The Good Shepherd

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus described Himself in various ways. One term He used is the good shepherd (John 10:11). In the context surrounding this claim, Jesus showed us what His work as a shepherd entails, how He can be called the good shepherd, and why no one else is more qualified than He is to do this work.

So what makes Jesus the good shepherd?

  • He calls His own sheep by name – “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Jesus has a direct, personal knowledge of His followers. He knows those who belong to Him (John 10:14, 27; 2 Timothy 2:19). Each one is important. On another occasion He told a parable about the lost sheep to illustrate this point (Luke 15:3-7). Though the shepherd still had ninety-nine sheep in the fold, he went out and found the one sheep that was lost. When he found it, he rejoiced and called others to rejoice with him. Jesus knows each one of us and does not want any of us to be lost (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).
  • He goes ahead of them – “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). The analogy Jesus used is not one of a rancher who drives his cattle, but of a shepherd who leads his flock. He does not push us ahead, but rather goes ahead of us. We can look to Him since He has left “an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). He does not require us to go anywhere He would not go or do anything that He would not do.
  • He provides an abundant life – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). This abundant life that Jesus promises is not the “health and wealth gospel” that many denominational preachers promote. Paul told Timothy that those who taught that “godliness is a means of gain” were advocating a “different doctrine” and did not “agree with sound words” (1 Timothy 6:3, 5). The abundant life that Jesus promises refers to a spiritual life. In Christ we have all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3) and the hope of eternal life (Romans 6:23).
  • He lays down His life for the sheep – “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus said that the greatest love was that one would “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus even went beyond that. Paul wrote, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” and “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:8, 10). He died for us and He did so willingly (John 10:18).
  • No one can take His sheep away – “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). As sheep, we may stray away from Him (Isaiah 53:6; Luke 15:4). But those who want to remain cannot be taken. Paul asked the question: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). He then listed all the things that we might think could separate us from Christ, but they cannot if we continue to follow Him.

When we consider all these characteristics of Christ, we are assured that He truly is the good shepherd. Furthermore, there is no one who can replace Him in that role. No one cares for us like Jesus. No one leads us as He does. No one can provide for us the blessings that He offers. Therefore, we must faithfully follow Him just as the sheep that heed the voice of their shepherd.

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