The Shepherd analogy is nothing new to most people. The Old Testament prophets use the analogy. Jesus used the analogy. Peter used the analogy. In fact, in First Peter, Peter called Jesus the “Chief Shepherd” while instructing the church elders to “Shepherd the flock of God.” The Shepherd is the leader of the sheep. That is true and good.
But there is one aspect of Shepherding that is often forgotten.The Shepherd is to lead, teach and protect the sheep at all cost. The Bible teaches that the Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
In the most familiar “Shepherd” passage in the New Testament, John 10, Jesus says this four times. The entire passage is only 18 verses, and Jesus says the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep four different times. Remarkable!
In John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In John 10:15 “…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
In John 10:17 “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life …”
In John 10:18 “No one takes it from me, But I lay it down of my own accord.”
People are eager to refer to the Shepherd analogy in leadership contexts and conversations. The aspect that is not discussed as often is the laying down of one’s life for the sheep.
Laying down your life for the sheep is true shepherding. Shepherding without laying down one’s life is not true shepherding. This is why in John 10:12-13 Jesus said “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.”
Caring for the sheep; Being wholly committed to the sheep; Laying down one’s life for the sheep is the only kind of true Shepherding. Jesus knows no other kind. Jesus does not recognize a Shepherd who leaves the sheep.
This is what King David meant in Psalm 23 when he said “The Lord is my Shepherd … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” David believes that his Shepherd (the Lord) will protect him at all costs.
Shepherding is a good analogy. May we continue to use it. But lets not forget the best part = The laying down of one’s life for the sake of the sheep!