Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 18 2013 - John 10:1-21 – The Good Shepherd

The depiction of the leaders of God’s people as unfaithful shepherds is not uncommon in the Old Testament prophets. Jeremiah accuses them of destroying and scattering God’s flock (Jeremiah 23:1-2). They are shepherds who have led the flock astray so that they have wandered off into desert places and become prey to attackers (Jeremiah 50:6). Ezekiel goes further in accusing the shepherds of Israel of slaughtering and feeding themselves on the flock (Ezekiel 34:1-10). In both of these prophetic pictures, the Lord declares that he will come to rescue and shepherd his own flock (Jeremiah 23:3; 50:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16).

No doubt Jesus had such passages in mind when, by way of contrast, he spoke of himself as the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. He is the one who leads the sheep into abundant pastures so that they enjoy life to the full (John 10:10). He is the Lord, come to rescue and shepherd his own flock.

Ironically, their life comes at the cost of his death. Jesus does not simply say that he is willing to lay down his life for the sheep, but that he will lay down his life for them. He has the power to lay it down – no one takes his life from him – and he has the power to take it up again. He is the good shepherd in his death – laying down his life for the sheep. He is the great shepherd by his resurrection life (Hebrews 13:20-21) – still leading, protecting and providing for the sheep (Psalm 23, cf. Isaiah 40:11), so that they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

As the good shepherd, Jesus "calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (10:3). He calls them by name; he knows each one, values each one, cares for each one. And they in turn know him; "he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (10:4). These words are more than incidentals of the illustration that Jesus is using, for he then goes on to speak plainly, saying, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father" (10:14).

To be a Christian is not merely to assent to a set of doctrines; it is to know and follow Christ. Even more precious, it is to know that we are known by him, owned by him and loved by him. It is to be drawn into the inner circle – the embrace – of the life of God.

What are the implications of Jesus' words for daily discipleship? First and foremost, we have the assurance that he does not call us to go anywhere where he does not go first; we are called always to follow, always to be with him. But secondly, it reminds us of our need to listen and to follow. We live in a world of a thousand clamouring voices; we need spiritual discernment to hear and discern the voice of Christ and to follow him (see the contrast in 10:4-5). It is in following his call that we find life in all its fullness (10:10).

Above the voices of the world around me,
my hopes and dreams, my cares and loves and fears,
the long-awaited call of Christ has found me,
the voice of Jesus echoes in my ears:
`I gave my life to break the cords that bind you,
I rose from death to set your spirit free;
turn from your sins and put the past behind you,
take up your cross and come and follow me.'

Lord Jesus, help me to hear your voice today and follow you closely. Restore my soul and lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.

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Peter Misselbrook