The Good Shepherd
Portraits of Christ | The Good Shepherd
I am the good shepherd. (John 10:11)
The portrait of the Good Shepherd, a name which Jesus called Himself, is painted beautifully in Psalm 23, and in many other scriptures. The Shepherd doesn't just take care of the flock as a whole, but He has to give each sheep individual attention, and has an intimate knowledge of each one. Jesus calls His own sheep by name (John 10:3). "I know my sheep, and my sheep know Me." (John 10:14).
Jesus said the Shepherd "goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:4). The main difference between a shepherd and a cowboy is that the cowboy drives the cattle from behind, while the shepherd leads the sheep from in front. The Shepherd goes ahead in front. He prepares the way, and will not lead His flock into a place that He has not inspected or prepared in advance. "He leads me beside still waters", David wrote in Psalm 23. "He leads me in the paths of righteousness...He prepares a table before me."
Judea is a semi-arid region with rocky desert-like terrain. Any patch of green pasture found along the countryside would have been the work of a shepherd. The shepherd would cultivate the hard soil, tear out the thorny underbrush, dig up rocks and remove stumps. Then he would plant seeds and irrigate the land until it became a lush green pasture. He would maintain his field every season, reseeding, removing poisonous plants, filling holes, and removing snakes.
When our Shepherd tells us He has prepared a table before us, He is saying, "I will not lead you somewhere where I have not already been. I will not lead you to a place where I have not already prepared the way." When Jesus leads us to the table He has prepared, when He makes us lie down in green pastures, He is saying, "Come and enjoy my finished work. There is nothing you need to do. Just come and rest."
David stated in Psalm 23 that the rod and staff of the Shepherd brings comfort to the sheep. Not only are these instruments used to fight off wild beasts that may attack the flock, the rod and staff of the Shepherd are also used to keep the sheep from straying or wandering. They are disciplinary tools. In Psalm 119:67, David wrote, "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word." Likewise, our Good Shepherd uses the trials and difficulties of life to keep us close to His heart. The writer of Hebrews stated, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son." (Hebrews 12:5b-6)
"The Good Shepherd lays down his life for sheep," Jesus said in John 10:11. A true shepherd loves his sheep so much that he will disregard his personal safety and put himself between the flock and danger. David the Psalmist, before facing Goliath, had already killed a lion and a bear to safeguard his flock (1 Samuel 17:34-37). Likewise, Jesus' love for fallen mankind was so great that He, while we were yet sinners, laid down his life freely to save us. And though Satan, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking to kill and to steal and to destroy, Jesus is ever our intercessor and advocate, and keeps Himself between the enemy and us.