Good Shepherd Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Good Shepherd

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Jesus identifies himself in John 10 as a shepherd who knows and is known by his sheep, and who is willing to die for them.

In Scripture

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me" (Ps. 23:1 - 4).

"He led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid" (Ps. 78:52 - 53).

"He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep" (Isa. 40:11).

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Isa. 53:6 - 7).

"Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land" (Ezek. 34:11 - 13).

"What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost" (Matt. 18:12 - 14).

"The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the shepherd], and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. . . . I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:3 - 4, 11, 14).

Points to Ponder

The shepherd was a completely familiar figure In the pastoral ancient Near East, the shepherd was a completely familiar figure, a steward of valuable animals. He fed sheep, watered them, sheared them, and enfolded them in a protective enclosure. Sheep need protection. They are basically defenseless. If attacked, they run, but not as fast as most predators and thieves. They need somebody who has a rod and staff to comfort them.

They also tend to scatter, which is why they need someone to herd them.

Jesus knows his sheep In John 10 Jesus says he knows his sheep. In his commentary on the fourth gospel, Raymond Brown remarks that Near Eastern shepherds have long had pet names for some of their sheep: "Long-Ears" or "White-Nose," for example. Seen in this context, Jesus's claim that he knows his sheep acquires a kind of beauty and intimacy.

Jesus's sheep know his voice Jesus also says that his sheep know his voice. This too is a familiar Middle Eastern phenomenon. If three or four flocks occupy a sheepfold, and the shepherd of one of them calls out his sheep, they will disentangle themselves from the other sheep and flock to their guardian. His voice alone — with its peculiar pitch, timbre, and cadence — will do the trick. His sheep know his voice, and their ears itch to hear it.

Jesus says the "good shepherd" is willing to die for his sheep. They are more than an investment to him. They belong to him, but they also belong to God and so have worth beyond the shepherd's ownership. The Greek kalos ("good") has enough weight that Raymond Brown suggests it might be translated as something like "noble" or "model." Jesus is the Noble Shepherd, a martyr beyond any expectation. As Frederick Dale Bruner comments, Jesus's willingness to lay down his life for his followers is "the center of the center" of the gospel. (Bruner, ibid., p. 623.)

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.