Have you ever had to go through the dreadful experience of having to work or serve under a really bad leader? Before I became a Pastor, I had my fair share of difficult jobs, but I had one job in particular with a really bad boss. He would walk around like a tyrant half the time, yelling, cursing, throwing stuff. Everything was about the bottom line, and no matter how hard the crew worked, it seemed it was never good enough. I dreaded going to work for this guy every day. Eventually, I had to quit. It wasn’t the exhaustion of the work, but the exhaustion of his leadership that drove me away.
Unfortunately, God’s people throughout history haven’t been immune from bad leaders, bad shepherds either. However, when it happens in God’s church, it is far more destructive. After all, it’s one thing to be driven away from a job, it’s quite another to be driven away from God and His gifts.
That’s exactly what happened throughout much of the Old Testament. The children of Israel (God’s sheep) were often ruled by corrupt and cruel politicians and religious leaders (or as God would call them: bad shepherds- see Ezekiel 34). As a result, the sheep had nowhere to turn, were driven away, and were spiritually slaughtered.
After going through such experiences it becomes entirely natural to distrust authority and to look with suspicion on any who would claim to lead us. One need only look at politics in America to see evidence of this gigantic distrust of authority. We’re all pretty sure our politicians are lousy shepherds.
So when Jesus shows up in John 10 referring to Himself as the “Good Shepherd”, your first response might not be joy at the thought of His leadership, but fear or cynicism. I get it. I do. But Jesus isn’t any ordinary leader. In spite of all the ways the leaders of our world may let us down, you can trust Jesus to always lead you well.
Why? Well, first of all, in the very statement “I AM the Good Shepherd” Jesus gives us reason to trust Him. We might not pick up on it naturally, but if we look at those first two words in the context of the rest of John’s gospel and for that matter the rest of the Bible, it becomes apparent that Jesus is alluding to the fact that He is God. By him using those words, he is referring back to the name God gave Himself in response to Moses’ request in Exodus 3: I AM. He is telling us that He knows everything, that He is above everything, and that He is creator and sustainer of everything. He is far more than any earthly leader could ever be.
That should be sufficient reason in itself for us to trust Him to lead us, but our Lord knows we are frail and afraid. Our sinful nature makes us believe that God is just like the flawed leaders we experience here and therefore cannot be trusted to lead us. So Jesus goes deeper…. Listen to John 10:14-15: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”
Folks it cannot get more loving and intimate than that. When a couple would consummate their marriage they were said to have “known each other.” Jesus compares the closeness He has to his sheep to the closeness He has to His Father. The very Father He has known for all eternity! When I think about the leaders of our world, often there is a great distance between the leader and his disciples. Not so with Jesus.
Think about this for a second and have your mind blown: Because He is God we know there is nothing hidden in his sight. He sees everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly about us. No matter how many fig leaves we pull over ourselves to hide, He sees our nakedness. And yet, because He is such a Good Shepherd He draws near to us in love. It is not because we have anything attractive in ourselves, but rather it is as Luther said, “Sinners are not loved because they are attractive; they are attractive because they are loved."
So you say, “That sounds great, but how can you prove that you care for me, Jesus? His answer: John 10:15- The Good Shepherd “lays down His life for the sheep.” Vs. 17: “I lay down my life for the sheep.” And again in vs. 18,“I lay it down for the Sheep.”
How many leaders in this world will do that?!
Unfortunately, our sinful nature tells us to look to temporal blessings to prove God loves us, and of course, when difficulties and challenges come, we assume He doesn’t love us. I got a raise, God loves me. My family’s doing well, God cares for me. I got demoted, God’s mad at me. My family’s doing poorly, God must not love me… But my friends, that is not the voice of the Good Shepherd. That is the voice of the Wolf named Karma. Karma is the antithesis of the Good Shepherd’s Gospel of Grace.
The Good Shepherd says, “You wanna be sure I love you? Look to the cross!” You wanna be sure I’m on your side? Look to the Cross!!!!” Thus Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us (for you and for me!) in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He is the Good shepherd that goes to the ends of the earth, leaving the 99 sheep in pursuit of the 1 lost sheep. He does not only visit the sheep of the swing state in order to temporarily persuade them to trust Him. No, He is the One that goes to that one lost sheep, and reveals nail-scarred hands to persuade that lost sheep that perhaps He really is a different kind of shepherd…. a truly caring Good Shepherd: A Leader We Can Believe In!