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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:The Good Shepherd is He who lays down His life for the sheep
Text:John 10:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

Psalm 106:1,2

Hymn 7:2

Psalm 100:1,2,3,4

Psalm 23:1,2,3

Psalm 28:4,5

Read:  Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34:1-16; John 10:1-18

Text:  John 10:11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Dear Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The most well-known and well-loved psalm of the Bible is Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.”

Psalm 23 is well-known and well-loved for good reason.  Even though many of us are quite removed from farming and agriculture and even though sheep farming in Australia today is far different to how the shepherd cared for his sheep in Israel 2000 years ago, we have a picture in our mind of a Middle Eastern shepherd with his small flock of sheep, walking ahead of them along narrow mountain paths, and leading them to green pastures and still waters.  It’s a picture of a shepherd who is gentle, who is loving, and who cares for the sheep.  And, at least to an extent, it is a picture that matches what we read about the LORD in Isaiah 40:11 –

“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

But Psalm 23 really shines in all its brightness when we place this alongside John chapter 10 when read that the Lord Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd, and when we see that Psalm 23 finds its fulfillment in Him. 

And the reason why Psalm 23 shines in all is brightness when placed alongside John chapter 10 is because of what Christ did to be that Shepherd.  John 10:11b,

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

And so I preach to you the gospel from John 10:11, in connection with what we’ve read from Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34 under the following heading:

The Good Shepherd is He who lays down His life for the sheep.

  1. Who this Shepherd is.
  2. What this Shepherd does.
  1. Who this Shepherd is.

The life of a shepherd in Israel was not an easy one.  Rather than a frail man leaning heavily on his staff or a lad stretched out on the ground, idly watching the clouds go by as the sheep grazed their way through never-ending supplies of green grass, the shepherd was one who worked hard from sunrise to sundown, and often hours after that, walking back and forth, keeping each sheep in his sight, chasing down those that strayed and carrying those that were weak.  The shepherd would have to defend his sheep from thieves and robbers, and, in king David’s case, from lions and bears. 

  Each shepherd in Israel would have a small flock, rarely over a hundred sheep, and every morning he’d go to the sheepfold to call them out.  He’d whistle for them and, in the description our Lord gave in John 10, call them by name, individually.  The sheep would hear the voice of their shepherd and they would come out and follow him, trusting their shepherd to bring them to places of rest and security, to good pasture and clean water.

It was this illustration of a shepherd with his sheep that the Lord Jesus used to describe Himself.  And it was a good illustration not just because the work of the shepherd illustrated the work He had come to do so brilliantly, but because the LORD had used this same illustration to describe Himself in the Old Testament.

But there was more to the illustration that the Lord Jesus used.  Not only did He speak about the shepherd and his sheep, but He also spoke about thieves and robbers, and in verse 5 He spoke about a stranger.   But when Jesus said these things, the people did not understand what He meant.

But we know what He meant – and later the Jews did also.  Because when the Lord Jesus referred to Himself not just as a Shepherd but the good shepherd, He did so to contrast Himself to those who were false shepherds, who were hired workers, to those who had no love or interest in the sheep, and to those who came to kill and destroy.  And the people the Lord Jesus was mostly referring to here were the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jews, those who claimed to be Israel’s shepherds but who were driving the weak and the vulnerable ones away.  In John 9 we get to learn what these Pharisees were like and how they were treating the sheep.  In John 9 the Lord Jesus had healed a man born blind but the Pharisees were angry because He had done this on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders wanted nothing to do with the Lord Jesus and John 9:22 says that they were determined to put those who confessed that Jesus was the Christ out of the synagogue.  That is, they would excommunicate them, declare that they had no part in the community of Israel, no part in the kingdom of God.  And with respect to this man who had been born blind but, being healed by the Lord Jesus, could now see, the Pharisees became angry at him for saying that the Lord Jesus was from God and, after a long and hostile interrogation, they threw him out.

Jesus knew this and the actions of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders both grieved Him and angered Him.  The Pharisees were to be the shepherds of Israel but they were not true shepherds; rather, they acted like hirelings.  And even worse, they harmed the sheep and scattered them.

  The Bible describes these false shepherds and the harm they caused not just in John 10 but also in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 34.  We read about that together.  In Ezekiel 34:2-4 the LORD said,

“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.  The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.”

And that was exactly what the Pharisees and the other religious leaders were guilty of.  They were the false shepherds, they were the hirelings, they were those who had come to steal, to kill and to destroy.

But in contrast to them, the Lord Jesus was the true shepherd, He was the good shepherd.  And that’s striking, because in Ezekiel 34 it was the LORD who declared Himself to be the good shepherd of Israel.  Ezekiel 34:11-16 says in part,

“For thus says the Lord GOD:  “Behold I, I myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out. . . .  13. And I will bring them out….  I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them in good pasture . . . 15. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.  “I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak . . .”

So that’s what the Lord GOD said in Ezekiel 34.  But now it is Jesus who declares Himself to be the good shepherd.  Do you see, then, what the Lord Jesus is doing when He declares Himself to be the good shepherd?  He was telling the Pharisees that not only did He come from God, but that He Himself is God!  He was telling the Pharisees that the Shepherd the Old Testament spoke of had now come to gather His sheep.  The Pharisees did not believe it, but they now understood what the Lord Jesus was saying to them.  That is why the Jews said to Him in John 10:33,

“It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 

But do you understand it?  And more, do you believe it?

We read together from Psalm 23, from those well-known words,

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

But to whom do these words refer?  Who is this LORD who is my shepherd?  It is the LORD with capital letters, that is, the One who in the Hebrew language was known as Yahweh, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.  He is the God who had revealed Himself to Moses and to the people of Israel as “I AM WHO I AM”.  He is the God who chose a people for Himself, who made His covenant with them, declaring to them and saying, “I am your God and you are My people.”  This is the God of whom it says in Psalm 100:3,

 “Know that the LORD [capital letters], he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his;  we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”

And now in John 10 the Lord Jesus is saying, “Those Old Testament passages that speak about the LORD as your Shepherd, these passages are speaking about Me!”  Jesus Christ is the I AM WHO I AM – He and the Father and the Holy Spirit, the One only True God.

Brothers and sisters, do you believe that?  Do you believe the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ that He is the good shepherd?

In John 9:35-38 it says that the Lord Jesus found the man who had been blind but was healed by Him.  He found the man after had had been cast out by the Pharisees, those false shepherds, and He said to him,

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”  He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Jesus said in John 10:14,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.”

We know Him.  We believe that He Himself is God, the great I AM.  We believe that He, the Lord, is our shepherd and that we are His sheep.

But there is more, for this Shepherd is the Good Shepherd.  Whereas the Pharisees and other religious rulers of Israel were the hirelings, the bad and false shepherds, the Lord Jesus is good.  He knows His sheep and He calls them by name.  He tends to His flock and He cares for them.  He leads His flock and He feeds them.  To apply the words of Psalm 23 to our Lord Jesus Christ,

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.”  (verse 2)

And Psalm 23:4,5

“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.”

Do you see the difference between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees, the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hireling, the one who does not truly care about the sheep?  And Jesus says, “I am that Shepherd!  I care for you.  I protect you.  I am always with you.  And I love you.”  And the reason why we know that He loves us is because of what He has done for us.  John 10:11.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

That brings us to our second point.


  1. What this shepherd does.

When the Lord Jesus said not only that He was the good shepherd but also that “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep”, we see that He is no ordinary shepherd.  A regular shepherd, a good one that is, would love his sheep and he would care for them.  And to an extent, when thieves or wild animals came, he would even risk his life for the sheep.  But He would never lay down His life for His sheep.  He would never choose to give up his own life in the place of the lives of his sheep.  But that is what our Lord Jesus Christ had come to do.  He had come to lay down His life for the sheep.  John 10:15,

“. . . as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

And verse 17,

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

And John 10:18,

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

That is what the Lord Jesus had come to do, and that is what He would do:  His death would not be an accident, nor would it take the Lord Jesus by surprise.  Rather, the Lord Jesus had come to this earth, and now He was on His way to Jerusalem, in order to lay down His life, to die for the sake of His people.  All that Jesus said and did during His life here on earth was with that end goal in mind: to lay down His life for His sheep.  For it is in this way that He purchased His sheep, that He redeemed them so that they would be His.

For that is what the good shepherd had done.  He has laid down His life for His sheep, and then He took up His life again so that we might be His.  And it is because of this, because He gave His life for the sheep that we can sing Psalm 23:1,

“The LORD is my shepherd.”

And, since we belong to the good shepherd, we have a relationship with Him.  He knows us, He guides us, He cares for us and He loves us.  John 10:3,

“To him the gatekeeper opens.  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

And what a beautiful thing that is!  The Good Shepherd says that He knows your name!  He knows who you are!  He cares for you, He makes you lie down in green pastures and leads you beside the still waters.  He is not a hireling but He is the Good Shepherd.  And the Good Shepherd loves you.  He cares for you.  He will never leave you.  He will never forsake you.  He will be there in every circumstance and in every situation.  Indeed, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He will be with you, His rod and staff will comfort you.

And how do we know that?  It is, John 10:13 teaches us, because He cares for His sheep.  Yes, He cares so much that He has laid down His life for His sheep.  Indeed, it was when we were still sinners that Christ died for us.  That is how much He loves us!  That is how much He cares for us!  And as it says in Romans 8:32,

“He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with Him graciously give us all things?”

And therefore we need not fear.  Since Christ lay down His life for the sheep, nothing can separate the sheep from their shepherd.  John 10:27-30,

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He leads His sheep, He cares for His sheep and He loves His sheep.  Yes, even foolish and stubborn and disobedient sheep such as you and I.  He will lead us on and He will be with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death itself.

But there is one other thing that I wish to point out to you from John 10 and that is that the Lord is not only our Shepherd personally but He is also our Shepherd collectively.  The Lord Jesus did not simply die for one or two stray and wandering sheep, but He lay down His life for His flock.  And that means that we not only belong to the Lord Jesus as our shepherd but we also belong to one another.  We are a part of the flock, a part of the fold, a part of that covenant community that God was determined to have from the very beginning.  And that is also the work of the Good Shepherd.   John 10:16 says,

“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.”

And what a blessing it is that we, God’s sheep, have been gathered together as one flock under the one Shepherd.  And we know that one day the Shepherd will come back for His sheep.  And then it will be, Revelation 7:15-17 says, that all God’s people will be together, before the throne of God, and He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

What a glorious truth it is that the Lord is our shepherd and we are His sheep.  Yes,

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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