John 10:11-18. The Good Shepherd

John 10:11    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14    “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

This is the third of a trio of sheep-based metaphors that Jesus uses in John 11. Previously he has spoken about the way that sheep freely follow their trusted shepherd without compulsion (10:1-6). He has used the metaphor of the gate to the sheep pen: Jesus provides that same security against those who would harm the sheep (Jn 10:7-10). And now he declares that he is ‘the good Shepherd’.

John’s gospel records 7 different “I am” statements on Jesus’ lips which frame his mission and allude to his personal identification with God, the one who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as “I am”. Elsewhere in John’s gospel Jesus declares himself to be the ‘bread of life’, ‘the light of the world’, ‘the gate to the sheep fold’, ‘the resurrection and the life’, ‘the true vine’, and ‘the way, the truth, and the life’. Here Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd”.

God’s role as Israel’s shepherd is famously pictured in Psalm 23– “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” However, the context of John 10 and Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees suggests that he is echoing Ezekiel 34:11-20 where God himself will shepherd his sheep because the nation’s leadership (the Pharisees) have failed to carry out their charge. Jesus will even lay down his life for his sheep, referring to his looming sacrifice on the cross. By way of contrast, the Pharisees are only self-interested.

Only occasionally does Jesus refer to a future mission to the Gentiles– but he does so in verse 16. The Gentiles will hear Jesus’ voice in the proclamation of the gospel and willingly respond by believing and following. Jesus foresees and intends that together Jews and Gentiles will be one flock, not two.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are my good shepherd. I don’t need a thing because you bed me down in lush meadows and find quiet pools for me to drink. You lead me safely in pleasant pathways. Even when my way goes through ‘Death Valley’, I’m not afraid because you are walking at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. You serve me up an amazing feast right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I will enjoy home in your house forever. Amen.