John 10:10-11. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know much about shepherding. I don’t know any shepherds, and the only time I ever see sheep is at a petting zoo. So here’s my basic understanding of sheep – sheep need a shepherd.
More than any other animal (from what I hear), sheep are completely helpless and completely foolish. Sheep can’t find their own food source. Sheep can’t defend themselves against predators. Sheep will go to places that are unsafe (I’ve read stories of sheep following each other off of cliffs). Sheep will even eat food that will kill them.
Here’s the Bible’s consistent message to us – we are sheep.
No, it’s not flattering, and it’s not meant to be. We are all utterly helpless and utterly foolish. All we like sheep have gone astray (Is. 53:6). We all need a Psalm 23 experience. We all NEED a shepherd.
We all need a GOOD shepherd.
The problem in Jesus’ day was that most “shepherds” weren’t good. When Jesus calls himself the good shepherd he’s contrasting himself with the bad shepherds of Israel. In John 10 he talks about “hired hands” who don’t care about the sheep, and “thieves” who actually want to harm the sheep. But Jesus isn’t talking about literal shepherds. He’s condemning the kings and priests of Israel’s past and the religious leaders of Israel’s present. And he’s using Ezekiel’s prophecy to do it.
Ezekiel 34:2. “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
In Ezekiel 34 God describes what bad shepherding looks like. A bad shepherd only cares about themselves. They seek to be served rather than to serve. They’re either apathetic, or they’re bullies.
Ezekiel 34:4-5. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.
But THE good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
The bad shepherd says, “Your life for me.”
The good shepherd says, “My life for you.”
Almost all of us have experienced bad shepherding haven’t we? A parent, a pastor, a teacher or coach, a boss, a politician, who selfishly only cared about their own well-being and not yours. Maybe you’ve been a bad shepherd. Maybe you’ve passively failed to strengthen others, or aggressively been harsh and demanding with others. We’ve all been failed by shepherds, and we’ve all failed as shepherds.
So what is God’s solution to bad shepherding? Himself.
Ezekiel 34:15. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.
God will be THE good shepherd, AND, God will appoint one good shepherd over his people.
Ezekiel 34:23. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Jesus is our God and he is our one shepherd. Our new and better David, the shepherd king. Jesus will feed us. He will guide us to green pastures and still waters. He will restore our souls. His rod and staff will protect and comfort us. He will carry us through the darkest of valleys.
This is the abundant life that our good shepherd offers to us today and every day. His life for ours. A life lived fully within God’s grace and truth. A truly authentic life, not denying the reality of suffering, but also a truly satisfying life, embracing the deep love of a Shepherd who would even die for his flock.
“To live is Christ” is about being shepherded. Union with Christ is not just about “being saved” from death and hell. It’s about having the Good Shepherd of your soul lovingly guide you through every step of life by his grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). It’s hearing your Shepherd’s voice over all other voices. It’s worshiping your Shepherd who is also your Lamb that was slain. Allowing him to wipe every tear from your eyes and refresh you with the living water of his love.
Revelation 7:17. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
And then “to live is Christ” is to be that same kind of shepherd. One that says, “my life for you,” not “your life for me.” To strengthen others through sacrifice. To live Christ’s abundant life of self-giving. To be a shepherd-king who feeds Jesus’ sheep.
What or who is shepherding you today? Is it Jesus?
You in Christ
In Christ you are being shepherded by Jesus’ grace and truth. Are you listening to his shepherd voice?
Christ in you
Where can you be a shepherd-king/queen today?
Playlist: The Good Shepherd.
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