“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
Jesus was a great teacher, and that’s why He used so many comparisons when He taught. In today’s reading He compared Himself to a gate and a shepherd. Unlike many of us, the people Jesus taught knew all about sheep and shepherds, however, they didn’t initially understand the spiritual truths Jesus was trying to convey. So He explained.
Sheep, like other livestock, are usually confined within fences or walls when they’re not grazing in open pasture. Regardless of what confines them, there must be a gate to let them as well as the shepherd in or out.
A few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus referring to Himself as the Gate: Jesus said that He was like the gate to the sheepfold. Those who believe in Him are, of course, the sheep. The only legitimate way to be a part of the sheepfold, or to be a part of God’s true church and kingdom, is to enter through Jesus, believing in Him. Some try to enter without going through Jesus, but that proves they really don’t belong among the sheep. They have an evil motive, usually to harm the sheep and get something for themselves. For example, a thief might climb over a wall to steal a sheep.
Not only is Jesus the gate, He is also the shepherd. When a shepherd wants to lead his sheep out to graze, he comes through the gate and calls his sheep. Even if his sheep are mixed with another flock, only his sheep will follow him out of the gate. Sheep won’t be deceived into following another shepherd because they recognize their shepherd’s voice. They know to whom they belong.
I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 23 when I read this passage:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Shepherding is still an important way of life in Israel. It’s common to see a shepherd taking his flock from one place to another. However, unlike the sheep herding I had seen back home in Texas (where a rancher on horseback typically drove the sheep forward), there the shepherd walks ahead of the sheep—leading the way. If something dangerous lies ahead, the shepherd faces it first. The sheep don’t have to worry about where they’re going. They simply follow in safety.
Emerging from this same culture and practice, the psalmist used this imagery of the shepherd to remind
us of what God is like. Psalm 23 (one of the bestknown passages of Scripture) reminds us that our
concerns and well-being are in the Shepherd’s hands. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we “have all that [we] need” (v.1).
This Good Shepherd leads, renews, and guides us (vv.2-3). Nearly all of the initiative in Psalm 23 is the
Shepherd’s, not ours. Most of the responsibility is on the Shepherd, not us. The Shepherd shows the way, and we follow.
Jesus is like the shepherd who is calling His sheep. Many sheep may hear His voice, but only those who are His, those who believe in Him and love Him, will come out from among the other sheep and follow Him, obeying Him. That is how true Christians are known—they follow Jesus when others don’t. When false prophets and false teachers call out to the masses of sheep, leading many astray, true Christians aren’t deceived because they know their shepherd and they know what He’s said.
Jesus is not comparable to just any shepherd. Only one died for His flock. Jesus laid down His life for us, the Son of God sacrificing Himself that those who belong to Him would know life. He laid down His life on His own authority and He took it back up on His own authority. That’s a voice worth listening to.