Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15) There are seven “I am” declarations of Jesus and they are recorded only in the Gospel of John. This is the fourth one. These proclamations point to the unique, divine identity and purpose of Christ.
Sheep are mentioned in the Bible hundreds of times, more than any other animal. They were important to the nomads and the agricultural life of the Hebrews. Throughout the Bible sheep are used symbolically to refer to God’s people.
Those living in Bible times would typically know that sheep tend to be good followers when they are led gently. When pushed a sheep responds in fear and anxiety. They need a shepherd who goes ahead of them. A wolf would be one of the greatest threats to the safety of the flock. Surprisingly enough, a sheep can recognize up to a total of fifty sheep and human faces.
These words of Jesus depict a faithful and self-sacrificing shepherd with an intimate connection to each animal. Jesus as the self-proclaimed shepherd lets his hearers know that he will protect, guide and nurture them. His followers will know him and be known by him just as the relationship between Father and Son demonstrates. Jesus ultimately will give up his own life for his disciples. No one other than God can be the good shepherd. Our pastors, in this analogy, would be the sheep dogs that help guide the sheep and bring them to places of peace and security while nudging them along to help keep them on the correct path.
Many Christians love the words of Psalm 23. Despite the fact that inevitably we will encounter dark valleys, evil and enemies we are reminded by David, a shepherd since his early years, of the care that God faithfully bestows upon us. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3)