The Wonder of His NameThe Good Shepherd
Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says God provides leaders to shepherd churches and families. And you can trust those leaders, not because they’re perfect, but because Jesus is perfect.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Listen, your trust isn’t ultimately in your husband or in your pastor. We need to pray for them; we need to ask God to give them wisdom, but ultimately, our trust is in Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, March 27.
Nancy’s in the series “The Wonder of His Name: 32 Life-Changing Names of Jesus.” Nancy recorded today’s message at Grace Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of the Revive Tour.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As we’re looking at some of these names of Jesus, found in the gospel of John, this week, we’re being reminded that everything we need is found in Christ, the great I AM. He is the Bread of Life; He is the Light of the World, and today we’re going to see that He is the Good Shepherd.
We need a shepherd, don’t we? We are ignorant, like I understand sheep are. I have a friend who’s taken up shepherding, has gotten some sheep. She says, “Sheep need a shepherd. They’re ignorant; they can’t fend for themselves.” Nor can we, right? They are vulnerable.
When I think of us as sheep, I think of the words to that hymn: “Prone to wander . . . prone to leave the God I love.” We need a shepherd, and we have a shepherd in Jesus.
Once again, like so many of these other names, this name for Jesus ties us back to the Old Testament, where we see that God was Israel’s shepherd. We read in Psalm 80:1, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.”
Then in Psalm 95:7, “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” The Israelites understood that they needed God to feed them and lead them and protect them from themselves—that God was their shepherd.
And even in the Book of Psalms, we read that Israel’s exodus from Egypt, from slavery, was portrayed in terms of a flock being led by its shepherd. So God was a shepherd to His people corporately, but He’s also a shepherd to His people personally and individually.
Throughout the Old Testament you have some promises of a shepherd yet to come. Listen, for example, to this verse in Matthew 2:6, which is a quote from Micah 5 in the Old Testament:
And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you [Bethlehem] shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel (v. 2).
This was an Old Testament promise, a prophecy, found in the book of Micah that said that out of this little town of Bethlehem would come a ruler who would shepherd God’s people, Israel. In the Old Testament, you have this concept that a shepherd is one who leads, one who rules over, one who guides his people.
When Jesus came to be born on earth, we’re told he was the fulfillment of that promise made hundreds of years earlier in Micah. Micah 2 has another similar promise:
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, [Who shall dwell secure? The sheep] for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth (v. 4).
It looks forward to a Great Shepherd, a Good Shepherd, who would make His people secure, because He would lead them and rule over them as a shepherd. So now we come to the gospel of John, chapter 10. Let me encourage you to turn there if you have your Bible with you. We see this metaphor, this word picture of a shepherd in the opening verses of John 10.
I’m going to pick up at verse 3:
The sheep hear [the shepherd’s] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him [the shepherd], for they know his voice (vv. 3–4).
This is Jesus speaking; He’s giving this word picture of a shepherd. Then we come to verse 11, where He makes it very clear who he’s talking about. He’s talking about Himself. He says,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (v. 11).
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 (v. 14).
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one (v. 27).
Let me make a few observations about this passage. I wish we had time to go through the whole chapter—there’s so much here—but I’ve just picked out these highlight verses from John 10. I think the first thing we need to realize is, that in claiming to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus is claiming—as He did with so many others of these things—to be God.
In these names Jesus is continually revealing Himself to be Jehovah, the great I AM, the God of the Old Testament. The Jews understood this. This is why the Pharisees, the religious rulers, got so mad at Jesus. They despised Him; they rejected Him, because they thought He was being a blasphemer by claiming to be the great I AM, Jehovah.
But Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. He’s God revealed to us. He is the Shepherd God that we read about in the Old Testament.
Now you may remember in the Old Testament—Psalm 78:70, for example—we read about David who was chosen by God to be Israel’s earthly shepherd. Shepherds and kings were kind of used interchangeably. David was appointed by God to be a shepherd-king over God’s people, an earthly shepherd.
David, as Israel’s shepherd-king, recognized and acknowledged Jehovah as his shepherd. “If I’m going to lead these sheep, I’ve got to have somebody leading me.” So, we read in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” If you’re going to lead others—if you’re going to lead your children and grandchildren, those you serve, those you disciple, younger women you’re mentoring—if you’re going to shepherd others spiritually, you need to make sure you’re being shepherded by Jesus.
As we see David is that shepherd-king in the Old Testament, Jesus is David’s ultimate son . . . our Shepherd-King. So we see in David in the Old Testament, a type of Christ—a picture—one who helps us anticipate the Shepherd-King who was yet to come.
Here in John 10 we see a number of characteristics of the Good Shepherd. The first one that is pretty obvious as you meditate on this passage is that the Good Shepherd owns the sheep. They belong to Him. Look at how many times He calls them His own:
- “He calls His own sheep by name” (v. 3).
- “He has brought out all His own” (v. 4).
- “I know my own and my own know me” (v. 14).
- “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” (v. 27).
So as the Good Shepherd, Jesus knows His sheep. He knows which ones belong to Him. They do belong to Him, and if we are sheep of Jesus the Shepherd, then we are not our own. We belong to someone else. We belong to Jesus, our Shepherd-King.
Then you see here, also, that this Good Shepherd, Jesus, has a personal relationship with His sheep. He cares for them. This is not just a business arrangement; this is not just some theological fact—this is a warm, intimate, caring relationship we see here.
So we see in verse 3, “He calls His own sheep by name.” He cares for them personally. We see this about the shepherd-heart of God, the shepherd-heart of Jesus. We can be in a crowd like this and you can feel unknown. You can feel that if it weren’t for your nametag, no one would have a clue who you are.
But in Jesus’ fold, we don’t fall through the cracks; we don’t get lost among the flock of the sheep. Sometimes we tend to think, Oh, those "sheep," they’re well known, they contribute a lot, they’re worth something. No. If you are Jesus’ sheep,
- He knows you by name.
- He knows your story.
- He knows your background.
- He knows your proclivities, your vulnerabilities.
- He knows where you’re tempted and tested.
- He knows where you’re prone to wander.
- He knows what you need.
- He knows when you need to have your soul restored.
He has a personal relationship with His sheep. He doesn’t see us just as one big flock—that’s an important picture, too—but He knows His individual sheep by name. I love that verse in Isaiah 43 where God says, “I have called you by name, you are mine” (v. 1). He knows us individually and wants to have an intimate relationship with us.
And then we see that this Good Shepherd leads his sheep: verse 3 of John 10, “He leads them out. . . . he goes before them” (vv. 3–4). A shepherd can do this because he knows the terrain. He will never lead us anyplace that He has not already gone.
He goes before us. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, has been through the valleys. He’s been through the hard places, and so He knows how to lead us through those valleys—even the valley of the shadow of death. You may be facing that right now with a loved one or perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You have a Shepherd who’s been there, who knows the terrain and can lead you even through those really difficult places.
He leads His sheep, verse 9, to pasture. He knows how to feed us and where to find pasture and food and water for our hungry, thirsty souls.
We see in verse 11 that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He will do whatever He has to do to protect His sheep, to defend them, to guard them, to make sure that they are cared for. I was meditating this morning on a verse in Zechariah 13:7, that is a prophecy about how the Good Shepherd would lay down His life for the sheep.
In this verse—it’s an amazing verse—God actually commands, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd.” Who is God referring to here? To Messiah, Jesus, the Good Shepherd sent from God to earth. He says,
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of Hosts. “Strike the shepherd.”
Even in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, there was a hint—a glimpse—that the shepherd would give his life. He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. The Good Shepherd would lay down His life for the sheep.
We read about this in a more familiar passage, Isaiah 53:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (v. 6).
Here, the Good Shepherd dies as a lamb in the place of the wayward sheep. So He lays down His life for the sheep by Himself becoming a lamb and giving His life for us.
In John 10, the Good Shepherd is contrasted to thieves and robbers, and to hired hands. Let me read a passage, beginning in verse 10:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came [I, the Good Shepherd] that they may have life and have it abundantly . . . 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 [this hired hand] because he is a hired hand [not the shepherd] and cares nothing for the sheep (vv. 10, 12–13).
This reminds me of a passage I want to read to you. Just listen as I read this Old Testament passage, Ezekiel 34, beginning with verse 2:
Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them (vv. 2–4).
So we have his motif throughout the Old Testament of unfaithful shepherds, who are contrasted with the Good Shepherd. We have, in John 10, the hired hand and the thief and the robbers, who come to steal and kill and destroy. They’re contrasted with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
In the Old Testament, we have this picture of unfaithful, human shepherds—religious leaders—who were supposed to feed the sheep, but instead they fed themselves. These unfaithful shepherds, these thieves, robbers, hired hands, they don’t have any personal connection to the sheep.
They care nothing for the sheep, as we read in John 10. Well, they care a little bit, but only so far as it is in their best interests to do so. Only when they have something to gain, then they care, but if they don’t have anything to gain, they’re just hired hands—they leave the sheep.
By contrast, the Good Shepherd loves the sheep. He cares for them. He meets their needs. So David, the shepherd-king, says of his Shepherd, “You are with me. You never leave me. You never abandon me.”
There are times we may feel abandoned by God. That’s when we need to counsel our hearts with the truth that He never abandons us. Those unfaithful shepherds are out for what they can get. They feed themselves; they seek personal gain at the expense of the flock. But the Good Shepherd is a giver. He feeds His sheep.
Those unfaithful shepherds are self-seeking, but the Good Shepherd is self-sacrificing. Those unfaithful shepherds come to steal, kill, and destroy, but the Good Shepherd came to give life. So, Ezekiel 34 continues :
Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.
You unfaithful shepherds, you didn’t search for the lost sheep. So God says, "I’ll be a faithful shepherd. I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out."
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered. . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.
I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed one, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice (vv. 11–12, 15–16).
All of that was fulfilled in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who came to seek and to save the lost sheep.
God gives us, we learn in the New Testament, earthly under shepherds—pastors, elders, husbands, spiritual leaders—those who have a responsibility to shepherd their family or to shepherd the church of Jesus Christ. Their responsibility is to be like Jesus. That’s why the biblical standards and requirements for spiritual leadership are so high—because these under shepherds are called to faithfully point the flock to the Great Shepherd, and they are accountable to the Chief Shepherd.
I say this because you may have been disappointed or wounded by someone who claimed to be a shepherd—someone who had a position of responsibility for spiritual leadership—but someone who proved to be an unfaithful shepherd. It’s sad, but it happens.
That’s why the reminder is to look at Jesus the Good Shepherd—He can be trusted. You can trust Him. He is your ultimate Shepherd. He cares for us personally and perfectly. And when every other human shepherd may fail—as they all do at points . . . When your husband doesn’t get it, or he maybe leads your family in a wrong direction—your trust isn’t ultimately in your husband or in your pastor.
We need to pray for them; we need to ask God to give them wisdom, but ultimately, our trust is in Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd because:
- His character is good.
- His motives are good.
- His methods are good.
- His skill is good.
- His heart for His sheep is good.
- His track record is perfect.
He is the Good Shepherd.
Not only that—Hebrews 13 tells us He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. First Peter 5 tells us He is the Chief Shepherd. So as we look to Jesus, He says, “I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Great Shepherd; I am the Chief Shepherd.”
When Jesus made this what was considered by many to be a preposterous claim—to be the Good Shepherd, we learn from John 10 that, as a result of this claim, there was a division between the Jews. Some believed in Him, but many thought that He was insane, that He was demon possessed.
Jesus says to them in John 10:26, "You do not believe [now, this was including many Pharisees, many of the religious leaders] because [why?] you are not part of my flock.” Jesus is just pretty straight forward, “Some are of my flock, and some aren’t.”
So my question to you today, as we consider Jesus the Great Shepherd, is—do you believe? Are you looking to Him to shepherd you? Are you part of His flock? If you are, Jesus said here’s the evidence that you belong to Him, that you are one of His sheep: You hear His voice. You listen to Him, and you follow Him.
We have so many people today who are following themselves, following the world, following other teachers, following their own ideas about what is right and wrong—what they think what life should look like—and they claim to be part of Jesus’ flock.
Jesus says, “No. If you’re following yourself or someone whose teaching is contrary to the Word of God, you’re not part of My flock.” His sheep hear His voice. They know Him. They follow Him. So if you are part of His flock, you can say,
The Lord Jesus 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 [Lord Jesus] 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 [Jehovah, the great I AM, the Good Shepherd] forever (Ps. 23).
Can I just remind us—give you this word of hope—that is that Jesus not only is our Good Shepherd today, but He will always be our Shepherd, even in Heaven . . . comforting, guiding, and providing. You say, “Where do you get that?” Well, let me close with this verse, Revelation 7:17, "For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.”
The Shepherd who became a Lamb to give His life for the sheep—that Lamb in the midst of the throne for all eternity—will be our Good, Great, Chief Shepherd. "And he will guide them to springs of living water. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17).
Leslie: Good Shepherd. Before that, Nancy Leigh DeMoss showed us why that name meant so much to the people of Jesus’ day.
I love teaching that helps me understand Scripture better. It also helps me know Jesus better. Nancy’s current series, “The Wonder of His Name,” does that. Her teaching shines a light on the meaning of thirty-two of the names of Jesus. But this isn’t just an intellectual exercise. She’s also helping us know Jesus Himself. What an incredible opportunity.
You’ll get even more from this series when you also read Nancy’s new book called The Wonder of His Name. You’ll read about thirty-two names of Jesus. It will help you remember the teaching series and get additional insights into these names.
We’ll send you the book, The Wonder of His Name, when you support this ministry with a donation of any amount. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959. You can also donate and get the book by visiting