“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me.” – Jesus
One of Jesus’ most famous sayings.
If you’ve had a Christian upbringing of sorts, it is likely you have heard this story in some form before. In truth, this story encompasses many ideas, much of which has been analysed and picked-apart by people heaps smarter than myself.
Even so, in my experience of people attempting to explain this story, often they look into the ‘dumbness’ of a sheep, and apply it to our need to be guided in life. I don’t disagree with this, don’t get me wrong. Sheep are pretty dumb animals in the eyes of humans. They’re out and out stupid. And similarly, us humans are pretty small when in comparison to an all knowing and loving creator. I agree – we don’t stack up well.
However, I do believe this passage really emphasises that Jesus is the good shepherd. It doesn’t talk about the bad qualities of sheep, rather the good qualities of the shepherd. So that is where our focus will be coming from.
In keeping to this focus, it is important we ask a few questions:
- What did Jesus mean when he called himself the good shepherd?
- What were the implications of it, and how can we apply it to our own lives?
Time to unpack this a little.
In the book Step by Step (Keeys), it says ‘shepherds 2000 years ago were near the bottom of the social ladder’…’they [shepherds] were rarely religious Jews as they could not keep all the laws whilst shepherding sheep.’ 
“shepherds…were near the bottom of the social ladder”
So for Jesus to come out and make this statement that he is our shepherd was massive. The people at the time didn’t take (or understand) this analogy very well, as the Bible records some in the crowd saying “he’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” (John 10:20).
I mean, you can’t blame them in a sense. Here’s a man claiming to be the son of God. He’s claiming creation of everything and everyone in existence. And now he’s also claiming to be..yep, you guessed it. A shepherd.
Jesus was obviously trying to make a point – he was putting himself out there.
So, what was he trying to say to us? Why does Jesus – who claims to be our creator and saviour – also claim to be our good shepherd?
Let’s break it down further.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SHEPHERD
A shepherd’s life 2000 years ago was not easy. It was more than an occupation, rather, a lifestyle.
A shepherd’s name, literally translated, is a combination of the words ‘sheep’ and ‘herd’. And that is exactly what they did – herd and protect their sheep.
Many shepherds lived on their own (nomads), away from other people and society. There was never a set beginning/end to a shepherds work. Safety of the flock was at risk through the day and night. Because of this, some shepherds had (small) huts which they shared with sheep. But most often the shepherds would just sleep in the same fields that the sheep were in each night.
A shepherd was responsible for the daily needs of the sheep, and would regularly lead the flock to places with water supply and adequate grass.
As mentioned earlier, shepherds were often languishing low on the ‘social ladder’. They were the outcasts, somewhat disregarded by the higher authorities and people of status, or power.
If other animals came to attack the flock, it was the shepherds’ responsibility to protect them. A shepherd from before Jesus’ time on earth, David, said that ‘when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, [David] went out after him and attacked him.’ (1 Samuel 17:34-35).
It’s important to note that, when a predator such as a wolf came, sheep were completely useless. Without a shepherd, they’d just be torn apart. In extreme cases, a shepherd would die trying to protect the sheep. However, often the shepherd would run away, as they were usually not the owners of the sheep – just the ‘hired hands’ (John 10:12-13).
A genuine care for the flock was developed by shepherds, many said to have named each of their sheep . The sheep would grow fond of the shepherd too.
THE MAIN IDEA
Jesus is the good shepherd.
Jesus, translated as ‘Yehoshua’ in Hebrew, is a combination of the words ‘God’ and ‘save’ . And that is exactly what Jesus set out to do – save his people..his sheep.
Jesus pulled himself from heaven’s ‘society’ and placed himself amongst us, his own flock. He didn’t stay far from us, out of love he came right down into our mess. Jesus took up residence with us, in order to save us. Not only that, Jesus claims he has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).
Jesus provides for us. Just like a shepherd leads their flock to grasslands and water, so too Jesus promises to give to us our daily needs. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus explains how he provides even to the daily needs of birds. And we are far more valuable to him than the birds! We don’t have to worry, for our shepherd knows all our needs (Matthew 6:31-32).
Jesus came to us in ultimate humility. His own people despised and rejected him – turned backs on him and looked the other way (Isaiah 53:3).
Jesus protects us from the enemy, Satan. When all forms of attacks came, Jesus – out of intense, passionate love – willingly sacrificed himself for our sake. He gave up his own life for us – his flock (John 10:15). But it didn’t end there. He overcame death and was brought back to life, giving us a hope and reason for eternity (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:5-6).
So that whenever the enemy come again, we have intense confidence our shepherd will protect us – for even death didn’t stop him. We are not scared of the enemy, for our God is far more powerful.
And if our God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31)
SOMETHING TO GRAZE ON
“Feed my sheep” – Jesus
In 1 Peter 5:2, it says we are to ‘be shepherds of God’s flock that is under [our] care, serving as overseers’.
For the Christians out there: we have a responsibility to build each other up and encourage one another in our faith. We have a responsibility to look after the church (‘the flock’). We have a responsibility to look out for the lost sheep, and bring them back to the good shepherd. If we truly love Jesus, we will continue the work on earth which he started.
And in this, we are to display humility as Jesus did to us. To consider others more important than ourselves – and willingly go low in service to our God.
What a tall order.
But through it all we can know and understand this – that Jesus’ passionate love and genuine care for us brought him into our stuffed up, complicated mess. And he provided the solution – himself in our place.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me…” – Psalm 23
Jesus sends us out as sheep among wolves in this life (Matthew 10:16). We aren’t guaranteed a free-pass in life, void of all pain and suffering. Quite the opposite.
But we find strength in our shepherd – who put even death to shame.
Safe in his flock.
 Keeys, C 2011, Step by Step, Walk Through The Bible, Australia, accessed 12 March 2016, <http://www.amazon.com.au/Step-Cliff-Keeys-ebook/dp/B004RJ8MR8>.
 Farfaglia, J 2014, What It Means that Jesus Is the Good Shepherd, Aleteia, accessed 12 March 2016, <http://aleteia.org/2014/05/10/what-it-means-that-jesus-is-the-good-shepherd/2/>.
Hebrew Meaning of “Jesus” n.d., Hebrew-streams.org, accessed 12 March 2016, <http://www.hebrew-streams.org/frontstuff/jesus-yeshua.html>.
 Christian Leadership: The Good Shepherd 2015, Illustration, Christian Leadership, accessed 23 March 2016, <http://hebrews4.com/2015/10/10/goodshepherd/>. tons of Bible verses
 tons of Bible verses