I recently watched a documentary about first century shepherds. I realized how little I previously knew about them. One of the main tasks of a shepherd was to protect his flock from predators and thieves – sometimes at the risk of his own life. During the day, a shepherd could use his staff to fend off attackers. At night, the flock slept in an enclosed pen with a low wall having a single opening. In a village, there might be a gatekeeper whose job it was to only allow a legitimate shepherd access to the sheep. (John 10:3) In the open field, the shepherd himself might sleep in the opening, using his body to protect the sheep. Jesus referred to Himself as the “door for the sheep.”
Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd. Why did Jesus apply this term to Himself?
First, Jesus is recalling the many places in the Old Testament that liken God – and godly leaders like King David – to shepherds. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus watches over us the way a good shepherd watches over his sheep.
Second, Jesus contrasts Himself with a hired man who does not really care about the sheep and tries to save his own skin when danger comes. Instead, Jesus was “willing to lay down his life for the sheep,” an idea mentioned five times in this passage. That’s exactly what He did. In this way, He stands in contrast to the religious leaders of his own day – false shepherds who rejected Him for the sake of their own pride and system of values.
Trusting the Shepherd
Finally, just as a sheep recognizes and trusts only its shepherd’s call, so Jesus’ sheep trust Him and His leading in their lives. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:28)
Do you know the sound of Jesus’ voice as He watches over you and leads you? Do you trust it?
Written by Russ Bjork
Artwork by Callia Range, age 6, Good Shepherd