The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. These words begin one of the most beloved passages in scripture. Even today, in a society far removed from the agrarian imagery, Psalm 23 continues to provide comfort for believers. We may not know(*care*) much about sheep, but we understand what it is to be nurtured, to be cared for and protected.
God’s care for His people is a frequent theme in all of scripture. A common scene in the gospels is of Jesus meeting the physical needs of the oppressed and downtrodden.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” – Luke 4:18-19
When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36
Jesus cares. Jesus cares for us. Jesus cares for us because God cares for us. This is the truth behind the metaphor of The Good Shepherd. And so as we look as Jesus’ words in John 10, I’m not going to tell you a ton about sheep. I personally do not care the slightest bit about sheep. I’m not going to dig deep to unearth profound mysteries. My goal here is to show how Christ cares for us, to be overwhelmed by the compassion of God, and to respond in worship.
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 is invested in us. He paid a high price to make us His own and even now is putting the work to cultivate us. This is the message of The Good Shepherd. We belong to the shepherd and are in relationship with the shepherd.
Possession doesn’t seem like a good image to discuss God’s care for us at first glance. When we think of the things we own, we’re not transported into a world of overwhelming sacrifice and protectiveness. Even our most precious possessions- computers, phones, cars, etc- are treasured for their utility. I may take great pains to keep my shoes from getting scuffed, but my love will never go beyond the aesthetic. Once they start getting old, I’m looking forward to the next pair.
But God doesn’t own us in the same way we own our stuff. He died to redeem us from darkness and death and into His possession. And once we are His, He remains committed to our welfare. The price He paid for us is the assurance of our value. The Christian is under Christ’s authority, yet is considered a friend.
In His care for us, the Good Shepherd leads us out to pasture. He takes us to places that are good for us and away from those that are not. Life in Christ is not aimless; we are being taken on a journey. We are led from the safety of the enclosure out into the openness of the world, with all its mess, brokenness, and pain. Under the shepherd’s guidance, we encounter the consequences of sin in our broken world. We see heartbreak, compromise, and lasciviousness. We may even partake of it ourselves.
Yet the Good Shepherd is always with us. He is our protection. Picture a child in a market. His play is free and rambunctious when his father is in view. But the moment he looks around and can no longer see his father, his demeanour changes: He freezes up, finds a corner and makes himself small. The sea of legs which had been a playground maze now seem threatening and imposing. But then he hears the voice of his father. Watch his face light up, his posture open up. Nothing has changed in his environment, and yet everything is different.
The Good Shepherd is our assurance of safety even in the darkest of times. He will not run from us when the wolf comes; He will fight for us and He will win. He descended to the grave for us and will not now abandon us. Though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.
The Good Shepherd leads us to pasture. We follow because we know Him and He knows us. We trust Him, that He will not lead us astray. The shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep is important. He knows better than we do what is good for us. We knows the destination when all we see is the pathway, and He knows the destination will nourish our souls. We don’t know where we are going, but we know who is taking us there. And that is enough for us.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is invested in us, and is working all things together for our good. This truth puts me at peace when I should otherwise the worried. There are times I feel adrift, like I’m living at the mercy of a world beyond my control. When the plans and structures I put my hope in come crashing down, Jesus reminds me that He is leading me to pasture. He loves me and will protect me from all danger. He does that because I am His.
So let us rest at ease in the presence of The Good Shepherd. Let us follow His voice to the exclusion of all others, that we might find pasture. And let us remind our fellow believers in times of trial that Jesus will keep us. He died for us and will not now let us die.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
– Psalm 23