I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
In John 10 Jesus declared, “I am the good shepherd.” He feeds and cares for his people even to the point of laying down his life for them. I Peter 5:4 refers to Jesus as “the Chief Shepherd,” I Peter 2:25 calls him “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” and Hebrews 13:20 declares him to be “that great shepherd of the sheep.” Looking forward to the Messiah’s arrival and reign, Ezekiel promised God’s people in the Old Testament that one day they would all have “one shepherd” (Ezekiel 37:24).
The sheep/shepherd analogy is frequently mentioned in the Bible. Its prominence is due to three basic reasons. 1. The importance of sheep to the agricultural and nomadic life-style of the Hebrews, 2. the qualities of sheep and shepherds that made them particularly apt sources of metaphors for spiritual realities, and 3. the significance of sheep/lambs in the sacrificial system.
What metaphor could be more expressive of tender and constant oversight than this one. It’s an illustration people could easily identify with in their cultural context. The helplessness of sheep requires that good shepherds exercise great care and compassion over them (Isaiah 40:11). The theme of the wandering sheep sought by his watchful shepherd is repeated throughout the scriptures (I Peter 2:25).
Jesus calling himself a “good” shepherd, alerts us to the fact that there may be bad shepherds, too. Well, the good shepherd has certain attributes: He gives his life for the sheep, he knows his sheep individually speaking and calling them by name, his sheep know him, and his sheep respond to his voice. Knowing and calling his sheep by name indicates the shepherd’s personal regard for each one of his flock. Indeed, he writes their names in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13:8; 21:27).
Jacob, Moses and David were noted leaders whose histories included shepherding sheep. The word “shepherd,” ra’ah, means one who tends to or one who looks after. It is also translated “pastor.” In Jeremiah 3:15, God said “And I will give you pastors according to my heart which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding and it shall come to pass when you be multiplied and increased in the land. . . .” These pastors were to supply knowledge and understanding that would provide increase. However, in order for sheep to have the protection and receive the knowledge and understanding of a shepherd, they must follow the shepherd.
The religious leaders like the hireling described in John would leave the sheep when danger approached. They cared more about their own safety and security than the sheep’s. They assumed the responsibility of leading God’s people, but they did not do what was best for them. They didn’t care for the weak (Luke 20:47) or feed them with God’s truth (Matthew 16:12). They only looked out for themselves (Luke 20:46). Jesus, on the other hand, loved his sheep and gave his own life for them.
The primary characteristic of the good shepherd is that he loves unto death; he is willing to die for the sheep. The disciples were amazed that Jesus loved them so much he was willing to die for them. The Bible has so many awestruck references to this, like. “Unto Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5a). “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24 ESV). “Who [Jesus] through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot unto God,” (Hebrews 9:14). The shepherd and bishop of our souls gave his life and shed his blood for us, but that is the mark of the Good Shepherd.
The title Chief Shepherd is a very interesting description of Jesus. It’s the Greek word archipoimēn which is a compound word comprised of the two Greek words: archē, meaning “commencement, first, beginning, author, principality”; and poimēn, meaning “pastor or shepherd.” Jesus is our Chief (first, primary or principle) Shepherd. All other servant-leaders in the church are under-shepherds who care for God’s people under his oversight. Christ is the Chief Shepherd and head of the Church. Under-shepherds function in his behalf caring for God’s people. Remember shepherds lead the sheep, and all undershepherders function under the direction of the Chief Shepherd.
Jesus is Chief Shepherd because He authored our faith. He originated it and perfects it (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is Chief Shepherd because He led us to God, to salvation and eternal life (John 14:6; John 10:7-18). He navigates the way and ensures all of us who follow his lead of the eternal life that he provides. At the new birth we receive his faith, the faith of Jesus Christ, and are made new creations in him.
Undershepherding requires frequent, repeated contact. When God brings people our way let’s follow up on them and make sure they are getting what they need and want. We surely do not want to barge into people’s lives trying to direct them, but we do want to let people know where we are going in case they want to follow along. Following up is simply reconnecting to see if there is desire for continued relationship building. As you settle into the MFC routine, be sure to get back to the hungry people you have talked to. You can develop your home fellowship by making time for people.
Let me leave you with the wonderful benediction at the end of the letter to the Hebrews that says, “May the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory now and forever,” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
By Wayne Clapp