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The Lamb is the Good Shepherd

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

The Good Shepherd in John 10

I am sure you have heard of the word “sheeple.” It’s a derogatory word used to criticize people who follow anything blindly without questioning or thinking for themselves. I Don’t know about you, but I take issue when I am referred to as a sheep in the church. I have intellect and I can think for myself. After all, I’m an INTJ personality type on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging. Our types are fiercely independent, sometimes called the “lone wolf” or a “sigma male” who are probably not very easy to lead and generally does not follow the crowd. So, I least of all like being referred to as a sheep. I am sure some of you can relate.

However, when it comes to Scripture, we need to understand that sheep is being used metaphorically, for an agrarian or pastoral context where this would have made sense in biblical times. Secondly, Jesus, the Son of God while never referred to as a sheep, has often been betrayed as a lamb, which is a young sheep under a year old.

How the Lamb Became the Shepherd | 1 Peter 2:19–25

If Jesus identifies as a young lamb, surely we can identify as sheep. You might say, yes but the context is somewhat different, Jesus as the lamb is a reference to his sacrificial death. Well yes, even more reason why it should not bother you or I to embrace the sheep metaphor.

The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter to Christians who were facing persecution and suffering for their faith, and so he encourages them to endure their persecution and suffering because it is far more valuable if they endured suffering because of their faith in God rather than if they had done something wrong. After all, as Jesus suffered and sacrificed himself for us, he calls us to follow him and his example, and did he not say to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”? (Matthew 16:24).

Following is difficult enough for people like myself, and yet it’s not just “follow me,” it’s “pick up your cross and follow me.” This following includes suffering and persecution. We should expect it. It’s even more painful when such persecution comes from within the church. Jesus experienced some of this himself. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). And yet the religious leaders persecuted him and insulted him, and ultimately had him crucified. In his suffering, he never retaliated, and neither did he make any threats, but he entrusted himself to his Father who is the one who judges rightly.

Jesus did this so that in his sacrificial death as the Lamb of God, he might bear our sins upon the cross so that we might live for righteousness. Many Christians believe that when Peter says, “By his wounds, you have been healed,” he means to say that we may enjoy miraculous healing because Jesus suffered for us. While this might be true ultimately in light of our coming resurrection and eternal life, I don’t think this is what he means. The direct context of the passage seems to suggest that we are healed from the disease of our sin, and because of Jesus’s sacrificial death, he frees and heals us from our sin and its deathly consequences bringing us into unspeakable peace.

Peter draws his inspiration for this passage from Isaiah 53:4–9. And while Peter does not explicitly speak about a lamb, Isaiah does, so it makes sense to think of the image of the lamb when reading 1 Peter 2:19–25: Isaiah writes,

He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers are silent,

so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).

The sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross affects those of us who believe, it causes us to live righteous lives, and while we were like sheep who had gone astray, this death of Christ seems to have a power that draws us to him, which is why Peter can say “but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” All of a sudden the lamb becomes the shepherd. This is the paradox because the lamb became the sacrifice for us, and so in turn he becomes our shepherd. Another of those upside-down mysteries of the gospel.

Yet, Jesus can only be a shepherd if he has sheep. Therefore, if we say, “I don’t want to think of myself as a sheep.” We are rejecting Jesus as our shepherd and in turn the Lamb of God who gave himself up as the sacrificial lamb on a Roman crucifix. So, when our shepherd calls, best we heed his voice as his sheep and follow him.

The Good Shepherd and his Sheep | John 10:1–13

This brings us to the famous passage about the good shepherd in John 10, and here things get a little bit confusing where Jesus calls himself the gate of the sheep and the good shepherd. These are the “I am” sayings I told you about last time I preached, where I mentioned how Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Now Jesus says, “I am the gate”, and “I am the good shepherd.”

The Gate

While there is a gate, one might enter the sheep pen some other way like jumping over the wooden fence, but these are strangers to the sheep pen, don’t trust them. The true shepherd of the sheep always enters through the gate. But those who enter some other way, the Pharisees and other strangers are not shepherds, even though they might pretend to be. Those who are Jesus’s sheep, know his voice and will not pay attention to any other voice. They only follow the voice of their shepherd. They do not know the voice of strangers.

According to Jesus, there is only one gate, and that gate is himself. Remember, he says, “I am the gate.” Contrary to popular belief, there is only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ. He says later in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Either Jesus was telling the truth, or he was lying, and if he was lying, we ought to question his honesty and whether he really is a good shepherd. We ought to take him seriously and enter through him, the true gate, because those who enter through him will be saved.

Strangers, Thieves, and Robbers

Those, like the Pharisees who came before Jesus are thieves and robbers. But this is also true of those who come after Jesus. Even today, we see them enter the sheep pen in some other way and they literally thieve from God’s people. You can find many of them on Christian TV and even find their books in bookshops. I need not name them, all you need to do is look at the cars they drive, their private jets, and their huge, magnificent homes.

Someone I work with used to lift these famous preachers from the airport to their hotel as part of his job. He tells me that one of them would not enter the car unless it was the top of the range Mercedes-Benz, it was the only car he was prepared to drive in. My friend said that was wasn’t the worst of it, he was too ashamed to tell me all the other stories about the expectations of these preachers. These thieves and robbers are alive and well in certain sectors of Christianity.

The Sheep

Jesus says that the sheep have not listened to them, which begs the difficult question, what about those Christians who read books written by these superstar preachers or contribute to their ministries and private jets? Let me leave it there. But one thing is sure, the sheep know the voice of the good shepherd, and so they follow and listen to him. He calls them by name and leads them.

It’s one thing to push against following the crowd as some kind of obligation or peer pressure which I have already said, following is something I am not very good at doing. But it’s quite another when someone says, “Robert, follow me.” It’s so much more personal and impactful. I still remember it was the evening of 15 February 1996, I was 14 years old. After three days of intense awareness of my utter sinfulness so much so that my stomach was in knots, I sat in my bed and heard Jesus’s call, “Robert, give your life to me and follow me.” I could not resist that call. I surrendered my life to Jesus and when I woke up the next morning, I felt like an entirely different person, peace and wholeness filled my soul.

While the thief comes to kill and destroy, Jesus comes so that we might have life and have it to the full. Yes, life is often challenging, but one thing is true, life in Jesus Christ is fulsome.

The Wolf

There is the robber and the thief, and there is a hired hand whose job is to keep an eye out for the sheep, but he is not the shepherd. So, when he sees a wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and flees out of fear, and lets the wolf do what it wishes to the sheep. They are not his sheep so he does not care what happens to them. The wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. I mentioned at the start that I have a “lone wolf” personality type. Of course, these are different metaphors, I wouldn’t want you to think that Rob is identifying himself as the wolf who attacks Jesus’s sheep.

But this is something I fear sometimes—that my sermons would veer off course—which is why, I hope you have noticed that my sermons follow Scripture very closely. Of course, I have an inquisitive mind and so I explore different ideas on other platforms where it’s more appropriate. But here, I want you to see the clarity of Scripture, the power of God, and the beauty of Christ.

The Good Shepherd

And the beauty of Christ Jesus in this passage is when he says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11). Do you see here that the Lamb is the Good Shepherd? The sacrificial lamb laid down his life for us, his sheep, so that we might be reconciled to his Father and have eternal life. Unlike the strangers, the thieves and robbers, the hired hand, and the wolf, the Shepherd lays down his life for you and me. And so, he also calls us to follow him and sacrifice ourselves for others, not necessary in death (although for a very few it might mean that), but certainly of our time and resources.

If the Lord is my shepherd, I submit—I am his sheep! And I want to hear his voice, I want to obey and follow him. I hope you will too. King David who himself was a shepherd, wrote a famous Psalm about what it means for the Lord to be our shepherd and for you and I to be his sheep. I have used the translation by a brilliant Jewish scholar, Robert Alter:

The Lord is My Shepherd| Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

In grass meadows He makes me lie down,

By quite waters guides me.

My life He brings back.

He leads me on pathways of justice

For His name’s sake.

Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow,

I fear no harm,

For You are with me.

Your rod and Your staff—

It is they that console me.

You set out a table before me

In the face of my foes.

You moisten my head with oil,

My cup overflows.

Let but goodness and kindness pursue me

All the days of my life.

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

For many long days.


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