The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

14th study in the series on the ‘Names of Christ’
adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on
2 Nov 2007


14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The Lord Jesus Christ is many things to us. Most of us would know Him as God and Saviour when we first became a Christian. And then at about the same time, we begin to relate to Him as our Lord and King. But it does not take us very long before we begin to realise that He would have us see Him particularly as our Shepherd.

The Lord Himself announces in our text: “I am the good shepherd.” The writer of Hebrews call Him “The Great Shepherd” (Heb 13:20); and the apostle Peter calls Him “The Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet 5:4).

In this study, the Lord helping us, we want to consider what He means when He speaks of Himself as the “Good Shepherd.”

Let us begin, as usual, by looking at the context and meaning of our Lord’s self-designation.

1. The Good Shepherd
in Context

The Lord was probably in Perea beyond Jordon. He would later cross over to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (v. 22); and then again return to Perea (v. 40).

Perea was sheep country. The people knew all about sheep and shepherding. For this reason, Christ as a master teacher began to instruct the people using some metaphor borrowed from shepherding.

Last Friday, we saw how our Lord spoke of himself in this context as the door of the sheep. In all probability, our Lord was not saying that He was a dead wooden door. No, no; He was referring to the common practice of shepherds to lie across the opening of the sheepfold where they house their sheep by night.

Indeed, the main idea that our Lord is seeking to bring across is that He is the good shepherd of the sheep.

What is a shepherd? A shepherd is simply a person who looks after a flock of sheep. The flock of sheep may or may not belong to him, for a shepherd could be a hireling employed to look after someone else’s sheep or he could be looking after his own sheep.

Whatever may be the case, the shepherd’s duties would include leading the sheep to green pastures to graze or beside still waters to drink. Sheep will not drink from fast moving waters.

Moreover, especially in ancient days, the shepherd must protect the sheep from attacks by wild animals such as wolves, lions and bears. And they would need also to fight off thieves and robbers. Shepherding can be very challenging.

But the shepherd must also be compassionate, for the shepherd must look for any sheep that strays away and gets lost, and he must nurse those that are sick or injured back to health. It was not easy being a shepherd.

Why does the Lord call himself a shepherd? He calls himself a shepherd, no doubt, because his relationship with his people very closely parallels the relationship between a shepherd and his flock of sheep.

The sheep of Christ are His elect. They comprise all true believers alive today, and all believers who are already in heaven and every person who will become believers in future. The Lord Jesus knows exactly who His sheep are. They are His elect. He told the Pharisees that they did not believe Him because they were not His sheep (v. 26-27). His sheep would hear His voice and follow Him. We do not become the sheep of Christ by faith. We become the sheep of Christ by the heavenly Father’s appointment. The sheep of Christ will hear and believe and follow the Shepherd.

Some of them are not yet in the fold or in the church. But these will be led by God’s providence to hear the preaching of God’s Word, and they will recognise the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him. The Pharisees did not believe in the Lord because they were not His sheep.

Christ Jesus is the shepherd of His sheep. I “know my sheep, and am known of mine” He says. And later, He adds: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).

As their shepherd, He leads and guides them. He feeds and waters them. He restores them when they are injured or ill. He searches for them and leads them back when they stray. He protects them against danger. He chastises them when they are disobedient.

He does all these things not as an ordinary shepherd, for He is the ‘good shepherd’. Why does the Lord call Himself a good shepherd?

Well, the word ‘good’ speaks of moral excellence. He is the shepherd par excellence. He is the perfect shepherd. He is all that can be desired of a shepherd. He literally puts His whole heart and soul to the work of shepherding.

He is not a hireling (v. 12). He is the shepherd who owns and loves His sheep. The sheep belong to Him. They have been given to Him by His Father. He loves His sheep dearly. He knows each of them by name. He has a deep personal interest in the well-being of every individual in His flock,—from the youngest lamb to the oldest sheep.

He is not merely doing His job. All He does for them is done out of love.

Indeed, He loves them so much that He actually laid down His life for His sheep.

I lay down my life for the sheep” He says.

What does the Lord mean when He says He lays down His life for the sheep? Well, a dedicated shepherd will do all he can to protect his sheep and to rescue them from wild beasts and thieves. Sometimes, he would do so even at the risk of his own life.

The hireling, rather than risk his life for the sheep would simply run away. Not so the good shepherd. The good shepherd owns the flock and loves the sheep. He will not abandon them.

He would fight for them. He would even lay down his life for them accounting them to be more important than himself.

This is what our Lord means when He speaks of laying down His life for His sheep. In order to rescue us from Satan, sin and the wrath of God, Christ literally laid down His life.

He did not merely suffer some inconveniences or bruises for us. He died for us. He suffered physical pain and death; and He endured the pains of hell for our sake, in order to give us life.

He began to lay down His life from the moment He took on human flesh: For He is eternal Son of God, who enjoyed ineffable glory for all eternity. To take on human flesh, He laid aside His heavenly glory and was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, a daughter of Adam, a sinner.

He was born in a manger inside a barn. It was a smelly and dirty place for a baby to be born in. Why did the Prince of Glory have to lay down His life in this way? He did so for the sake of His sheep!

He lived a life of poverty as the son of a carpenter. No doubt He learned the humble trade of carpentry as He helped His earthly father. No doubt he suffered blisters and splinters and aching arms from a young age. Why did He who upholds the world by the word of His power have to lay down His life in this way? He did so for the sake of His sheep.

When He began His ministry at age 30, he wandered from place to place preaching the Gospel, having nowhere to lay His head. He suffered hunger, thirst and tiredness. He suffered persecution as those who opposed Him tried to trap Him. Why does the King of kings have to suffer in this way? It was for the sake of His sheep.

Then the time came for His arrest. He suffered betrayal by Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples. He suffered being forsaken by all His other disciples and friends. He suffered ridicule and mockery. He was slapped, smitten, and spat upon. He had a crown of thorns forced upon His head. He was stripped naked. He was whipped. He was nailed to the cross and hung there at Calvary to die. Why did the Prince of Peace have to lay down His life in this way? It was for the sake of His sheep.

For three hours, as the Lord hung on the cross, the sun would not shine. Why? Because the Sun of Righteousness was bearing the sin of His sheep. For three hours, our Shepherd saw nothing but the fierce wrath of God. At the end of three hours, He cried “Eli, eli lama sabachthani,’ “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

Why? Why did the Son of God have to suffer such indignity and indignation?

It was because the justice of God must be fully satisfied. The sheep of Christ deserve the eternal wrath of God for their rebellion against Him. They deserve to suffer the pains of hell forever. Their Shepherd suffered that on their behalf. There on the Cross, He suffered the pains of hell for His sheep. He is our good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us out of love for us.

2. What shall we do
in response?

Well, let me suggest a threefold response of Gratitude, Obedience and Dependence.

First, if Christ is our Good Shepherd, let us cultivate Gratitude. An ordinary sheep may not know how to show gratitude unlike say, a dog. But we are no ordinary sheep and Christ is no ordinary Shepherd.

Yes, by nature we do not know how to show gratitude, just as sheep naturally do not know how to show gratitude. But our Shepherd in saving us has given us a new heart. And He has given us spiritual eyes and spiritual ears to see what He has done for us.

We were on the road to destruction. Our lives were a mess with no purpose and direction. We were unlovely and lonely. But our Shepherd rescued us. He laid His life down to rescue us. Shall we not therefore be grateful to Him?

Now, gratitude is an attitude. It is not really something that we can do, but it is an important attitude for the sheep of Christ to cultivate. Without gratitude unto our Shepherd under-girding everything that we do, whatever we do will be legalistic. There is a big difference between a Roman Catholic priest working in Siberia to accumulate merit and a little Christian boy giving out a gospel tract out of gratitude to the Lord. The difference is that the priest has had his reward, whereas the little boy will find grace in the Lord. Only things done in gratitude to the Lord will be pleasing to the Lord.

But how to cultivate gratitude? I would suggest that there is no better way than to read and hear and to thank God often in prayer for what our Shepherd has done for us. Let us do so in our personal prayer, our family prayers and our public prayers.

Secondly, if Christ is our Good Shepherd, then let us seek to hear and obey Him as sheep and lambs are obedient to their shepherd.

“My sheep hear my voice and they follow me” says our Shepherd. Let us learn to hear His voice in the reading of God’s Word and especially in preaching.

Many years ago, when I was experiencing severe backsliding in my Christian life, I thought that it was not necessary to attend worship or to listen to sermons. “I have heard it all, I know it all,” I thought. “The preacher is not going to be able to say anything new that I did not know already,” I reasoned. What a foolish attitude I had!

I was like a sheep gone astray and thinking I can fend for myself. “I know all that my shepherd would say to me anyway. Why do I need to hear his constant nagging?”

Beloved sheep and lambs, I have since come to understand that we need to hear our shepherd’s voice as regularly as possible for we are prone to wander. I trust that you will likewise take heed to hear and to obey your shepherd.

Let us hear and let us obey. It is sad if we refuse to hear. It is sadder still if we hear but would not obey. If we would obey our Shepherd, then we shall know His blessing of a blessed Christian life.

But finally, if Christ is our Shepherd, then let us learn to depend upon Him. The sheep in Psalm 23, says: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

As the sheep of Christ we must learn to depend on Christ as a sheep depends on his shepherd.

What does it mean to depend on Christ?

It means basically (1) to look to Him to provide all our needs, both physical and spiritual; and (2) to be contented in Him.

Let us learn to do so as our Shepherd has taught us to do. Our Shepherd is not only looking after us in a small way. He is looking after us in a big way. I mean, He has been appointed the administrator of the entire universe for our sake. He upholds the world by the word of His power. As such, there is really nothing that we need that He cannot provide, and as He loves His sheep and lambs, we can be sure that what we really need, He will provide. As such, let us learn to be contented in Him.

Conclusion

Christ is our Good Shepherd. He loves us. He cares for us. He laid down His life for us. Shall we not respond by living gratefully for Him? Shall we not hear and obey Him and depend on Him? May the Lord grant us that we may be grateful, obedient and submissive sheep and lambs that bring glory to His name. Amen.

—JJ Lim


 

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