Gospel Words: 32. The Good Shepherd

John 10:11‑18  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Listen from:
Very direct are these words of the Lord. What blessing to receive them in faith! what guilt and ruin to despise Him and them!
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep and fleeth; and the wolf seizeth them and scattereth. Now the hireling fleeth because he is a hireling, and he hath no care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own and mine own know me, even as the Father knoweth me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: those also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall be one flock, one shepherd. On this account doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again: this commandment I received of my Father” (vers. 11-18).
In Isa. 40:1111He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11), of the Lord Jehovah it is said, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom-shall gently lead those that give suck.” Here He Himself goes much farther. He proves Himself the Good Shepherd by laying down His life for the sheep: none other would, nor, if any other be conceived, could it avail with God or for man.
Rejected He was, with hatred for His love; but nothing turned Him from His purpose of grace. He was the Good Shepherd; and as such He lays down His life for the sheep. Such love bespoke itself divine; it characterized His person and God’s nature, but in man, which alone made it possible. Beyond doubt only thus could they be, only thus were they, reconciled to God; but here His laying down His life is the evidence and acme of devoted love in Him Who acts freely and never was more consciously God than in His atoning death.
What a contrast with him who is a hireling and not a shepherd; whose own the sheep are not! Beholding the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and flees, while the wolf seizes and scatters them; and so it is, because a hireling he is and careth not for the sheep.
But Jesus only is the Good Shepherd here. Others there have been who love the sheep in their measure, and so feed and tend them. But here where He is thus introduced, they have no mention but must vanish away. They were not entitled to call theirs the sheep, which in fact are “the flock of God.” The sheep were Christ’s own. Even if the wolf should catch any, not even the wolf shall catch them (the same word) out of Christ’s hand. To kill the wolf would have been incomparably easier than to lay down life for them; and this He did, Who had no sin but love, no fear any more than selfish object, Who always did the things pleasing to His Father. And as the Good Shepherd He could say, “I know mine own, and mine own know me; even as my Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” It is the fullest evidence of His devotedness in love for them. His knowledge of them, and theirs of Him, He compared with the Father’s knowing Him and His knowing the Father. What can be conceived so satisfying and perfect?
Gracious and powerful is the love the O.T. reveals in Messiah for His flock, “His beautiful flock” as it will surely be. But what is even that to a loving and mutual knowledge of the Shepherd and the sheep, so intimate that it could only be matched by the Father’s and the Son’s knowledge of one another! In this case is absolute and intrinsic excellence beyond thought or question; in the other, oh! what and how many faults on our side! But love in Him never fails; and we are entitled to count on it in our knowledge of Him as in His of us. This is grace divine, superior to all that it finds, and everlasting.
Such is the depth of the Good Shepherd’s love; but He intimates a width far beyond His disciples’ thoughts. “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring [or, lead], and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become [or, be] one flock, one shepherd.”
Thus He points to the call of Gentiles by the gospel. If most of the Jews turned a deaf ear, many Gentiles have heard and do hear. For no criterion is truer than this. As He deigns to lead them also, “they shall hear my voice.”
O my reader, how is this with you? His voice is not of one crying in the wilderness like His herald. He, when here, frequented not the wilderness only but the hillside, and the riverside, and the villages, and the towns, and the cities. He preached the gospel to the poor emphatically; and when His work here was done, He charged His servants to preach the gospel to all the nations, the whole creation. Had Jerusalem been most guilty? To all, said He, “beginning with Jerusalem.”
Is not this glad tidings to you, whoever you are, whatever you may have been? Redemption depends on the Redeemer, not on the redeemed, save that they “hear His voice.” Oh! then repent and believe the gospel. Never can you truly worship or serve Him, till you receive Him, believing on His name. In vain is every other resource; nay, to trust any ordinance, in order to reconciliation with God, dishonors both the Father and the Son. When you have Him as your life, they find their place.
Of one great added privilege the Savior speaks here. “They shall (Jews and Gentiles) be one flock, one Shepherd.” It was a quite new thing from God: “one flock” (not “fold” as formerly), “one Shepherd.” Oh, how sad the change man has made and how guilty the excuse to cloak it as one flock consisting of many folds! Why do Christians thus defraud the Lord, disguise or corrupt the word, and forfeit their own fidelity and their own fuller blessing? Not so. To set up a fold now is no better than Judaizing. There is, as the Lord’s will and truth, but one flock, as there is but one Shepherd in the supreme sense. And every Christian is bound to own this One and no other rival. In Him all the fullness dwells.
But let us hear also His own wondrous words. “On this account doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again.” Christ here omits “for the sheep” and presents His death as in itself furnishing a motive to the Father’s love. None but He could; none but His divine person. As such He declares, “no one taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power [or, title] to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” None but the One Who is both God and man in one person could thus speak; and so while He speaks as divine, He does not fail to remember the place of sent One and servant He had taken. “This commandment I received from my Father.”