Jean’s Gospel: The Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 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 10:11-16)
During his last visit with the elders of the Ephesian church, Paul warned them of “fierce wolves” who would come among them to destroy the flock (Acts 20:29). The wolves would be false teachers who would infiltrate the church, teaching “twisted things” (Acts 20:30), to draw the sheep away from the Church that Jesus “obtained by his blood” (Acts 20:28). The leader of the wolf pack is the devil.
Twisted teaching may be contrasted with straight teaching. Paul would define straight teaching as focusing on “the word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18) or “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Paul taught the same “ways in Christ…everywhere in every church” (1 Cor 4:17). Straight teaching creates and sustains unity within the Church, in which the flock are all led together by Christ and His Word along a straight path towards the proper destination: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6)
Twisted teaching, by contrast, scatters the flock, drawing them away from the Church that Christ obtained by His blood. Paul also warned of this danger in his first letter to Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (1 Tim 4:3-4). Twisted teaching leads the flock away from Christ and His Church by various means, including, for example, by sowing division, greed, conceit, despair, licentiousness, works-righteousness, etc. within the flock.
“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.” (John 10:12)
Jesus distinguishes between the Good Shepherd and hirelings. The hireling does not protect the sheep from the wolf. The hireling works for his wage and cares not for the sheep. So when the wolf comes with its twisted teaching, the hireling goes with the flow. He is susceptible to being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:14) In this way, the hireling abandons the sheep to the wolf.
At the root of his problem, the hireling does not know the Good Shepherd nor listen to His voice, so the hireling does not distinguish between teaching which is straight and that which is twisted. Since he is a hired hand, the hireling is vulnerable to greed, conceit, false doctrines, foolish controversies, etc. The wolf often works through the hireling to scatter and snatch the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11a)
Jesus, by contrast, is the Shepherd who saves the sheep from the wolves. He “came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus knows His own and his own know Him (John 10:14). This knowing is not mere intellectual knowledge, but is a relationship as intimate as the one that exists between Jesus and the Father (John 10:15). Like a shepherd with his own flock (or a faithful bride with her husband), Jesus’ sheep listen only to His voice and do not listen to nor follow the voices of strangers.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11b)
Three times, Jesus describes specifically how He, and He alone, is good to His sheep: He “lays down his life for the sheep.” The true Shepherd of souls is this, that He gives His own life as a ransom, as the one complete sacrifice, for the guilt of all sinners who have earned eternal damnation. He became our substitute; He took upon himself our transgressions and died in our stead. In this way, Jesus delivers the guilty, the sinners, from sin and destruction.
The ransom is paid for the sins of the whole world, but only believers in the Gospel take advantage of the mercy of the Good Shepherd; they alone obtain the grace of the Father. Wherever there is the forgiveness of sins, there too is life and salvation. His sheep rest in safety in the Good Shepherd, with hearts, minds and wills centered in Him. May our Good Shepherd keep and preserve us as sheep in His fold both now and forever. Amen.
“Lord Jesus, who alone is that one Good Shepherd, thanks be unto You for all Your spiritual and bodily benefits. Let the Word of Your salvation dwell among us richly, and suffer not that trusty staff, the word of Your promise, to be taken from us. And when the shadow of death spreads over us, conduct us safely to the fold of the perfected saints, the tabernacle not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Amen.” (Martin Luther, a prayer accompanying Psalm 23)