The Good Shepherd


The Good Shepherd

John 10:1-21

Main Idea: Jesus is the good shepherd who cares for God’s people.

  1. Jesus Gathers His Sheep (10:1-6).
  2. Jesus Guards His Sheep (10:7-10).
  3. Jesus Gives His Life for His Sheep (10:11-18).

God pictures his care of his people through the image of a shepherd and his sheep (Ps 23:1-4). In Psalm 80:1 God is called the “Shepherd of Israel.” In Isaiah 40:11 God promises to bring his people back from exile in Babylon like a shepherd gathering his lambs in his arms. God wanted his people to understand his grace, his mercy, and his love.

One of the ways God cared for Israel was by appointing human shepherds, leaders who were supposed to serve as God’s representatives, demonstrating God’s care for his flock. But those who were supposed to lead the Israelites—who were in positions of religious influence and who were to be God’s representatives to his people—were not caring for the sheep. They were hurting the sheep. Instead of leading them to encounter and obey God, they were leading the people away from God and into empty religious ritual. Instead of bringing the people of God to graze in the pastures of God’s grace, the religious leaders were loading them up with the weight of religion and man-made requirements and making them plow the barren fields of legalism. Instead of guarding the flock of God, they were goading them to turn from God to their own efforts. Instead of leading them to the overflowing fountains of grace, they were leaving them distressed, diseased, and spiritually dead.

In Ezekiel 34 God condemned the religious leaders of Israel for their mistreatment of his sheep (34:1-10). He says the shepherds have left the sheep exposed. They’ve forced them to fend for themselves. They’ve even killed the sheep for their wool and meat. In response, God will set up “one shepherd” over the flock—his servant David (34:22-24). At the time of this prophecy, King David was dead and had been for a long time. We understand this promise refers to a King who would come from the line of David. It’s a promise about the Messiah.

All of this is background to help us interpret Jesus’s words in John 10. In the previous chapter Jesus healed a blind man. When the man who had been healed would not denounce Jesus, he was kicked out of the synagogue. The religious leaders left him to wander alone, fending for himself, but he didn’t remain alone for long. Jesus found him.

Jesus fulfills Ezekiel 34. The shepherds of Israel neglected the sheep. They were reckless and destructive. But God hadn’t forgotten his flock. He sent a shepherd to rescue and care for his sheep. Jesus is the good shepherd who cares for God’s people. How does Jesus care for his sheep?

Jesus Gathers His Sheep

John 10:1-6

If you have believed on Jesus, you are his sheep and will never be forgotten. Religious leaders may cast you aside, but your shepherd will come and gather you to himself. Jesus highlights the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. The sheep are in a sheepfold. The only legitimate way to collect the sheep is through the gate. The shepherd calls each sheep gently by name. Jesus knows each of his sheep personally. He’s a personal shepherd. He knows your strengths and weaknesses. He knows if you’re an older sheep who walks a little slower now. He knows if you’re a younger sheep full of energy and enthusiasm who likes to wander away and explore. He knows when you need to rest and when you need to eat. He knows everything about you.

He calls his sheep by name because his sheep aren’t alone. In this sheepfold are other sheep (10:3). He doesn’t bring out all the sheep. Many would rather stay in the fold of religion. He only brings out those who are his own. Before Jesus even calls them, they belong to him. God gave sheep to his Son. Jesus said, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me” (6:37). Jesus approaches the pen of religion and speaks the truth. Those given to him by the Father before the foundation of the world hear him calling, and they come to him. They don’t become his sheep because they follow him. They follow him because they are his sheep. The Shepherd, not the sheep, takes the initiative. Just as the prophets foretold, God sent a shepherd to draw God’s sheep back to God. Jesus came and his sheep responded. Their response is simple: they hear, and they follow.

All the credit and glory go to the shepherd, not the sheep. We tend to make the sinner the focus of salvation. The glory does not belong to the sinner but to the Savior. Being called a sheep is not a compliment; sheep aren’t known for their intelligence. The reason they need a shepherd is because they’re dull and defenseless. They’ll wander off a cliff or into a gully. They’ve no natural means to defend themselves from predators. This image should curb our rampant self-exaltation. On our best days we’re still helpless sheep desperately in need of a shepherd. The religious leaders didn’t understand the illustration (10:6). They did not know his voice because they were not his sheep.

Jesus Guards His Sheep

John 10:7-10

Jesus changes the metaphor slightly. He’s not just the Shepherd; he’s also the gate for the sheep. The gate keeps out those who intend to harm the sheep. Jesus promises to guard and protect his sheep from those who desire to hurt them. Remember what just happened: the religious leaders just excommunicated a man because he publicly confessed his faith in Jesus. In response Jesus reminds them that God called the religious leaders wicked shepherds who harm the sheep.

Imagine how this struck those listening. They’d been taught by the religious leaders that it was only through them and keeping their list of good deeds that a man could be in God’s favor. They’ve dutifully obeyed these men. Their families have listened and responded to their teaching. Their hope was in following the words of these shepherds who turn out to be wicked! Imagine not being able to trust those you thought were looking out for you. Imagine hearing that not only what they taught you was wrong; it was also destructive. At this point, wouldn’t you be thinking, Jesus, if that’s true, what do I do? Whom can I trust? If I was so wrong about these men, how will I know whom to listen to? The answer is to come to Jesus (vv. 7-10). Come through him, and you’ll find protection from the thieves and robbers. Enter the flock of Jesus, and the religious leaders can no longer damage you. Jesus will guard you.

This isn’t merely a first-century warning. There are still robbers and thieves attempting to crawl over the fence and into the church with the goal of doing as much damage as possible (Jude 3-4). Until Jesus returns, there will always be wolves that walk around disguised as sheep, and their selfishness will ravage the flock. You need to be careful to whom you listen and whom you follow. It’s one of the reasons God has given the church pastors (Latin for shepherds). Pastors protect you from wolves (Acts 20:28-31). The greatest danger to your spiritual health will most likely come from someone claiming to be a Christian, someone who quotes a lot of verses and distracts you from the gospel of Jesus.

That’s why everything must center on Jesus Christ. He’s our Shepherd. He bids us come through him into the fold. He’s the gate, and the gate offers us protection, peace, and security from those who would through false teaching attempt to turn us from following the Shepherd.

Entering the flock of God through Jesus Christ not only protects us from danger, but it also protects us from hunger (v. 9). Some Christians only think of Jesus saving us from sin. They picture the Christian life as being pulled away from the danger of sin and corruption of any kind and locked, nice and secure, in the fold. They would be content to live in the safe confines of the sheepfold, never venturing out, never making contact with anything outside the fold. What good would it do to be protected from the dangers outside the fold if you’re going to starve to death inside the fold? Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of hunkering down safely inside the fold, protected from danger but starving to death. Jesus wants us to have life and have it abundantly. He protects us wherever we go, so through him we find the best pasture and feast to our hearts’ content. The Christian life is not simply being saved from something. We’re also saved to something.

We’re not just protected from the destruction of sin. We’re given the joy of walking with Jesus. That doesn’t mean we constantly frolic in the meadow, where life is easy. Jesus doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life. He promises us joy that is bigger and lasts longer than our troubles. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not fear. Even when we feel like armies are encamped around us, Jesus will spread out a banquet table for us in the sight of those enemies. If you think Christianity is primarily about obeying rules, you’re wrong. Christianity is about joy. God made us to enjoy him and his world. The first humans were only given one rule, and that rule was intended to protect their joy. God is not a cosmic bully, arbitrarily enforcing rules to make us miserable. God is infinitely happy, and he gives us rules to protect happiness, not prevent it.

If your life is about anything other than Jesus Christ, that thing will steal your joy (v. 10). It will rob you of the delight God wants you to have in Jesus. If you pursue anything as ultimate in your life other than Jesus, it will fail. But in Jesus Christ, regardless of your circumstances, you can discover unshakeable joy and abundant life—not an abundance of possessions or even an abundance of laughs but a life overflowing with joy in Jesus. He promises the closer we walk with him and the more intimately we follow him, the greater our joy will be and the fuller our lives will be. Jesus didn’t call us out of the emptiness of sin to live in mediocrity. He called us to feast at his table, to rejoice in his presence. Stop wandering away from the Shepherd to seek out your own pasture and to find your own water. Every time you do, you will find the grass withered and the water bitter.

Jesus is the gate. Through him we rest in the safety of the fold and rejoice in the sweetness of the field. The false shepherds of Israel cast the sheep aside, endangering their lives, but Jesus, the good shepherd, lovingly gathers his sheep to himself and then guards them from all danger.

Jesus Gives His Life for His Sheep

John 10:11-18

In one act we see most clearly the shepherd’s care for the sheep. When the sheep are in imminent danger, the shepherd gives his life to save them. Jesus is different from the religious leaders in many ways. Jesus points to their relationship with the sheep and says in effect, “You’re simply hired hands” (v. 12). To them tending the sheep was a job, a way to make extra cash. If tending the sheep is your job, what happens when the predator attacks the flock in the middle of the night? You run, and you don’t look back! As long as you’re faster than the slowest sheep, you’re fine. Those sheep are not yours, and no job (and definitely no sheep) is worth losing your life. A hired hand loves his life more than he loves the sheep. But Jesus is not a hired hand. These sheep are his, and he loves them more than he loves his life. That’s why he lays down his life to protect his sheep. Five times in four verses Jesus promises to lay down his life for the sheep (vv. 11, 15, 17,18).

Jesus is the hero of the story. When he sees the wolf coming, he doesn’t run away. He steps in front of the sheep. He will not allow anything to hurt or harm his sheep. No price is too great to pay for his sheep. What are the dangers to the sheep that Jesus must fight?

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29; emphasis added)

Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. (5:24; emphasis added)

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gave his life to protect his sheep from predators—from sin, from judgment, and from death. He didn’t die simply to be an example or to demonstrate the depth of his love. He died because his sheep were in real danger. He died in our place, and by his death we are saved (Isa 53:6).

Where does that leave us? Are we shepherdless? I like the way John Piper says it: “The story doesn’t end with a mangled shepherd lying dead among three dead wolves, and sheep scattered thirsting and starving in the desert” (“I Have Authority”). Jesus’s death defeated sin and death and judgment because he did not stay dead (John 10:17-18). He arose and continues to shepherd his sheep. Jesus is a victorious, risen, and living shepherd.

If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then what you need to do is simple: follow Jesus. Don’t look elsewhere. Don’t wander away. Recognize that in him we have everything we would ever need. When we’re tired, he brings us to rest in green pastures. When we’re thirsty, he guides us to the refreshing spring. When we’re uncertain, he leads us on the paths of righteousness. When we’re afraid, he comforts us with his presence. Follow the good shepherd. As you follow him, goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and on his timetable he will lead you to his house where you will dwell with him forever.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. What image does God give to convey how he cares for his people?
  2. Why does God appoint human shepherds for his people? How had the Israelite leaders failed this purpose?
  3. How does God respond to the failure of the Israelite leaders in Ezekiel 34?
  4. In what ways does Jesus care for his sheep?
  5. Take time to reflect on the fact that Jesus knows and calls you by name. In what ways does this stir your emotions?
  6. What significance is there in Jesus’s knowing his sheep by name?
  7. Why do Jesus’s sheep follow him?
  8. How is Jesus the gate for the sheep?
  9. What have you been saved from and saved to as a Christian?
  10. What hope does the formerly blind man, who was cast out of the synagogue, have in Jesus the good shepherd?