I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.John 10:11, 14-15
The primary characteristic of the good shepherd is that he loves unto death; he is willing to die for the sheep. The disciples never could get over the fact that Jesus loved them so much he was willing to die for them. Many of the epistles of Paul, of John and James and Peter contain awestruck references to this. John writes in Revelation,
Unto Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, (Revelation 1:5). Paul says in Romans,
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, (Romans 5:8). Peter said,
He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, (1 Peter 2:24). The writer of the Hebrews declares,
Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot unto God, (Hebrews 9:14). They are amazed that this Blessed One, this Sinless Lord, this Matchless Christ would consent to die for his own. But that is the mark of the Good Shepherd.
What a contrast with the hireling! What do all these other religious voices that we hear want from us? They want something for themselves. They regard the sheep as something to be exploited, to be used to advance and to build themselves up. When the sheep get into trouble, when the enemy comes, when the wolf (the devil) strikes, they flee, leaving the sheep to fend for themselves.
Jesus declares that the end of his laying down his life is to share his life with the sheep. Notice how he puts it,
I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
When I was a boy growing up I always longed to have a father. My father left home when I was 10. In all those years I cannot remember if he ever showed any affection to me. He was not cruel; he just ignored me. That is probably why, as a boy, I was always sensitive to the sight of a father and a son together sharing their love with each other. God has given me four precious daughters whom I love, but also in his mercy and grace he has allowed many young men to pass through my life who have been like sons to me. It has been a rich experience to know and to share that love with these fine young men and with my own daughters.
That is what Jesus speaks of here, that intimacy of fellowship, that beauty of life which was evident in Jesus as he loved the Father and the Father loved him. This, he promises, is what comes to us as a result of laying down his life for us—richness of fellowship—that beauty of life which is imparted by this One who was willing to lay down his life that we may have life.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead my Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant make me perfect in every good work to do his will, working in me that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ my Lord.
Are we so pre-occupied and self-conscious about being sheep that we are failing to wonder and to worship the Great Shepherd who has given His own life in infinite Love for His sheep?