Jesus is not just a shepherd, not merely a ruler. Nor is he only a good shepherd, a particularly good ruler. No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. How do we know that Jesus is who he claims to be? How do we know that he fulfills the Messianic promise of David, that there would be a shepherd ruler like David who could rule his people in justice and peace, and extend God’s kingdom to all nations? How do we know that he is the Good Shepherd, that he is filled with righteousness and kindness and love and purity? The answer Jesus immediately supplies is this: “the good shepherd lays downs his life for the sheep.”
It is a principle of all exemplary leadership that the leader serves the people he leads. That he does not fleece the flock for his own profit, but serves the flock for their own flourishing. Jesus typifies this principle in perfection: he lays down his life for the sheep. He gives his own life that his sheep might be saved. What a merciful God is this! What a kind leader is this! What a glorious Messiah is this! What grace and favor is this! That God in Christ should lay down his life for us! Would you take time now to thank Jesus that he gives his life for the sheep?
Contrast this with the hired hand. When danger comes, he runs in the other direction. He does not protect the sheep when his own hide is at risk; instead he abandons the sheep to their own fate. But with Christ there is a special bond. He knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. It is a bond of extraordinary intimacy and precious divinity: it is “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” The preciousness of our intimacy with Christ is paralleled with security of the Father’s intimacy with the Son. Let us then make the most of this access we have to God through Christ. Let us frequent his courts, and be constant in his presence. He knows us, and we know him, just as the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father! We are united in Christ and loved by the Father! Let us be often in prayer, and simply enjoy the presence of the Lord even in our most difficult of circumstances. He knows us. He gives his life for us!
What is more, this intimacy with Christ is not introverted and selfish, not in the least; there are other sheep that Christ must bring too. A shepherd always has an evangelistic heart, or he is not a shepherd. He looks at the people in this world and realizes that so many are like sheep without a shepherd. He longs to reach them to bring them into Christ’s shepherding care too. Jesus is like this: he does it of his own will. He is not forced into it. It is not divine child abuse for the Son to die for us; it is done of “his own accord” and was the settled plan from eternity.
Such teaching leaves the Jewish leaders once more divided. Some say he is mad or has a demon. Others insist that such teaching could not belong to someone who was so unstable; after all, had he not opened the eyes of the blind. Again, we are presented with a clear choice. Either he is mad, or he is who he said he was. But we cannot simply let these words be the words of an also-ran, a mediocrity, a moral example, or guru teacher. He claims far too much for that. He is The Good Shepherd. And we know because he laid down his life for the sheep. If you ever doubt who Jesus is, just look at the cross.
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