“Our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep”
Initially I assumed our English word for great would be inferior to the Greek word used in this text. I thought it would be something more descriptive like wonderful, magnificent, illustrious, awesome, clothed in grandeur. But no, it means great. In fact, its even more plain than the word great. It literally means big. But there’s nothing insufficient about that word when it’s used to describe God. It means powerful. It means preeminent. It means majestic. It means exceedingly abundantly above all we could ever imagine or describe.
- Psalms 145:3; Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
- Psalms 48:1; Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
- Psalms 86:10; For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
- Psalms 147:5; Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
- Psalms 96:4; For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
- Psalms 135:5; For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
- Jeremiah 32:17-19; Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.
- Revelation 15:3; Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
- Malachi 1:5; Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!
Anyone would be willing to lead from a throne, or an oval office, or a corner suite on the twentieth floor. How many would be willing to lead the way a shepherd does? Instead of sitting on a throne, sitting on a rock. Instead of walking through palaces, walking through mud. Instead of mingling at cocktail parties, living with the sheep.
- Ezekiel 34:15-16; I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
- Micah 5:2-5; But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.
- Isaiah 40:11; He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
- Revelation 7:15-17; …He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Understanding Christ to be our Great Shepherd requires us to understand who we are in relation to Him. He is our God, we are His people. He is the potter, we are the clay. He is the Shepherd, we are the sheep.
- Psalms 95:7; For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
- Psalms 79:13; But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
- Psalms 100:3; Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
- Ezekiel 34:31; And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.
1 Kings 20:15, 29
“…He mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. …And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day.”
The Lord makes it clear to us why He chose to work in such a miraculous way on behalf of Israel in this particular battle. Verse 28: “Because the Syrians have said, ‘The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Because the Syrians have not recognized Me as God and because you haven’t either, I am going to prove Myself to both of you.
It is typical of the Lord to intervene in the matters of men, not for the sake of the righteousness of men, but for the sake of His righteousness and for His name’s sake. Remember what the Lord told the people of Israel when they first came into the promise land:
- Deuteronomy 9:3-7; “Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you. Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.”
This correlates directly with the Gentile’s inclusion in the body of Christ. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans chapter 11:
- Romans 11:15-24; “For if [Israel’s] rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
The Lord has not saved us because we were deserving. If that were the case it would not be “saving” at all. God saved us because He decided to. He purposed to bring us to Him. He set His love on us even though we had spit in His face and rejected Him. Our inclusion in His family, our stake in the inheritance of eternal life, is only based on His mercy and grace which we receive through faith.
The overriding theme of Paul’s thought is “Do not become proud, but fear.” You do not support God, but God supports you. You did not initiate a relationship with God, He did. And just as He did not act on behalf of Israel in the Old Testament because of their righteousness, so He has not saved you because of yours.
- Titus 3:3-7; “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
- 2 Timothy 1:9; “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began….”
- Ephesians 2:1-9; “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The Lord made it clear to Israel that He set His love on them and chose to help them just because that’s what He wanted to do. His mercy directs His actions. His grace constrains Him to act on behalf of man. It is also true of us that He has saved us based on His mercy, His grace, and His love alone.
Every man, woman, or child is included in His sphere of love “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life;” John 3:16. And this He has done not because the world first loved Him but because He loves the world and “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” 1 Timothy 2:4.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
This is the will of God
Usually when I consider God’s will for my life, I am more apt to think in terms of the course I should take. Where should I go? What should I do? However, the more I read the scriptures I am becoming persuaded that, though God does provide guidance and direction for our life’s path, He is much more concerned with our conduct. Instead of asking where I should go, I should be asking how should I conduct myself wherever I am.
I cannot open my bible and defend my course of life. I can not say for sure that God wants me to be working where I work or living where I live. I can, however, open my bible and tell you exactly what God’s will is for me as concerns my conduct. According to the passage before us, I know without a doubt: “this is he will of God, your sanctification.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:18-20; “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
- Romans 6:12-14; “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
- 1 Peter 2:11-12; “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Who gives his Holy Spirit to you
You’ve probably heard the adage: “When the Lord guides, He provides.” Another saying that’s similar is: “The Lord’s commandments are His enablements.” This is never so true as when said in context of our sanctification. He reveals His will to us: I want you to live a holy life. He provides the means: the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we are both born-again and sustained through life.
- 2 Peter 1:3; “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”
- Philippians 2:13; “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
- Hebrews 13:20-21; “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”
- Galatians 5:22-25; “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”