In the Christmas play at church, I always wanted to be a shepherd. I knew it took less commitment to be a shepherd because I would have fewer lines than the people who had to play Joseph or the Magi.
But I had no clue what a shepherd actually did. In real life, shepherding is a hard occupation. The hours are long, and a good shepherd must give endless care to his sheep.
The Bible often uses the analogy of us humans being like sheep. For example, Psalm 100:3 says, “It is He who has made us. … We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” And Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).
God calls us sheep because He knows human nature. With our mob instinct, our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, and our rebellious nature, we’re very similar to sheep. Further, sheep cannot survive on their own. They require constant attention, rescue and care from the shepherd, or they’ll die.
However, the important point is not that we are just like sheep, but rather that we have a wonderful Shepherd. That was David’s thought on Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” It was a bragging point. “Look at who my shepherd is! Look at who’s in control of my life!” As a shepherd himself, David knew that the quality of life for any sheep depends on the kind of shepherd who takes care of it.
And Jesus the Good Shepherd is a great shepherd. He sacrifices for His sheep: He literally gave His life for us. He knows His sheep: He knows us each individually, intimately and completely—and loves us anyway! He unites His sheep: To the Good Shepherd, race, sex, ethnicity and nationality are all unimportant. We are all His flock. He lives for His sheep: He died, but He rose again, and He will never abandon us.
Jesus continues His care for His sheep. Hebrew 7:25 says that Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for you. He sits at the right hand of the Father pleading your case to God because your adversary, Satan, is constantly condemning you. And Jesus is saying, “It’s OK, Father, that is one of my sheep. I bought that one.” So, Jesus is praying for you right now! How can you lose with a Shepherd like that?
John 10:9 gives us this statement from our Shepherd: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” It’s a picture of the rustic sheepfold out in the countryside, an enclosure of piled-up rocks where the shepherd lies down across the opening to protect the sheep from predators. When Jesus says, “I am the door,” He is not mixing metaphors. In a real sense, the shepherd is the door.
Consider Jesus being the door. What is He the door to?
He is the door to salvation. The sheepfold had only one door. Likewise, Jesus didn’t say, “I’m one of many doors.” He said He was the only door. It’s a perfect application of what Jesus taught throughout the Gospel of John: the narrow way, the exclusiveness of Christ.
God sent Jesus to be the only Savior of mankind. Why would He come if there were many doors, many ways to God? He could have stayed in Heaven if everybody was going to the same place no matter what they believed. But no, He came that people might be saved through or by Him. That’s why He says in verse eight, “All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.”
He is the door to provision. Jesus promised that His sheep “will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). That’s a metaphor for contentment, for provision. When the shepherd took his sheep out of the sheepfold, he brought them to green pastures, still waters and abundant food sources because he was providing for them. In the same way, Jesus Christ nourishes us, His sheep. Right now, we’re being nourished by the very truths of the Word of God that speak of His infinite care.
He is the door to satisfaction. Furthermore, Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), or literally “to the brim, in superabundance.”
Does abundance describe your life as one of God’s flock? If it does, if you reflect a satisfaction in life, a real joy in Christ, what an advertisement that is to follow the Shepherd! Many would line up to follow that Shepherd as they see the joy of His sheep. But if people hear you constantly complaining about life, it’s as if you were saying, “Don’t follow my Shepherd, or you’ll end up just like me.”
Shepherds often gave names to their sheep based on their personalities. If God were to give you a nickname on that basis, what would it be? Would it be “Loving” or “Trusting” or “Hopeful?” Or would it be “Grumpy” or “Wanderer?”
There’s a secret to being a happy sheep. If you stay at a distance from your Shepherd, wander around and find your own way, “Happy” won’t be your nickname. Remember, happiness and safety are directly proportional to proximity. The closer you live to your Shepherd, the more you will be nourished and cared for by Him, and safe because of His protection.
If Jesus Christ is willing to be your Shepherd, why would you settle for anything less? Accept no substitute for the good, loving and merciful Shepherd.
©2012 Skip Heitzig
Skip Heitzig is the pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque in Albuquerque, N.M. Scripture Quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Skip Heitzig and his son, Nathan, will be leading a seminar at The Cove Oct. 13-15, 2013. For information, go to thecove.org.