The Bible frequently uses the imagery of sheep and shepherds to describe the relationship between God and his people. This imagery highlights Christ’s compassion for his people. Matthew tells us that Jesus felt deep compassion for his people who were like sheep without a shepherd (9:36). The word translated “compassion” describes an in-the-gut feeling. He was physically moved when he saw shepherdless sheep. Such is his compassion for his sheep.
When Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14) he used a word that means “beautiful” or even “fitting.” Unlike other shepherds who showed no concern for the flock, Jesus is precisely the kind of shepherd that his people need. He is upright, virtuous, and able to provide precisely what his sheep require. And why he is so beautiful? Because of the way that he relates to us.
In John 10:1–21, we see at least three beautiful ways in which the Good Shepherd relates to his sheep, which make him precisely the shepherd we need.
First, the Good Shepherd summons his sheep: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3). Sheep will not prosper without a shepherd who leads them where they should be. Sheep, left to themselves, will not find the pasture they need or the quiet brooks they require for their sustenance. That is why David was so thankful for his Shepherd: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2).
If Christ is your Shepherd, be assured that he calls for you. Listen for his voice. He does this primarily through Scripture: in the preached word, in your own devotional time, in your meditation on and memorisation of Scripture. This is one reason that it is so crucial to spend time frequently in God’s word. Apart from his word, you will not hear his voice as he calls to you. Be much in Scripture. Listen as the Good Shepherd summons you.
Second, the Good Shepherd sacrifices for his sheep: “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (v. 11). “I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15; cf. vv. 17–18). Unlike a hireling, the Good Shepherd did not flee when danger came. He willingly laid down his life so that his sheep might find eternal life in him. He sacrificed for the protection of his sheep.
If Christ is your Shepherd, be grateful that he displayed his compassion by giving his life for you. He was not obligated to do so. He was not forced to do so. He willingly gave his life, out of sheer compassion, so that his sheep might experience life in him.
Third, the Good Shepherd saves his sheep: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (v. 16). Here is an incredible thought: Though it was written thousands of years ago to a Jewish audience, you are in Scripture! You are one of the “other sheep” for whom Christ died and who are called to hear his voice. Your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world and the Good Shepherd had you on his heart when he spoke these words. He has an innumerable flock comprising sheep from every people group and he will save them.
If Christ is your Shepherd, be encouraged that he is committed to saving you to the very end. He gave his life to purchase your justification, and he, as the Good Shepherd, works daily to ensure that he will fully save—sanctify and, ultimately, glorify—the sheep for whom he gave his life. The Good Shepherd is more committed to your Christlikeness than you are!
If Christ is not your Good Shepherd, it is not too late. Hear his voice in the call of the gospel. Hear him call you to believe that, in his death and resurrection, he paid the price for the redemption of sinners. Believe him. Receive him. Follow him as your Good Shepherd today.