological and emotional distress that they just can’t seem to shake off. People are increasingly isolated, cynical, confused – we all know we need something. But what do we need?

Well, many centuries ago, when Jesus walked on earth, he saw crowds of people who weren’t all that different from us. And Matthew 9:36 tells us, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Those crowds needed an honest shepherd – a person of real integrity and competency – to care for them. And that’s what we need, too!

For the past three weeks, we’ve been working through several passages in the Bible that record some of Jesus’s most important words and actions. Specifically, we’ve been digging into the Gospel of John, where Jesus makes seven unique statements about who he is. We’ve seen three so far. Jesus has announced, “I AM the bread of life, “I AM the light of the world, and I AM the door.” – and tonight we’ll consider Jesus’s fourth statement: “I AM the good shepherd.”

Please turn with me to John 10 – I’ll be reading John chapter 10, verses 11 through 30. Before I read our text, though, please pray with me:


The Expectation of the Good Shepherd

When Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd, he’s proclaiming himself to be the Compassionate King who fulfills various expectations of the Old Testament. And with God’s help, I hope to demonstrate this from the text under three headings: First, The Expectation of the Good Shepherd; second, the Affection of the Good Shepherd; and third, the Authority of the Good Shepherd.

So first, the expectation of the Good Shepherd. If you were here last week, this imagery of shepherds and sheep will be familiar. In verses 7-10, Jesus announced that he is the door of the sheep – the door that allows the sheep to enter into the safety of their sheep enclosure – their sheepfold. But in our verses tonight, Jesus shifts his analogy, and makes a new connection. He points to himself and says, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” He emphasizes this by saying it twice – once in verse 11, and again in verse 14.

Jesus is speaking these words to an audience of fellow Jews – people who were familiar with the ancient Scriptures we now refer to as the Old Testament. In fact, many of the people in Jesus’s audience were special religious leaders for the Jews, called Pharisees. And Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd intentionally. The Old Testament often used this sheep-shepherd imagery to describe the relationship between the Jewish people and the leaders who were supposed to tend to them.

Keep one finger here in John 10, but turn with me also to Ezekiel 34 and I’ll walk you through a significant example of this. (It’s a little past halfway in your Bible – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel.) Ezekiel, Chapter 34 – verse 1: “The Word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel (that is, the leaders of Israel); prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.”

In verses 7-10, the LORD promises that he will hold these bad shepherds accountable – because they’re bad shepherds. They’ve been harming, manipulating, and neglecting the sheep. But then in verse 11 he announces that a better shepherd is coming: “For thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep and rescue them” – and He says more here, but just notice his big idea. The LORD promises that He’ll come and fulfill the role of the Shepherd for His sheep. But then also notice verse 23: “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” This is God’s way of saying, “I’m going to raise up a human shepherd, a king like David, from David’s family tree, just like I promised back in 2 Samuel 7, who will shepherd my people.

At first this might seem like a contradiction. Who’s going to be the Shepherd? Will the Lord GOD be the better Shepherd? Or will the incoming Shepherd be a man from David’s family tree? When Jesus Christ shows up, we see that it’s both. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is both truly divine and truly human, and that enables him to be not only a good shepherd – but the Good Shepherd. In John 10, Jesus is announcing, “The Good Shepherd is now here.”

The Affection of the Good Shepherd

So how do we see the goodness of this Shepherd in operation? This brings me to my second point, the affection of the Good Shepherd. I want to point out four quick ways that Jesus demonstrates his genuine affection for the sheep.

First, in verses 12 and 13, you’ll see the special loyalty of the Shepherd. Jesus, as the true, Good shepherd is committed to the well-being of His sheep. That’s contrasted with the carelessness and cowardice of the hired hands – and in this context Jesus is specifically calling out the Pharisees. These Jewish religious leaders – these Pharisees – they were like hired hands because they didn’t mind helping the sheep when it was convenient – when it worked with their schedule, when it was safe, when they got a good paycheck for it – but when danger or difficulty came, the Pharisees weren’t ultimately committed to the sheep. They weren’t good shepherds. But Jesus pledges that he’s the Good Shepherd who will stand by his sheep and defend them – and gives us an example of what committed spiritual leadership should look like in our churches and households.

Second, in verse 14 and 15, we see that Jesus’s love isn’t just directed to a general crowd of nameless faces. Instead, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, has specific knowledge of his Sheep. Jesus says that he knows his own, and his own know him in a way that parallels the Father’s intimate knowledge of the Son. In Jesus’s mind, there’s no ambiguity who his people are. He knows his sheep, and he makes himself known to them. So Jesus’s affection is specific – he knows us.

Third, Jesus demonstrates his affection through his sheep-seeking heart. Jesus knows that He has sheep in various times and places, and he will not rest from his search and rescue operation until all his people are saved. Verse 16, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold… “ – he has other sheep who are still vulnerable, harassed and helpless out in the world without a shepherd – “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock (one big crowd of people at the end of history from every nation and language who have been brought to God, and ultimately) one shepherd (Jesus Christ).” Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, reveals the bigheartedness of his compassion for the world, and rebukes the Pharisees for their unwillingness to show mercy to sinners and foreigners.

Fourth, going back to verse 11, we see the Sacrificial Work of the Shepherd. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Notice here that Jesus’s affection is active. Jesus’s love isn’t just an internal emotion. It isn’t just a poetic idea. Instead, we know that Jesus loves His sheep because he expresses that love in the most potent way imaginable. Jesus dies for the sheep – he dies on behalf of his people, as their substitute – so that his sheep would live. And in this act, Jesus bears the criminal record of his people into the courtroom of God and pays the penalty for all of it – and in addition to this, Jesus demonstrates visibly that his love for his people is real. His leadership can be trusted.

The Authority of the Good Shepherd

Yet the reason we can trust Jesus to lead us isn’t just because we know that he’s a nice, loving guy. After all, there are many people who are as friendly and loyal as a teddy bear, but that doesn’t make them good leaders. But we can trust Jesus as our Good Shepherd, both because we know he really loves us, and because He has real authority. This is my third and final point: the authority of the Good Shepherd.

Jesus has authority over life and death. In verses 17 and 18, Jesus declares, “…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.” And it’s on account of this authority, Jesus is able to announce in verse 28: “I give them eternal life” – because Jesus not only has the authority to take hold of eternal life for himself – he has authority to provide eternal life to His people, as well.

And no one can undo Jesus’s authority to protect and provide for his sheep. Jesus says, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one can snatch them out of my hand!” And Jesus isn’t exaggerating his own ability here. He isn’t making promises he can’t keep. Instead, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, really has an authority that triumphs over all other authorities. Jesus doesn’t just rule over us with human power, but with divine power. His authority to uphold us, and to ultimately save us and bring us into an eternity of sunny meadows and clean water – it is one and the same as the Father’s authority. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus says in verse 30. His kingship and kingdom will never fail, because God will never cease to be God.

Jesus is calling today – through the Bible, even through this passage – to his sheep. We can either run toward his voice – we can live in the joy of knowing that we are His Sheep, and He is our shepherd – or we can ignore him.

Usually if we ignore Jesus’s voice here, it’s because deep down we don’t trust him. We think Jesus will force us into a dull, unhappy lifestyle. We think Jesus will be harsh with us, and will judge us. We think Jesus will give us a lousy future compared to what’s promised by our jobs, our games, or our sensual relationships. We think Jesus will take, take, take from us instead of give.

But if your eyes are opened – if you really understand what the text is saying here, I hope you can see that all those objections are false! As Jesus says in verse 10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Trust his voice – come, find life that’s truly life! Rest in knowing that you’re securely his sheep – and enjoy the one who will forever be your Good Shepherd.

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