Jesus often spoke in rural images that communicated visually to the people he addressed. Even though we are not as acquainted to those images today, they still can say a great deal to us today, even in our modern, urban, industrialized world.
One such image that Jesus used was of a shepherd. This was a common image that the people in his day saw. Canaan was largely a pastoral region more than an agriculture region. Shepherds were very commonplace. When Jesus says “good” shepherd he is referring to more than merely skill in the shepherd task. He was using the word in much the same way we would refer to a good doctor.
One that is not only adroit in skill but one known for his sympathy and his graciousness. The word good describes the quality of consciousness which makes him lovely and beautiful.
What are the outstanding characteristics of this good shepherd?
1. He cares for you.
One of the most outstanding characteristics of Jesus was His love and compassion. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is concerned and interested in people. They matter to Him.
On one occasion Jesus and His disciples traveled to the other side of the Sea of Galilee by boat. Jesus went to sleep in the stern. A furious squall came up; the waves came into the boat. The boat was about to sink. The disciples rushed to Jesus, “Don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and calmed the waves. Jesus cared for those men. He did not want them to drown. He did not want them to suffer. He cares.
2. He knows you.
The eastern shepherds raised sheep for wool rather than for food. Thus sheep were usually with a shepherd for years and were often known by descriptive names like “Brown-leg” or “Black-ear.” The shepherds knew each sheep, every one of them. Sheep know the shepherd’s voice. The shepherd knows the uniqueness of each sheep.
Have you ever gone to a gathering, and didn’t know a soul? You felt so alone, so isolated, so distant. Then all of a sudden someone from a across the room calls your name. You are recognized. You are known. A flood of acceptance and honor comes over you. You relax, you belong.
The Good Shepherd knows each of his sheep by name. The Indian theologian D. T. Niles once noticed a young Indian shepherd boy keeping a huge flock of sheep. He stopped and asked, “How many sheep do you have?”
“I don’t know,” answered the boy, “I can’t count.”
Niles asked him, “How do you know if some of the sheep haven’t wandered off when you get to the place where you’re going to camp at night?”
To his astonishment, the boy answered, “I don’t know how many wander off, but I know each one. I can’t count, but each sheep has a name, and I know their names.”
3. He died for you.
The good shepherd places his body between the sheep and vicious animals. He will die protecting the sheep. So Jesus died for lost people. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, actually gave his life for us.
Five times in this text Jesus clearly affirmed the sacrificial nature of his death. His sacrifice was:
- A voluntary sacrifice (v. 18 NIV). No one took Jesus’ life; He willingly and voluntarily gave it up for us.
- A vicarious sacrifice (v. 15). Jesus did not die as a martyr, killed by men; He died as a substitute, willingly laying his life down for us.
- A victorious sacrifice (v. 17). Jesus did die, but He also rose again. The cross is empty. Jesus rose again. We serve a risen, victorious Savior.
Jesus sacrificed His life in order that we might be saved. He willingly gave His life for our lives. He became the sacrificial shepherd for us.
When I think of these characteristics of the Good Shepherd, I simply exclaim what a Savior. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, a caring Shepherd, an understanding Shepherd, a sacrificial Shepherd.
Sermon provided by: Rick Ezell, a pastor and author in Naperville, IL