Our Good Shepherd

Stephen Kurtzahn
November 20, 2022

If you have one, open your Bible and read John 10:11–18.

Probably the most famous portrait of the head of Christ is that done by Warner Sallman in 1940. A copy of his painting has hung in homes for generations. Salman also painted a portrait of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In this painting, Jesus is walking by a stream with a shepherd’s staff in one hand and carrying a little lamb in the other. Behind him is a flock of sheep.

Throughout the Bible, God tells us he is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. Who can forget the beautiful and comforting 23rd Psalm that begins with the words, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want?” Isaiah (40:11) expressing the same truth we find in Salman’s painting: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Some six months before his death and resurrection, Jesus spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd. He wanted to show us that he is indeed the Lord of the Old Testament—he is our God. JESUS IS OUR GOOD SHEPHERD.

In John 10:11 Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The text actually reads in the original, “I am the Shepherd, the good One.” He’s in a class by himself. Jesus is the excellent Shepherd—the very best! Part of what makes Jesus the Good Shepherd is his selfless, sacrificing love for his sheep.

A loving shepherd makes his sheep lie down in green pastures and leads them beside the still waters. He leaves the flock in safety and goes after the one lost little lamb. A loving shepherd even stands between his flock and danger. He may even make the supreme sacrifice—that of laying down his life for his sheep. This is what Jesus meant when he said that, as the Good Shepherd, he would give his life in the place of the sheep. As the ferocious wolves of sin, death and hell would charge in on the flock, ready to destroy us and tear us apart, Jesus would stand in their way. He would suffer the attack instead of us. He would suffer death so we wouldn’t have to die eternally. Our Good Shepherd did this on Good Friday, when he suffered and died on the cross.

If an ordinary shepherd would die for his sheep, the flock would be in a terrible predicament, wouldn’t it? The sheep would then be totally shepherd-less, unprotected targets for another pack of wolves. We might admire the heroism of such a shepherd, but we could only deplore the fate of his sheep after his death. Our divine Shepherd, however, not only lays down his life, he takes it up again. On the third day after his death, he rose from the grave, a victorious Shepherd! He now leads his sheep and he protects us with his presence.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Sheep learn to know their shepherd's voice, and because of the way he cares for them, they trust him. The shepherd also gets to know his flock. He keeps track of the ones that are feeble and can’t travel very well, he knows which ones are about to give birth, he knows which ones are sick.

"I know my sheep," Jesus said. He knows us by personal experience. He knows us through and through. He knows us by name. He knows our wants, our desires and our pains. He knows us so well he numbers the very hairs of our head. David referred to our Good Shepherd's omniscience when he wrote in Psalm 139 (1-4), “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” But we also know him. As we look back upon our lives, we can see how Jesus has been at our side. He’s the Good Shepherd we can depend on. So we know how close he is to us—so we realize how well he knows us—he compares our relationship with him to the unique and special relationship he enjoys with his heavenly Father: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me (just as the Father knows me and I know the Father).”  

Notice also how Jesus made it a point to say he gave his life for us. He laid down his life for us. No one took it from him. Jesus died voluntarily so we could be spared eternal torments. Think of the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas and the mob came to arrest Christ. The Lord’s enemies fell to the ground when Jesus told them who he was (John 18:4, 5). Judas and the soldiers could not have taken Christ if he did not want them to. He gave his life. He offered it up willingly. He was not crucified against his will.

This willingness of our Lord to die in our stead as our Substitute is expressed so beautifully throughout Holy Scripture. For example, in Ephesians (5:2) we’re told to “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We also read in 1 John (3:16), “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

But, as we mentioned previously, to remain in death would have left his sheep defenseless. Christ's entire ministry would then have been a waste of time. If the Good Shepherd had remained in death, the wolves of hell would have won. But Christ not only had the authority to lay down his life, he also had the authority to take it up again. He had the power to rise from the dead. This would prove his victory over hell. This would prove he is God himself!

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” So wrote King David in the first verse of the 23rd Psalm. In the words of John chapter 10, Jesus of Nazareth is telling us he is that Good Shepherd. He is the Lord almighty, our Savior. As our Good Shepherd, he holds us close to himself, just like that painting by Warner Sallman portrays so beautifully.

As a sheep of the Good Shepherd, you know you are safe in the arms of Jesus. When you’re sick and you don’t know when your last day on earth will be, remember your Good Shepherd is standing right there next to your bed! When you’re about to be rolled into the operating room for major surgery, and it’s questionable what the results will be—remember your Good Shepherd is right there with the doctors and nurses, making sure everything goes according to his plan! When your sins trouble your conscience, when guilt weighs down heavy on you and Satan makes you question whether Christ has really forgiven you—remember, your Good Shepherd gave up his life for you, his sheep! When you think about dying, or when you personally face death and you’re filled with terror—remember your Good Shepherd is with you every step of the way, and he will be waiting for you in heaven with open arms! When the people you live with, or go to school with or work with give you a hard time because you want to live a Christian life, and they reject you or make fun of you or tell lies about you because you’re different—remember, you’re safe in your Good Shepherd’s arms!

Jesus has faced the enemy of our souls head-on. Our Good Shepherd laid down his life and shed his blood to make us his own. He has risen from the dead to prove his victory and he will now care for us for all eternity. He speaks to us through his Word. He makes us a part of his flock. Yes, Jesus is our Good Shepherd—we are safe in his care! 

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