Images of the Savior (35 â€“ His Parable of the Good Shepherd)
One of the most blessed prophecies ever given to the prophets of old may be found in Ezekiel thirty-four. In that notable passage, the Lord first berates the false leaders of his people Israel, who ought to have been as good shepherds, protecting them from the wild beasts, guiding them lest they wander astray, and leading them to good pastures. But instead, they had destroyed and killed the flock of God. In response, God promises that he himself will come and be a shepherd to his people, guiding, protecting, and nourishing them; but when he comes, he will judge the false shepherds, and distinguish between the true sheep of his flock, who are oppressed and down-trodden, and the fat and cruel sheep, who destroy all the provision and leave no sustenance for the others. These latter will share the same fate of condemnation as the false shepherds; but God's true sheep will be delivered and brought to a place of peace and fruitfulness forevermore, where God will be their God, and dwell among them. At this point in the prophecy, God refers to the Shepherd of the people as David his servant. From which circumstance we may learn that one would arise who is both the offspring of David and indeed God himself; and he will shepherd the true people of God, but judge their oppressive leaders and those sheep who are not truly his.
In our last study, we saw that Jesus was busy at his work of delivering the down-trodden among the people from all their affliction, and even giving sight to the blind; but the religious leaders of the Jews were raging against the helpless, and had even cast out of the synagogue this little afflicted sheep whom Jesus had delivered. And so, in response, Jesus delivers to the people this parable of the good shepherd, which all the Pharisees, who were well-acquainted with the scriptures, must have known at once to be in allusion to the prophecy of Ezekiel, and hence an indictment of them as false and cruel teachers; as well as an indirect claim that Jesus was indeed the promised David, and God himself come down to shepherd the flock and to judge all others; which is indeed a claim that becomes sufficiently clear by the end of the chapter that the Pharisees are once again ready to stone him for blasphemy. Let us now turn to the parable at hand.
We will note, first, what Jesus meant by his allusion to the door of the sheepfold. This image contains both a denunciation of false teachers, such as the Pharisees were in truth, and also an illustration of the exclusiveness of Christ as the only way to salvation. It is a most obvious truth that any true shepherd of a flock of sheep will bring in and lead out the flock through the door of the sheepfold; but the thief who comes to steal or the wild beasts who come to kill and destroy will at all costs avoid the door, where the shepherd was accustomed to sleep, but will climb in surreptitiously through some other way. Because the Pharisees had not made use of the door of the sheepfold, in their dealings with the flock, they were in fact false shepherds, who destroyed the flock and did not care for it.
But what does it mean that they had not come through the door? Jesus makes this clear when he states positively, â€œI am the Door of the sheepâ€. Which is a figure that conveys most strikingly the truth that it is only through Jesus that one may pass into the security of the sheepfold, that is, into a relationship with God as his protector and defender; and it is likewise through the door alone that one may pass out into green pasture lands, that is, into the blessings of an eternal life of peace and joy. The Doorkeeper will only open the door to the true shepherd; and so the Father will only open up the eternal Kingdom to Christ, and to those who are led by him. The Pharisees, as they were seeking another way to enter into the Kingdom of life and joy in the presence of God, namely, their own works and righteousness, were manifestly shown to be thieves, and not true shepherds of the sheep. Let us note well: there is only one way to God, at whose right hand is the fullness of eternal joy â€“ and that is through the person of Jesus Christ, our God and the Son of David, who shepherds the sheep in all-nourishing love. Anyone who seeks to point you to God's favor through any door other than the perfect work of Christ, no matter how sincere and kind he may seem to be, is in truth a ravaging wolf and a treacherous thief â€“ brothers and sisters, beware of such!
Second, let us note what Jesus meant by his allusion to the good shepherd. We have already demonstrated, in light of Ezekiel thirty-four, that the promised shepherd would be both God and David, that is, the long-awaited Messiah who would save his people from their sins and provide for their eternal welfare. But how is it that the good shepherd does this? We see, first, that he calls out his own sheep (but not those sheep who do not belong to him), who certainly follow him, as they have been taught his voice by the Father (see John 6:44-45), whose Spirit leads them to understand and embrace Jesus the eternal Son (I John 2:18-27). But second, for these sheep whom he has called out, he lays down his life so that they might live; and what is that, but that on the cross Christ willingly offered up his life as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of his people, so that they might be forgiven and reconciled to God, and thus be given eternal life? Although the false Jews with wicked hands nailed Christ to the cross (Acts 2:22-24), let us be certain that ultimately no one took the Son's life from him â€“ he laid it down of his own accord (John 10:17-18), so that we who hear his voice might be given life. Oh, how selfless and loving, with the true and inexhaustible love of God, is that Good Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus our Savior!
Third, we must be clear on what it means to be Jesus' sheep; and from this parable we may determine, first of all, that Jesus' sheep are those within the fold of the Jewish nation; but we may also be very certain that not everyone within the Jewish nation is truly a sheep of God. For within that flock, Jesus does not call every sheep, but only his own; he does not lay down his life for every sheep, but just for those who belong to him; and he does not go before every sheep, leading them out to good pastureland, but only those whom he calls, and who hear him and follow him, because they know his voice. Those sheep who belong to another do not know his voice, and hence flee from him.
But this calling out of his own sheep from the sheepfold of the Jewish nation is only the beginning of Jesus' work as the Good Shepherd: for we must observe, a little later, that Jesus has other sheep who are not of that old Jewish fold, whom he will call, and who will hear and follow him, because they are his; these sheep, from the folds of all the nations on earth, must likewise be brought to Christ the good Shepherd, so that there may be one fold and one Shepherd, even as there is but one Door. Truly in Christ the dividing wall that separated the Jews from the Gentiles has been broken down (Ephesians 2:11-22), so that we who are Gentiles by birth might be made true heirs of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:26-29), and grafted into the good tree of the people of God (Romans 11:17-24). Oh, let us ever be grateful that our gracious Father has given to his servant, the greater David, sheep from every nation, and not from the Jews only! Let us be thankful that it was considered too small a thing for one so glorious to be the Savior of the Jews only, so that he was likewise given as â€œa light for the nations,â€ so that the salvation of God might reach unto the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6)! But let us not be presumptuous, but rather examine ourselves to see if we are among the true flock of God. Who is it that Jesus calls, who is it that Jesus gave his life for, who is it that he leads into the green pastures of the presence of God, save those who hear his voice, and follow him? Do you hear the sweet voice of the Savior, whispering in your ear through his Spirit, â€œYou are mine, I have bought you and I will never forsake you,â€ as you dig into the precious promises of his word? Then be assured that you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd, for all who hear his voice are his sheep indeed. But if your hope of salvation is directed to some other door, no matter how good and profitable that door may be, your ruin is certain and your calamity is great! Oh, let us tune our ears to the voice of the Savior as he sheds in our heart his gospel promises, and let us run after him wherever he may lead!
This the Pharisees failed to do: and it is simply because they were not of the true sheep of Jesus. If we have heard the Savior, let us not be highminded, but rather give God all the glory for our salvation. â€œFor who makes you to differ? Or what do you have, that you did not receive? But if you received it, why do you boast as though you had not received itâ€ (I Corinthians 4:7)? Do you not understand that you are able to hear the Good Shepherd's voice only because you have been given to him by the Father (John 6:44-45)? Or do you not realize that, if you were not already one of his sheep, you would no more be able to hear his voice than the Pharisees before you (John 10:26)? Those who do not hear the Savior will be punished with eternal destruction away from his presence, when he comes back to be glorified among those who believe in him (II Thessalonians 1:8-10); but those who hear his voice and follow him will be given eternal life, which none shall be strong enough to rob us of, no, not if all the world should arise against us, not if Satan and all his minions should cast against us his fiery darts, not if all the remaining sin in our hearts should scream out defeat in our sorrowing ears; for if we have heard the voice of the Savior, then he has died for us: and if he has died for us, â€œwho is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who has died, and moreover has risen and is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for usâ€ (Romans 8:34)! If God has called us, he will justify us, sanctify us, and ultimately glorify us, so that we might finally be led to the pastures of his presence, where the Son of God and Son of David will shepherd us forevermore, in the land of eternal joy. Do you hear his voice rustling through the gospel-pages of his precious promises? Then up and let us away, for we will never find rest until we find it with our Good Shepherd, our God come down to dwell in our midst.