I felt like a kid in the candy store this week when one of the professors of Biblical Theology at New College Franklin asked me to step in and teach on Jesus’s statement, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It’s been argued that no word picture in the whole Scripture better encapsulates God’s redemptive mission than that of shepherd. Let me show you why.
Remember Abel in Genesis 4? He is the first shepherd mentioned in the Scripture. We don’t know much about him, but we know what’s important: he was the first person recorded in the Bible to bring a pleasing sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:4). A shepherd that brings a pleasing sacrifice to God, does that sound familiar?
In Exodus, we’re introduced to another shepherd, Moses. He was tending Jethro’s flock on mount Horeb when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush, calling him to shepherd God’s people out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3). A shepherd who leads God’s people out of bondage, does that sound familiar?
Later, God sends Samuel to Jesse’s home to anoint the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). Jesse’s sons come before Samuel, and one by one they are rejected. Finally, Samuel asks, “Is this all your sons?” Jesse responds, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping sheep.” Well, by now you know—he’s the one! The shepherd boy, David, becomes the next and the greatest king of Israel. A shepherd king who loves and leads God’s people, does that sound familiar?
As great as these shepherds were, this is not the whole story. In significant ways, both Moses and David failed in their shepherding of God’s people.
You will likely remember that God chose the shepherd staff of Moses as a powerful instrument for the leading of God’s people out of Egypt. With that staff, the greatest miracles in the Old Testament were performed—the changing of the staff into a serpent, turning the Nile into blood, parting the Red Sea to name a few. But it was also with that staff that Moses would sin against God. God tells Moses to speak to the rock in Numbers 20, so that the thirsty, grumbling Israelites might have water to drink. Instead, Moses strikes the rock with the staff twice and forfeits the opportunity to lead Israel into the Promised Land.
Likewise, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba and masterminded the murder of her husband, Uriah, the prophet Nathan confronted David’s sin with a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s sheep. That’s right, it’s a shepherding story! In no uncertain terms, Nathan tells David that he’s not shepherded the sheep, the people of Israel, as he ought. Instead of sacrificing for the good of the people, he exploited them and used them for his own selfish ends.
All this background and more leads us to Jesus’s statement in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.” What does this mean? It means this:
· Like Abel, but better than Abel, Jesus offers up himself as a pleasing sacrifice to God on our behalf.
· Like Moses, but better than Moses, Jesus leads us out of the bondage of sin and into the freedom of salvation.
· Like David, but better than David, Jesus rules over us with truth and grace and secures us a home with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
When that day comes, I can’t wait to see what John saw in Revelation 7:17, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”Truly, Jesus is our good shepherd.