Can you spot the good and false shepherds in this passage?
“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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 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.”
A friend of mine who visited Israel recently told me he had to watch out for shepherds because they’ve been known to throw rocks at people who come too close to their land. That may or may not be true, but it is true that shepherds of Israel weren’t just gentle, tender, and caring folk who doted over their flock. I’m sure tender care is part of the picture, but it isn’t the whole picture.
Shepherds had to be strong and capable in order to protect the sheep from wild animals or robbers (see the story of David as a young shepherd, for example – 1 Samuel 17:33-36). Shepherds showed powerful leadership in protecting their flock. In the ancient world, kings and gods alike were often described as shepherds.
In the Old Testament, Israel’s leaders are often described as shepherds whose duty it was to lead responsibly and protect the weak from injustice. They were meant to use their strength, power, and leadership in order to care for the flock. But like many leaders today, Israel’s leaders often abused their privilege and power. Ezekiel 34 captures this indictment against the generations of leaders who failed to shepherd the flock.
“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds 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 strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezekiel 34:2, 4)
Later in Ezekiel 34, God promises that one day a shepherd will come from the line of David who will protect the weak and care for the flock (Ezekiel 34:23).
Here in John 10 we’re seeing Jesus as this shepherd who has come to care for his flock. In the chapter before, we saw the Jewish leaders expel the blind man from the synagogue for his faith in Jesus. They abuse their power, and the hinder people from drawing near to God. These Jewish leaders are just like the Jewish leaders from ages past who fail to care for God’s people and who continually resist God’s will.
Against these false shepherds, Jesus is the good shepherd who does not abandon his sheep in order to protect himself, but lays his life down for his sheep. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). Jesus’s death on the cross is the greatest expression of his love, his tender care, his faithfulness, his strength, and his desire to care for his flock at great cost to himself. Jesus is our shepherd-king.
Head: What does Jesus do as the good shepherd that those who came before failed to do?
Heart: What does this picture of the good shepherd show us about the character of Jesus?
Hands: How do you feel knowing Jesus is the good shepherd who lays his life down for you as his sheep?
Heavenly Father, Thank you for this wonderful picture of Jesus as our shepherd-king who lays his life down for his sheep. As I keep reading your word, and growing in my understanding of who you are, help me to listen to the voice of Jesus, my shepherd. By your Spirit that is alive in me, give me strength to keep following you so that other sheep might come to hear his voice also.
In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: We Have Been Healed