Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15
How Jesus is our Good Shepherd
Jesus the Good Shepherd! He is giving one of His most passionate and intimate illustrations, portraying His people as sheep and Him as the Good Shepherd. He is also the Gatekeeper who watches over us as long as we follow His voice. Anyone who teaches falsely is a thief and robber; my true sheep will listen to me and not to them. Those who come to Me will be saved. He calls to us, His own, by name, with intimacy and care, and leads us to where we need to be. He gathers us together to be with one another for mutual support and protection and tells us to be careful and not follow bad shepherds who would hurt us. Jesus is the Good Shepherd! At this point in Scripture, He makes it clear that He is willing to lay down His life for us voluntarily for our salvation and nurture.
Great or Good Shepherd is a Name for Jesus; the meaning in this is that He is the One who leads, equips, and guides us-as we all desperately need. It is our call to hear His voice and obey as a good sheep does in order to be fed and not be eaten by predators. For us to be in the safety of faith, we not only need to be in Christ, we have to obey. This is a result of our intimate relationship with Him. We know Him, He knows us, and we do what He says. We are concerned with what concerns Him, and we act accordingly. Like sheep, we can't lead ourselves or others without being forever lost and unfed (Psalm 23; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 23:1; 31:34; Ezek. 34:6-16, 31; Hos. 6:6; John 10:1-8; 16:13-15; Rom. 10:7).
These are not just good sounding words; rather, He is giving to us a depiction of protection, comfort , contentment, and His Lordship. He comes to us as a Shepherd who lovingly corrals His sheep for spiritual nourishment, personal growth, and protection. He becomes our sheepfold, where those who do not belong or who desire to hurt His sheep, His people, are thwarted; His people are protected and loved. He is the God who cares, loves, and leads us to the safety of His arms. The key for us is to recognize His voice, trust in Him, and follow Him. As usual, those who oppose Truth-- the thieves and robbers of the day--objected to Jesus' words and called Him a demon. Others were comforted and reassured that Jesus was the Messiah.
This passage also comes to us, in the midst of Jesus' retort to the Pharisees, with a passionate depiction of our God who cares and leads with character, and He asks us to do the same. In contrast, most of the Pharisees considered shepherds to be unclean, unworthy to enter the Temple, or even unworthy of knowing God. Yet, the common people loved them and needed them. Those rich and sophisticated Greeks and Romans detested shepherds because of the smell, but also considered them vulgar. Ironically, Jesus uses this image to instruct and convict the pious frauds as well as to model to the good leaders how they should be.
What is a shepherd?
God calls us as pastors and church leaders to be a people who shepherd. The question is for us city folks is, "What is shepherding? Do we hang with border collies and a big staff and wrangle our furry friends; or, do we see what David did and try to look to Psalm 23 as our guide?" The basic call is not hard or foreboding. It actually makes perfect sense as we do shepherd our people with proper biblical principles; when we follow God's heart, we do lead them in the very best possible, loving, encouraging and appropriate way. Let's look at the job description. A shepherd in Jesus' time was a person whose job it was to guard and care for the sheep, to feed, lead, nurture and protect. In this theme, God anoints people who love and follow Him to be leaders for His people. Also, concerning sheep, they were valuable and were needed for survival and the sustenance for family and society. Thus, the person who owned the sheep had a vested interest in them and would do all it took to protect them, as their family's livelihood depended on them. In contrast, a hired person had no vested interest and as soon as danger would come, he would scram (Gen. 31:39; Num. 27:15-23; 1 Sam. 17:34-37; 2 Sam. 5:2; Psalm 78:71-72; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 3:15; Ezek. 34:1-24).
Shepherds for a Jew was a comforting image of leading and protecting, an image that had great depth and meaning, especially for an agrarian society. Sheep and shepherd are often-used words in Scripture because they denote a relationship that involves a caring concerned guide--our Lord, who is described on how He sees and cares for us, His valuable loved ones-who leads His people and directs us to what is best. A shepherd does not lead by being harsh or the sheep will refuse to go with him; such harshness could result in death. Rather, shepherds lead and guide sheep in the right direction with gentleness; with this firm, yet gentle guiding, the sheep will follow. The sheep do this out of a need to be protected, to be led to food and water-seeking resources that they themselves cannot provide or find. As followers of Christ, we are to lead others to the percepts of His Word and character. We are to lead by being shepherds who look to our Great Shepherd (Eza. 34: 1-10; Luke 15:3-7; John 10:1-18; 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 2:25).
Being a Shepherd also means being God's commissioned leader; our Guide is Jesus the Holy One who gently leads us and guides His leaders to care for His flock, the Church. Consider that Jesus comes to us as the Good Shepherd, also a name for Jesus, to rescue His lost sheep. We have all gone astray and have given in to sin; He brings us back to His fold (Gen. 49:24; Psalm 23; 79:13, 95:7, 80:1, 100:3; Isa. 40:11; 53:6; Jer. 50:6; Ezek. 34:5; Matt. 14: 13-21; John 10:11; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:20; James 5: 19-20).
Thus, to be a faithful leader, we garner the ability to assume a long-term personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of a group of Believers with love, care, discipleship, and counseling, moving them to a deeper spiritual connection and maturity with Christ. We come to our people with the empowered Fruit of the Spirit as guardians and protectors-like 'sentinels.' This was someone who protected an estate or farm and served its owners. Our 'Overseer' is Christ (John 10:1-18)! Anyone in church leadership (like Elders) now fill this role, as Christ's workmen, as both shepherds and overseers; we are to look out for the welfare of the flock-the church-by training, caring for, and administering His love and precepts (John 10:1-18; Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28;Eph. 4:11-14; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:15; Titus 1:5-16; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Who are the Sheep?
Sheep is a metaphor for God's people. Although sheep are cute, wooly, and friendly, they are also notoriously stupid animals and can't survive on their own; we are as the sheep without God. They are totally dependent upon their caregiver, the shepherd. A sheep that gets out and lives on its own will starve because it will not go where the food is. It will hurt itself by rubbing itself to death on a tree or falling down and breaking its leg or falling off a cliff. Sheep need constant care and attention; the sheep that denies the care for any reason will inevitably die from the lack of protection. The shepherd is the one who graciously cares for the sheep in his care, even laying his life on the line against predators and rustlers (Psalm 77:20; 78:52; 100:3).
The warning we are given in Scripture is not to be a hired hand. This does not mean to not get paid as a professional; rather, it is a metaphor of a careless leader who is a coward and unconcerned with the welfare of the flock. Since they were hired, the hands were only motivated by self-interest and getting paid and were not ultimately responsible for the sheep. With no vested interest, they would not stay and fight a lion or fend off robbers. They only act on self-interests whereas Christ is concerned with our interests; He nurtures, loves, and cares for us and calls us to do the same for others. As true representatives of God, we are entrusted to feed and care for His people. Religious leaders who did not invest themselves in the care of their people were like robbers (Jer. 23:1; Ezek. 34:6; Matt. 21:34-36; 23:29-36; Mark 13:22-23; John 9:40-41; 2 Tim. 3:5; 4:2-5; 1 John 2:26).
In contrast we are called to be the watchmen--to guard our people from the wolf which means any predators like false teachers, bad leaders, the devil, and those who are enemies of God and His people. We are called to lead like family members. In Jesus' time, usually a responsible, older child or elderly person or a supervised hired hand who would keep account of the sheep and make sure no harm came to them, leading them in/out, as Jesus is the only One who can lead us to God the Father. God is the One who led Israel then and the Church today; the pastors and church leaders are responsible for their part of leadership (Num. 27:17; 2 Sam. 5:2; 2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 5:1-2).
The s heep follow. We lead them to Christ as He said, I am the gate, a metaphor that shows God's role in offering us eternal life and that by Jesus' life and work, He becomes that door (Psalm 118:20; Matt. 7:13-14; John 6:35; 14:6). Even though God is the One who gives life and protects, a responsibility is given to leaders to be watchful and aware of people who would fleece and hurt the flock of our Lord. We need to take seriously the warning of the callous and manipulative leaders. We have the Truth; what we must not lack is the follow-through (1 Sam. 17:34-37; 2 Sam. 5:2).
My sheep, as Jesus calls us, is a metaphor for Christians and the Church, people whose faith is in Jesus Christ. Even though there are many churches and denominations, there is ultimately only one Flock, one Christ--One Body of Christ and One Shepherd, Jesus Christ! Sheep, like people, are prone to wander and hurt themselves and make bad choices; they must have a good, nurturing shepherd to guide them. Sheep were also used for sacrifice--a depiction of our need to sacrifice our will--our mindsets, our hurts, and our fears over to Christ. Sheep were valuable and needed, and they produced essential goods for an agrarian culture i.e. wool for clothing. There was no better material; there was also the milk that was made into cheese, a necessary and life sustaining food, and there was the meat (Psalm 23; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 8:36; 12:1-2; Acts 4:32; 1 Pet. 2:25; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
The sheep, the people of God, have the responsibility to heed the lead of the Shepherd and the person God calls to shepherd them. We are to listen. Listening is more than just opening our ears; it is a metaphor of God allowing us to hear and to come to Him. Without His lead, we would not be willing or be able to be saved. In theology, this is called "elected grace." We are not forced; rather, we are inspired and given the ability to respond by the work of the Holy Spirit. Sheep have the uncanny ability to hear only their master and will follow only their shepherd. A multitude of sheep from different owners were penned together then (as today); each shepherd would call to the sheep, but only their sheep would respond. This is also a metaphor of hearing God's voice calling us by name with intimacy, true knowledge, and relationship. Additionally, this is a call to Christians to renew our faith with further dedication, confidence, and submission (Ex. 33:12-17; Isa. 43:1; John 16:13-15).
As His sheep, we are commanded, "Follow me". The pastor follows Christ as do all the people in the church; the pastor is the example of the transformed renewed life. Here, at the time of the passage, many of these people literally followed Jesus on the road, but this indicates a need for a response by faith. It means that when powered by the Spirit, this pronouncement of faith will change a person to the very core, so one pledges and commits to trust and to learn (Matt. 4:19; 9:9-13; Luke 6:39-40).
The Good Shepherd protects His sheep from perishing spiritually and gives us eternal life , everlasting fellowship and abundance beyond description. Jesus makes it emphatic. He is the only way, and we must believe in and trust Him by faith. It is faith in Christ, not faith in one's religion or self or ideas, that saves, no matter the origins.
A good leader sets their lead from Jesus the Good Shepherd!
Christ's most amazing and wondrous gift is the salvation He freely gives by no work or merit by an of us. His grace is imputed to us, so our most inward being is transformed and renewed! Without this, we cannot be justified or do any good (John 3:15-16, 36; 14:6; 17:2-6, 24; Acts 16:31; Rom. 8:18-30; 10:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:1)!
What He gives is not a pipe dream from sometime in the future, it is as He said--have life. Through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we have joyful abundance now, personal favor of God with real fellowship with Him, purpose and meaning for our daily lives, and eternal life to come (John 3:1-16).
The key to being a good shepherd, to being a good church leader and effectual pastor, is the very principle of importance we so often forget as it is the simplest call--look to Jesus. Not look to what I can do, what I have done, what I see others do, what I want to do, simply look at our basic job description to care for His sheep. To look to Christ as He said, I am the good shepherd. Our calling is to fully take hold of the fact that we are as caretakers to His sheep; Jesus is the One who leads, equips, and guides us- aspect s we all urgently need. God is the Shepherd for His people, and His people are portrayed as a flock that needs His leading and provision. It is our call to hear His voice and obey, as a good sheep does, in order to be fed and not be eaten by predators (Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23; 28:9; 77:20; 78:52, 71; 79:13; 80:1; 100:3; Isa. 40:11; 63:11; Jer. 23:1; 31:10; 34:11-16; Ezek. 34:6-16, 31; Hos. 6:6; Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31; John 10:1-8; 16:13-15; Rom. 10:7; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 7:17).
Jesus demonstrates this through His life, work, death and sacrifice for; we are empowered and enabled-in Christ-to be good and pastors and leaders. Jesus lays down his life. A depiction of "The Lamb of God", Jesus Christ is the sacrifice of blood--the offering so that we are forgiven of our sins. He represents the only effective and ultimate sacrifice; He takes away the sin of the world. The price was invaluable and unimaginable and could not have been paid by human measures. This is also an image of Christ who comes as a suffering servant and becomes the sacrifice to atone for our sins (Ex. 12; Lev. 16; Isa. 53:7-12; John 19:30-36; Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:10; 1 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 1:1; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet 1:19).
Why listen to Him? The people in Jesus' day who were in His presence were just as divided about Him as people are in our day. People are divided over who and what Jesus is. Some listen and put their faith in Him; others, from conceit and a refusal to be convicted, demonize Him and His Truth. This also shows the contradiction of logic by opponents of the Gospel, i.e. knowing only God can heal a blind person and then saying He is a devil, when a devil clearly couldn't do such miracles. The point for the pastor is to guard our hearts from false ideas and trends and focus upon Him, to allow our hearst to be faced front and center to His heart. Only then do pastors lead; only then can other lead for His glory and the buildup of His Kingdom (Ex. 4:11; Psalm 146:8; John 7:20, 43; 9:16).
Two of the primary foundations of the Gospel Message are who Jesus is and what He did on the cross for us. We have to trust in our Good Shepherd to lead us to the good pastures, and we are to do our part with gratitude and diligence and not run away from His pen. We also are called to be led by the Word and not by our pride or by false teachers, the thieves who would rob us of God's instructions and replace them with nonsense and dangerous cliffs from which we could fall.
Christ comes to us to bringing the Gospel, as a Good Shepherd who puts our concerns and needs before His. This passage in John 10 portrays how Christ came to us and how we are to serve. What gets in the way of this? Our life of contentment is trapped between the walls of experience and the ceiling of things we desire, while we tend to ignore the door of the truth and real joy. For us to be in the safety of faith, we not only need to be in Christ, but we also have to obey Him. This is a result of our intimate relationship with Him. We know Him; He knows us, and we do what He says. We are concerned with what concerns Him, and we act accordingly. Like sheep, we can't lead ourselves or others without being forever lost and unfed. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. The question is, are you a sheep under His care or one that is on the lam (pun intended), on the run (1 Sam. 17:34-36; John 2:19; 3:14; 6:51)?
The Good Shepherd leads us to be good shepherds
Jesus plainly tells us that we who are-we are the sheep, He is the Shepherd, we are His, He is for us. Here is the boldface declaration that He is the One, True, Living Lord God of the universe who condescends into humanity to give us mercy, guidance, and salvation from a caring, loving, nurturing, yet Most Holy and Sovereign LORD.
This John 10 passage takes place as Jesus was walking under the Temple's great columns, pelted with admirers, antagonists, and questions. One was when will you tell us plainly who you are? Jesus said, I have told you already but you do not listen or believe. The proof of what I say is what I do in the Name of my Father. But you are not of my flock, so you will not know; for if you did, you would recognize me just as a sheep recognizes its master's voice and you would follow. You would have eternal life and no one could hurt you spiritually. For God the Father is more powerful than anything or anyone and He and I are One; the Father and I are One!
This enraged the Jewish leaders who wanted to stone Him and tried to do so, but Jesus responded with a challenge to them to cool their wild tempers. Why do you do this; for which deed? They said, because you claim to be God; you blasphemed . Jesus replied, the Scriptures testify to me, so how can you call it blasphemy? If you hear my words and see my work, then you would realize who I am. This enraged them even further, and they tried to arrest Him; but, Jesus miraculously slipped away to the Jordan River where John the Baptist ministered and many followed Him realizing the predictions of Him, as the Messiah, were true.
Jesus was revealing His power and compassion to those who are faithful. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lovingly leads those whose trust and faith are in Him. This is in contrast to the false and prideful leaders who were thieves and who would steal what God has for us and manipulate people to their will. Christ leads us to His wondrous fold; they lead to despair. This is another powerful pronouncement of Jesus being fully God, because the metaphor of the Shepherd of Israel and how it is used here is only said of God. Being a Shepherd also means being God's commissioned leader; Jesus is the Holy One who gently leads us and guides His leaders to care for His flock, the Church. The question is do we lead others to Him or do we steal and manipulate so people follow us and our wayward ways? Do we feed His sheep or do we starve them?
We must be true to His Word as leaders and as His children first. Jesus tells us that Scripture cannot be broken. God's Word is True and no one can do anything to hurt it or break it; it stands on its own and forever. To do our own thing, to water down His Word or lead others astray does us and them no good. To listen and trust in God is a prime statute in our covenant with God as His people. It is our call and duty to pay attention to God, His precepts in His Word, the Bible, and the leading of the Holy Spirit that will not contradict the principles or character of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12).
Jesus calls us to know and understand. If someone did not hear the teaching correctly, he would not understand. This refers to obedience and trust, and it stems from the person's motives as to whether he will obey or remain in their pride and sin. Jesus uses this feast day to challenge us to do as this feast testifies--to rededicate ourselves to our Most Holy God (Jer. 23:4; John 17:17).
This passage gives us a picture of an intimate, caring God who asks us to follow, who cares enough to listen and to communicate and commune with us, and who justly calls us to obey. These powerful words of follow me can easily be hindered when we are too puffed up with ourselves so that the Word He sends to us cannot be seen; the faith to respond will never grow in the shallow soil of pride. We must allow Jesus Christ our LORD to lead us rather than letting other lead us--people, trends, past predicaments, or future woes. He wants to keep us in His pen, partaking of His wonders and blessings and to better grow and be used for His glory and our benefit. God wants to keep you! The question is do you want to be kept? We can only leave the sheepfold by our own volition, by our willful choice to disobey and go astray. Yet, He still calls us and wants to love and care for us. This is our motivation, by our gratitude for what He has done, to not only remain in Christ but also move forward in Him by a commitment of our will through our trust and for His glory.
The generation of Isaiah and Jeremiah refused to listen to or accept the Father's hand; thus, they did not recognize that sins and willful disobedience to God would lead them and the next two generations into captivity. Even though every prophecy of Isaiah came true, they denounced this current prophecy, and refused to listen. Jesus faced a similar situation. Many today do the same with the Gospel and many Christians do the same with the Word (Isa. 6:9-10).
Leadership embodies the fruit and character of our Lord. It must be Christ-directed in a godly, purposeful direction. It requires being a servant before attempting to direct others. The leadership for the Church must come from the Jesus model, not the business model! It is never a force of personality; it is earning that respect because of your love and care. It must come from Him, disseminating through our personal disciplines of growing in Him by faith and His Word, and modeled from good mentorship. This will mean we serve unselfishly so we influence, equip, and empower people to accomplish God's purpose and plan. Disintegrating or bad leadership is more destructive to a local church than a legion of demons, as it corrupts godly principles and displays a skewed understanding of our call to follow Christ. It seeks its own, and not the Word.
From tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. Psalm 78:71-72
© 2010, 2012, R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org/