ALMIGHTY Father, who hast given thine only Son to to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Epistle 1 Peter 2.19-25
Gospel S. John 10:11-16
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” This is an astounding claim for God is so described in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 34:11, God says, “I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out.” Jesus is the good shepherd in contradistinction to the false or hireling shepherds. He saw the multitudes as “sheep without a shepherd” and had compassion on them. The Lord has appointed under shepherds in the church, but he is himself “the chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.”
First, he knows his sheep, “I ... know my sheep and am known of mine.” Sheep may look all alike to us, but the shepherd knows each one; they are all individual to him. Life today in modern towns and cities is very impersonal, but a relationship with the Lord redeems us from anonymity. We are known perfectly to the Lord. There is no sin that is not covered by his blood. No pain or injury that is not felt by him. Such knowledge must make us feel a sense of awe, but it also leads us to cast all our cares upon him “for he careth for us.” And we can do so with complete confidence for he cannot fail to hear us. Like the cry of blind Bartimaeus. Though all around in the great crowd there was noise and confusion, yet Jesus heard the cry of the blind beggar Bartimaeus, and standing still, said “Bring him to me.”
Secondly, as a shepherd Jesus leads his people out. It was the custom of the eastern shepherd to go before his sheep and for the sheep to follow him. The shepherd faces the dangers first; he encounters the difficulties in the way, and the wild beasts. David gives us this picture of the shepherd going before his flock in the 23rd Psalm and John does also in this gospel. This is powerfully expressed in the words of the Psalm “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” What is “the valley of the shadow of death”? Well, in a sense it is the whole of this life. The shadow of death hangs over it. We are continually passing through it. But Christ has gone before, that he might “taste death for every man” Hebrews 2:9. In his own person he encountered death and vanquished it for all his people. Believers are therefore “kept by the power of God” and none shall pluck them out of the Shepherd’s hand.
Thirdly, he feeds his sheep. The job of the shepherd is to find pasture for his sheep. “He shall feed me in a green pasture: and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.” So the Lord Jesus Christ feeds his people with the living bread which is himself. “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger.” If we hunger for God, we find him in Jesus Christ. If we hunger for life, we find it in Christ only, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” If we hunger for peace, we have it in Christ, who said “Peace I leave with you my peace I give unto you.” If we hunger for forgiveness we can find it only in Christ “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” He is the only and all-sufficient Saviour who can meet every need we have.
Finally, he protects his sheep because they are his. The hired shepherd runs away when he sees the wolf approaching, but the Good Shepherd gives his life to save and protect his sheep. Jesus tells us he is the door of the sheepfold, which means that when the sheep are safely penned, then he lies down across the entrance to the fold so that none can enter the fold without encountering him. Which reminds us of the words of Toplady’s hymn; “A sovereign Protector I have.”
“For ye were as sheep going astray”, says Peter in the epistle; “but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop or your souls.”