The Good Shepherd
Expositional Bible Study of John 10:11
by Fred G. Zaspel
Words of Life!
Volume 6, Number 2 — March-June 1995
"I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep." (John 10:11)
Jesus The Shepherd
Jesus' claim to be the "good shepherd" is one that is well known -- and so it should be. When we think of Him in these terms it brings all kinds of images to mind which recall the ways in which our Lord cares for us.
And if we're thinking very carefully at all when we read this, we are reminded of David's famous twenty-third Psalm in which God Himself is depicted in lovely ways as the shepherd of His people.
In fact, there are plenty of other places in the Old Testament (particularly in the Psalms and the Prophets) where God is portrayed with this language. Perhaps most significantly are the promises which God makes through His prophets that, since no one else is worthy or able to assume the responsibility, He will Himself come and be His people's shepherd. In His care, His people will be safe, and they will be content.
With this in mind as we hear Jesus' claim we cannot help but be struck by the significance of it: His claim is that He is God come to His people, as promised, to be their shepherd. He is the fulfiller of the long hopes of God's people.
Jesus the Good Shepherd
But while this is clearly a part of Jesus' claim, it does not seem to be the focus. The focus is a bit narrower than that. His claim is not just that He is the shepherd but that He is the "good" shepherd.
Commentators have emphasized that the word which Jesus uses here, translated "good," carries the connotations of "beautiful, attractive." That is, there is something about Jesus as shepherd that makes him desirable.
Jesus the True Shepherd
But what is it that makes Jesus' shepherding work so lovely? He tells us: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
To illustrate what He has in mind, Jesus tells about the hired helper who watches the sheep -- that is, until there is danger. When the wolf comes, the hired help leaves. The sheep don't mean that much to him, and so in the face of danger he leaves the sheep to themselves.
Jesus is not like that. He is the "good" shepherd, for He is prepared to die in order for the sheep to be saved. He "lays down His life for the sheep."
Jesus the Substitute
Now why would Jesus need to die? To put it another way, What is the danger facing the sheep? Clearly, it is something mortal, life-threatening. But what is it?
If you've read your Bible much at all you know the answer already. The danger facing the sheep is nothing other than divine judgment for sin. Sin carries with it a death sentence; God made that clear at the very outset of human history. Yet there are these, whom Jesus calls "the sheep," who will not have to face that judgment. Why? Because Jesus, their "good shepherd" cares for them so deeply that He has come to die in their place, and by His death they will go free.
This gets to the very heart of the Christian gospel. Jesus' death on the cross was a death for sin. It was the penalty for sin. Yet Christ had no sin for which to die! And it is just here that we see Him to be such a "good" shepherd. He bore the punishment of God against sin in the place of the sinner.
Theologians call this "penal substitution," and so it is. He, the sinner's substitute, paid the penalty of the sinner's sin.
Did you ever consider the question of sin? Given that you are a sinner, how do you expect to enjoy the eternal blessings of God? Do you imagine that somehow God will just overlook your sin and let bygones be bygones? But how could He do that? Has He not pledged that His justice will be served, and that sin demands judgment?
You see, the modern idea that God will just overlook our sins is not becoming to Him at all. It makes a mockery of His justice.
But then if sin must be punished, how can the sinner ever be saved? There is only one way: he must find someone who is sinless and who is willing to become his substitute in death. "This," Jesus says, "is why I have come. And it is this that makes me the good shepherd."
Jesus, the Object of Our Faith
This is why Jesus and all the Biblical writers emphasize so the necessity of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. None of us is good enough to merit God's favor; only Jesus Christ is. We, then, had better make our way to Him! And this is precisely what He invites us to do! This is why He came! "He that comes to me," He says, "I will never cast out." That is, that one who believingly abandons himself to me and to my care, I will take him and keep him forever.
Jesus' claim to be the "good shepherd" is a well-supported one. He proved it very well. And for those of us who are trusting in Him for salvation, He continues to prove it every day with satisfying tokens of His love.