The Good Shepherd

Text: John 10:11-18

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep…I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”[1]

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, who alone is the Good Shepherd, thank You for all Your good benefits. Let the word of Your salvation dwell among us richly, and do not allow Your trusty staff, the Word of Your Promise, to be taken from us. When the shadow of death spreads over us, lead us safely to the fold of Your perfected saints in heaven. Amen.

In our text today Jesus makes a distinction between two types of shepherd: Himself, the Good Shepherd, and the hired hand. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and gets out in front to lay down His life for them. The hired hand, sees the wolf coming and gets behind the sheep. He allows the wolf to scatter and devour the sheep while he runs away. Instead of going before them, he allows the sheep to face death alone. Jesus our Good Shepherd is always with us. He is with us to protect you and comfort you at all times. In order to save us from the wolf, He laid down His own being on our behalf. He sacrificed Himself to the powers of death and hell and then rose from the dead. Therefore, He is now always before us. Our Good Shepherd has died and lives for the sheep so that we may die and live with Him.

I.

To teach people about Himself and His work, Jesus uses the imagery of a shepherd. The first way Jesus describes Himself is as the door of the sheep. The shepherd would take care of the sheep during the day and then at night lead them back into the fold. This would be either a fenced-in area or maybe a cave – somewhere with only one entrance. Like a good shepherd Jesus leads His sheep into the fold, He Himself being the door.

But there are those who do not enter through the door, who instead climb in by another way. That person is a thief and a robber, someone who has no right to the sheep. In the context of John 10 these thieves and robbers are the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities. Thieves and robbers try to break-in any way they can to steal the sheep. The Pharisees were thieves and robbers because they tried to get into the fold without going through the Door: Jesus. Instead of pointing people to faith in God’s Son, they tried to get into the fold in other ways, which don’t work. Jesus prophesied against them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”[2]

They were continuing a long line of false shepherds, which God prophesied against in Ezekiel 34. Surely Jesus had this text in mind which says, “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep…but you do not feed the sheep.”[3] Therefore, God promises, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep.”[4]

Not only do thieves and robbers try to steal the sheep, but there is also a wolf seeking to devour them. The wolf is the devil. At best, the Jewish authorities were hired hands. They cared nothing for the sheep, they were only a means to an end. Therefore, when they saw the wolf coming, instead of getting out in front to protect the sheep, they fled and let the wolf have its way. But lest we become hypocrites, we also are like the hired hand. All sinners are. Instead of sacrificing ourselves, our own wants and desires, to care for those whom the Lord has given us to watch out for, we sacrifice them. We flee our responsibilities and leave God’s sheep to fend for themselves against the jaws of the devil.

Left to themselves, the sheep die. False teachers come and rob them of God’s grace in Christ, pointing them to their own works and worthiness instead. The devil comes and convinces them that diligent study of God’s Word in worship and Bible study is not necessary. Pastors who behave like hired hands look out only for themselves and leave Satan to sift their congregations like wheat through all sorts of trials and temptations. All of this is meant to kill and destroy the sheep.

II.

In response to the thieves and robbers who come to destroy, the raging wolf seeking to devour, and the hired hand who doesn’t care, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”[5] Jesus sees the wolf coming, He knows it’s coming, and as the Good Shepherd He lays down His life for the sheep. Instead of letting the wolf come and devour the sheep while He hides, He Himself takes on the wolf. He willingly goes to slaughter, to death, so that the sheep would live. Jesus laid down His life because He is the Paschal Lamb whose blood takes away the sin of the world. His blood satisfies the demands of the Law which say that the soul that sins shall die, that we should die for our sins. His holy, innocent, suffering and death redeems us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus also said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”[6] Our Good Shepherd who laid down His life to save the sheep rose again. He passed through death and the grave to take up His life again in resurrection. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear. We have a Good Shepherd who walked that same path. He has already been through it all, and just as He went before us in death, so does He go before us through this life and our own deaths, unto our resurrection to eternal life.

Now because Jesus is alive, the truth that we celebrate during this Easter season, He gathers His flock. Jesus is not just the Good Shepherd in His death, but in His life as well. He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”[7] Jesus, who knows His sheep, gathers them all into one flock. He gathers them so that they may be united with Him in death and life.

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus continues to call His flock by name through the preaching of the Gospel. He feeds them the good food of the Sacraments in order that they may gathered into one flock through the washing of Holy Baptism and the forgiveness we receive in the Lord’s Supper. Through these things the flock are made hear the voice of the true shepherd, He who knows each of us by name and calls us into His fold. Jesus our Good Shepherd is not a thief or robber who comes to kill and destroy, but He is the Door by which we enter the fold of heaven. Neither is Jesus like a hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep. Jesus saw the wolf coming and laid down His life on the cross for us. For us, the sheep, the Shepherd died so that He might take up His life again to go before us all our days.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), John 10:11-13.

[2] Matt. 23:13.

[3] Ezek. 34:2–3.

[4] Ezek. 34:11–12.

[5] Jn. 10:11.

[6] Jn. 10:17-18.

[7] Jn. 10:14-15.

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