Summary: The image of the good sheperd is a powerful one that enables us to envision God’s provisional and protective involvement in our lives.
John 10:11-18 “I am the Good Shepherd”
One of the most common and popular images of Jesus is that of a good shepherd. This image has dominated Christian art for two millennia. If we have seen many stained glass windows, one or more of them probably had a shepherd theme. Those of us who have grown up in the church can close our eyes and envision the picture of Jesus the shepherd with a sheep slung around his neck.
The image of the good shepherd is warm, inviting, and personal. The image resonates with our desire for a vibrant relationship with God. Thankfully, Jesus’ words that he is the good shepherd proclaim to us that God wants a vital, meaningful relationship with us, also.
Jesus sets himself apart from other shepherds by identifying himself as the good shepherd. A good shepherd has several characteristics that impact our lives in a significant way.
GOOD SHEPHERD—LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE
Every job carries with it expectations, both written and unwritten, about what is necessary to be good at that particular endeavor. When a parent instructs his or her child to clean up his or her room, or to take out the garbage, that parent has a certain expectation for the child. When a supervisor delegates a task to an employee, specific objectives need to be met in order for the task to be completed successfully.
The question before us, then, is “What makes a shepherd good?” One of the identifying characteristics of a good shepherd, which Jesus gives, is that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.
Sheep are easy pray for predators. Shepherds must protect their sheep, fight off predators and keep their sheep safe even at the cost of their lives.
The good shepherd demonstrates sacrificial love. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “There is no greater love than a man laying down his life for another.” The very core of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God so loved the world that he gave is son so that all who believe in him might live. Jesus not only was a needed sacrifice, he was a willing sacrifice. Jesus clearly points out that no one took his life from him, but rather he willingly gave up his life for the people of the world.
One of the marks of a good shepherd is overwhelming and steadfast love that knows no bounds to its expression. Such love will stop and nothing in order to enable itself to be known.
A natural expression of love is concern. Jesus says that as a good shepherd he cares for his sheep. He wants the very best for them. The prophet Jeremiah echoes this thought when he says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
The good shepherd provides for the daily needs of his sheep. God moves in our lives and in our world and provides for our daily needs. God’s love is shown to us in the everyday, practical matters of life.
Concern is also expressed in presence. The good shepherd never abandons his sheep. Our lives may not be idyllic and we may encounter very difficult times, but Jesus has promised to be there for us—like a parent who sometimes can’t make things better for his or her child, but at least can be there with the child for support, strength, and comfort. Psalm 23 celebrates the good shepherd that walks with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
GOOD SHEPHERD—KNOWS HIS SHEEP
Sheep are not merely numbers to good shepherds. Good shepherds know their sheep, understand their sheep, and call their sheep by name.
One of the unique teachings of Christianity is that God desires a personal relationship with us. God invites us to call him “Father,” and wants to be able to identify us as his son or daughter. The thought that the God of all creation wants a personal, vital, loving relationship with each and every one of us is both incomprehensible and humbling. Still, it is true.
God constantly invites us into a deeper relationship with him. God is never satisfied with his relationship with us. God always wants our relationship with him to be more grace filled, more abundant, more trusting, giving, and sacrificial
Good shepherds are intrinsically good. They do not become good because of the behavior or loyalty of their sheep. The love of the good shepherd is centered in the good shepherd and not in the response of the sheep.
We have much for which to rejoice. Jesus has chosen to be a good shepherd for us. Our lives will never be the same and contain unlimited possibilities.