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The good shepherd

This issue is about spiritual shepherds. The word “pastor” means “shepherd” – one who looks after sheep. In the following articles, we will learn what the Bible says about caring for God’s people – “God’s flock” (1 Peter 5:2). True leaders of God’s people are not to use the world’s leaders as their models (Mark 10:42-45). Far too few of the “great leaders” in the world have had the hearts of shepherds, and their leadership has often been too hard, and hurtful to their people. We will not learn how to care for souls by copying their example, but by studying the Word of God.

As we begin this study, there is only one place to start. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). And again, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). To learn about any subject, you should both listen to the experts, and watch them at work. The whole world was made by, through, and for, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16). He is the head over all, and the source of every true blessing that ever came to the world (John 1:3-4). If we want to learn anything at all about truth, we have to begin with him – the one who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He is the ultimate shepherd of God’s people, and all others are only “under-shepherds”, given their work under him, the “chief shepherd” (1 Peter 5:2-4). If spiritual shepherds want to know what they are aiming for, they must look at Jesus. We will look in particular at three glorious aspects of Jesus as the shepherd of his sheep.

He rescues his sheep

Firstly, Jesus is the good shepherd because “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”, and that is exactly what Jesus did for his people. Sheep are always in some kind of danger. They are in danger from thieves who want to come and steal, to kill and eat them, or to sell them for the thieves’ own profit (John 10:10). They are in danger in many countries from wolves, or in Kenya from hyenas, who come to satisfy their hunger (John 10:12).

Spiritually, we were and are in continual danger from the great wolf, the great dragon, the great serpent, that roaring lion – Satan (Revelation 12:9, 1 Peter 5:8). We are in danger from his servants, who come to us “as wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), seeming to be like “servants of righteousness”, but really being deceivers (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). He and they come to devour the flock – to satisfy their own selfish desires and to ruin the possession of their enemy, the Lord God.

As Jesus looked upon his Father’s flock and saw this danger, he did not run off. He was not a hired keeper, working only for his day’s bread. Such a worker will never defend the sheep – his own peace and safety are worth more than the few hundred shillings of his day’s wages he will get after he has felt the hyena’s teeth (John 10:12). The flock of God is joined to Jesus by an eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20). He laid down his life, and felt the fullness of Satan’s anger and hatred as he suffered the curse of death on the cross. He loved his sheep too much to do anything else. There is nothing that is too hard for God, but there are some things are impossible for him. It was impossible for Jesus to love his own sheep as much as he did and yet allow them to perish. This is the heart of a true shepherd, and this is the heart of our Saviour.
Are you in spiritual danger? Yes, even as a believer, you are. But will that danger lead to your ruin and loss at last in hell? No, it cannot – it is impossible. The good shepherd, even when he has 100, or 100 million sheep, will not allow even one of them to be lost. Nobody can remove one from his tender care. Even in the valley of the shadow of death they will be safe, because he loves them all with this costly saving love (Psalm 23:4, John 10:27-29, Luke 15:4-7).

He feeds his sheep

Sheep need feeding, which means that they need leading to green pastures. One duty of a shepherd is to find the good food, and to bring his sheep to it. Otherwise, they will be a sickly and weak flock, good for nothing. It is useless to protect them from outside enemies if they have no strength on the inside.

The food of the flock of God is the word of God. The Scriptures are given to us “for teaching, for reproof (rebuke), for correction, and for training in righteousness.” They are the source of “pure spiritual milk” for new-born infants (or lambs!) in Christ, and the “solid food for the mature” (1 Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:14). So when Jesus began his ministry, he went out teaching and preaching (Matthew 4:23). One time, he looked out at the crowds and felt great compassion for them, because they were “like sheep without a shepherd”. They were wandering around, confused, needing guidance. We are told what his response was: “And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).

Jesus Christ is not only the great teacher, but is also the great Truth that is taught (John 14:6). We feed on the written word, in order to feed on the Living Word (John 1:1, 6:48-51). We cannot grow in grace unless we also grow “in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The book of Hebrews teaches the same idea by telling us that Jesus is the final and complete revelation of God to us. In the past, God spoke through prophets; today, he has revealed himself by showing us his Son (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Do you hunger and thirst for the truth, for the knowledge of God? Do you long to know him, and be known by him? Then the news is very good – Jesus Christ is the good shepherd, who will feed his sheep. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

He loves his sheep

The true shepherd rescues and feeds his sheep because of his love for them. Why else would he keep giving himself for them? What else, except love, would make him face wolves, and go into danger to bring back the one who has gone wondering? This is the way it is in many countries where shepherds keep sheep. They become like a close family to him.

Sheep are often very stupid animals. They follow other sheep even when they have no idea where they are going. They wander off and get lost. They get into danger. They do not know how to search out the way back to the flock (like a dog would), or to hunt for their own food. They are dependent. They need caring for. The shepherd with God’s heart does not despise or reject them because of this, but he takes the burden upon himself.

It is possible that our parents did not act like shepherds to us. Perhaps they did not provide for us, and they beat us harshly instead of giving us the “rod and staff” which “comfort us” (Psalm 23:4). Perhaps our pastors at church are also hard men who do not have a true shepherd’s compassion, and who feed themselves instead of feeding the flock (Ezekiel 34:2-6). Even if they are too much like this, Jesus never is. He knows them each, personally and individually. He said, “I know my own” (John 10:14). That means that he knows our problems. He knows our challenges. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our deep longings, and the pain we feel. He knows us fully, and he knows exactly the right remedy for each of us. He knows how to lead us through every hard place, at the right time. We are promised trouble in the world (John 16:33), but because he loves us so much, Jesus will bring us through it and into eternal glory: every single one. “For the lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).