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Jesus the Good Shepherd

Statue of Jesus the good shepherd with lost sheep on his back

Jesus the Good Shepherd

 

Our need for a shepherd

Many of us, when we consider our lives, the problems we have, and the pain we suffer, wonder: “Where is God?” and “Does God care for me?” We may just be disoriented from the chaos of life, or have anxiety and fear building up from all of the uncertainties we face. Some of us may have intentionally taken wrong and destructive paths, and are suffering from it. Whatever our condition, we are all in need of a shepherd—one who cares for us, leads us, and protects us from danger. And not just any shepherd, but Jesus the good shepherd.

Much of the isolation and disillusionment we feel are the result of being disconnected from God. The prophet Isaiah lamented:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…  (Isaiah 53:6)

We have all turned to our own way, and strayed from God’s path. We are now lost and need to find our way back to God.

Jesus sought the lost and broken

When he lived on earth, Jesus provided the best model of a good shepherd that we have. The compassion that he had for people was undeniable. He spent long hours ministering to people to the point of neglecting his own physical needs. He wanted them to know God’s goodness and love, and he demonstrated this by his acts of compassion. People flocked to him wherever he went.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  (Matt. 9:36)

His disciples saw that the people who were seeking Jesus were overcome by the struggles of life, without firm direction and hope. But Jesus had a love for these people that other religious leaders didn’t have. It was so uncommon for anyone in their culture to commit to serving others without being paid for it. Added to this the unequalled miraculous power he demonstrated in ministering to them, and it’s no wonder that he attracted the crowds that he did.

Are people any different today than those of Jesus’ day? Are our needs and problems any different than theirs? In most ways, we are exactly the same. People today frequently find themselves directionless, hopeless, and overcome by the problems of life. As a result, most people live selfish lives, not caring for others, but focused only on their own needs and rights. People are as spiritually hopeless today as in any time before. So how can God find us if we are lost? We know that God loves us, but how can we arrive at a safe relationship with him?

The parable of the lost sheep

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep gives us some clues. This parable is a beautiful allegory of Jesus and his desire to shepherd the lost and estranged, and is found in Luke.

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  (Luke 15:4-7)

The shepherd left the whole flock to look for just that one sheep who had lost his way. This says that every human is valuable to God. Those that are estranged, lost, and helpless are of great worth to the Lord. He will go to great lengths to save them because he loves them. God searches out the lost until he finds them and brings them to a protected relationship with him.

But we may ask the question, why then does God save some and not others? Aren’t we all lost and helpless?

Let’s look deeper into the parable. Notice that Jesus calls the ninety-nine those “righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Is he actually saying that 99% of the people on this earth are righteous and don’t need to repent of their sins? No, this is really a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that most people don’t think they need to repent. They don’t need to be forgiven—they are good people and are fine just as they are.

God’s response to the cry of the helpless and broken

So the second point of this parable is God responds to those who recognize their need for him. The lost sheep represents the sinner who knows that that he is helpless without God. The shepherd leaves those who are “righteous” and don’t see their need for forgiveness, and seeks out this one lost and helpless sheep who realizes his need.

The story doesn’t mention any cry for help from the lost sheep, so how do we know this interpretation is right? Because Jesus gave this parable in response to criticism from the religious leaders for welcoming and eating with sinners. Jesus’ teaching in other passages is clear: everyone needs to repent whether we see it or not.  A good example is Jesus’ story in Luke 18.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” (Luke 18:9-14)

God hears and responds to those who see their need and call out to him. One of the simplest prayers we can send to God is: “God rescue me!” And he will. But those who don’t see their need will never be rescued, they will never be found, never be forgiven.

The Good Shepherd

Lately, many people have doubted the goodness of God. But if we have doubts as to whether God is good or not, we need to look at the parable where Jesus likens himself to a good shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:11-13)

In this short story, Jesus contrasts the owner of a flock of sheep with the hired hand. Both are shepherds, as they both take care of the sheep. Each has their scheduled time for being on site to do what shepherds do. The difference between the two is not apparent during normal days, but becomes evident when the flock is in danger.

The difference between the owner and the hired hand

The hired hand doesn’t own the sheep, he just works for a wage. He may normally do well at what the job requires. But he doesn’t have a vested interest in the sheep, and when the wolf comes to attack, he leaves them to be destroyed by the wolf. In doing so, he knows he could lose his job. But he decides this is far better for him than fighting with a wolf and possibly losing his life. We could say that although he may be a good worker, he is not a good shepherd. The hired hand could probably be applied to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They had failed at caring for God’s people, looking only after their own needs.

The good shepherd in this story is the owner himself, who has a deep love for his flock. He will do anything to protect his sheep, even risking his life. It is he who lays his life down for the sheep.

It is not stated directly, but the story implies that when the wolf comes looking for sheep to kill and devour, the good shepherd runs in between the wolf and his sheep. He actually throws himself down before the wolf, offering his life in place of the sheep. The wolf then attacks and kills the shepherd instead of the sheep: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Christ is the Good Shepherd

Jesus is both the Owner of the sheep as well as their loving Good Shepherd. This means he is both our Lord, and our Savior. Our Lord descended from heaven to gather his flock, and when the wolf came to attack, he threw himself down before the wolf. He sacrificed his life so that we could live. When has an earthly shepherd ever sacrificed his life for his flock? Maybe it has happened, but we don’t know about it.

To conclude his story, Jesus said this about himself:

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

Jesus willingly went to his death, knowing that it was the only way for the sheep to be saved. Of course, if Jesus had stayed dead, then his sacrifice would only have been the payment for sin. But he also took his life up again, meaning he defeated evil and conquered death. Those who are in Christ are not only forgiven, but they are risen with him to eternal life. When we realize what he did for us, we must bow before him in praise and thanksgiving. We owe him everything!

The Messiah bears the sin of the world

To fully understand Isaiah’s prophecy quoted earlier, let’s read the whole verse. It says:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

The prophecy said that the Messiah would bear the sin of us all. The greatest act of love by the Good Shepherd would be to bear our sin, to take our punishment. This act atoned for the sins of the whole world and provided all of humanity a clear path back to God.

For those of us who see our need for a Savior—a Shepherd—taking that path is an obvious choice. But if we don’t see our helpless condition, both the path and the destination are murky, and we continue to stray from God.

Security in Christ

For those of us who have already taken that path—who trust in him— Jesus is our Shepherd, our Savior, the One who leads us to safe pastures.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)

No one can snatch us from Christ’s hand because we belong to him. He is strong and mighty to save and to protect his sheep. We have a secure and eternal relationship with God through him.

In coming to earth, Christ dwelt among us as the one and only Son of God, and the image of the invisible God. His life was a portrait of the love of God, a love that was demonstrated through his acts of compassion, patiently teaching the people, and ultimately dying for us. In a fearless act of obedience to the Father’s will, he laid down his life for the sheep. Those who trust him are now his possession, the beloved people of God.

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17)

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Shepherd? Have you trusted him to rescue you? I pray that you will. He will bring you to the safety of a relationship with God.

 

 

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