““I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”
(John 10:11 HCSB)
There are several things that a good shepherd might be known for, like his extraordinary care for his sheep, or the way that he provides for his sheep, or the security he gives to the unsuspecting sheep. Jesus does all of these but he chooses to emphasize that he as the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Indeed, he repeats this five times! Even I—moronic former Marine—can figure out that Jesus wants to emphasize his point.
What is he saying here? Why does he emphasize this aspect of being a good shepherd?
Perhaps it will help us to think through what it means to “lay down one’s life” for sheep. I can think of at least three perspectives that help us better understand what Jesus means here:
- Laying down his life emphasizes the sacrificial. How can one be more sacrificial than to lay down one’s life? There is nothing more dear to the individual than his own life, so Jesus is pointing out the sacrificial purpose of his coming. Here’s the thing, when Jesus highlights sacrifice, he is assigning incredible value to his sheep. His sheep are so valuable that he can (and does) sacrifice himself for them.
- Laying down his life underscores the intimately close relationship that Jesus has with his sheep. Let’s face it, you’re not going to lay down your life for the sheep of another shepherd. They are not your sheep. Jesus is so intimately close to his sheep; he cares so very deeply about their well-being, that he willingly lays down his life for them. This reinforces Christ’s love of the individual. Each sheep is important.
- The Good Shepherd brings all of his sheep into one fold, then there will be one flock, one shepherd. Jesus highlights the unity of the flock here. The Good Shepherd does not play favorites, all of the sheep are one flock with one shepherd. This underlines the fact that when we are in Christ, it is a collective thing, it is a group, it is one flock together cared for by the Great Shepherd.
What this means of course is that when Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, is that he has laid down his life for you, dear reader, for you.
Does anyone else that you know value you as highly as Jesus does?