There is a story about a group of pilgrims who were on a tour around the Holy Land. The guide was explaining how for thousands of years the shepherd would walk in front of his sheep leading them and they followed him, just as Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd:
2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. … the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:2-4)
As the guide finished this explanation the group began to laugh because they saw a man walking behind a flock of sheep and driving them along with a stick. Someone commented to the guide, “I thought you said the shepherds here always lead the sheep. Why is that man walking behind and driving them forward?”
“Because he isn’t the shepherd, the guide answered. “He is the butcher.”
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And immediately we have a picture of the shepherd leading his sheep to pasture. This is perhaps the most well-known of the seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel. “I am the Good Shepherd.”
What an amazing claim that was! Because for a thousand years the Jews had known that there was only one Shepherd over the nation of Israel. God was their Shepherd. Probably the best known of all the Psalms then and today is Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
The Lord is the Shepherd of Israel. We find this promise as well in the prophecies of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 34 11 ‘ “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
God Himself will be their Shepherd and rescue his people. The Bad Shepherds were the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who were leading the people astray. The Good Shepherd was God Himself. The Lord is my Shepherd. So when Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” the meaning was plain. Jesus was claiming to be God. And in case anybody missed the point, the saying at the end of our reading is absolutely clear.
John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
Throughout John, Jesus claims to be the unique Son of God and indeed one with God. This is so important that we will return to that verse next week. “I and the Father are one.”
For today let’s see what else Jesus says about the Good Shepherd. We know the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep safely in the fold and who set out to search for the one lost sheep and bring it safely home. But here Jesus goes further.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD SAVES THE SHEEP
DYING FOR HIS SHEEP
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Jesus is clearly looking forward here to his death on the cross on behalf of his disciples, his sheep.
14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Amazing love, O what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me. My debt He pays, and my death he dies, that I might live.
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life …. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
The Jews didn’t crucify Jesus. The Romans didn’t crucify Jesus. No created human being could possibly have laid a hand on the Son of God, the creator of the world, if Jesus Himself had not chosen to lay down his life out of love for us all. The Good Shepherd saves the sheep by giving His own life for ours. But that was not the end of the story!
RISEN FOR HIS SHEEP
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’
Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin. It is finished! The price is paid. But the blessings his death has bought only come to us as Jesus also rose triumphant over death.
I lay down my life—only to take it up again. Some people think that this passage takes away in some way from Christ’s sacrifice for us. Surely, they say, it would not be so difficult to give up our lives if we knew we were going to rise from the dead three days later. But remember what a horrible agonising death Jesus suffered for us. And remember that Jesus was also completely human. He faced that death just as we would have, trusting in the promises of resurrection found in the Old Testament, but depending on faith and not on sight. It was at least as hard for Jesus the Son of God to experience death as it is for any of us to face death. Probably harder, because our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus whereas Jesus was the first person to rise from the dead. Jesus needed greater faith than we do!
I lay down my life—only to take it up again. The wonderful truth is that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, never more to die. And he shares that resurrection life with us. “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” Abundant life, life in all its fullness, as we share in Christ’s resurrection life! This promise is for all who listen to the shepherd’s voice, and follow him. Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd who saves his sheep who put their trust in Him. And then once we have been saved, the Good Shepherd protects his sheep.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD KEEPS HIS SHEEP SAFE
12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 ‘I am the good shepherd;
Israel’s priests and teachers were like the hired hands. They had failed to keep the nation close to God. But the Good Shepherd would always protect his sheep. Here is the wonderful reassurance – once we are saved, we are always saved. A true Christian cannot drift so far away from God that they lose their salvation. You may have heard me speak on this before, but this question is so important that I am going to talk about it again this morning. Listen to what Jesus says.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’
Jesus the Good Shepherd promises us that the eternal destiny of a true Christian is completely secure, for at least three reasons.
(1) We have our new relationship with God
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Christianity is not just a philosophy or a set of beliefs or a way of living. It is a relationship with God our creator, who by Christ’s death in our place has changed us from God’s enemies into His friends. More than that, we are adopted into God’s family as His children, sons and daughters, so we can know God as “Abba, Father”. So God looks on Christians in a new way. We are no longer “lost sheep” – instead we belong to Christ’s flock. We are no longer rebels or prodigals – we are God’s beloved children. This new relationship is not based on our good works but on the merits of Jesus Christ alone. Nothing we can do will cause God to take that new status as His children away from us again. Our loving heavenly Father would never turn away or reject or disinherit one of His own children.
We thought about these words of Jesus this time last year from John 6
35 Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. … 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’
We have this new relationship with God and he will never drive us away or turn us away.
(2) We have been born again to a new life
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
A Christian is someone who has been born again and given a brand new life to live. God would never take this new life away from us. Christians are “in Christ” – we share in all the blessings of Christ’s death for sin and Christ’s resurrection life. We have passed from death to life. We are no longer in darkness – we have come into the light. The Holy Spirit lives inside us giving us this quality of new life, a foretaste of heaven, and the Holy Spirit will not allow the Christian to do anything which would reject or destroy that new life.
(3) We are safe in God’s hands
no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’
God can and will keep us safe. The eternal security of the believer rests ultimately in God’s hands, not ours. We can’t do anything to earn or deserve God’s free gift of forgiveness and new life. And we can’t do anything to earn or deserve to keep that gift either. Christ’s death has dealt with ALL our sins, those before we become Christians AND those after we accept His gift of new life. We do not have to work hard to “keep our place” in God’s family – that place is guaranteed by God Himself. He is greater than everything. He CAN and WILL keep us safe. He will never reject us and nothing can snatch us away from safe keeping in God’s hands.
Romans 8: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have a new relationship with God. We have been born again to a new life. And we are safe in God’s hands. Once saved, always saved. The Good Shepherd has promised that he will always take care of His sheep.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The Good Shepherd saves the sheep and he also keeps His sheep safe. One more thing.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD GATHERS HIS SHEEP
14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Other sheep not of this sheepfold. This verse is actually all about us. Because the Good Shepherd in the Old Testament was the Shepherd of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. But we are not Jews. Before Jesus came, we would have been outside God’s plan of salvation because in those times only the Jews would be saved. But Jesus came to be the Good Shepherd, not only for the Jews but for anybody and everybody who put their trust in Him. The one flock of the one shepherd is the church which is made up of Jews and non-Jews. I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
We thought about this last week. How amazing it is that God welcomes us into the same kind of relationship with Himself as Jesus the Son has with the Father. That is what eternal life is all about – knowing God personally! We can know God just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. This is life in all its fullness! “A rich and satisfying life.” (New Living Translation) “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (The Message Translation) Knowing God personally. Life in all its fullness. Everybody who has this relationship with God which Jesus brings is part of the one flock of God. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. Everyone who listens to Jesus voice is part of that one flock.
But there are yet other sheep. 16 I have other sheep … I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
You may well know some of these other sheep. Other people who one day will listen to Jesus’s voice. Other people who Jesus wants to follow Him and become part of His flock. They could be your friends, or your neighbours. The might even be members of your family or they could so far be strangers to you. Jesus the Good Shepherd came to seek and save the lost. He came not to call the righteous but the sinners. Jesus is still searching for lost sheep. So it is part of our mission as Christians to show God’s love to everybody and to tell them about Jesus the Saviour.
The Good Shepherd saves the sheep and He keeps them safe. He is gathering us to Himself and one day we will all be together with him in glory forever. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Do you know the Good Shepherd? Are you listening to His voice? Are you following Jesus?