11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
The Image of the Good Shepherd
We begin verse 11 with another “I am” statement from our Lord. “I am the Good Shepherd” Jesus says. As I mentioned last week, due to the switching between metaphors we cannot take this passage as one big allegorical parable, but just as metaphors and figures of speech that Jesus uses. Last week we mainly discussed Jesus as the door, today we shall see Him as the Good Shepherd.
In our culture there has been a bit of a soft caricature of Jesus as the Good Shepherd out there, that isn’t quite accurate. The picture we may often have is that of a nice pristine shepherd cuddling with cute little lambs. And it’s so nice and so perfect. We’ll have little paintings of it on the walls. But that’s not at all the picture that is being painted for us in these verses. Just in these verses there are wolf attacks and hired hands being chased away by the wolves, there is bloodshed and death. Not quite the cute and cuddly picture. Indeed, just historically, the job of being a shepherd was not easy money. It was a dangerous task, and oftentimes perilous. You had to be able to fight off predators and thieves, as well as keeping sheep from wandering away into danger. You potentially had to kill while you potentially risked being killed, all the while having the smarts and skills to care for the sheep and lead them to good pasture and what not. And this is the image that Jesus ascribes to Himself. Indeed, as we have discussed the last few weeks, this shepherd imagery is not primarily historical, but most importantly, it is a biblical theme and image that Jesus comes and fulfills. We’ve mentioned Psalm 23 and the Davidic image of being a Shepherd that Jesus fulfills; and we’ve discussed the apostate leaders of Israel as false or wicked shepherds.
As I was reading A. W. Pink this week, he brought out something pretty incredible when we think about Jesus being the fulfillment of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Here’s what Pink notes, “In addition to the prophecies, the Old Testament is particularly rich in the types which foreshadow Christ in the character of a shepherd. So far as we have been able to trace, there are five individual shepherds who pointed to Christ, and each of them supplies some distinctive line in the typical picture. First, Abel, for in Gen. 4:2 we are told that ‘Able was a keeper of sheep.’ The distinctive aspect of typical truth which he exemplifies is the death of the Shepherd – slain by wicked hands, by his brother according to the flesh. The second is Jacob, and a prominent thing in connection with him as a shepherd is his care for the sheep. The third is Joseph: the very first thing recorded in Scripture about this favorite son of Jacob is that he fed the flock (Gen. 37). The fourth is Moses. Three things are told us about him: he watered, protected, and guided the sheep: ‘Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock… Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb’ (Ex. 2 & 3). The fifth is David, and he is presented as jeopardizing his life for the sheep – ‘And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear’ (1 Sam. 17). There is one other individual ‘shepherd’ referred to in the Old Testament and that is the ‘idol shepherd’ (Zech. 11) (a false or evil shepherd, probably representative of all of the apostate Jewish leadership) – how significant that he is the sixth! (six being the number of man, a number representing a falling short of the perfection of seven). The only other individual shepherd mentioned in Scripture is the Lord Jesus, and He is the seventh! Seven is the number of perfection, and we do not reach perfection till we come to Christ, the Good Shepherd!”
So it needs to be the Bible’s history and use of the shepherding theme that sets the imagery for us of our Good Shepherd, and as we observed it was filled with both peril and danger for the Shepherd, and great care for the sheep. And in these images, particularly David, the Shepherd is heroic and manly, fighting off bears and lions – tough with callouses and not soft and easy.
When the wolves come, Jesus does not abandon His sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd does not fear the wolves, or seek to preserve His own life. He faces them down like a man. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep
But the significant feature of this passage is that Jesus doesn’t simply face down the wolves on behalf of the sheep, but He actually lays down His life for the sheep. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He lays down His life. He does not merely risk it, He gives it up to the point of death.
A reference to the cross
This is a clear reference to the cross, where Christ would go to lay down His life. The exact nature in which Jesus would give up His life may have not been crystal clear to his original audience, however. We have seen thus far in John, that Jesus uses various imagery to refer to His crucifixion. In John 2 he talked about how the Jews would destroy “this temple,” referring to His body, but in three days He would raise it up again. The gospel writer notes that later on, when Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered that Jesus said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. We also saw in John 3, Jesus references the bronze serpent in the wilderness and said that in the same way the Son of Man would be lifted up, referring to His crucifixion. And there are crucifixion elements in the bread of life discussion in John 6. And now Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. While the original audience, and even the disciples did initially fully understand all that Jesus was saying about His crucifixion, these images Jesus uses are not meant to veil our understanding of His death, but to reveal His death to us. They help us understand His death.
We note here that Jesus lays down his life. He lays it down of His own accord. This has been Jesus’ language in John, that He came to do the Father’s will. That He came to accomplish that which He was sent to do. And it is part of the necessary plan of the redemption of man and the glorification of God that Jesus die a bloody death of crucifixion of His own accord. In fact it could not be any other way, for Jesus is a total sovereign. The book of Acts says that the Romans and the Jews did to Jesus exactly what God predestined that they would do. Jesus did not have his life stolen and taken away from Him. He was not assassinated. He was not martyred. And He did not simply allow Himself to be crucified, it was ordained to take place. He freely gave His life up at as a sovereign. He was not fighting and trying to save His life and ended up losing it. No, He intended to lay down His life, and He did. This is the great “trick” he pulled on the enemy. They thought they were defeating Him and winning, they were not. They were playing right into the hands and plans of God every step of the way. Jesus did not merely make scrap together some good out of a bad situation by coming back from the dead; but rather His death was part of His good plan from the start. Why? Not because death itself is a good thing, but because His death was an atoning death. It was a death that was doing something and accomplishing something.
For the Sheep
This leads us to note that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. His death had an objective. His death has intended objects to be recipients of the benefits of His death. He died not merely for an abstract theological purpose, but He died for a specific people. In the acronym T.U.L.I.P. representing the five points of Calvinism this would be limited atonement, meaning atonement of Christ is limited to God’s elect. We enthusiastically affirm this, though I prefer to use the term “particular redemption.” This is because historically, Calvinistic Baptists were called “Particular Baptists” as opposed to the “General Baptists” who were Arminians. The terms “particular” and “general” are adjectives for the atonement. The General Baptists believed in a “general atonement” meaning Christ died for everyone, but no one in particular. Where our forebears, the Particular Baptists believed in a “particular atonement” meaning Christ died for the world, and atoned for a particular people. We’ve often said much in the past that God is making a particular kingdom, with a particular people, through a particular person, the Lord Jesus. He does this through His death on the cross.
This we see is the teaching of our Lord, found in John 10. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, that they, His sheep, would be the benefactors of His death. He doesn’t lay it down for the goats or the wolves, but for the sheep. He doesn’t lay it down for no one specific. The sheep are the benefactors of the death of the Good Shepherd. Just as everything else God does is on purpose for a purpose, so is the death of Christ.
The Hired Hand
In contrast to the voluntary atonement of the Good Shepherd, the hired hand does no such thing. Instead the hired hand sees the wolves coming, he values his own life more than the sheep, and he flees the sheep to save his own skin. Why does he do this? Jesus explains. It’s because he is a hired hand, and the sheep are not his own, he does not intimately know the sheep. In such a situation the hired hand will face consequences of fleeing the sheep, like not getting hired again or losing pay, but he values the preservation of his life over those things. Because they are not his, and he can go out and find other work. Jesus may or may not be indicating that this is the apostate Jewish leaders. We know He has already compared them to the thieves and robbers, and he switches metaphors for himself, so it is possible He is also switching metaphors for the Jewish leaders. But it is also possible that he is not, but simply showing his work and character by making this contrast with someone who does not know the sheep.
Knowing the Sheep
So Jesus explains that He, the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the hired hand, actually knows His sheep, and they know Him. And this is why Jesus gives His life for the sheep, because they are His. He is there for the sheep. These sheep He knows from eternity past. He has their names written on His hands. He covenanted with the Father to come to redeem His sheep. If you are in Christ, this includes you. The Father gave these names and these people to the Son. They are His possession. Christian, you are His possession. He knows you, and you know Him.
Jesus is known in and through His death
Thus we see here that Jesus is known in and through His death. It is by the eye of faith viewing the bleeding Savior on the cross that the scales are removed from the eye and we are made to know Him. It is in His sacrificial death that the Son is revealed and made known by faith. Indeed, one cannot know Christ in any other way. You cannot know Christ apart from His death. You cannot have Christ without His suffering, or without His bleeding, or without His breathing His last. You cannot know Christ apart from His crown of thorns piercing His brow. You cannot know Christ apart from His pierced side, and His outstretched arms nailed to a tree. For that is where we hear the call of our Good Shepherd and as we hear it, we recognize and know His voice and we come to Him, we come to His cross, where we kneel under His blood and are covered, cleansed, and saved. This is where know Him. For it was there that He brought our names.
When I was younger I used to not like it when people said that Jesus thought of you when He was on the cross. It came off to me as an overly sentimental view of the cross that took away from the suffering and pain Jesus endured. Indeed, such a phrase was uttered by those who meant it in a sentimental, feel-good way, people who denied a particular atonement. But you know, it is actually those who believe in a particular atonement that can actually say such a thing. Because when Jesus went to the cross, He took us there with them. He took our specific sins there and atoned for them. He knew every sin you would ever commit, and He took it upon Himself and atoned for it there. Not your sin in the abstract; but your sin with your name on it. Indeed, the Bible says that we have been crucified with Christ, and it is not longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. It is there in His suffering and death that He is known, because He took us there with Him.
If that is true of us, that Christ took us and our sin with Him to the cross, then we should live like that is true. We should leave our sins there. We should not seek to resurrect them. We should see the sins we still cling to and repent of them and stop trying to pull them out from the nails that has them pinned to the cross. Let them go, the cross has them.
For all His sheep
In verse 16 we see the verse that I have mentioned the past several weeks. So I will just briefly mention this verse teaches us Christ died not for all of ethnic Israel; but for all of true Israel, which includes the nations. Jew and Gentile are brought into the fold of Jesus Christ and are made one flock under one shepherd, the Lord Jesus.
Jesus came first to gather the remnant of the lost sheep of Israel. And then to call the nations to Himself. Remember the picture that John 10 has given us here. The Shepherd calls out to the sheep with His voice, they hear and know His voice and thus they follow as He leads them. This is how Jesus brings in the Gentiles. This is part of the picture of Isaiah chapter two which tells us that in the latter days the nations shall flow up to the mountain of God. Now, water normally flows down from the mountain. But in that prophetic imagery it is the other way around, the nations are flowing up to the mountain of God, hearing and being drawn by His call in Jesus Christ.
This shepherding that Jesus is to the nations, is typified in Moses’ shepherding. Moses leaves the Hebrew people as he flees Egypt, and goes to Midian where he shepherds a sheep not of His own brethren.
Thus we have one flock, one shepherd in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Unifying Act
One of the things we learn from this is that such an act of self-sacrifice as Jesus displayed in His death on the cross is a unifying act. Where there was once division and factions and walls and separations, Jesus comes, lays down His life, and brings enemies in together to be of one and the same body. We sit united in fellowship at the table together eating of the same loaf and drinking of the same cup. We lift our voices as one together in war. We learn to die and bleed together and for one another because the same blood was shed for each of us, and thus it is that which binds us together.
This is one of the effects of the self-sacrifice of the Good Shepherd. I’m sure we’ve all seen in various books or movies battle scenes where someone valiantly gives up his life in battle, and the rest of army unites together and rallies around his death to fight on.
This is because when we see someone give up themselves for someone else, it has an effect on us, for that is what Christ has done for us. And since Christ has given up Himself for us, His sheep, we don’t just go on as if nothing happened. We are united together as one. Whatever nation or ethnicity we come from, it all falls subservient to our unity in Christ. The New Testament talks much about preserving the unity in the Church. Our unity is a reality, it is something Christ purchased for us. Now, in real time, we should work to preserve it.
We give our lives for others
How do we do this? We follow the example of our Lord. We give our lives for others. When we sin against one another, we confess our sins to one another, and we forgive one another. We humble ourselves to serve one another. When we do these things we our giving ourselves for others, reminding one another of what unites us – what our Lord has done for us – His self-sacrifice. We learn from our Lord that the greatest act of strength is using it on behalf of others.
This is difficult because it requires us to be strong and courageous. There are wolves afoot and there is sin lurking within. There is pride that seeks to rise up within us, and bitterness that desperately tries to linger in our hearts. There is envy that creeps in, and lust that follows us close behind. Living together as one and bumping shoulders means our sins are going to bump into one another. But if we are to preserve the unity we must remember that they are crucified, and then we must crucify them. And just as Jesus went first to Israel, His brethren, then to the Gentiles, so it begins in our own home. It is there that we must first confess our sins and it is there that we must first forgive sins. If the unity is broken in our homes, it is broken in our church. We must live this way in our homes, so that we can do this for one another. So let us confess, let us forgive, then let us eat, let us drink. When we come to the table to eat of the bread and wine, we are announcing our unity. We are saying that we have confessed our sins, and we have forgiven sins. So let us strive for this unity, as one flock, under our one Shepherd, the Lord Jesus. Let us remember His death for us and remember the precious words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” So let us believe that and say as one body, “And we believe, amen.”