Summary: How is Jesus our Shepherd, and how are we His flock?
Shepherding was one of the principal means of livelihood in ancient Israel, and the Bible often compares people to sheep. Some of the greatest leaders tended sheep: Abraham, Moses and David, who became shepherds of God’s people. In the New Testament, Peter directs pastors to “shepherd the flock of God,” reflecting the compassion of the Good Shepherd, Who in John 10 declares His relationship to us in another of His “I AM” statements.
How is Jesus our Shepherd, and how are we His flock?
1) The shepherd is the owner of the flock, or the son of the owner. The principle assets of a shepherd are his flocks. Jesus our Good Shepherd purchased us with His blood. He knew what He was getting. He paid the ultimate price for damaged goods. He saw our faults, yet loved us--such is the extent of His grace. We belong to Him…not a popular notion in a world that cherishes freedom and independence, yet by accepting this we discover our true identity. By resisting His ownership we forfeit rich blessings.
2) The shepherd is the caretaker of the sheep. They don’t take care of themselves, but require constant attention and meticulous care. Shepherding is a demanding job, requiring diligence and patience. Psalm 121 assures us, “He who watches over Israel slumbers not, nor sleeps.” God manages His flock with great skill and expertise.
3) The shepherd provides for the flock. He knows the needs of every sheep, and knows exactly where to best lead them so that they may find green pastures. He desires their well-being. Though grazing land in Israel was scarce, and though sheep don’t instinctively know where to find food, their shepherds knew just where to take them. Because of our Good Shepherd’s provision we can declare, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” He cares even for those who’ve wandered away from the flock, and in compassion He brings them back to the pen. The prophet Isaiah writes, “God tends His flock like a shepherd; gathering the lambs in His arms, He carries them close to His heart and gently leads those that have young” (40:11).
4) The shepherd is the leader of his sheep. He manages them. He can say with authority, “Follow me.” The way of wisdom is in following the leadership of the Good Shepherd. He knows the way, and He always guides His flock on the path of righteousness. When we feel lost and alone, our Good Shepherd directs us with the assurance that He is with us every step of our path. Unlike the “hired hands,” the counterfeit shepherds of verse 12, He will not abandon His flock. Jesus said this to fellow-Jews, and makes reference to “other sheep”, verse 16, which refers to Gentile believers who will be added to the fold.
5) The shepherd is the defender of the fold. Sheep are helpless creatures, easily frightened. Outside the fold are thieves who would steal the flock, and wild beasts that would devour them. Sheep are often unaware of the dangers that pursue them. When King David was a young shepherd boy he bravely killed predators that attacked his flock. Our Good Shepherd has built a hedge of protection around us, and promises to keep us from harm. Jesus comforted His disciples, saying “fear not, little flock” (Luke 12:32). We are safe, because our Shepherd watches over us.
6) The shepherd imparts discipline for his flock. This is one aspect of his care we might prefer to skip over…yet it is further evidence of the Shepherd’s love. We’re reminded in Scripture that “we all, like sheep, have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). We get stubborn, insisting on our own way. When we wander, the Good Shepherd brings correction. He chastens us when necessary; “His rod comforts us”. He insures that we learn and grow from our shortcomings. The Apostle Peter writes, “When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (I Pet 5:4). On that day (verse 16) “there will be one flock, and one shepherd.”
7) The shepherd is the companion of every sheep. “I know My sheep and My sheep know Me”, verse 14. He is not a hired hand, doing only what he’s been paid to do. The “hireling” has no investment in the flock, while the shepherd-owner lives with his flock, taking a personal interest in every sheep. He’s not just “doing a job”; the flock under his care is his very life. When his sheep see him approaching, they run to him. When Jesus saw the multitudes, Matthew records how “He was moved with compassion on them, because they were scattered as sheep having no shepherd” (9:36). How comforting to know that God knows us.
8) The shepherd is sovereign over his sheep. This means He has authority over the flock…and with this awareness of all that’s going on, Jesus warns of false shepherds who, for impure motives, seek to take advantage of the flock. Who are we following? Who are we listening to? The Good Shepherd, or the influential voices of this unbelieving world? We cannot serve two masters. We can believe the lies and have our own way, or live by the truth of our Shepherd. Are we ready to listen to His voice? Or is He a stranger to us? It is in our best interests to submit to the Shepherd and trust His direction. We can’t afford to be indifferent about this.