The Gospel Of The Good Shepherd
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. (John 10:1-3 NIV)
Prior to this, Jesus had just healed a blind man, and implied that the Pharisees were spiritually blind. The Pharisees were of course incensed to hear that (John 9:40-41). They were well-respected religious leaders, and would not have expected Jesus, a young rabbi, to call them blind.
Thieves, Robbers & Hired Hands
Jesus further addressed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, by comparing them with thieves and robbers that enter the sheep pen through devious ways, instead of properly like a shepherd.
Political and spiritual leaders were often called shepherds in the Old Testament. So Jesus’ use of the shepherd metaphor should ring a bell to the Pharisees’ ears. They were very learned in the scriptures after all.
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-6 NIV)
Despite using a metaphor that echoed in the Old Testament, “the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them” (John 10:6); they were spiritually blind, just as Jesus had challenged them.
The Pharisees’ very act of throwing out the blind man whom Jesus healed on a Sabbath showed how they had failed in exactly the ways Ezekiel had warned them about. They didn’t care for the weak, the strays and the lost, and allowed the sheep to fall prey to predators. They only cared about what they could gain from the flock and not how they could care for the flock.
As disciples of Jesus, we take on the responsibility of shepherds. There are sheep that have wandered off from God, and are hunted by spiritual wolves. If we don’t look out for the weak and gently restore them, we would have failed like the Pharisees. As shepherds, we should take care of the flock like Jesus, not throw them out through our unkind, self-righteous ways.
Are we good shepherds? Are we like the Pharisees, blind to our wrongs even after Jesus (and the Bible) has pointed out our failings as shepherds?
The 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)
Jesus went on to contrast the Pharisees’ wrong behaviour with his own. By describing himself as the good shepherd, the Pharisees should be again be reminded of the same passage in Ezekiel.
“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” (Ezekiel 34:23-24)
Ezekiel was of course talking about a descendent of David, since David himself was long dead by then. So when Jesus called himself the good shepherd, he was claiming to be the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy — that he is the Shepherd of David’s lineage.
In just one lesson alone, Jesus had rebuked the Pharisees for making use of the people instead of helping the people, declared his fulfilment of the prophecy, and taught what a good shepherd should be like. It is as much a description of his (and God’s) love for us, as well as an instruction of for what we should do as shepherds.
Jesus didn’t merely say that a good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep, he actually did that when he died on the cross for us. That’s what real love is. This is the love that saved us and that we should be eternally grateful for.
We Are The Sheep
At a separate time, Jesus had told the Parable of the Lost Sheep, again using the metaphor of a shepherd to describe the love of God. The shepherd went out urgently to look for the lost sheep. When he finally found it, he joyfully put the sheep on his shoulders and brought it home (Luke 15:3-7).
The Pharisees failed to realise that they were bad shepherds. Worse than that, they failed to realise they were lost sheep too. They had thought they were fine just because they knew the Law of Moses. But no matter how devoutly they followed the Law, they would still be lost without Jesus.
We will never be good enough in our role as shepherds. We may not be hypocritical, uncaring or making use of the sheep like the Pharisees, but we definitely need help too. Without God, we are directionless and we are exposed to the predator — the devil. We are all lost sheep.
We learn of God’s character as the shepherd in Psalms 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalms 23:1-4)
God, as our shepherd, lovingly gives us all that we need. Through God, our physical needs are provided for, we are spiritually refreshed, we have a direction, and we can feel secure knowing that we are well protected.
In Israel, rain comes from November to December, and only a little in January. It’ll be dry season for the rest of the year, and the pasture turns brown and dry. Sheep rejoice over green pasture. They get near to quiet waters only, to avoid any undercurrent that may pull them in. Our God, the good shepherd will lead us to green pastures and quiet waters. There are bad shepherds who use sticks and stones to ‘guide’ their flock, but that’s not what our God does. He leads us gently.
Jesus has laid down His life for us, His sheep, and he longs to carry all of us home. This is the gospel of our good Shepherd.
Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit. Andy joined the Central Christian Church in 1990.