According to God’s Word, our condition as sinners before God is that we are lost sheep, but God in Jesus Christ has provided the one-and-only way to enter God’s fold and remain under the care of the Good Shepherd (Isaiah 53:6). The tenth chapter of John’s gospel contains two of the seven “I Am’s” of Christ, both of which employ the illustration of the shepherd and his sheep. In the first ten verses, Jesus refers to Himself as the gate, or door, that leads into the pasture of God.
In this teaching, Jesus rebuked the religious Pharisees who were trying to climb into God’s pasture their own way, through their own supposed self-righteousness. Jesus called them thieves and robbers because they were trying to sneak into the sheepfold without submitting to the shepherd. The Savior’s teaching is clear. If you don’t come in through the gate, then you cannot get in any other way. There is razor wire on top of the thousand-mile-high fence that stands between every sinner and God. But—praise God—there is one way in. It is through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the Gate into the pasture of God.
Once we enter through the gate of salvation, Jesus becomes our Good Shepherd. In John 10:11-18, we see a beautiful picture of the unfailing love of the Shepherd for His sheep. Four actions reveal this love to us.
Jesus died for His sheep (John 10:11-13).
The Good Shepherd’s love for His sheep is so great that He was willing to give His own life to rescue them. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. Jesus draws a contrast between the Good Shepherd and the hireling who doesn’t really care about the flock, since “he does not own the sheep.”
Jesus cares for the sheep because He is their owner. The hireling flees when trouble comes because he is just a hired hand. The owner of the sheep gave Himself for the sheep, but the hireling could care less if a few are lost. The hireling’s relationship to the sheep is built solely upon selfishness; solely on the fact that his job depends upon the existence of the sheep. He is not loyal to the sheep. He is not concerned about the sheep. So, he is indifferent to their needs, and his selfishness scatters them (v. 12) and he flees (v. 13).
But the Good Shepherd is different. He is always looking out for the good of the sheep. He is concerned about the sheep and places their needs above His own. Jesus will never neglect His sheep. He will never leave us or forsake us. Why? Jesus died for His sheep. He laid down His life for them. He surrendered His body to be abused and shed His blood to atone for our sin.
Jesus knows His sheep (John 10:14-15).
Here, in verses 14-15, Jesus describes a relationship that comes through salvation. The word know in these verses refers to knowledge that is based on a relationship. Jesus gives new life to lost sheep. His sheep do not simply know about God or about Jesus. They know God! They know Christ. That’s the difference between religion and relationship.
Our world is filled with people who know about God. Even churches can be filled with people who know about God. But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. He is talking about knowing God, having a living, breathing relationship with Him through repentant faith in the Son of God, our Mediator.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep in relationship, just as He knows the Father in relationship and the Father knows Him. In other words, Jesus knows those who are His own and the true sheep know Him. What a wonderful truth! But like every relationship, this one is not static. It’s either growing or decaying. Jesus knows us in relationship, but desires for us to know Him more deeply in the daily experience of our faith. Growing in Christ includes a deepening intimacy with the Good Shepherd as we listen to His Word (v. 27).
Jesus seeks His lost sheep (John 10:16).
Jesus is also a Shepherd who relentlessly pursues His sheep. He pursues lost sheep because He wants them in His fold. He says, I must bring them also. I love that phrase. The Good Shepherd pursues lost sheep until He has brought them back into His fold.
The truth that God is the seeker is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the seeking shepherd found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. Some people see three parables in this chapter, but I think it’s best to understand it as one parable with three parts. Each story paints the same picture, but in a different way. God is the Seeker. The first part of the parable pictures God as a shepherd (Luke 15:3-7). The Shepherd’s pursuit of His lost sheep is so relentless that He is willing to leave the ninety-nine who are already in His fold to go after the one who is missing. He is a seeking shepherd.
Jesus yielded to the Father’s will (John 10:17-18).
Jesus was not forced to the cross. His sacrifice was voluntary. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the divine plan, as He said in other places.
- I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:30).
- For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 6:38).
- For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak (John 12:49).
Jesus submitted to the will of His Father, which meant submitting Himself to the plan laid out in eternity past—to redeem a people for His glory. But the execution of this plan required the execution of the Savior. He knew this ahead of time…and He willingly yielded to it.
Is Jesus your Good Shepherd?
What kind of a sheep are you? Are you a lost sheep still wandering on your own, away from God, and in need His forgiveness? Perhaps you are religious, trying to climb into God’s pasture on the basis of your own good works. All who come to Christ in repentant faith become God’s sheep and are the recipients of the care of the Good Shepherd. Or have you been found by the Good Shepherd? If you are a believer, this is the kind of Shepherd that Jesus is for His sheep. And all that He is, He is for you.
[Excerpted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]