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 does not own 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 cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Death died when Jesus rose. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty. The grave’s strength is spent. The guards could not keep Him. Death could not hold Him.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. As Jesus takes this title for Himself, all sorts of Scriptural imagery comes to mind. Psalm 23 naturally connects to these words from Jesus. Yahweh is our Shepherd who leads us to green pastures and still waters, who brings us safely through the valley of the shadow of death, who pours oil on our head and fills our cups until they run over.
Luke 15:3-7 is, of course, another picture of Jesus. The shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to search high and low for that one lost sheep. Then, when he finds it, he calls all his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him.
Other places in Scripture, like Ezekiel 34, God says that the shepherds He sent to His people are not doing their jobs and so God Himself will come to shepherd His sheep. Or in Micah 5 where it is prophesized that God’s appointed Shepherd would be raised and shepherd His flock and make them dwell in security. The Shepherd Himself shall be the peace of the flock.
So when Jesus applies the title of Good Shepherd to Himself, He is claiming to be God – God for you.
Being a shepherd isn’t a glamorous job. Remember that David, the youngest son of Jesse, tended the flock while his brothers were off fighting in the war. Shepherds were on the edge of society. Where were the shepherds were when Jesus was born? Out in the fields in the cold, dark night. Shepherding is a lowly, humble task. But being humble and lowly never stops Jesus.
Jesus says He is a Shepherd who is even more lowly and humble than your average shepherd. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The word ‘good’ there also means right, fitting, true, competent. What makes Jesus the good, right, fitting, competent Shepherd? Jesus tells us, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Sometimes, for us to understand what Jesus is saying, it is good for us to see what Jesus is not saying. Jesus does not say, “I am the good shepherd. I give the sheep everything they want.” Jesus does not say, “I am the good shepherd, and I make sure my sheep are comfortable and enjoy a great life.” He doesn’t say, “I am the good shepherd, and I am here to be your best friend, to be there for you when you are lonely.” Jesus does not say, “I am the good shepherd, and I am here to have a close, personal relationship with the sheep.”
Jesus does say, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd is that He dies – nothing less. He dies for His sheep. The Good Shepherd has blood, His own blood, on Him. The Good Shepherd has holes in His hands and feet, wounds that He suffered on the cross for you. Jesus, the good, fitting, competent Shepherd suffered, bled, and died so that He could be your Shepherd. The kind of shepherd you needed. You needed a shepherd to be really, truly abandoned and condemned by God because of your sin. Jesus, your Shepherd, died a real death and was buried in a real tomb. Your sin was that serious of a problem.
Many Christians will use this phrase: “You need to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Now, that phrase isn’t untrue, but it is (at best) only half true. You do need to have faith in Jesus in order to be saved, and you can, I suppose, characterize faith as a relationship. But doing that tends to make you focus on yourself. You have to wonder, “Am I holding up my end of the relationship?”
With as often as Christians talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, you would think the Bible would be talking about it all the time. But do you know how many times the Bible uses the word ‘relationship’? I’ll give you a hint – it’s equal to the times that the Vikings have won the Super Bowl. That’s right, a goose egg, zero. Scripture never says that you need a “personal relationship” with Jesus.
If your biggest need is to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus, then Jesus didn’t need to die. Jesus could have just come and hung out with us. He could just sit on the couch and watch Jeopardy or the NFL Draft while eating chips with us or something. Ask yourself this: If a relationship with Jesus is the solution, what is the problem?
You see, our biggest problem is not loneliness. If that were the case, any number of individuals could help us. Our biggest problem is not a lack of companionship. Our problem isn’t even that we have a hole in our hearts that only Jesus can fill. We don’t need a buddy, a chum, or a pal. We need a Savior from sin.
Our problem is that we poor, wretched sinners dash ourselves to pieces against the holy, righteous God. We cannot avoid Him. And the only solution for our true problem – our sin – is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The good news is that the good, fitting Shepherd does lay down His life for the sheep.
Why would Jesus be willing to lay down His life for us? He tells us in the closing sentence of our text. “This charge (lit. ‘command’) I have received from My Father.” Jesus willingly lays down His life for you because the Father commanded and He obeyed. And because Jesus obeyed, He is exactly the kind of shepherd you needed.
When Jesus is your good, fitting, crucified Shepherd, He knows you and you know Him. You’re as close to Jesus as the Father is to Jesus because He lays down His life for you. And Jesus is eternally your Good Shepherd because:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.