Summary: The Good Shepherd lays down his life only to take it up that the sheep might live - in light of Psalm 23.

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JOHN 10 VERSES 11-21

What is your image of Shepherds? Do they have a beard? Wear woolly jumpers and have a shepherd’s crook in their hands? Maybe one man and his dog is the only time you have ever seen a shepherd. We all have this stereotypical idea of what a shepherd is like and the truth is it bears no real resemblance to reality. At the time of Christ shepherds were despised and treated as outcasts. A shepherd was considered unclean and anyone who came into contact with him would also be considered ceremonially unclean. Shepherds were not allowed to be witnesses in court nor were they allowed to be part of the elders who sat in judgement. Amazing then that God the Father choose shepherds to be the ones to whom the birth of the Messiah would be announced first. So when we come to Christ Jesus saying ‘I Am the Good Shepherd’ we should first and foremost realise that it was a scandalous ascription to place on oneself. It is in fact a striking imagery for Christ to ascribe to Himself and one which is somewhat lost to us today.

CONTEXT – remember the context of these words spoken by Jesus. He has healed a man born blind and this has a resulted in an altercation with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. In defence He had first spoken of being the door into the sheep pen and He now takes this imagery further by ascribing to Himself the title ‘Good Shepherd’ in contrast to the false shepherds and hirelings (the religious leaders). So the context of these words is a healing miracle and the religious leader’s charges against Him. As you can see from verses 19-21 there is further division between the people after Jesus has spoken.


Read verse 11. Jesus here speaks of Himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ and of the voluntary laying down of His life. Let us take each of these separately and seek to understand what He means by them.

The Good Shepherd – the OT is replete with men of God who were shepherds. Abraham, Moses, and David were all shepherds. In the writings of the prophets there are constant references to both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ shepherds. Listen to these words from Jeremiah 23.1-3. God speaking through Jeremiah condemns the false shepherds who have scattered His people and then promises in verse 3 that one day He (personally) will gather the people like a shepherd gathers the flock. Again listen to these words from Ezekiel 34.12,15. Once again God promises to gather His people like sheep and to provide pasture and rest for them. Probably the most familiar OT passage concerning the Good Shepherd is Psalm 23, turn with me to it for a moment. I believe we have here a picture of Christ and that a proper understanding of what this Psalm is speaking about will help us understand what Christ meant when He said ‘I Am the Good Shepherd.’

I want you to note first of all that in this Psalm it is the Good Shepherd who does everything. Note how He leads to pastures green and still waters. He, alone, restores the soul and He leads in the paths of righteousness. The first 3 verses speak of what He does for the one who has a personal relationship with Him. Did you note that at the very beginning of the Psalm – ‘my shepherd’ – this is not a man writing from ignorance but one writing from within an intimate relationship with the Lord. Then in the last 3 verses there is the protective concern of the shepherd for the sheep. Even walking through the valley of death the psalmist does not fear because this shepherd is with him and brings him through death to the banqueting table which he, the shepherd, has prepared. This table the shepherd has prepared and furnished with riches in the very presence of the enemies of the sheep. I think that is significant and we overlook it so easily and miss a great spiritual lesson. The shepherd has prepared a table in the very presence of the enemies of the sheep. This table provides the means of anointing and blessing for all the days of the sheep’s life and when that life ends it is in the house of the Lord that the psalmist will dwell.

‘Laying down His life.’ How did the shepherd prepare a table in the midst of the enemies? Friends listen to me here. The second sentence of John 10.11 says this ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ The answer is by laying down his life for the sheep. How did Christ prepare a table in the midst of our enemies – sin and death, by laying down His life at Calvary. John 10.11 and again in verses 15 and 17 Jesus speaks about laying down His life for the sheep. Three times Jesus repeats this assertion. He wants His hearers, and us, to understand that His death is not a victory for His enemies. His death is a voluntary sacrificial death. On numerous occasions in the gospels we read how Christ avoided capture and execution. It is not until ‘the hour has come’ that He lays down His life. This is not suicide but an act of obedience to the divine will of the Father. It is in fact an expression of the love of the Son for the Father and for us. It was not Judas, Caiphas or Pilate who decided the time of Christ’s death. It was Christ Himself. I think we should also note that the word which John uses here for life is the word ‘psyche’ which elsewhere is translated as ‘soul.’ Jesus uses a word which speaks of much more than just physical existence and physical death. It speaks of the totality of life – the physical, the mental, the emotional and the spiritual. It speaks of the eternal nature of man’s life. He is going to voluntarily lay this all down for His sheep. He, the good shepherd, is ready to sacrifice his total self for the sake of the sheep.

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