Monday, 18 April 2011 12:31

I am The Good Shepherd

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Today we are focusing on the fourth of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in the gospel of John. In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” Again, dear friends, how much gospel teaching we have here surely. The so called prince of preachers, C.H. Spurgeon, said about this phrase, “There is more in Jesus, the good Shepherd, than you can pack away in a shepherd. He is the good, the great, the chief Shepherd; He is much more. Emblems to set Him forth may be multiplied as the drops of the morning, but the whole multitude will fail to reflect all His brightness…..He is inconceivably above our conceptions, unutterably above our utterances…”

Before we look closer at this fourth saying specifically, just notice some of the particulars that so highlight this description of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd.” Did you think about, for instance, that this statement is the central one of all seven in the gospel of John? We have already looked at Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life, and I am the light of the world, and I am the door.” Now He says, “I am the good shepherd”, and to come yet He will say, “I am the resurrection and the life, and I am the way, the truth, and the life, and I am the vine.” But the middle statement and most popular or well known is this one, “I am the good shepherd”.

Isn’t it striking too how this fourth statement so confirms Jesus being God equal with the Father? This is something you can say to the Jehovah Witnesses when they come to your place. How does Psalm 23 begin? “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “The LORD” in Psalm 23 refers to God Jehovah, the one true God over all. And now here is Jesus describing Himself as the good shepherd, and two other texts in the New Testament describe Him not only as the good shepherd but as the great shepherd, [Hebrews 13:20], and as the chief shepherd [I Peter 5:4]. You see again from this we can learn Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, come to be the Glorious Shepherd God of His people as described also in Psalm 23.

From the setting of our text we need to understand too why Jesus even describes Himself as the good shepherd. What is the context? Well, Jesus is speaking in the context of telling about the false leaders of Israel, those hireling leaders, the scribes and Pharisees. They, like so many in Israel’s history, had not only appointed themselves as leaders, but they were just in it for self-interest and repeatedly they showed no real care and love for the people they were guiding. Those leaders were like thieves who came to steal, and to kill, and to destroy the sheep. The least threat also would have them leave the sheep to themselves to be scattered by the enemies. Over against these ruthless, self-centered, godless, unfaithful, uncompassionate shepherd leaders, Jesus in comparison tells us now who He is and what He is like, come as Saviour of sinners. He is the Good Shepherd, good in every way you can think good to mean.

Isn’t the title shepherd, as a description of the Lord Jesus, by itself so attractive as it compares then also His people as sheep? Sheep are known as rather foolish creatures, prone to wander, and so helpless in themselves when in trouble. Isn’t that so true of what we can be like, even as true Christians and longtime people of God? What hope would there be for any of us if we didn’t have a good shepherd guiding us and guarding us each step of the way? But now, listen, our Saviour God, your Redeemer and Lord Jesus Christ, He is the good shepherd of His sheep. The exact leader we need as blind, bungling, fumbling, wayward sheep in ourselves, you find in and with Jesus Christ described now also as the Good Shepherd.

Let us consider four ways especially that Jesus is the Good Shepherd of His sheep. Even as we do so now, I pray you too will be so drawn to Him, and that you too will so prize Him for all He is and promises to be for those who hear His voice and follow Him.

Why is Jesus rightfully calling Himself the good shepherd of His sheep? For one, because He sacrifices for His sheep. Indeed, Jesus sacrificed His life for the sheep. This is something stressed several times in the passage, and it is stated emphatically in vs. 11 itself. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” Jesus is a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Notice how this detail about Him as shepherd is stressed in verses 11, 15, 17, and 18. What this detail proclaims to us is that Jesus will go to all lengths for the wellbeing of His sheep, and He even will not hesitate to die for them to protect them if need be.

And here of course we come to the heart of the gospel message, don’t we? Isaiah 53 tells how “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” As fallen sinners from Adam by nature we are all wandering lost sheep, and of ourselves there is no hope of us ever being reconciled to God and being restored in His favor and having the hope of eternal life. But now Jesus has come as the Saviour God sent from the Father to gather His sheep and to make a way that we might forever be rescued from the clutches of sin, Satan, death, and hell. But how only could Jesus as anointed appointed shepherd of His sheep bring about that rescue? It is only by Him giving His life a ransom for many. And this Jesus, the good shepherd, was most willing to do! At least four times over in John 10 Jesus Christ expresses His willingness and burden even so to give Himself for His sheep. This is the most evident proof of His being the good shepherd. “…the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Notice how Jesus’ death for the sheep was something totally voluntary on His part. His death on the cross would not be something forced on Him, or a tragic end of His grandiose plans, or some accident unanticipated, but it was rather a free will offering on Jesus’ part, fulfilling also the will of His heavenly Father, to give His life for the sheep. There is no other way sinners like us could be saved except through the righteous, God-pleasing, most willing and loving perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary. He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in and through Him. In Jesus’ once for all sacrifice for sin, as also foretold in Isaiah 53, God’s justice and mercy are fully met together and displayed in all their beauty and glory. Through Jesus’ life and death on sinner’s behalf, through His person and work now I John 1:9 is the absolute precious gospel truth. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus’ death as the good shepherd was voluntary not only but clearly a substitutionary death, a vicarious death on behalf of sinners like us. The preposition “for” in vs. 11, “the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” proclaims this glorious fact. Jesus’ death was in the place of His sheep, something He did, in other words, on behalf of His sheep. This is taught to us In the whole Bible, also as the heart of the gospel message. Think just of Isaiah 53, but let me quote now only Romans 5:6-8. There the apostle Paul writes, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Oh, what a Saviour is Jesus Christ the Lord, being as the good shepherd so willing to sacrifice His life for sinners like us. Indeed, the text is specific even saying Jesus’ death is for the sheep. And who are Jesus’ sheep? All those whom the Father has given to the Son in eternity, which are also all those who, by grace, hear the shepherd’s voice and follow after Him. In the text passage we hear Jesus speak of the sheep He has, more than any of us realize. In the end there will be a countless multitude of sheep from all over this world, lost sinners redeemed who will hear His voice and follow Him, and ultimately there is just one fold and one shepherd. It is proper to ask here, dear friend, ‘Are you one of Christ’s sheep too’? That is, are you one who truly hears Jesus’ voice to repent and believe on Him and to follow after Him as revealed in all His gospel Word? What reasons to be joined to Christ in true faith and ever to follow closely after Him, seeing He is the good shepherd “who gives His life for the sheep”! Not to trust and obey Him is to be left in your sins, and to remain lost and condemned before God. Nothing counts so much as being one of Jesus’ sheep, and nothing either can be as wonderful as that too.

Why? Well, Jesus, you see, is the good shepherd of the sheep. “Good”, meaning totally good and beautiful, and attractive and lovely, winsome, and genuine. He sacrifices His life even for His sheep! And on top of that, notice this next point proving Christ as the good shepherd of His sheep, namely, how Jesus also shepherds His sheep. The term “shepherd” speaks of someone knowing His sheep and caring for them, sticking to them and watching over them, providing for them and guarding them. All this and more Jesus does as shepherd of His sheep. The word “shepherd” in the Greek is the word we also get “pastor” from in the English. Jesus is the best and most good pastor of His sheep. What does Jesus say in vs. 14? I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” When Jesus says He knows His sheep, the verb “know” means He doesn’t just know our names but He knows us through and through, and He desires too that His sheep know Him through and through.

In other words, dear friends, Jesus is a shepherd who truly cares for His sheep and about His sheep, and who aims at nothing less than the closest and best and sweetest relationship with His sheep, each one and altogether. Jesus is after a most close love relationship with His people. The Saviour is not promoting at all a distant relationship, or a cold relationship, or a restrained tense relationship, but rather He is after a close relationship that is warm and open and free from all misgivings and misunderstandings and tensions. The Lord Jesus, knowing us too as sheep, is never surprised by something about us. He is not insisting either that we be just like someone else. No, Jesus knows His sheep, also how different we each and all can be. You need not fear in relationship with Him that something about yourself will suddenly come up or show itself in a way that startles or surprises Him and might diminish His love and commitment to you and for you. What a comforting gospel truth this is too, just by itself. There is no more secure and special relationship possible here on earth as that of Christ with His sheep and His sheep with Him. Who doesn’t truly appreciate another person really caring for you and sticking with you no matter what? So is Jesus, in a perfect most beautiful way, in His loving pastoral relationship with His people.

Jesus not only sacrifices for His sheep, but He shepherds His sheep. He knows us through and through, and He listens to us in our needs and cares, and He guides us and takes care of us, body and soul, even as we time and again hear His voice and follow after Him. The LORD is my shepherd, [David writes in Psalm 23], I shall not want.” And he goes on in that blessed psalm stating in phrase after phrase about the Lord’s amazing tender care and keeping for him in every situation, also even in the valley of the shadow of death. Do you want someone there for you always, someone full of loving kindness for you, and ultimate almighty remedy for you in your every need? Then Jesus is the One to go to, the only Saviour of sinners. He is the good shepherd that sacrificed His life for all His sheep, and who so shepherds all His sheep. In the Bible in Luke 15 we also have the beautiful little parable telling of Jesus leaving the ninety-nine sheep to go search for the wandering wayward one of His in trouble in some way. The parable tells of the shepherd’s steadfast tender care and keeping, and the shepherd’s great joy of finding His lost sheep. Oh, what a shepherd Jesus is for His own! No one ever has been or can be as endlessly caring and understanding, longsuffering and tender, merciful and gentle, kind and strong, and wise as Jesus Christ with the shepherding of His sheep. “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”, says David, and he means with that, the good shepherd provides comfort and help unspeakable, time and again, for His own name’s sake.

Are you not drawn as well to this Saviour as you hear of Him now also as the good shepherd? How lost and hopeless people are and remain without Christ Jesus as their good shepherd. Isn’t it true when you also know this Jesus as your good shepherd, you so want others to know Him too and to hear and follow His voice as well? Without this good shepherd, no matter what else you may have in your favor from this world, it is all empty and vain and passing and futile. But with this good shepherd, the only Saviour, Jesus Christ as your Redeemer and Lord, you have life and that more abundantly, even yes, eternal life! So we read also in John 17:3 Jesus saying, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the one only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom thou hast sent.” If you don’t yet know this Jesus Christ as the good shepherd of His sheep, today He declares and offers to you also to be your good shepherd. Will you hear His voice today?

Oh, that all will hear His voice and ever follow after Him, Jesus Christ the Saviour, consider this next point about Him as good shepherd. Jesus as good shepherd not only sacrificed His life for all His sheep, and not only always shepherds His sheep, but consider too the fact He truly and eternally saves His sheep. I think here of what Jesus says so beautifully in John 10:27-29. Jesus as shepherd of His sheep guarantees the full time and final and eternal keeping of His sheep. He pledges that never will one of His sheep go lost and that all will truly and eternally be saved through His saving work and keeping power. These verses in John 10 are often quoted in connection with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The perseverance of the saints is better spoken of as the preservation of the Lord’s sheep under the keeping of God Triune. My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck [snatch] them out of my hand. My Father, Who gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

Here we learn what sure salvation is found for us in and with the Lord as revealed in Christ Jesus, the good shepherd. When He saves you, you are truly saved, and totally saved, and eternally saved. Isn’t this what made David declare already in Psalm 23 in the last verse, speaking of the Lord as His shepherd, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”?

Why can no one or nothing snatch us out of Jesus’ saving power when we are one of His sheep? Because so perfect and complete is Jesus in His person as Saviour and in all His work as Saviour, that always for sure, under His saving care, the work which He has begun will by His grace be fully done! Not a single one of Christ’s sheep will after all not make it, or in the end still be lost. No, but all will be redeemed and forever safe and secure, safe yes, in the arms of Jesus, safe beyond measure forevermore! And it is all on account of the greatness and goodness of Christ Jesus as Shepherd of His sheep.

Here it may be good for us just to notice once more the three adjectives the Bible gives us in connection with Jesus as shepherd. In our text passage at least three times Jesus is referred to as the good shepherd. The emphasis in this whole passage also is that as the good shepherd He will go to all lengths for His sheep, even yes, He is most willing and ready to die for His sheep. Then in Hebrews 13:20-21, as I mentioned already, Jesus is spoken of as the great shepherd. And the focus in that passage is on Jesus as the risen Saviour of sinners, from Whom His sheep may draw endless supplies of salvation in all their needs for body and soul. Just listen to those verses. “Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you [doing in you or supplying in you] that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Do you hear how the risen Saviour is the great shepherd for us, also in the call ever to live for Him and to His praise? In no detail of the Christian life do we have to be on our own or depend on ourselves. No, the good shepherd, giving His life for His sheep, will lead us into salvation all from Himself; and the great shepherd, risen from the dead, will supply us in the way of salvation all from out of His fullness, grace for grace. And then further in I Peter 5: 4 Jesus is described as the chief shepherd of His sheep, and the context there is on how Jesus will victoriously come again one day finally to judge the world, and to reward His people by His grace, leading them home to heaven in eternal triumph and everlasting glory.

Oh, how true what one said about the three descriptions of Jesus as shepherd, how it all highlights the focal points of all Christ’s ministry as Saviour of sinners. As the good shepherd He dies for His sheep, and as the great shepherd He lives for His sheep, and as the chief shepherd He will return for His sheep and lead all His sheep to their eternal home in everlasting blessing. The point is, what a Saviour we find in and with Jesus Christ the LORD. What reasons to respond saying as a certain hymn puts it:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use Thy folds prepare.

We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.

Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be;
Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.

Early let us seek Thy favor, early let us do Thy will;
Blessèd Lord and only Savior, with Thy love our bosoms fill.

Oh, that suchlike may also be each our response to this sermon about Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd”, notice yet lastly how Jesus is so out ever to serve His sheep. The good shepherd sacrificed His life for His sheep, and shepherds His sheep, and saves His sheep, and always He serves His sheep. With this point I will be very brief, just mentioning three texts. In John 13, in a context where none of the disciples would stoop to serve the other, we read about Jesus rising from supper and stooping to wash His disciples’ feet. Jesus served most lovingly in a context of them acting so proudly and selfishly. Then in Luke 12:37 Jesus tells us about how blessed are all those who hear and follow His voice, whom the Lord when He comes shall find watching and waiting for Him. Verily” Jesus says then, “I say unto you, that he [Jesus Christ Himself] shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” Who can measure the unfathomable blessing of being guided and served by the Lord in eternal glory? And that very reality is also described for us in Revelation 7:16 & 17 where we are told about all the redeemed in glory, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

Can you imagine being eternally, lavishly, lovingly, joyfully served by the Good and Great and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ the Lord? Isn’t that a beautiful eternal future to think about and look forward to, as promised to the Lord’s people, all His sheep, for in the world to come? What a good shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ for all His sheep for everything we meet with in this life, and also in the valley of the shadow of death, and for the endless world to come in the new heavens and new earth! “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” That is for sure the gospel truth for all who repent of sin and believe in Him. Blessed are all they then that hear His voice and follow after Him.

There is so much packed in the statement, “I am the good shepherd”, much more than can be said by all the preachers in the world even. But you heard enough to be so encouraged in the gospel way and to be ever glorying in the Saviour Jesus Christ, and always to hear His voice and to follow after Him. Oh, may God Triune so bless His Word now to us, each and all, yes, “unto the praise and glory of God” who is “pleased [says Paul] by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Amen.

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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