The Good Shepherd
Jesus describes himself in John 10:11 as “the good shepherd”.
Who is a shepherd?
A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends, herds, feeds, or guards flocks of sheep. Let’s look at these different responsibilities carried out by the shepherd.
Tending: According to the dictionary, to tend means to take care of someone or something; to apply oneself to the care of. If you tend someone or something, you do what is necessary to keep them in a good condition or to improve their condition.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
(Jude 24 ESV)
Herding: To herd is to keep or move (animals) together. As another dictionary puts it, If you herd animals, you make them move along as a group. According to Wikipedia, herding is the act of bringing individual animals together into a group (herd), maintaining the group, and moving the group from place to place—or any combination of those.
This is quite interesting because, in Christ, each of us as individual sheep is brought together to form His body – the spiritual Church. It bears noting that we are not meant to live as lone sheep but rather as a flock of sheep.
The second point worthy of note is that we are to be directed or guided by our Shepherd and not to chart our course independently of Him. The sheep do not presume to know more or better than the shepherd and trust the shepherd to lead them aright.
So when we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit as individuals, we are ultimately submitting to the direction in which He is moving His Church.
The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.
(Psalm 37:23-24 NLT)
I encourage you to read the whole of Isaiah 30 to see how God feels about His people doing their own thing and not trusting Him to help but rather putting their trust in others. Here is the introduction –
“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,” says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade. But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated, and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.” (Isaiah 30:1-2 NLT)
We then see that God is waiting for His people to return to Him in trust because when we trust God, we let Him lead us in the direction He knows is best for us as individuals and as His flock. One of the things that will happen to the one who returns to the Lord in trust is seen in verse 21 –
Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.
Feeding: To feed is to give food to a person, group, or animal; to supply with something necessary. The shepherd desires his sheep to be as healthy as possible and will provide all that the sheep need to not just survive, but thrive. It is his responsibility and He knows where the good grass and water are. The responsibility of the sheep is to follow the shepherd.
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
(Matthew 6:31-33 NLT)
The Easy-to-Read Version says, “What you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what he wants you to do.” But what does it mean to seek the kingdom of God?
As I see it, the first thing about seeking God’s kingdom is seeking to be a true citizen of His kingdom in which Jesus is King. So as citizens of this kingdom, we must be subject to our King. Remember,
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Colossians 1:13-14 ESV)
In this kingdom, the emphasis is not on earthly things as it is in the kingdom of darkness from which we have been delivered –
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 14:17 ESV)
This means we should be desirous of primarily experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit as we live in submission to our King. As we live in this manner, we should also desire to experience the power that is in this kingdom –
For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
(1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV)
As we focus on experiencing life in the kingdom of God, God takes care of our earthly needs as the wonderful Father and Shepherd that He is.
Guarding: To guard is to keep safe from harm or danger; protect. The shepherd uses his rod to scare predatory animals away from the sheep while the staff controls the sheep so that they don’t stray away into danger.
Now that we have a good idea of what our good Shepherd does for us because He loves us, let’s end by reading a part of Psalm 23 –
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:1-4 ESV)