11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
In 2005 I visited Mongolia in order to participate in the habitat movement for the nations. It was a global project for the green economic development for nomads in Mongolia. While there, I worked as a carpenter building stables for horses and sheep. Although the culture of stables is not theirs, such a new way of keeping livestock in stables could increase the economic value in the European meat market.
In vast meadows where my colleagues and I worked to build the stables, there were four Mongolian families that accepted the new culture of stables for better economic growth. Each family had an uncountable number of horses and sheep. They scattered their horses and sheep into the field at sunrise, and called them back at sunset. For me, it seemed like the people really did not care where their livestock went.
One of our missions during this project was to share the Word of God with these four Mongolian families’ morning and night. So, we had a daily Bible study every morning and every night. The theme of the Bible study was “the Lord is my shepherd.” I remember their vivid descriptions about their lives as shepherds and their devotional reflection on the texts which were about the shepherding Lord. Their reflections were so distinct and practical.
There was a man who began to come to the church because of Psalm 23. For him, indeed Psalm 23 was his own devotional song. He knew what the shepherd had to do for the sheep every day. He said he was deeply inspired by Psalm 23. God is truly the shepherd who leads his life to green pastures, protects him from evil, and restores his soul. This confession that the Lord is my shepherd came to me more vividly than ever before through the Mongolian shepherd’s devotional reflection of Psalm 23.
The ancient Israelites were nomads before their settlement in the Promised Land. The ancestors of the Israelites were also nomads. Their most common career was shepherding, and almost every family of Israel had livestock as their property, just as Mongolians do. Therefore, Psalm 23 is the beautiful song in which their most practical understanding of God was found.
Let’s hear again Psalm 23.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
As we read Psalm 23, let’s think about how ancient people usually described their gods. Most ancient people and their old stories of deity described their god as sky, rain, ocean, thunder, wind, storm, a mountain, or a curious rock something like that. For ancient people to describe their God as a shepherd was not a common way to describe who God is. It would be too normal or ordinary to describe who God is. But they found God in their ordinary life. It was definitely a practical understanding of God. They experienced the presence of God in their daily work place, and they confessed that their God is their Shepherd.
II. What does “good” mean in this text.
In today’s gospel reading, John 10:11-18, we see Jesus who identifies himself as a shepherd. Particularly, he identifies himself, as “the Good Shepherd.”
In Greek, there are two words, which can be translated as “good” in English: Agathos and Kalos. Agathos means a quality of morality. Agathos is more about the humans, when the people observe social agreements for stable order among themselves. Kalos, however, does not merely mean an ethical sense or perfection, but also means the quality of being ideal. So, if we translate the Greek Bible to English, the good shepherd can be translated, “ideal shepherd”.
What is the ideal of the shepherd?
It could be leading sheep to the green pastures to feed them, and protecting them from predators as Psalm 23 tells us. But we could find that this is the confession by the people of God; in other words, this is the confession by the “sheep” to celebrate the shepherd’s ministry for them.
In that sense, John 10:11-18 could be understood as the mission statement by the shepherd about his ministry for sheep. The initial point is different. Even though these two texts came from the people of Israel’s practical understanding of God, they started from different viewpoints. Let’s go back to the text, John 10.
III. ...lays down his life for the sheep.
In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This is the first ideal the shepherd understood and declared by Jesus Christ, the good shepherd. Jesus completed it by dying on the cross for us, as we know and as we believe. If we read the Gospels as a dramatic piece, his life was begun to die for the people who needed the grace of salvation. This is a really simple mission statement by Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, and this is directly connected to the negative description about the bad shepherds in the following verse.
Let’s look at verse 12.
“The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”
In the tradition of Israel, the leaders of the nation, including kings, priests and prophets were frequently called shepherds. David was known as the “shepherd of Israel”. God was also called a shepherd in various parts of the Scripture, including Psalm 23.
But we also know that there are some negative descriptions regarding shepherds, the leaders of the nation in the Scripture. Especially, when Jeremiah and Ezekiel preached against the false shepherds of their day who fed themselves but not the sheep; and who even could be said to scatter the sheep to death.
Let’s see Ezekiel 34:8 and 10 as an example.
8. As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; …, I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
Israelite called their national and religious leaders shepherds, but it was not all about “good” shepherds.
As the Hebrew prophets preached against the bad shepherds in their time, Jesus teaches his disciples about the bad shepherd who does not own and care for the sheep, and even runs away when the wolf attacks the sheep. According to the Word of Jesus the good shepherd, therefore, the ideal shepherd must lay down his/her life for the sheep.
Jesus named the “bad” shepherd “the hired hand” in the text. At the time of Jesus, there were people who made their living by taking care of the sheep at the temple in Jerusalem. Their job was to keep them healthy and alive until they could be used as a sacrifice. They were nothing more than hired mercenaries. These people did not care because they did not own the sheep, but only had an interest to earn the money. In the face of trouble, they would run away and leave the sheep vulnerable to attack.
III. He knows his own.
In verse 14, Jesus proclaims the second part of his ministry as the Ideal Shepherd.
Let’s see verse 14 together: “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.”
The Mongolian shepherds know their own. Even though there is no nametag or any other sign on the horses and sheep, they know their own, and their own know their shepherds’ sound, because they have built up the relationship as shepherd and sheep. From their birth to their death. There would be enough time through which they could build up the relationship in order to be aware of each other.
The word “know” in this verse was written in Greek γινώσκω, “ghin-oce- ko,” which does not merely mean getting some knowledge, but knowing each other in order to build up the relationship. The ancient Greek used this word when they described the relationship between husband and wife. The Interlinear Bible translates this verse directly from Greek to English like, “I am the ideal shepherd, and I keep knowing the mine, and mine keep knowing me.” This would be strange in English, but this translation is the nearest one to the original text.
This is about the growing relationship that has continuity between the shepherd and the sheep. The ideal shepherd knows his own through enough time to care, feed and lead them. Jesus is the ideal shepherd who cares, feeds and leads us in a growing relationship, as we are trying to build up the relation with Jesus Christ in our daily life as his sheep as well as disciples.
We have looked roughly at the text of the good shepherd so far through Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18. First, this Word of God is for many pastors like me. As many know, pastor means shepherd in Latin. I would like to ask you to pray for me and for many other pastors you have known when you pray for their “good shepherd ministry”, so that the pastors can build up the consistent relation with the people and with the Lord. I hope to give this mission to you all as a young shepherd.
Second, this Word is for you, as the people in the early churches remembered the good shepherd mission statement of Jesus Christ for their ministry in the world and in their time.
I would like to look at 1 John 3:16 all together.
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
The early disciples remembered Jesus the good shepherd who laid down his life for them, and they encouraged each other to follow the good shepherd’s mission statement for their mission in the world. I would like to call it “the good shepherd ministry” by the people of God.
Today, this is your mission, and your ministry in the church, in your family, in your work place, in your local society, and in this whole world. Even though it is true that we are often compared to sheep that would be weak and vulnerable, Jesus gave us the power to overcome our weakness for one another in His name and in His mercy.
You know that God engraved the mercy on your hand. Have you ever heard about this? Please look on the inside of your hand, both hands. Can you find the mercy on your hands? I believe you all have “M” on your hands . We are the people who have brought this “M” that is the initial word of mercy to everywhere we have been.
Please show your mercy for one another, and please show your mercy to build up good relationships with your people everywhere. Our Lord the good shepherd (the ideal shepherd) brought mercy to the earth by laying down his life for us and by building up relationships with us. The good shepherd mission (good shepherd ministry) is in our hands.
I pray that this good shepherd ministry will be my ministry and will be your ministry in every single day. God bless you and thanks be to God. Amen.