[INTRODUCTORY NOTE: For the last several years the Lord has been showing me to be more comprehensive in my research for articles and books. While I have learned and continue to learn much from white, male, British and American Anglicans writing in the mid to late twentieth century, this group, as with every subcategory of Christians, has its own limitations and “blinders,” besides its many strengths. I now more extensively consult works from other centuries, other countries, other denominational affiliations, other socioeconomic backgrounds and from both genders. No, people from these other groups are no more likely to be “infallible.” Rather, they bring their own strengths (and weaknesses). In preparing to write this article I consulted many different authors over this wider diversity of backgrounds, but I made special use of three books:
* Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. He kept revising this every few years from 1708 onwards. He was an English Presbyterian pastor and biblical exegete.
* The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris, (c) 1971. Morris was Principal of Ridley (Theological) College, Melbourne, Australia and an Anglican.
* “John” in Africa Bible Commentary, by Samuel M. Ngewa, (c) 2006. He is Professor of New Testament Studies at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, Kenya.]
First, take several minutes to read over carefully Psalm 23 and John 10:1-18.
Three Kinds of Shepherds
The Bible describes three kinds of shepherds.
First, there are what might be called the bad or evil shepherds. They come to “steal and kill and destroy” (vss. 1, 10). While working on this article I got thinking about the military (my cousin-onceremoved SSgt. John Pearson has just returned from deployment in harm’s way) and the fire service (my eldest son Stephen has just been promoted to Lieutenant in the Manchester, NH, Fire Department). We could see the bad / evil shepherds as terrorists or arsonists — those who intentionally harm others, those who want to create chaos and disorder.
The second kind of shepherds are the lazy or “hireling” shepherds (vs. 12). They have no relationship with or love for the sheep they are to look after, but are simply hired to do a task. They’ll work for their pay but they will not suffer personal loss. When danger comes, they’ll flee, leaving the sheep to be harmed. People do not know how inadequate these hireling shepherds are until one or more of the sheep has been harmed.
In military terms these are the soldiers who look good on the parade ground. They salute and march well, they do not give their officers any trouble, but when in combat they are useless to the task or even a danger to their fellow soldiers. In the fire service they are the ones who will perform up to expectations at routine incidents but avoid putting themselves in harm’s way to help people in danger.
Finally, there’s the good shepherd and Jesus describes Himself that way (vs. 11). Jesus is also called “The Great Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:20), “The Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), and “The Shepherd and Bishop of Your Souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
The Καλοσ Shepherd
The Greek word for “good” in John 10 is Καλοσ or kalos. It has two meanings.
First, Καλοσ means morally good. We are so used to the basic truth that “God is good” (see, for example, Psalm 25:8, Mark 10:18) that we take it for granted. But not all those believed to be “gods” in Greek and Roman mythology were good; they just had more power than mere morals. The “god” taught in Islam is often mean.
[It is naïve and dangerous to think that Christians and Moslems worship the same God, merely ascribing to this God different names. Read the Koran and see for yourself. Compare the Koran with the New Testament and compare the deities described therein.]
But Jesus is good, decent, and moral. We become better people when we become more like Him — by His grace, by our efforts, and with the help of others. As we will see, this Good Shepherd will die for His sheep. He’s the soldier that falls on a live hand grenade to save the lives of fellow soldiers, or the firefighter that enters a burning building.
Second, Καλοσ means beautiful, lovely, and sweet.
Jesus took the little children into His arms and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16). Matthew, quoting Isaiah about the One Who was to come, says that “he will not break a bruised reed” (Matthew 12:10 from Isaiah 42:3). No, we must not make Jesus effeminate. He did, after all, speak some rather blunt words and toss out the money changers from the Temple. But neither is He macho. He is a “man’s man,” rightly understood.
God was incarnate as a human being Who delights to relate to people personally. He is NOT one who is good but aloof — one we can respect but never really know, one who teaches the truth but never wishes to know us as individuals. I am reminded of the laments of people who said of their fathers: “Dad was a good provider for the family and well respected in the community, but I never really had a relationship with him.” But Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, the second Person of the Godhead Who is good, also invites us to be His friends (John 15:15).
What Does The Good Shepherd Do?
Here are three things, each starting with S:
Salvation: This is to be understood both positively and negatively.
Positively: anyone entering through Him will be saved (John 10:9a). Salvation is not based on our ethnicity, our education, or our income. Neither is it based on how good we are or how much good we do because no one can ever be good enough or do enough good (Romans 3:23, 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). But one who trusts Christ’s work on the cross to pay the penalty of his or her sins will be saved.
Negatively, people cannot be saved apart from Jesus, no matter how sincerely they follow their own religion. The leader of no other religion made the necessary atoning sacrifice our sins require — only Jesus. Jesus, the good, decent, moral, gentle Shepherd — made it very clear He was the only way to salvation (see, for example, John 14:6).
He speaks of the shepherd that leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that is lost (Matthew 18:12). He speaks of sheep other than the ones in His immediate fold (the Jews) (John 10:16). If everyone is already saved, or is saved by whatever religion they profess, Jesus’ comment makes no sense. He gives The Great Commission that we are to go to “all nations” to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).
Furthermore, salvation in Christ involves the Church. Jesus’ description of Himself as the Good Shepherd requires we belong to the flock, not just relate to Him as an isolated individual sheep. Those Jesus calls to Himself are to be part of a community, led by “under-shepherds.” Note how three New Testament books (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) describe the titles and qualifications for church leaders. Isolated, individual sheep are wide open to the ravages of wolves. Jesus teaches “one flock” (the Church) (John 10:16).
Safety: This is to be understood both now and for eternity.
Now: Jesus accompanies and protects the sheep as they go out of the security of the sheepfold to pasturelands. He watches for the lurking wolf. He warns the sheep when they are getting too near flowing water. (This is a danger to the sheep. If they get their “wool coats” into the water they might drown. “Still water” is safer and the shepherd leads his sheep there — see Psalm 23:2).
Similarly, Jesus the Good Shepherd accompanies us when we go to work or school. Dwelling within us, He gives us guidance and direction. He looks after us and often keeps us from harm. [It is important, however, to remember the “now but not yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. While there are many more miracles in the Age of the Church than in Old Testament times, complete protection from all harm awaits Jesus’ Second Coming and the establishment of the new heavens and earth.]
Eternity: Jesus said the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). As is often the case in the Gospel of John, there are multiple layers of meaning here. The obvious level is that a good human shepherd, loving the sheep, will defend the sheep to the point of laying down his life. The second layer is Jesus, dying on the cross to make atoning death for our sins.
Although there are many other needs, the utmost need for someone is to be saved for all eternity by coming to Christ as Savior and Lord in the fellowship of His Church.
Jesus’ death on the cross was not an accident, the result of someone bucking the establishment once too much. As He points out, He Himself laid His life down (John 10:17-18). He knew it was the only way sinners could be saved, not by being good or by following another religion. As the Good Shepherd, He did this willingly.
While we could put the last few paragraphs under the previous heading of Salvation, we can also put them here under the heading of Safety. What better safety is there — especially when sometimes the things of earth are not going well — than to be eternally safe in Jesus?
Satisfaction: Several contemporary praise songs contain the phrase, “There is none like You.” There is nothing like what Jesus gives to us.
A human hireling might lead the sheep to a place where they would simply get food. A good shepherd would work hard to lead them to quality food in the best of pastures (John 10:9).
Jesus told the Samaritan “Woman at the Well” that He would give her “living water” (John 4:14). He told many that He was the bread of life (John 6:35).
What Jesus offers is the best. Sometimes we know this right away. It’s been a joy of mine in over forty years of ordained ministry to see how new converts to Christ immediately see the big difference He is making in their lives.
Other times, we have to trust Christ when He tells us something we might not choose is vital for us and something in which we indulge in isn’t. Eventually we might come to understand why — surprise! — Jesus is right yet again, but we might not understand thisright away. Once again, this is why we have to trust Him.
How Does This Apply to Us?
Clergy and lay leaders (“shepherds and undershepherds”): our leading of the flock or the ministry we head under our pastor must be modeled on the attitude and actions of Jesus, The Good Shepherd.
Everyone: first, regularly remind yourself that Jesus died in your place so that you might be reconciled to God and saved for eternity. Yes, we know this, but we often must be reminded of it. In response, rededicate yourself to Him anew in love, worship, obedience, and service.
Second, work hard to know His voice.
There are, remember, three kinds of shepherds. We might think that most thoughtful people can spot the bad or evil shepherds, yet look how many otherwise decent Germans and Austrians followed after Hitler, or how many professed Christians today vote for candidates espousing abortion or same-sex “marriage.” Do they really know the voice of the Lord?
Even more people are swept along by the hireling shepherds, clergy who devote much of their sermon time to telling us why the Bible doesn’t mean what it says or that God’s Word is no longer to be followed. Those clergy may have brought comfort to us when a loved one was sick or died, but they are slowly attuning our ears away from the voice of the Lord.
In order to know Jesus’ voice we must do far more than believe correct doctrine and work to help others, important as these are. We have to be able to distinguish whether what pops into our heads and hearts comes from God, our own desires (what Scripture calls “the flesh”) or from Satan. These other voices often are subtle and on the surface even make sense. In the passage we’re currently studying, note how people did not understand what Jesus was saying (John 10:6).They hadn’t learned how to distinguish Jesus’ voice from the voices of other teachers and leaders.
Spend time — regular, dedicated time — in prayer with your Bible open. Jot down what you think you are hearing from God and check it out against Scripture as understood by the consensus of God’s people over the centuries. Check what you think you’re hearing with mature Christians whose hearing of God regularly proves accurate.
Third, once again, to belong to Jesus we must be active in a local church. Make sure it is one where the Word of God is faithfully preached, the ordinances and sacraments are rightly offered, and the leaders — though not perfect, of course — are good examples to follow.
Fourth, we must tell others about Jesus. Rehearse with other believers your “testimony” — your first-hand account of the difference Christ has made in your life. Learn basic Bible truths and where to find them in the Bible. Be able to pray with someone who wishes to give himself or herself to the Lord. Invite people to your church. Host a Bible study (even if you don’t teach it) and invite people to attend. Be part of your local church’s outreach or evangelistic effort.
You may not think that you have much ability to share with others, but remember: God is at work (a) in them making them hungry to hear and (b) in you to give your words supernatural power. Keep at all of this and bathe it all in prayer. +