I Am The Good Shepherd
1. Today we are being given the words of Jesus of "I am the good shepherd," ([in both] verse eleven and fourteen). So, what does this mean that Christ is our shepherd and that we are Christ's sheep?
I Will Raise Up A Shepherd
2. While we think about how that Jesus is the shepherd, we have a passage from scripture that I would like very much for us to read. It is Ezekiel chapter thirty-four. "Thus says the Lord God. Woe, shepherds of Israel who take care of themselves. Shouldn't you be nourishing the flock? You drink their milk, wear their wool, and slaughter the fattened animals, but you are not willing to nourish the flock. ... Also, you do not bring back those who have been chased off, you do not seek to find the lost, instead you have ruled over the flock forcefully and cruelly," (Ezekiel 34:2-4). This is a prophecy from the sixth century before Christ. The ones called here "the shepherds of Israel" are the religious leaders and the political rulers. In spite of the fact that they were given the authority to rule and guide the people, they did not use their power righteously, but instead they were lining their own pockets and living off the people. This abuse of power and authority takes place in any time period.
3. But, God will not leave evil governments alone. He will stand against them. "Look, look, I am standing against these shepherds. I demand my flock from their hands and I will make them stop feeding off the flock," (Ezekiel 34:10). The book of Ezekiel tells us that this word of the Lord was fulfilled. Just as the text says in chapter thirty-three just before, Jerusalem had fallen, the kingdom of Judah had been completely destroyed. The monarchy and the system of national government were both gone.
4. Then God goes on to say further, "Look, I will search my own flock and tend to them," (Ezekiel 34:11). "I will nourish my flock and let them rest, says the Lord God. I will seek after the lost and bring back the driven away, I will wrap up the wounded, and strengthen the weak. But, I will destroy the fattened and the strong. I will nourish them with justice," (Ez. 34:15-16). So, how did the Lord intend to bring all this specifically into fulfillment? This is what the text says in verse twenty-three and so, "I will raise up a shepherd for them and let him pastor them. He will be my servant David. He will nourish them and be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, my servant David will rule in their midst," (Ez. 34:23-24). The one being called "my servant David" here is the messiah, the true king who is to appear as a descendant of David. God said he will give a messiah-king to be the true shepherd.
5. Therefore, the Israelites had been waiting for their messiah. Then, with the passing of time of more than five hundred years, the Lord Jesus as a descendant of David appeared. While among the people, the Lord began to say, "I am the good shepherd (sheep herdsman)." Please let that scene come into your minds. There was Jesus with his disciples who had no worldly power and were totally unimpressive. Along with them were included those driven out from the Jewish synagogue, (9:38). They were basically the blind or the people who begged along the roads. There were the poor flocks there who took interest in this Jesus of Nazareth. That was one thing that happened. But something else happened there that the Pharisees and the Jewish rulers couldn't recognize back then. It was that the kingdom of Christ was in existence there. The true king was there. The people of the kingdom of God led by their king was there. That promise - that God himself would seek after the lost, bandage the wounded, strengthen the weak, and nourish his flock - that promise was starting to be fulfilled. That is the event being depicted in today's passage of scripture.
Giving Up His Life For His Sheep
6. However, Jesus was not about to rule as a worldly and selfish king. Right off, the Lord says that he had to give up his life as the good shepherd. He said, "The good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep," (verse eleven). The Lord repeats this again in this brief passage.
7. He says it is for his own sheep that the Lord is giving up his life. In this passage we are being led to direct our thoughts on the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. The true shepherd is different from a hired hand who has no feelings in his heart for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me," says the Lord, (verse fourteen).
8. Behind the scenes to these words is something we are hardly familiar with, but it is the daily lives of the Palestinian shepherds, who were very familiar with them and were in used to hearing this stuff. They made their every day lives with the sheep. They gave names to each one of the sheep and cared for them. From our point of view, the sheep look all alike, but they could tell the sheep apart from each other. To the shepherd the sheep were in no way just a mere "flock of sheep," and one sheep would not substitute for any other, but were individually different sheep. Therefore, in saying that the shepherd knows his sheep, it doesn't meant just that he knows how sheep live or the nature of things pertaining to sheep. It means that he knows each and every sheep of his own. [More than just] knowing the definition of what a human being is, Jesus knows me and [Jesus] knows you.
9. It says there something even more surprising. He said, "It is the same as that my father knows me and I know my father," (verse fifteen). We can see in this gospel account how God the Father and Jesus the Son are joined by a bond of deep love and trust. Like Jesus said, the son and the father were one. But, the Bible teaches that that relationship is not just between father and son, but is also between Christ the shepherd and the sheep who follow him. In a real sense it is at a later time that the disciples know Jesus. But, before the disciples know Jesus in that way, they were known by the Lord. The disciples were known in the perfect love of Jesus and totally known by him. Actually, even their weaknesses and sinfulness, that lie hidden within them, were also known by him. It's true, as we see later, Jesus knew that the disciples would soon forsake him and flee and that Peter would deny him three times.
10. And on top of that the Lord repeatedly stated, "I will give my life for the sheep." The reason Christ the shepherd gives up his life is so that Christ's sheep do not perish. It is so that they are not snatched away by the power of sin and death and perish. And it is so that the sheep obtain eternal life. For that very reason the Lord gave up his own life and atoned for sin with his own life. Consequently, the Lord would later clearly say to the Jews, "I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand," (verse twenty-eight). Then as I said previously, the reason the Lord gave his life or gives us eternal life is not just for humankind in a general sense or for just Christians. To the shepherd, his sheep are not the mere "sheep" of a noun in general. The reason the Lord gave his life was that he knew you and me inside out and calls you and me by name.
The Other Sheep Not In The Enclosure
11. The Lord went on to say, "I have other sheep also who are not in this fold. I must lead those sheep, too. Those sheep also hear my voice. Thus, the sheep are led by one shepherd and will be one flock," (verse sixteen).
12. Jesus thinks of not only the flock of sheep that is already gathered together, but the wide world outside the fold. The Lord thinks of the other sheep not in the fold yet. The Lord says, "I must guide the sheep." As a result, the shepherd goes out looking for the sheep outside the fold. He is out searching for his sheep. The shepherd calls out loud to the sheep as he seeks. Then the sheep hear his voice and know it, they assemble by their shepherd.
13. That has happened in history. The voice of Jesus as the shepherd resounds into the world even now. And the flock of sheep has become a flock that is spread out into the whole world. The kingdom of Christ the shepherd and the true king cannot be seen except by the eye of faith; it certainly has become a kingdom that is spread worldwide. You might say that its country is the church. Therefore, we too are under his kingdom and are by our shepherd.
14. Give it a thought. We were originally sheep that were outside the fold. We were wanderers outside the fold. But, the calling voice of Christ took in our ears. The calling voice of Christ searching for us became audible and still is. You may think you moved your feet to church by your own volition. You may think you sought the way to the truth by your own decision and that you accepted baptism. But, before that, Christ had kept up his calls to us. Even in Japan, the calling voice of Christ has resounded. So, when we heard that voice, our souls heard it distinctly. The dear voice, the voice of him who loves me, the voice of the good shepherd - we heard that voice, we were led by that voice, and we have come to [our] shepherd.
15. The Lord said to us the way we are, "Although you were not in the fold, you surely are my sheep. I know you. I know everything about you and I have given my life for you. I give you eternal life. You will never perish. No one can snatch you from my hand." Therefore, we live at Jesus' side with the Lord as Christ's sheep.
16. Jesus says to us also, "I have other sheep also who are not in this fold. I must lead those sheep, too." We follow after this kind of Jesus. While in the world we must be in the calling voice of the shepherd. Our preaching the gospel means that. It is in the calling voice of the shepherd; for somebody will hear the voice of the shepherd and come to Him. "Thus, the sheep will be led by the shepherd and become one flock," (verse sixteen).