Readings: Acts 4:1-12 | 1 John 3:16-24 | John 10:11-18
Text: John 10:11-18
There are many shepherds in the Bible. It’s a recurring theme, almost like God’s trying to teach us something. We come across the first one very early with Abel “who was a keeper of sheep,” who was also killed by Cain.
The next prominent one is Jacob, who tended Laban’s sheep out of his love for Rachel. Laban’s flocks and herds were blessed under his care, even though Laban dealt shrewdly with Jacob.
Then, we come to Moses, who after fleeing Egypt, for 40 years watched his father-in-law, Jethro’s, sheep in Midian. After his call, Moses led the Lord’s people through the Red Sea and in the wilderness. And under Moses, the people confessed, “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” (Ps. 95:7)
Then most prominent of all shepherds is King David, the youngest of 8 brothers, who no one paid regard because he was the youngest and kept the sheep. But yet whom God sought out “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
All of these were righteous men, men who had a heart for God and for the people of God. One might also call these men good, but there is one more shepherd whom I haven’t mentioned: The Lord Jesus. He is truly called the Good Shepherd, and for good reason: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” While Abel, Jacob, Moses, and David all tended literal sheep, we realize here that He’s not just talking about a dedication to livestock. He’s talking about a devotion to mankind, to you. Because what is the flock He shepherds? “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
He shepherds the Lord’s flock, which is a picture of His people. This should be no surprise to us, when we remember that Moses and David both went from shepherding sheep to shepherding God’s people. Abel and Jacob were spared this, but Moses and David both found out that shepherding the people of God takes a fair bit more care and a healthy measure of longsuffering. Moses often found out how fraught with trouble this work was several times, even before leaving Egypt. But he especially felt this after the golden calf incident: “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (Ex. 33:12-13) Sheep, at least, can be herded except for the occasional stray, but often the whole congregation rose up against Moses and accused him of wrongdoing and drove him to frustration and anger on many occasions.
David, too, came to realize the great responsibility of shepherding God’s people as king. The people who had previously asked for Saul to rule over them, were glad for David’s rule…at least until they forgot him and made Absalom king and exiled David. David was by no means blameless in this, because of his own failings, but after David turned from the blindness of sin, he realized what personal cost there is for tending the Lord’s flock—the sunset of David’s rule was marked by uprising, insults aimed at the king, and plagues.
We are likened to a flock, but a flock that is a lot of work. From Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” Even the people of God are like that: stiff-necked, stubborn sheep.
We need a better shepherd—a Good Shepherd. “The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” And, “…the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He is a Shepherd better than Abel: His innocent blood was shed by those who resisted God and refused to hear His rebuke. Yet, even though He was slain, His blood cries up to heaven not for vengeance, but as a plea to God for grace (cf. Heb. 12:24). “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
He is a shepherd better than Jacob, who tends the flock not in expectation of the beautiful Rachel, but in order that He might make ugly Leah His own. This, we have trouble understanding, but He exemplifies what God sets His love on: “6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
He is also a shepherd better than Moses, because He faced off with Satan Himself. He resisted the temptation to which we fell. Then, He led the devil captive when he thought he had victory over him by putting to death the Son of God. Yet, in His death and resurrection, He led Satan to his own destruction, destroying him and all his host, clogging their chariot wheels and driving them into confusion and panic! Thus, our Good Shepherd leads you through the waters of Holy Baptism, where He destroys the devil’s hold on you and delivers you from the bonds of death. Then, He also bears with you in your stiff-necked rebellion, He makes intercession for your great sins, and makes the once-for-all offering which alone is able to make atonement and find God’s gracious favor for sinners.
For as noble as David was, the Good Shepherd Jesus is David’s greater Son. He rules as king over His people, bringing blessing and greater and greater rulership over His people—even in their weakness. He brings into reality the inspired Psalm of David:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
And even better than these human examples, He shows us what kind of devotion He has for you: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”
The comparison He makes shows a dedication which He has in the cause of our salvation. He teaches us by offering the alternative: a hired servant who cares more about a stable paycheck than he does for the goods of his master. If any of you have owned a business, you’ve experienced the personal dedication you have for your business—its potential success or failure occupies you, keeps you up at night, eats away at your free time. It’s that dedication which the Good Shepherd has for His flock—that His every attention is toward the salvation of His flock. So, He bids us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” so that we know He answers by giving His all to saving sinners, to gathering the sheep of His hand, calling those who are not yet of His fold. He is the sole-proprietor, the One and only Savior of His people, who hesitates not to give His live for the sheep. And yet, unlike men with their business, He does not get overwhelmed at the magnitude of the work. Instead, He says truly, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” With the surety of Almighty God who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His people, He is able to gather His flock around Himself. What we see in His work is caring for His flock. Having laid down His life, He now speaks and the sheep hear His voice. He brings us each, calls us by Name (like we talked about on Easter), and He gives to us blessings beyond our comprehension.
Let us pray.
O God, Your infinite love restores to the right way those who err, seeks the scattered, and preserves those whom You have gathered. Of Your tender mercy pour out on Your faithful people the grace of unity that, all schisms being ended, Your flock may be gathered to the true Shepherd of Your Church and may serve You in all faithfulness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.