I AM the Good Shepherd

I AM the Good Shepherd

I AM the Good Shepherd.

“I AM the good shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. I AM the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.” (John 10:11, 14).

I AM. Once again, Jesus startles His listeners with His claim to be co-equal to the Great I AM, the sacred Name of Yahweh. Jesus here is staking His claim to divinity, to being a kin to God Himself, the Holy One. Yahweh was the personal Name of God spoken to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14), and is revered by all faithful Jews and supreme in importance to the Faith. For Jesus to refer to Himself with an abbreviated form of I AM WHAT I AM is nothing short of scandalous. By claiming to be I AM, Jesus doesn’t leave many options… He isn’t merely a Bible scholar, a super prophet, a faith healer, an inspired teacher, an effective exorcist, a miracle worker. Jesus takes all those impressions of Him off the table. He is either a con man, or crazy, or filled with the devil, or in fact equal to Yahweh in the flesh. He reveals Himself to be the I AM around 20 times in the Gospel of John alone, including seven times when He connects the Name to helpful metaphors for a deeper understanding of who He is. With every pronouncement of I AM, Jesus is claiming eternal kinship with God the Father. Jesus wasn’t shy about claiming the Name of Yahweh as His own.

Expanding the Name. When the LORD told Moses His Name of Yahweh, He left a lot to the imagination. I AM WHO I AM. I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. I AM HE WHO EXISTS. Any person who is naturally curious would follow that up with… I AM, what, exactly? That’s quite a mysterious and elusive Name. And then Jesus comes along to help fill in some of the blanks by offering seven homespun metaphors in John. I AM the Bread of Life (6:35) who nourishes you with solid, spiritual food; I AM the Light of the World (8:12) who enables you to shine in purity, goodness and truth. I AM the Door (10:7) to the sheep pen who will welcome you to the flock of God; I AM the True Vine (15:1) who will provide what is needed to bear good fruit in your life; I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11:25) who will raise you from the dead into eternal life; I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6) who will guide you on the way to truth and abundant life. After these plain-spoken pictures that served as parables, people couldn’t complain about the lack of clarity about the Great I AM. Jesus helped to clarify a few things about the nature of the LORD.

The Good Shepherd. Jesus here provides another way to describe His role in our lives. This is another way to unpack further what the I AM is able to do for us. The Greek word for “good” here is kalos, which also means virtuous, beautiful, and especially in this context, excellent in performance of duty. Ezekiel 34:11-16 helps us to see how Yahweh is a good shepherd: “Sovereign Yahweh says,  And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost. I’ll collect the strays. I’ll doctor the injured. I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.” (Message). Another picture of Yahweh being the good shepherd offering tender care is Isaiah 40:11“Behold, Yahweh God shall come with a strong hand. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those who are with young.” In other words, Yahweh-Shepherd is excellent at what He does. The good shepherd considers the sheep his own. He is ready to defend the flock with his own life if necessary. He faithfully tends his flock, protects, heals, guides, and provides whatever is needed for the sheep to flourish. When Jesus claims to be the good shepherd, all the Scripture-savvy listeners would know He is directly referring to these passages in Ezekiel and Isaiah, which in picturesque language describe the ministry of the coming Messiah. Listeners would also know Jesus is harkening back to Psalm 23, where the first line of the psalm is a famous name for God… Yahweh-my-shepherd. Jesus is saying that Psalm 23 is a self-description.

The Bad Shepherd. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, leaders were commonly called shepherds, from Moses to David to Yahweh Himself. Many leaders, though, were not as excellent as them at their job, and Yahweh has no patience with those bad shepherds. We need look no further than Ezekiel 34 again to see the bad shepherds described: “Prophecy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Tell them Sovereign LORD says, ‘Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed the sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd. Watch out! I’m coming down on the shepherds and taking my sheep back! (vs. 1-10, message). We have all seen leaders like that, unfortunately. Jesus is the polar opposite of the bad shepherd. He is asking us to trust in His shepherding skills.

Knowledge. The good shepherd, says Jesus, knows his sheep more like a friend-leader than some distant despot. And the sheep know him as well. The sheep trust their shepherd when he calls them by name. The sheep are familiar with his voice, they recognize his voice when he guides and talks to them. The sheep may be rather stupid, but even they know better than to follow a strange voice. “Know’ is a relationship word in Scripture. To know someone, like the good shepherd knows his sheep, is deeply personal, is intimate. Knowing is not merely an intellectual process. Knowing involves learning by personal experience, through intimate involvement. To know something is to care for it, to give oneself over to it, to be responsible for whatever is known. To know something is to have a committed understanding of the thing known. Something isn’t truly known unless it has changed the knower in some way.  To know is to have a heartfelt focus on something. Jesus truly knows His followers, and His followers grow in knowing Him.

Messiah. Jesus couldn’t have made this any clearer. He is claiming to be Messiah in two different ways with His claim to be the Good Shepherd: By revealing Himself to be I AM; and by embracing His fulfillment of the shepherd passages in the Hebrew Bible. There is no question He is claiming to be “Yahweh-my-shepherd” that David wrote about so beautifully. Further fulfillment of the shepherd passages were confirmed on the Cross. Jesus said He is willing and able to lay down His life for the sheep. On the Cross, He did just that. Let’s hope the listeners during his Good Shepherd teaching remember this aspect of the discussion later. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for the sheep. Oh, that the sheep that are lost, who have wandered away, would recognize the voice of Jesus, “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), the “Great Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:7). the Messiah who will be “a shepherd after Yahweh’s heart, guiding us to pasture with wisdom and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15).