By Bobby L. Graham
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11, ASV). These heart-tugging words of our Lord, couched in the midst of a rather lengthy section concerning his shepherding care, set him in definite contrast with the selfish hirelings among the Pharisees, who had rigorously questioned Jesus in chapter nine regarding his restoring sight to the blind man. That man was among those for whom Jesus was even then showing the highest degree of loving care and sympathy. With such a claim to be the “good” shepherd (beautiful, noble, good, wholesome), one both inwardly good and outwardly attractive (though not facial appearance), he strongly implied the foul, wicked, and unlovely nature of the would-be shepherds. It is significant that the Lord then proceeded to prove his right to shepherd the people of God.
In the first two verses Jesus used the illustration of the sheepfold, that walled enclosure sometimes having a strong door giving the sheep their only access, to indicate his place as the pastor of God’s sheep. He was unlike the thief and the robber, seeking to enter the fold by some other way because the porter would deny them entry. He entered by the door.
Every Old Testament figure up to the time of John has been explained to be the porter or doorkeeper. While it is possible that they all combined might be here meant because of their introducing Jesus to God’s people, it seems more likely to the author that the Father in heaven is intended. God has made known the qualifications of the coming shepherd, and the Pharisees miserably failed the test of eligibility. Jesus, on the other hand, came in harmony with their every prediction and thus entered by God’s appointed way. His own sinless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, in demonstration of his selfless and giving spirit, qualified him to enter the fold and to lead the sheep.
A good shepherd knows that he cannot drive sheep, but he must lead them. He must actually go before them so they can see him and follow him. As he goes ahead of them, he first is able to sight the vicious beast or whatever danger lies ahead. In the sheepfold are sometimes several flocks left there by their respective shepherds. As each one arrives to get his own sheep, he simply calls them in similiar voice. They have an uncanny ability to distinguish his voice from that of a stranger. A stranger dressed as their shepherd still cannot get them to follow when he calls them by name.
Such leadership exerted by Jesus in the Scriptures gains sheep and enables them to hear his voice, to know his voice, to know his call, and to distinguish his voice from the call of a stranger. False teachers and advocates of error are ever ready to gain followers among the Lord’s sheep. The urgency of teaching and studying the Word should be easily understood (2 Tim. 4:2).
The safety afforded by Jesus is here set in contrast with the selfish unconcern of the thief and robber, both hirelings. While technical differences separate thieves and robbers, they both seek their own benefit at the expense of sheep, not that of the sheep. The hirelings, watching the sheep only for his wages, flees when the wild beast appears. On the other hand, the good shepherd watches the flock for the good of the sheep. Unlike the selfish teacher and the false teacher, Jesus sought the benefit of God’s people. He did not flee when danger arose (Jn. 3:16).
Jesus also spoke of himself as the door, based on the practice of the shepherd’s stretching his own body across the doorway to prevent the sheep’s leaving and the wolf’s entering undetected. As shepherd he willingly placed himself in the line of danger for the sake of the sheep. “A wonderful savior is Jesus my Lord….”
Understanding Each Other
Jesus the good shepherd and his sheep know each other. Over a long period of time in daily association, the shepherd comes to understand his sheep and the sheep come to understand him. Such intimacy begets mutual understanding.
It is in this way the Lord and his people gain understandingthrough the experiences they have together. Jesus talks to his sheep through the words of the Bible; they under-stand and appreciate his wise ways. In prayer they express their hearts’ de-sires and in life they follow his teachings. This intimate acquaintance has but one parallel, that relationship between the Father and the Son (v.15). The goodness of the Lord, combined with his purity and love, give his words a magnetic appeal. What a foundation is this for the growing understanding and appreciation of the sheep for their shepherd.
Desire to Save
Though many shepherds have been motivated by the welfare of their sheep, Jesus doubtlessly manifests the greatest concern for the good of all. Verse sixteen portrays him as the impartial gatherer and encourager of all to enter his fold. Those of Israelitish ancestry would have a place in God’s sheepfold, and the Lord Jesus planned to bring other sheep (Gentiles) into the fold as they were willing to hear his voice. His plan was that there be one fold and one shepherd.
The work of the apostles began with the Israelite people but was not limited to them. The promises made to Abraham included the people of all nations willing to place their faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s love for all even now reaches out to draw all men to him (Jn. 12:32). Under the Great Commission the Lord wanted the blessings of the gospel to be enjoyed by those of all nations (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15).
Lessons For Elders
Christ the good shepherd surely epitomizes all the traits and qualities desirable in all under-shepherds (pastors, elders). To him all should look for guidance and strength, seeking to imbibe something of the spirit of the Lord. In developing this likeness to Christ they will qualify themselves to shepherd after his model (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1). They will tend, feed, guide, and de-fend the sheep for the sheep’s benefit, not for themselves. Alertness to spiritual dangers will characterize their watchfulness, and from the Lord they shall receive their crown (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
By preventive shepherding they can bind the sheep to them and avoid nagging problems. They need to speak to the sheep, being careful to communicate their plans and goals. They must feed and not leave all teaching to others. They should learn their sheep and call them by name. Close relationships with the sheep are advisable. These can be developed by private visiting and encouragement and warning. Shepherds do not complete their work in the meetings that they have with each other; such hardly touches the surface of their work of tending the flock. Too many sheep depart because they have not even heard the voice of shepherds.
The need for spiritual pastors is great, and the need for shepherds to follow Christ the good shepherd is even greater.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII No.23, p. 16-17
December 1, 1994