I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. — John 10: 11
Let us appreciate and esteem the immeasurable love of Jesus, who gave His life for us.
The image of the shepherd was already of great significance in the Old Testament: this image was often used in reference to the leaders of the people. Not coincidentally, David was a shepherd before he became a king. The image of the shepherd is also applied in a promise given by the prophet Ezekiel, which in turn refers to Jesus Christ, “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them … and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34: 23).
Wicked shepherds and hirelings
But there are also other kinds of shepherds, namely those who are only interested in themselves (Ezekiel 34: 1–10). Instead of giving thought to their flocks, they are only looking out for their own interests. This is more clearly described in the image of the hireling, of which Jesus speaks. A hireling tends the flock of the owner in exchange for money. Since the flock does not belong to the hireling, however, he will not think twice about abandoning them in the event of danger and save his own skin (John 10: 12–13).
The good shepherd
When we think about Jesus’ path upon this earth, we cannot help remark that He is the true good shepherd. He took exemplary care of His flock. As such He even gave His life for His flock—an expression of perfect love. This devotion was fulfilled when Jesus spoke the words on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19: 30).
Jesus’ loving care for His flock did not end with His ascension. Before this event, He assigned Peter the commission to tend His flock, “Feed My lambs … tend My sheep” (John 21: 15–17). Thus the Lord is still at work as the good shepherd in our time. This is something we can feel in very concrete terms, because a good shepherd
- leads the flock and shows it the way. Through the proclamation of the gospel, we receive orientation.
- provides His flock with food and leads them to still waters. Through word and sacrament we are strengthened.
- protects His flock from wild animals. Through the instruction of the Holy Spirit we are protected from false doctrines.
- cares for the lambs. He has compassion for us when we are weak and in need of help.
Now let us come back to the commission which the Lord assigned to Peter, “Feed My lambs … tend My sheep!” Here too, the defining characteristic in this commission is love. The Lord asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” (John 21: 15–17). Here – in we can see the fundamental significance Jesus associates with love, namely:
- the love that Jesus has for His flock, that is, for His congregation.
- the love of the servant for his Lord.
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 21 June 2015 at Midrand Congregation