By Eric J. Brown
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)
Jesus’ being a shepherd is a familiar idea. It shows up all over the place in the Scriptures, in some of the most familiar passages (Psalm 23), or alluded to through some of the most well-known people in the Bible (King David was a shepherd). And yet, when Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd and begins to explain what that means, it sort of throws us for a loop.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Really? The shepherd dies for the sheep? It doesn’t seem like it should work that way. Isn’t the shepherd worth more than the sheep? You might praise a shepherd who protects the sheep, but to lay down your life? That seems a bit much.
Yet, that is who your God is. Jesus is the God who would rather lay down His life so that the sheep, even we sheep who so often wander and go astray, would live. When Jesus looks at you, He doesn’t size you up and place a value upon you because of your utility. There is no cash or market value He puts on you. He simply loves you, and He will do whatever it takes to keep you safe and rescue you from sin, death, and Satan.
A sling (like shepherds would use to defend their sheep) wasn’t going to take down the gigantic weight of our sin. That old snarling wolf the devil wasn’t going to leave the flock alone. So Jesus, because He loves you, does whatever it takes to see you safe and saved. And so, He takes up your sin and lays down His life, and jumps right into death to rip it apart from the inside.
For you. A sheep. And not to manipulate you. Not to lay a guilt trip on you. Not to use you for wool and mutton. Nope. Jesus does this simply to make sure that you remain His forever. You’re not a commodity or resource to be used up by Jesus, you’re simply more precious to Him than His own life. Because you’re His sheep and He’s the Shepherd–the Good Shepherd, for you.
Rev. Eric J. Brown is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in April 2017.