Tag Archives: shepherd

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23 begins with what is admittedly an odd metaphor: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”


YAHWEH … ADONAI … JEHOVAH … a lowly, insignificant shepherd?

Yet that is precisely what David intends for us to wrestle with.

The holy, sovereign God of the universe is like a shepherd.

How so?

  1. He insures we have everything good and right. Not everything that we want. Not everything we think we need. Everything He knows we need for our good and His glory. This includes green pastures and still waters, some of which may be on the other side of a stroll through very dark valleys. Even so, He is leading us to a better place than where we once were.
  2. He makes us righteous for His glory. This is what David means when he says that the Lord leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (v. 3). He is not making us righteous for any other reason greater than this one. If there were a greater reason, He would not be God. He is making us righteous so people can marvel at a righteous God.
  3. He passionately pursues me with goodness and mercy. The HCSB rightly translates the Hebrew here, whereas other translations traditionally say “follow.” The idea here is that in Christ, God is constantly pursuing me with His goodness and mercy, for it is mine to have by grace through faith.

So the Lord is your Shepherd. He has passionately pursued you with goodness and mercy in Christ. He is making you righteous for His glory. And in so doing, provides you with every good thing you could ever need.

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A Secure Shepherd-Leader

Think about the leaders you admire, respect or follow. What is it about them that convinces you to follow them?

What about leaders that you have zero respect for? Why do you avoid following them?

Years ago, I read this list of 10 reasons why “insecure” leaders are the worst sorts of leaders, created by John Maxwell. Here’s a brief run-down.

  1. They want control. Control is everything to insecure people; the thought of giving it up by empowering others or delegating important responsibilities scares them to death.
  2. They fear public failure. As a result, they will absolutely anything to avoid being embarrassed by doing something stupid in front of others.
  3. They avoid risk. They would rather not try and not know, even if it means missing out on great success and growth.
  4. They are closed in their relationships. They don’t open up because they fear rejection.
  5. They do not hire 10s. If they did, they’d run the risk of being shown up. So instead of hiring top-notch people, they surround themselves with mediocrity. (Sometimes they do hire 10’s, choosing in the short term to boost their own egos. Of course, it usually backfires.)
  6. They resist change. Keeping the status quo helps them maintain control, or so they think.
  7. They fail to affirm and empower others. Many insecure people weren’t affirmed or empowered during critical phases of life. As a result, they’re practically incapable of nurturing the people they lead.
  8. They stay in their comfort zone. To leave it invites risk and change–what more can I say?
  9. They view people and situations through their insecurities. Consequently, what they see never totally matches up with reality. More often than not, it’s completely skewed.
  10. They create an environment of insecurity. This makes the people they lead confused and unsettled because they never know what’s going to happen next.

As I read through the book of Micah over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about leadership. Micah’s prophecy, given during the time of the Assyrian invasion of Judah (see 2 Kings 18-20 or 2 Chronicles 32), was directed firmly at the leaders of Judah. In brief, they were all terrible. Judges had failed to give justice. Prophets had failed to speak a true word from God. Rulers had ceased to rule. As a result, the kingdom was in chaos, and an even greater judgment was coming. “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height” (Micah 3:12).

However, Micah did not simply weigh in to the leadership and leave no hope for them or their people. He spoke of a time … a kind of golden age … where people would know the Word, peace would reign, and all would prosper (see Micah 4:1-5). And this age would be ushered in by a secure, shepherd leader. “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace …” (Micah 5:4-5a).

The Jewish scholars of Jesus’ day cited the first part of Micah 5 to Herod in answer to his question regarding where the Messiah would come from (Bethlehem). So the secure, shepherd-leader for God’s people is Jesus.

Of course, Jesus was by no means “insecure.” But by “secure” I also mean that the kingdom He leads is different than any other kingdom in that it is totally and utterly secure. It will NEVER fail, unlike all other earthly kingdoms (USA included … YES, we will end one day!). But Jesus, unlike other worldly leaders who find their security in their tyrannous reign, doesn’t lead like a dictator who finds his identity in his role. Rather, Jesus is described as a shepherd. God’s people have a compassionate, gentle King who cares for His flock and protects them from evil. He’s the one who lays down His very life for the sheep and knows them all by name.

Sadly, Jews continue to reject this secure kingdom a shepherd leader. But a day is coming when they will joyfully submit to His leadership. Says Paul, “A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins’ (Romans 11:25-27).”

What an incredible time that will be … when our Shepherd-Leader completes what He has started, and all God’s people reign securely with Him.

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The Good Shepherd’s Voluntary Sacrifice for the Sheep

This is the third and final post leading to Good Friday, April 6th.

Consider John 10:11-21

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.   12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

In vv. 7-10, we see that Jesus will provide protection and provision for His sheep.  But how?  The means by which Jesus the Good Shepherd/Door will give protection and provision to His sheep … the way in which Jesus will rescue them from God’s wrath and restore them to God’s glory … is by voluntarily laying down his life for His sheep.

To help the Pharisees (and us!) see this, notice that Jesus draws a contrast between Himself and a “hired hand.”  A hired hand, when faced with a wolf attacking the sheepfold, takes off.  They’re not his sheep, so he’s not about to lay down his life for them.  The people of the community can’t pay him enough to voluntarily lay down his life for other people’s sheep.  By contrast, look again at vv. 14-15.  14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And as v. 18 further clarifies, this sacrifice (and subsequent resurrection) is voluntary18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Let us focus on vv. 11, 15, 17, and 18 and the nature of the sacrifice, given our proximity to Good Friday.

From this passage we derive four truths about the death of Jesus on the cross.

  1. That it is voluntary (vv. 17-18)
  2. That it is substitutionary (as opposed to merely exemplary) (vv. 11, 15)
  3. That it is intentional (vv. 18, authority/charge). (Acts 2:22-24).
  4. That it is specific (vv. 11, 15).

Number four is typically controversial in Southern Baptist circles.  Yet Jesus and the Bible could not be more clear: in the same way that both God’s sovereignty in election and human responsibility are both true and taught by the Bible, both the global and particular aspects of Jesus’ atonement are also taught in Scripture.  Interestingly, John the Evangelist goes to great lengths to affirm both that Jesus is the Savior of the World AND that He also has laid His life down particularly for His sheep.


Global/Human Responsibility Particular/Election
John 1:29 – “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 10:15 – “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
John 4:42 – “They said to the woman, “‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” John 17:1-2 – “… Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
1 John 2:2 – “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Ephesians 5:25 – “Husband, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

One of the reasons I am a Southern Baptist is because our statement of faith does an excellent job at affirming these antinomies.

  • Regarding the sovereignty of God – His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.
  • Regarding election – Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
  • Regarding atonement – Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.

We must rejoice in the voluntary sacrifice of the Good Shepherd for the sheep.  His death is not merely a moral example for sheep to admire, but a death given to sheep who were in real danger, facing the Father’s wrath.  And his sacrifice was not wasted, but accomplished salvation for the sheep.


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Sheep, Shepherds, Robbers, Etc.

This is the first for three posts leading up to Good Friday, April 6.

John 10:1-6 states:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.    When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

I love the “sheep/shepherd” illustration primarily because I’m so far removed from agricultural life that I’m forced to study in order to grasp the historical and literary context of Jesus’ day so that I know what Jesus is trying to say (R. C. Sproul’s commentary was most informative for the information below).

It turns out that he way sheep were cared for in ancient Israel was very different from the way they are handled today. In those days, there was one large, central pen, or sheepfold, in a given community, and at the end of the day people brought their small individual flocks and led them into the big sheepfold. With their combined resources, they paid a gatekeeper, and it was his job to stay with the sheep during the night.

In the morning, the gatekeeper opened the gate to those who were truly shepherds, whose sheep were enclosed in the sheepfold. The shepherds entered by the door, for they had every right to do so—the sheep were theirs and the gatekeeper was their paid servant. When a shepherd entered the sheepfold, the sheep of all the local flocks were mixed, but he began to call, and his sheep recognized his voice and came to him. In fact, a good shepherd was so intimately involved with the care and the nurture of his sheep that he had names for them, and he would call them by name. His sheep followed him out because they knew him.

There is another major difference in the way sheep were tended in the past and the way they are now.   Today, sheep are herded, usually by dogs that drive them and keep them going where the shepherd wants them to go. However, in ancient Israel, sheep were led. The shepherd went ahead of them, and where the shepherd went, the sheep followed. They didn’t simply roam all over; they followed the shepherd. The shepherd was their leader, and if one sheep began to stray, the shepherd would simply call it. The sheep knew his voice and followed him, but they did not follow a stranger.

Of course, there is a literary context to deal with as well.  When we connect these verses with the end of chapter 9, we see that these verses are a continuation of a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees.

With these bits of context in place, we are quite certain that:  Jesus is the Shepherd, the Pharisees are thieves and robbers, and the Father is the gatekeeper.

First, consider the weight of the Pharisees being labeled as “thieves and robbers.”  Jesus essentially looks at the Pharisees and says, “You want to talk about who the real believers are?  I’ll tell you who the real believers are: they are the ones who listen to my voice and follow me, not you.  By calling people to follow you instead of me, you are acting as a thief and robber, not a shepherd.  Anyone that seeks followers for themselves other than me is like a thief or robber.  They take things that are not theirs and use them for their own selfish purposes, and that is what you, Pharisees, are doing.”  It’s no wonder the Pharisees didn’t come to grips with Jesus’ metaphor (v.6).  What Pharisee would want to hear that his hard-earned self-righteous life aimed at pleasing God was the very thing that was damning him before God?

Second, consider the implications behind Jesus’ being a Shepherd (in verses 2-5 … more implications in vv. 12ff to come!).  The emphasis is intimacy.  Jesus knows who His sheep are.  There’s a party in heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7, another parable using sheep), but it’s not a surprise party (John 10:3).  And Jesus’ true sheep know His voice and follow His lead, and are never led astray.

The Pharisees respond to these realities with confusion (v. 6).  Jesus response is to double-down on the metaphor (vv. 7-21), which we will take a look at tomorrow.

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You Can’t Fix Everybody

From William Still’s “The Work of the Pastor” …

Some meddling ministers want to sort out everybody.  God is not so optimistic (that the pastor sort out everybody). There are some who will die with mixed-up personalities, and they may be true believers. (In some ways perhaps I am that, and have on hope of ever sorting myself out.  Indeed, my salvation is to live with my oddities and partly put up with them, and partly rise above them to show that grace is better employed wrestling resignedly, realistically, cheerfully with our problems than demanding from God heavenly solutions on earth.)  Don’t try to do the impossible. Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world and what part in it He wants you to play.

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