The words are simple and the melody catchy. It’s a song for little kids. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
For just a minute, step into the life of a child. Picture it: you have no job, no stressful deadlines, no demanding schedule. You have no need for a certain amount of income, and therefore, no pressure to make a budget work. In fact, your parents pay utility bills, doctor bills, grocery bills, and car bills. Children have such simple and sincere relationships. No stewing over the harsh words she said to you. No nervousness of saying the right things in order to keep others happy. Children simply blurt out what’s on their mind without a second thought. Children have an innocent view of life. They trust, not question. They’re relaxed, not worried. They have peace, not anxiety. Does that hymn sound childish now?
I would guess that most, if not all of you have wished at some point in life to be a child again. To get rid of the stress. To get past the tough relationships. To remove those pressing responsibilities. To put an end to all the nonstop, incessant worry. To live at complete ease.
Perhaps that is what makes these words (John 10:11-18) some of the most beloved words for a Christian. Today you sink into the bliss that comes from living under the care of Jesus, Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
He cannot stress that enough. Jesus plainly says, “I am the good shepherd.” In the Greek language (the original language of the New Testament) that little phrase comes out even stronger. Jesus literally says: “I, I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s like he’s tapping his finger on his chest saying, “Hey! Look at me! Concentrate on who I am; focus on what I am capable of doing! I am Your Good Shepherd.”
Do you understand what he means by calling himself “good?” In our English language “good” can mean many things. You eat “good” cake. A ‘B+’-grade-average in school might be “good.” Those standards of “good” change from person to person. “Good” cake does not mean it’s the “best” cake ever. A “good” grade could be an even better grade. Jesus is not just another “good” Shepherd— one among many shepherds (and you might find someone better). No. When Jesus calls himself “good,” he sets himself apart from everyone else in the world. He’s “good” because he lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. Since he does not own the sheep, he abandons the sheep and runs away when he sees the wolf coming… The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. If you lose a friend’s book, you do not lose money; you did not lose a possession. Your friend suffers the real loss; you do not. If the wolf mauls the sheep, the hired hand loses nothing! The sheep-owner must purchase replacements. The hired hand only cares about saving his own life.
Jesus sets up this marvelous contrast between self-centered, careless shepherd and himself, the Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for you.
That is a truth you (and I) will never outgrow. Yet, that is a truth with which you (and I) grow discontent. I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am? How childish!
If it feels that you have lost that sense of child-like innocence, then it is because you have wandered from the protecting care of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. You stress out over money because you do not trust Jesus will provide. You grow anxious in a society growing more God-less because you do not think Jesus will keep you safe from your enemies. You worry because you think Jesus will lead you headfirst into danger— and you will lose grip on your family, lose your health, and lose your life. You lose child-like trust because you feel that Jesus is not leading you in the places you should go.
The truth is, if you do not follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you will follow someone else. Those self-centered, careless shepherds (Jesus condemns) are not these wicked thugs lurking around every street corner. Instead, a “shepherd” is anyone you trust more than Jesus. A “shepherd” can be a non-Christian friend who urges you to follow her unpleasing, non-Christian advice on marriage. A “shepherd” can be listening to a preacher on the radio or television who twists the clear teachings of the Bible simply to make you feel emotionally happy.
Do you see what those shepherds do? When danger comes and the unexpected happens, they leave you! They do not care to soothe your sorrows. They do not provide rock-solid assurance. They leave you abandoned for the devil to devour you. So, here’s a key point: when Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, he’s telling you, “Focus on me!”
Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd who sacrifices his life for you. That makes him “good”— because he does something no one else does.
Pay attention to that one little word: “for.” The Greek way of saying it is: For your benefit or for your advantage. Jesus lays down his life for the advantage of the sheep. The devilish wolf circles around you— and at one time had your life in his death grip. Jesus did not run away, leaving you to die. He ran towards death on Mount Calvary. He allows nails to fasten him to wood. He braces up under God’s death sentence: “Guilty for sin!” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The jaws of death close around him— and you go free. You, the sheep, the one who liked to wander, go free and you get to live.
Do you have a “good” Shepherd? Yes! Yes, you do! You have a Good Shepherd who lays down his life and takes his life up again. Jesus descends into hell, not to suffer, but to announce: “Devil, you have lost your hold on my flock!” He bursts out of the tomb to tell you the good news: “I Am Your Good Shepherd and I remain Your Good Shepherd!” I sacrificed my life for you in order to bring you life in the fold.
Yes, life. You see, while you live, you either live as believer or nonbeliever; there’s no in-between. You either live with God now by faith or you do not.
When Jesus laid down his life for you, he brought you out of one way of life and into a completely different way of life. You once wandered in the pastures of death, but now he has led you into his believing flock. He uses a special word to tell you that: He “knows” you. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… To “know” means more than just memorizing facts and information. To “know” means “learning something by experience.”
So, for example, I may “know” your child. Your child is a man (or woman), about yea-tall, about this age; she works in town, he travels, she is married with this many children. Yet, I only know facts, information. Would it be safe to assume that you “know” your child better than I do? Yes, you know information, but you have a personal relationship with your child. You can decipher their body language and behavior. You recognize their interests and needs. You can describe their demeanor and personality. You have learned about your child’s needs and you respond appropriately to those needs.
So, when Jesus says: “I know my own…” he’s not saying, “Yes, I stuck my cattle-tag in their ear. That one’s mine.” He knows you personally. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, understands the fears that keep you up at night and comprehends why they bother you. He comforts your fears with a promises, I, the Almighty God, am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, senses the concerns you have about your health, and he gives you the strength needed for your health battle. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, sympathizes with your sadness at a funeral, and he comforts you with promises of eternal life. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, knows your gifts and special skills, and he opens opportunities for you to serve and he smiles as he watches you serve. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, an entirely new way to look at life. You do not live for your own self-wants. You are not abandoned. You have Someone great who stands watch over you. You can be certain of this. In our final verses Jesus says: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. This sounds like a disconnected, random thought— but don’t miss the point. Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and Roman soldiers did not muscle him onto the cross. Jesus submits to and follows the Father’s plan to save you. He lays down his life willingly. Then, he willingly takes his life back from death. This he does, not for his own benefit, but for yours.
Since he has made this great payment, it means nothing will separate you from the fold. With your Good Shepherd bringing you life, you will live protected. You will live perfectly content. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb sounds childish. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely left in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
That is how you live! As a child under the care of another! As a little lamb under the protection of Someone greater! Yes, life with Jesus presents a clear path. How? Know this: (1) Your Good Shepherd sacrificed his life for you, for your advantage. He has called you to faith and has brought you into his believing flock. You have eternal life.
Yet, you have life now too. Even though the future may be murky and decisions weigh on your mind, you have a powerful Shepherd to guide you. Listen to his voice. Trust those promises because they are meant for your good, not to harm you. When perplexed, go to your Good Shepherd in prayer and trust that he will guide you, even when you do not know how. You are Jesus’ little lamb.
Perhaps that is what makes these words some of the dearest for a Christian. Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.