“I am the greatest” boasted a certain well known boxer; while Jesus in humble contrast said 7 personal, yet emphatic things about himself, with one being – “I am the good shepherd.” Four things can be said about this image, two that deal with his own life and two that address the life of the sheep (his followers):-
1 – The good shepherd RELINQUISHES his life.
The hired hand saw shepherding as a job not a vocation and was motivated by self preservation at the slightest whiff of danger. In contrast Jesus, the good shepherd – “lays down his life for the sheep.” His life was not taken from him by tragic circumstances, it was a planned death, with him always being in control of his destiny (Acts 2 v 23.) He gave his life for us, that he might give his life to us, both now and for all eternity (1 John 5 v 12.)
2 – The good shepherd RECOGNISES his sheep.
The hired hand didn’t really know or care for the sheep, to him they were just one big flock. Jesus in complete contrast says – “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus calls his sheep by name, affirming them and giving them value, as in the case of Peter (John 1 v 42); Zacchaeus (Luke 19 v 5); and Mary (John 20 v 16.) His sheep are not a faceless multitude, an impersonal number on a heavenly computer; but known, named and cared for, as well as challenged to grow in their relationship with the shepherd (Ephesians 1 v 17 & Philippians 3 v 10.)
3 – The good shepherd RALLIES his sheep.
The hired hand was not really interested in increasing the size of his flock, for him it was all about separation and exclusivity. In contrast Jesus, the good shepherd says – “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” At first this seems like a contradiction, because he had claimed that he was sent – “only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15 v 24.) His disciples were also sent to exactly the same people group (Matthew 10 v 5 – 6.) In fact it took a vision (Acts 10); some radical faith sharing (Acts 11 v 20); the conversion of “public enemy number one” (Acts 9); as well as a church debate (Acts 15) before it was eventually realised that the Gentiles needed to be drawn into the growing flock that was the church, enabling it to be a rich tapestry of diversity and a true reflection of the heavenly church (Revelation 7 v 9.)
4 – The good shepherd RETRIEVES his life.
The hired hand would eventually die, be buried and that would be that. In contrast, Jesus the good shepherd relinquished his life – “only to take it up again.” Having died on the cross (John 19 v 30) and been laid in a tomb (John 19 v 40 – 42) it was thought that this was the final chapter of the story. But on that first Easter Day, a voluntary death led to a victorious resurrection, and Jesus took up his life once again and began appearing to people as risen Saviour and Lord (Revelation 1 v 18.) The response to these words of Jesus was mixed, as no doubt it will continue to be today, because Jesus always divides opinion. So what’s your response to Jesus the good shepherd, who died and rose for you, that you might know him and be part of his flock?
Preaching from: Chris Hughes