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"I AM the Good Shepherd" - The Claims of Christ

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep … I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.”

 - John 10:11,14 -

 

The land of Israel was full of sheep, and so the Bible is littered with shepherd imagery. David famously says: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want’ (Ps. 23:1). Shepherding was serious business. It took a man’s man to be one. Constant vigilance and fearless courage were needed. It was a dirty, high-risk job that meant battling weather, thieves, and savage predators who stalked the flock. Danger was all around and flocks needed constant attention. Amos writes of a shepherd who ‘takes from the mouth of a lion two legs or a piece of an ear’ (3:12). No easy feat to fight a lion! Isaiah tells how when lions attacked villages, it was shepherds who were called to fight the beast: ‘Like a lion, king of the beasts, that gnaws and chews and worries its prey, not fazed in the least by a bunch of shepherds who arrive to chase it off’ (31:4).


 

In central Judea was a rocky plateau thirty-five miles long by fifteen miles wide. Crops couldn’t grow there, so shepherds used it for grazing. Sheep sometimes got lost or fell off the high plateau onto rocky outcrops. When sheep repeatedly wandered into danger, shepherds broke their legs and carried them wherever they needed to go. This sounds gruesome but it ensured the animal’s survival. After, when its leg healed, sheep stayed by their shepherd’s side the rest of their life. Jesus came so we might have abundant life, but we will never know true life if we keep wandering off. Jonah strayed and spent three days in the belly of a fish. David said the Lord was his shepherd, but when he strayed, he said: ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which You have broken may rejoice’ (Ps. 51:8).



Abel was a shepherd, as were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. The greatest shepherd of all is Jesus Christ Himself, who declares: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). This is bold given who He’s talking to. The Pharisees knew Psalm 23 as well as anybody, and Jesus was weaponizing it to defend His deity. He alone is the good shepherd that our heart yearns for. Jesus is not just another shepherd. He is excellent and lovely on every level. He lays down His life for the sheep. He loves them and calls them by name, drawing them into one happy flock: the church of redeemed saints.

 

Like sheep, we must be dependent on our shepherd. As Jesus says: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We must obey Him in all of life. He can’t be Lord over some parts and not others. If He is our shepherd, there is nothing off limits to Him. ‘In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths’ (Prov. 3:6). Being protected by the good shepherd takes moment-by-moment dependency on Christ. When we live this way, there’s no limit to what God can do in and through our lives. And when you obey Him, do it joyfully. Being a Christian is supposed to be fun, so why do so many of us walk around frowning? Where’s the ceaseless joy? Where’s the peace that passes all understanding?



Joy should be characteristic of our obedience. It’s a joy to obey and follow Jesus, not a burden. He teaches: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Learn the unforced rhythms of grace and Jesus won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on us. Keep company with Him and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. We serve a good God and Jesus is the good shepherd. Don’t murmur and complain when He says to do something. Put a smile on your face because there are false shepherds in the world who don’t care for you like Jesus does. They are the hirelings who see a wolf and leave the sheep to be torn and scattered.

 

Hired hands just want a paycheck. They talk the talk but flee in a crisis. Jesus states His difference this way: “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The word ‘life’ refers to His innermost being. Jesus not only suffered and died physically, but He gave His soul to ransom His sheep. ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). This is a dual relationship. Jesus knows the sheep and the sheep know Him. The word ‘know’ speaks of intimacy. Jesus knows all about you. You don’t even know yourself like Jesus knows you, yet He still laid down His life for you. As the angel told Jospeh: “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Christ doesn’t save the sinful world from its sins. He saves those who are His; those who belong to Him.



The idea that non-Jews would also be part of God’s flock stunned and appalled the Pharisees. They despised Gentiles, believing they were forever outside the covenant and promises of God. Jews believed they were God’s chosen people and He had no use for other nations. Did selectively forgot that God told Abraham: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:18). Or how about Isaiah, who said Messiah would be ‘a light to the gentiles…that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth’ (42:6,49:6). Jesus loves regardless of nationality. This is why He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). As Paul wrote: ‘There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28).

 

When Jesus walked the earth, He met the needs of Jews and Gentiles. He healed the Roman centurion’s servant, the Samaritan leper, and the Syrophoenician’s daughter. Regarding the woman at the well, Jesus even went out of His way to minister to Samaritans. A racially-mixed people despised by Jews. God loves the world, so His plan was to always have one flock, and one shepherd over them. This plan began with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Soon the nation Israel was born and, in time, the blessing spread to the world. The Gentiles were alienated from God but Jesus came to draw them back to the flock. ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ’ (Eph. 2:13). This maddened the Pharisees. Their only response was to say Jesus was possessed or insane.



Jesus says three things distinguish His sheep: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Those who have a heart for God will stop and hear His voice in Scripture. They will learn things they never knew before. He’ll give them assurance and direction. These sheep will follow the good shepherd and be known by Him. Those who are not His sheep shut their eyes, plug their ears, and harden their hearts to God. They cannot hear the shepherd, so they do not believe. Jesus explains the great benefit of being His sheep: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand” (10:28-29). Notice how Jesus calls us a love gift to Him from the Father. How amazing is that?


Jesus promises life without end, secure in God’s hand. No wonder Paul wrote: ‘I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love’ (Rom. 8:38). Jesus then says what everyone is waiting to hear: “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus made Himself equal with God; a staggering claim from a Jewish carpenter. He said He shared God’s nature just as a natural son shares the essence of his physical father. Jesus and the Father are one in purpose, power, and nature. They are equally sovereign, loving, and divine. ‘For in [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col. 2:9). The Son perfectly mirrors God and is stamped with His nature. The people didn’t know it, but this was Christ’s last public declaration to deity and His final call to believe. How powerful, but how tragic!



The Pharisees reacted by picking up stones to kill Him. As serious as this was, Christ kept majestic calm as He answered them: “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of these works do you stone Me?” (John 10:32). He stopped them in their tracks with His words. They answered: “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (10:33). The truth is, they did want to kill Him because of His works. Yet they couldn’t deny the good works He did, so they went after His words. And so Jesus turned the tables and puts them on trial. He confronted them with their own law by quoting Psalm 82:6, where Jewish judges are called gods because they were commissioned to play a God-like role with the people. God said the same thing to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Ex. 7:1).

 

Jesus’ point was that Scripture calls mere men gods, so why did the Jews struggle with who He said He was? Jesus even added: “…and the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It’s an eternal chain where a single link cannot be removed or altered. Scripture is the final word and the Pharisees knew it. So if corrupt rulers could be called gods, then why not the incorruptible, sinless Son of God? This was the good shepherd’s final gracious invitation, but for many, their minds were already made up. Christ had to die. And die He did. They would have to wait until the atonement was achieved and the Spirit given at Pentecost for their next invitation to the flock of God. Oh what a gracious God we have!

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