May 14 – Portraits of Jesus – I am the Good Shepherd

PORTRAITS OF JESUS – I am the Good Shepherd

Today we come across an ‘I am’ metaphor by Jesus that describes the whole christian life:

 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 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.”

John 10:14-16

The Christian journey from beginning to finish is described here (and through the extended metaphor from v1-18).

The Start: Jesus repeats the phrase ‘lay down my life for the sheep’ five times! This is the beginning of the Christian journey: receiving by faith the sacrificial death of Jesus that was on our behalf.

The End: The end is described in a little more cryptic terms when Jesus speaks of sheep who are ‘not (yet) of the fold’. This has echoes of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:14

Therefore, once the sheep that are not yet of his fold hear the proclamation of the gospel, then Jesus will return!

The Middle: Jesus describes the start and the end of the journey, but what of the middle? What do we do now? This is the substance of the metaphor.

Put simply, the Christian journey between start and finish involves following Jesus! This means learning to recognise his voice, listening to what he says, and following him by obeying his voice.

Four times in this passage Jesus repeats the concept of his sheep knowing him, knowing his voice, and following him. It’s a rich metaphor describing the basis of our discipleship journey.

This particular metaphor is based on middle-eastern traditional shepherding, where sheep would have an enclosure where they would sleep at night, perhaps with a watchman if they were rich, where sometimes the shepherds themselves would be the gates (see the devotion on ‘I am the Door’).

In some villages it made more sense to have one big enclosure for all the flocks of sheep belonging to the different owners, and hire a watchman to watch over all of them. This made economical sense, but the obvious question then arises: how do you tellwhich sheep belong to which shepherd?

The answer is quite simple: in the morning each shepherd would have a turn to stand outside the fold and call out to his sheep. The sheep belonging to that shepherd would recognise the voice of their shepherd, listen to him, then follow his voice and come out to him.

This is exactly what Jesus is describing for us! We, his sheep, learn to recognise the voice of our master. We then listen out for his voice, and then follow when he speaks. That’s the basis of the Christian journey: learning to recognise, listen to, and follow the voice of Jesus.