“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.
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Keep them from the evil one
Christians have the confidence of knowing that God will keep them. We have Jesus’ prayer for assurance–the prayer of a righteous man has great power as it is working–and we also have the promise that God will answer His prayer.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:3; “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”
- 1 John 5:18; “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
- Psalms 121:1-8; “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He owns His sheep, He keeps His sheep, He protects them.
- John 10:8-15; “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 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.”
A hired hand flees
If a hired hand watched over Jesus’ sheep, he would surely flee at the first glimpse of danger. Why? Because, Jesus says, he doesn’t own the sheep–he doesn’t care for them. In contrast, Jesus purchased us with His own blood and, consequently, cares for us more deeply than we could ever imagine. He will never flee, He will never run, He will always protect us.
His sheep may go through difficult times. We aren’t excluded from trials and troubles. And though we have the promise of God’s protection, we have seen how he allowed Satan to test Job. But let us be comforted that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13; “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
God is faithful. He will establish us and guard us against the evil one and He will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure. Nevertheless, will not put our trust in our strength. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1, “We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
When it seems God has left us (He hasn’t), when it seems tribulation is greater than we can endure (it will never be), let us follow Paul’s example and rely, not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.”
God desires that we stay near to Him without being forced. He promises to teach, counsel, and guide us; He promises to watch over us and instruct us. As our part, He asks that we be willing. He asks that we be inclined to Him. He asks that we not be like stubborn beasts that have to be pushed and pulled, but rather like trusting sheep who follow their Shepherd unreservedly.
We all were once like sheep who had gone astray. We all can relate to the words the hymn writer sang, “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” But when we first came to God in faith, He gave us a new heart. Ezekiel tells us He transplanted our heart of stone with one of flesh. We have a new nature and the Holy Spirit residing within us. We reciprocate God’s desire for fellowship with us. We have a soft heart toward Him and a willingness to be lead.
- James 4:7-8 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Since we have a new heart, let us pursue an enthusiasm for walking near to the Lord. God wants to foster within us a heart that is submissive to Him without compulsion. He wants us to cheerfully, willingly love, follow,, and live for Him.
In light of all He’s done for us, this should be easy; we just need to be reminded from time to time.
- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
- Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
- Romans 14:7-9 “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
We are not our own. We have been purchased with Christ’s blood. He died for us so that we might live with Him. He wants us near to Him, following Him, listening to Him, obeying Him with a willing heart. Furthermore, the very God who desires these things of us has given us the means. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” Paul said in Galatians chapter 2. Christ lives in us, His Holy Spirit lives in us, to give us not only the desire, but the ability to do that which is pleasing to Him.