“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11-16
In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus makes several statements about himself to try to inform and reinforce his message to those willing to hear.
To begin, it’s best to see why these statements had such an impact on his hearers.
In the 3rd chapter of The Exodus, Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Moses had gone from a favored administrator in the court of Pharaoh, to a lowly shepherd. He led the flock to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God, as we are told.
There, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire of out the midst of a bush; the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
The LORD spoke to Moses, and told him that he had heard the cries for help from his people, and he had seen their affliction.
He instructed Moses to go to Pharaoh to let the people go out of Egypt, and into the promised land.
“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
The Name of God is “I Am.” Simple enough, right? It’s not a name that we are familiar with, but we have heard the Hebrew form of the Name, which we pronounce Yahweh.
In most of the books of the Old Testament, the name is translated as LORD, with all capital letters. The Jews followed the 2nd Commandment against using the LORD’s Name in vain, so they did not say it out loud during worship. They used the word LORD instead.
Being intimately familiar with Yahweh, or the LORD, as he was his Father, Jesus used the Name of God in ways that would inform his hearers, and at the same time, upset the Pharisees.
Every time he used the Name, I AM, he was proclaiming his unity with LORD God, and affirming his relationship as the Son of the Father. There are seven such statements in the Gospel of St. John;
- I am the bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)
- I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
- I am the Gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (John 10:90)
- I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live. (John 11:25)
- I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
- I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
And, as we heard today, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Not only does Jesus use the sacred Name of God, he also calls himself the Good Shepherd.
The image of the Good Shepherd appears several times in the Old Testament.
This one from the book of Isaiah, is just one of many.
The image of the Shepherd is comforting. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and they follow him. He will not leave one behind, but will leave the herd to go after the lost sheep. The shepherd never leaves the sheep, often sleeping in their midst to protect them.
And this shepherd will lay down his own life for them. He is not like the hired hand, who runs away when there is trouble. The hired hand does not own the sheep, so he is not willing to lay down his life for them.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We belong to him, and he knows every one of us. What does that mean for us?
Firstly, it means that we are loved. God our Father loves us very much. He sent his messengers, the angels, to reach out to us. At just the right time, he sent his son, Jesus, to be our Good Shepherd.
Secondly, it means that we cooperate with Jesus. I am your shepherd, or, using a more familiar word, your pastor. You are his flock, the beloved, and it is for you to live as a follower of Jesus. If you need a refresher for what that looks like, open a Book of Common Prayer to the service of Baptism, p. 164, and look at the Baptismal Covenant.
Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and confess him as your
Lord and Savior?
Question Do you joyfully receive the Christian Faith,
as revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments?
Question Will you obediently keep God’s holy will and
commandments, and walk in them all the days of
As your pastor, I am here to help you keep the covenant. You can reach me any time, as you are the sheep that Jesus has entrusted to me, and I will do all in my power to help you, to protect you, and to intercede for you to the Father.
That is the vow I took when I was ordained as a priest. The Bishop asked, “Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, laboring together with them and with your fellow ministers to build up the family of God?” And I answered, “I will.”
Together, we are all the sheep of His hand, the people of his pasture. Our work is to reach out of others and to invite them into the fellowship of His Church, and build up the kingdom of God in all that we do. We will, with God’s help. Amen.