John 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”…27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
What a fitting description of what Jesus is to us – the Good Shepherd. Not just a shepherd, but a good one. If you take a look at another very important shepherd passage – Psalm 23 – you’ll see all the things that a Good Shepherd does for His sheep.
First he provides for the sheep’s needs -” 1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul.” There are many things we require as human beings that we can rely on in Christ – if we will only have faith that He will take care of us. That is not to say that we will not have rough times or that we will have everything that our little hearts desire, but if we will pray to be in His will, God will be faithful to supply our needs. I have seen it way too many times in my own life to not believe that. Sometime our needs are not necessarily tangible, but more so in the mental, emotional, or rest categories. God can supply these also – I have to admit that I have more trouble trusting that I can let go of things and allow God to take over and resolve them. The Apostle Paul believed this concept wholeheartedly, even when he was in prison, awaiting trial, he still believed and claimed it for the Philippian church: Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. (emphasis mine)
The Good Shepherd also provides direction -“3b He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” I don’t know how much you know about sheep, but from what I have been told, they are not the smartest animal in the world, and I am sure no matter how well a path is marked, they will wander off. Selby and I like to hike, and we have several books on hiking, and when we are going to an area that is unknown to us, we like to do research on the area so we are somewhat familiar with it before we go. These books and the research on the trails often give descriptions of the trails, give landmarks to go by and often tell what color blaze that trail will be marked with. But sometimes it seems, even with all the information we are armed with, when we get to the trailhead, it is hard to see where to start because the trail is not well-worn. It therefore is easy to get off the trail, wander off and end up not where we expected to be, only to have to reassess where we are so we can attempt to get back on the trail. Thank goodness for the colored blazes – often times we find these when we are back tracking and find ourselves on the trail again. Thank goodness for the Holy Spirit and the Spirit breathed Word of God. We have the Holy Spirit within us guiding us on a daily basis if we will just let Him. He will gently guide us on the right path. Sometimes we need a good whack on the flank to remind us where the right path is, so don’t be surprised if that gentle direction changes to stern correction. We also have the Bible as our guide-book – showing us the way, with directions on the right way to live and also warnings to keep us from the dangers of this world. But, a guide-book with directions and warnings is no help if it lies gathering dust on a shelf. Immerse yourself in it – there are so many things you can glean about the path and also about the Shepherd Himself.
Another function of the Good Shepherd is that He protects and comforts us: Take a look at Verse 4:” Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” What imagery! The valley of the shadow of death – I don’t know about you, but when I really picture this, it gives me goosebumps – that watching-a-suspense-movie-ready-for-something-to-jump-out-at-me feeling. It is not a warm and fuzzy, fear-no-evil kind of feeling. But just picture it again, with Christ, the one who died and rose again – literally conquered death – walking right beside you. Kind of like having IronMan, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk all walking around you – but better. This picture makes the goosebumps and willies go away. The shepherd’s rod and staff have important functions. The rod was a kind of club that was mainly used for protection from wild animals or from human thieves. It also could be used to guide from afar if the shepherd saw the sheep wandering – it would be thrown to send the sheep running in the correct direction. It could also be thrown to keep the sheep from dangers such as cliff areas or poisonous plants they should not eat. The staff was a long, slender stick that usually had a crook at the end. It was for guiding sheep and for aiding sheep in trouble by using the crook end to lift them out of danger. These tools had other functions also, but you get the idea of how important they were to the welfare of the sheep. He guides us and protects us. He corrects us and brings us back into the fold even if we wander – because we are never “out of His hand”.
In the earlier John passage, Christ said; “I lay my life down for the sheep.” Do you think any other shepherd on earth could make this claim? If an earthly shepherd did this, then his flock would surely meet its doom. But our shepherd – the Good Shepherd is one like no other – one whose sacrifice saved us and gives us the assurance of eternal life. One that allows us to have faith that nothing can keep us from the love of God.
Romans 8:35-39 restates this assurance: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We have confidence in this “Deut. 31:8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”. A shepherd was an occupation like none other – the majority of their lives was lived with their sheep – Watching over them, providing for them, protecting them, living among them. Their lives, their welfare was his responsibility. His presence was calming for the sheep, because they knew him – they knew his voice, and knew that he was there and would not leave them. And we too, having heard the voice of Christ can have the assurance that He will never leave us or forsake us.
Don’t you just want to thank Him for that?