Today’s passage continues Jesus’ discourse on shepherding and various Jews’ response to it. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: You really can’t understand the full meaning of the N. T. without knowing the O. T. When Jesus called himself “the good shepherd,” it should've reminded his first hearers of Ezekiel chapter 34. That whole chapter details God’s utter disgust with the “shepherds” (spiritual leaders) who'd completely abandoned their duties. They were supposed to be protecting the people from harm, but instead were abusing them and misleading them into destruction.
But in Ezekiel the Lord promised that he himself would come down and take over their duties, seek out and gather the lost sheep, and be the Shepherd they needed.
The rest of Jesus' teaching could be summarized under the heading of "stark contrast": The complete apathy of the “hired hands,” and the complete self-giving of the true Shepherd. Who were these ‘hired hands”? It seems that they were the spiritual leaders, again, who weren't caring about the sheep. They’re “fair weather” leaders, caring about the sheep only as long it doesn’t cost them, and who flee at the first sign of trouble.
In stark contrast stands our beloved Shepherd, who shows his dedication to us by laying down his life for us. Now that’s devotion! In fact, five times in this passage he predicts that he’s going to lay down his life for us. And there are three things we need to note about this.
First and foremost, the laying down of his life is the mission from his Father. He didn’t come primarily to teach or to physically heal. He was sent by the Father in order lay down his life for lost sinners. That’s you and me. Yes, Jesus loves you and me, and he demonstrated that love through the events we call the Passion. But the primary reason he came was in obedience to his Father.
Second, this reminds us of the sovereignty of Christ. The religious leaders did not take his life from him, and neither did the Roman soldiers. He freely laid down his life, and he was free to take it back up again. Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin thought they were in charge of the trial and what happened after, but they were only able to do any of that because of his decision.
Third, the fulfillment of his mission would bring unity out of diversity. There are some debates about who the “other” sheep are, but the best explanation seems to be that it’s referring to the influx of Gentiles into God’s household. When he spoke this, he had other sheep out there, and by his cross he has made all of us one in his body.
On a final note, I love how he just throws these momentous lines out there. We mentioned intimacy yesterday, and today he takes it notch higher. In vs. 14 he says that we know him and he knows us. How closely? I don’t want to say too much about this, since it delves into a glorious mystery, but in the next verse he says that we're to know him and he knows us just as he knows the Father and the Father knows him. Wow!!!!
Finally we have the various responses from the Jews. Again, we could accuse him of being “divisive.” And their responses mirror the modern ones. Some say that he’s demon-possessed, while others are at least willing to listen some more. Are you?
There are several ways to apply this passage, so I’ll briefly mention them. It affects our view of the essential unity of the Church. It affects how seriously we teachers take our duties. But mostly it leaves me in awe of the Shepherd who laid down his life for me. He didn’t have to, but he did.
Lord Jesus, words fail me. Except. . .maybe. . .thank you.