This week in our Sanctuary worship services we will continue our Lenten worship series, I AM, with “The Good Shepherd.”
When Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep . . .” what are we to draw from this statement?
When I think about this “I Am” statement of Jesus, I am always reminded of a visit to Israel years ago when I discovered a reality of the role of a shepherd that is very different from that of the sheep ranchers we might find in, say, the Texas Hill Country.
For one thing, in Israel there are no fences. Throughout antiquity and even to this day if you’re in Israel—whether in the Golan Heights or the wilderness of Judea, you will see shepherds and their sheep, just roaming the countryside. In Israel, sheep are not kept, not by fences, but by shepherds. We’re very removed from that culture where we live, but this is a day to day reality for shepherds who still care for their sheep in this way.
Another important thing about this image of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd” is that it mirrors the image of God presented in the Hebrew scriptures, most famously in the 23rd Psalm. The Psalmist writes of being led, cared for, protected, and even anointed:
“The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me. . .”
In a very concrete sense, a shepherd who cares for sheep, then and now, has compassion for their needs, protects them from harm, and leads them where they need to go. In fact, you don’t ever really see shepherds driving sheep; you see them leading them. Part of the caring for the sheep is also healing or bringing wholeness to the sheep — and when necessary, the good shepherd will lay down his life for this sheep.
So it is this image that is being picked up here in the New Testament by John as metaphor to describe the nature of Jesus and, ultimately, his willingness to go to the cross. To willingly, as any good Shepherd would, give his life for his sheep.
How have you experienced this loving care, guidance, and protection in your own life? When has your need for compassion, healing, and wholeness directed your steps toward comfort, safety, and protection? How did it feel to find that safe space?
I look forward to exploring the idea of Jesus as The Good Shepherd with you this Sunday.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
John 10:11-18 Common English Bible (CEB)
I am the good shepherd
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. When the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away. That’s because he isn’t the shepherd; the sheep aren’t really his. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. He’s only a hired hand and the sheep don’t matter to him.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.
“This is why the Father loves me: I give up my life so that I can take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I give it up because I want to. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Father.” No one takes it from me, but I give it up because I want to. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Father.”