FEATURED ARTICLE

JESUS THE GREAT SHEPHERD

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen"

(Heb 13:20-21)

INTRODUCTION

When sin entered the world, weakness and ignorance entered with it. By "weakness," I mean a tendency to physical and spiritual deterioration. By "ignorance," I mean spiritual blindness, or the inability to perceive real conditions. These conditions make those possessing them subject to the delusions of the devil, "who deceives the whole world" (Rev 12:9). Without the Shepherd, there is no hope of surviving the "wiles of the devil." No person, however learned and disciplined, is of himself equal to the challenges and deceptions of Satan.

We desperately need a Savior, a Mediator, and a Shepherd. The burden of the Law was to convince us of this fact. The thrust of the Gospel is to persuade us of God's resolution of our sin-caused dilemma.

In disassociation from God, humanity is incapable of navigating safely through this world. Surrounded by distraction and subject to the wiles of the devil, hopelessness is inevitable. Duly observed, life will eventually lead us to this conclusion.

The prophet was right, "I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself; Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps" (Jer 10:23, NASB). Godly people have always acknowledged, "The steps of a man are established by the LORD; And He delights in his way" (Psa 37:23, NASB). There is no level of human attainment that puts one beyond the necessity of Divine guidance. Even though this condition is doubted among self-acclaimed scholars, it stands as a hallmark of spiritual understanding. The existence of remission, intercession, prayer, and hope confirm this to be the case.

If a person--any person--was able to direct his own path, there would be no need of God, a Savior, or Scripture. No wonder the Spirit affirms, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psa 14:1).

By the grace of God, we have been given a Shepherd; a "great Shepherd," a "good Shepherd," a "chief Shepherd." He is adequate for all the needs of humanity, and can bring us safely to glory. His presence confirms our need of Him. Just as the presence of food postulates the existence of a need for food, so the presence the "great Shepherd" assumes our need to be led and fed.

It does not take long in the journey of life to confront circumstances that require more resources than we possess. Our powers dissipate and wane quickly when "we are troubled on every side" (2 Cor 4:8). Under stress, we soon find the shallowness of nature's well. Those that imagine they are sufficient in themselves for the vicissitudes of life are deluded.

While these are elementary observations, they are generally NOT acknowledged. Throughout the Scriptural record, a tendency to seek assistance from man rather than God has surfaced. Israel was solemnly warned not to go to Egypt for help, but to rely upon their God. "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!" (Isa 31:1). If this was true with Israel, prior to the inauguration of the new covenant, what must be said now that the "great Shepherd of the sheep" has been given to the people of God.

FALSE SHEPHERDS

The seriousness of shepherding is seen in the Lord's denunciation of false shepherds. Men may overlook spiritual imposters, but God does not!

Greedy dogs The human situation has been exploited by those seeking personal gain, at the expense of others. "Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, everyone for his gain, from his quarter" (Isa 56:11). Even sinful men are agitated when they are aware of this situation. Human exploitation is obnoxious, even to the crudest of people. But their provocation is nothing to be compared to that of the Living God. The presence of false shepherds may be tolerable to men, but it is not so with God. He has spoken clearly and concisely on the matter. He is against those that pretend to be leaders of His people -- those who obtain personal fame and gain in His name, and to the detriment of His people!.

Note, these are "shepherds than cannot understand." Their corrupted hearts have rendered them insensitive to the truth. They have been blinded by their own avarice!

Caused to go astray Although men have sinned and come short of the glory of God, their condition is sometimes blamed upon their leaders. "My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place" (Jer 50:6). Jesus saw people as "scattered abroad, as sheep having shepherd" (Matt 9:36). There were shepherds, of course-- appointed guardians of the flock. But their approach to the sheep actually caused them to go astray. To put it another way, the deficiency of the people was their religion, given to them by their leaders. The teachings of their leaders sent them upon the barren mountains of sin and shame, where they eventually forgot their resting place. Such conditions, tragic as they are, have not ceased to exist. Plausible explanations may be offered for the existence of this circumstance, but they are not acceptable.

Prophesy against the shepherds! The Lord is not unmindful of the exploitation of His people. In Jeremiah's day, the Lord announced He was against the shepherds. It is an arresting word indeed, and worthy of our consideration. "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" (Ezek 34:2). This circumstance did not end with the shepherds of old; it is still with us.

Throughout history, God has raised up men that spoke against the shepherds, soundly denouncing profligates who fattened their own coffers by robbing the people of God. John Bunyan, Martin Luther, John and Charles Wesley, and even Thomas and Alexander Campbell were noted for their intolerance of corrupt and greedy religious leaders--to say nothing of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos.

God promised a Shepherd The contemporary view of God falls far short of the truth. He is actually against those that masquerade as leaders, imposing conditions upon men that drive them from, rather than to, the Lord. Legion is the name of such people in our day, particularly in the Western world, where they wear the name of Jesus Christ.

"As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did My shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not My flock; therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require My flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day" (Ezek 34:7-12). What a glorious promise, and it is answered in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A brief review of these texts will confirm to our hearts the traits of a true shepherd. The Lord's indictment of the false shepherds reveals His heart. The qualities they lacked are the very ones He requires in a shepherd. We will find all of the characteristics lacking in the imposters, to be gloriously resident in Christ Jesus. Not greedy Of false shepherds it is written, "they are greedy dogs which can never have enough." What a graphic depiction of those charged with caring for God's people--"greedy dogs." This condition is the exact opposite of the Lord's heart. The primary concern of a true shepherd is the sheep. They do not provide an occasion for the shepherd to gorge himself, but for him to feed the sheep. The true Shepherd will not be seeking His own gain, but that of the sheep. In fact, we will find that He humbled Himself to identify with the sheep.

Understanding In a vivid description of leaders that imposed themselves upon His people, the Lord said, "they are shepherds that cannot understand." A shepherd that pleases God is one that understands the circumstance of the sheep, and is equipped to do something about it. The Lord Jesus not only loves righteousness and hates iniquity, He knows how to choose the right and refuse the evil. His understanding is employed in the leading of His people.

Keep from going astray Even though spiritual shepherds were to keep the sheep from wandering into danger, "their shepherds have caused them to go astray." The Lord's shepherd will address waywardness. He will find a way for the sheep to stay in the area of safety and nourishment. Going astray is always wrong, and is never justified. That is why God has appointed a Shepherd to keep us from wandering. We do well to listen to Him. Feed the sheep In spiritual affairs, nourishment is imperative. Yet, God declares, "Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" Nourishing food is essential for sheep, and the true shepherd knows it. He will lead them where they will find sustenance. God's Shepherd will see to it that we have something upon which our spirits can feed. He does not ration out the truth, but gives it liberally to those that have an appetite for it.

Protect the sheep Because the shepherds sought their own selfish interests, the Lord says, "my flock became meat to every beast of the field." The Lord severely indicts such leaders because He cares for His people. Those sent by the Lord will have an interest in the people of God. They will alert them to erroneous patterns of thought, and identify dangerous areas to them. They will aggressively oppose any that endanger the sheep, or attempt to lure them out of the safety zone. This is particularly true of the "great Shepherd of the sheep." He guards the flock from danger, and stands between them and their enemies.

Search for the sheep The Divine indictment is scathing; "neither did my shepherds search for my flock." God has a deep and abiding love for His people. When they become lost, He sends someone to find them. From this perspective, the Scriptures are the history of God searching for His people through prophets, and finally His only begotten Son. Such tenacity is not common in our day, but it is found wherever the true Shepherd is found. Recall that Jesus said, "I am come to seek and save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). The effort required to accomplish this mission, and the extent of the search is staggering. We must never take for granted the great Shepherd!

THE GREAT SHEPHERD

God has provided us a "great Shepherd"; One that excels all that went before Him. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb 13:20-21). to.n poime,na tw/n proba,twn to.n me,gan (the Shepherd of the sheep, the great). The idea of "great Shepherd" is not simply that Jesus does a good job of shepherding--although He certainly does.

The word me,gan is used in a very wide application: exceedingly, great, high, large, loud, mighty, strong (Strong's). This is not a casual word, but a strong one, depicting one with character, strength, and initiative--all of which are required in the salvation of humanity.

Do not overlook that the "great Shepherd" is God's provision for "the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand" (Psa 95:7). His love and His grace constrained Him to make this provision. Praise be to our God for the "great Shepherd."

Brought back from the dead! The "great Shepherd of the sheep" has been "brought again from the dead." He has returned from "the land of the enemy" (Jer 31:16), never before conquered by one entering into it. The dominant figure of all time is Jesus Christ. No other man has ever reached the full objective intended by God (Heb 2:8). But our vision must not stop with humanity. There is Another that must dominate our view. How appropriate that it is written, "But we do see Him Who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone" (Heb 2:9, NASB).

Jesus was "made a little lower than the angels" that He might die. But His death was not the end of the matter. It was not enough that Jesus died, He had to be brought back from the dead. He had to be a Shepherd that would pass through the valley Himself! Because of His triumphant death, He was "crowned with glory and honor," exalted to the highest place, and given a name above every name.

At this point, note the marvelous message of the text. Jesus was "CROWNED with glory and honor" in order "that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for every man!" His death was made effective by His resurrection! Had Jesus not been "brought again from the dead," His death would not have had universal efficacy. But He was raised again, thereby making His death sufficient to pay the entire human debt.

This is the thought captured in Paul's challenge to the enemies of God. "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Rom 9:34, NIV). Too frequently men are tempted to think of Christ's death in separation from His resurrection and intercession. When Jesus was "crowned with glory and honor" He was qualified to be our Shepherd. That crowning validated His death, making it sufficient to reconcile every son of Adam.

This situation makes our Shepherd a "great Shepherd," because He has traversed the deepest valley, and walked in the greatest darkness. He descended as far as one can descend, and came back to lead us to God. A shepherd must know the terrain, lest he lead the sheep into a situation from which he cannot extricate them.

Having "tasted death for every man," Jesus not only atoned for the sin of every man, He now leads us to God. He but requires our consent to do so -- and faith gives that joyful consent. We now live in the time of spiritual recovery. Having come back from the dead, Jesus now leads men from death to life, from hopelessness to hope, and from danger to safety. He is the "great Shepherd of the sheep."

Through the blood of the covenant The "great Shepherd of the sheep" operates "through the blood of the everlasting covenant." He shepherds with God's "eternal purpose" in mind, applying the appointed means of reconciliation and recovery. Jesus does not shepherd the flock with the family structure in mind. The condition and potential of a nation does not dictate how Jesus shepherds the flock. Nor, indeed, does the imposed agenda of religious professionals determine where and how He leads. It is the "everlasting covenant" that undergirds the divine work.

Our text states that God brought Jesus back from the dead "through," or "by the blood of the eternal covenant" (NASB). The language declares that Christ's vicarious death ratified the covenant made in Christ before the world began. The blood of Christ, or the forfeiture of His life, freed God to bless humanity copiously upon the basis of Christ's atoning sacrifice. In words that the Holy Spirit teaches, "Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb 10:19-22).

The "living way" is the new covenant, inaugurated and ratified by the blood of Jesus Christ. The effectiveness of that ratification is confirmed every time we draw near to God through our great Priest and Shepherd. The way has been opened to God, and the Shepherd will bring us there with joy.

Jesus now shepherds the "flock of God" in strict accordance with the new covenant. He leads them into a place where the law can be written upon their hearts and placed into their minds. He leads where they can come to know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. He leads into the experiential remission of sins, where God remembers transgressions no more. These are the elements of the new covenant, and the "Great Shepherd of the sheep" brings us into a personal experience of them (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-13; 10:16). Preachers and teachers must make it their business to make people conscious of the glories of the new covenant.

Too much of the religion of our day has little, if anything, to do with the "everlasting covenant." Jesus shepherds the "flock of God" in a manner that fulfills every aspect of the new covenant. That covenant was introduced in Eden, and elaborated to Abraham. It is a covenant of spiritual blessing. It is encapsulated in the Gospel, which was first preached to Abraham. "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you" (Gal 3:8). Jesus' blood ratified that covenant of blessing, allowing God to be "Just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3:26).

Perfection in every good work Working through the Shepherd, The Father will "Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Heb 13:21). Where spiritual maturity and involvement in the good will of God is found, the "great Shepherd" has been leading. Where this is not found, human obstinacy or ignorance prevails. Mark it well, the "great Shepherd of the sheep" brings them to maturity, perfecting them "in every good work." His objective is to involve us in the "good and acceptable, and perfect will of God."

Jesus warned one of the early churches, "for I have not found thy works perfect before God" (Rev 3:2). This is an unacceptable condition because God is able to make us perfect in every good work through Jesus Christ. That is one of the reasons He gave Him to us in the capacity of a "great Shepherd."

The word "perfect" comes from katarti,sai, which means "to complete thoroughly . . . perfect . . . prepare, restore" (Strong's). An imperfect work is one that comes short of the Divine requirement. It misses the mark, and is like an aborted child. It is not recognized by God because it does not comport with His objectives. A "perfect" work is one that meets the Divine objective. It pleases the Lord because it harmonizes with His purpose.

God is able to make every human expression measure up to His expectations! He accomplishes this through the "great Shepherd of the sheep." If our works are not "perfect," we cannot excuse ourselves on the basis of our humanity. God has provided a Shepherd to lead us out of the infirmities of humanity into the strength of the Lord, and the power of His might.

Pleasing to God God the Father, through the "great Shepherd of the sheep," works within us things that are pleasing to Him. Although we enjoy the things of God, the primary purpose is not our pleasure, but His! It is essential that this be comprehended in a time when personal advantage is heavily promoted in religious circles. There is, of course, no greater personal advantage than being under the care of the "great Shepherd of the sheep." However, we must ever keep in mind that our benefit flows from our involvement with God. It is never an end of itself.

I find an intolerable trend developing in the Christian community. There is altogether too much talk about "fun" and having an enjoyable time. No one of sound mind will oppose having an enjoyable time, but everyone should oppose this being a primary objective. Whole assemblies are orchestrated today to accommodate the pleasure of the people. What is more, those that do not measure up to the lusts of the people are judged as unworthy of attention. All of this may seem quite bearable, but God is not well pleased with it. God's attitude toward our works commends or condemns them, regardless of the response of our peers.

When we were given a Shepherd--a "great Shepherd" -- we were given One that would lead us to do what is "well pleasing" to God. Our gatherings must welcome the "great Shepherd of the sheep" to work in this manner.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

The Lord Jesus announced Himself to be the "good Shepherd." "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine" (John 10:14). (o` poimh.n o` kalo,j; the Shepherd, the good One). The word "kalo,j" means, "good" = beautiful, but chiefly good, i.e. valuable . . . better, fair, good, honest, meet, well, worthy (Strong's).

Goodness involves character as well as achievement; motives as well as results. The Shepherd Himself is "good," that is why He is a "good Shepherd." His character, not His leading, is what makes Him "good." With men, character is developed, or shaped, by thought and conduct. The "good Shepherd," however, is a blend of the Divine as well as the human. The Divine aspect of our Shepherd was not developed; the human side was. That Divine side possesses the goodness that sustains us and directs us. Theologically, the human side of Christ allows Him to empathize with our lowly condition. But it is the Divine side that enables us, and to which we are being conformed.

He Gave Himself for the Sheep "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." He permitted the adversary to devour Him, rather than subjecting the sheep to his unbridled malice. This is not to be viewed in a melancholy way, but in a perceptive one. Jesus "gave" His "back to the smiters, and the cheeks to them that plucked out the hair." He did not hide His face "from shame and spitting" (Isa 50:5-6).

He did not die by coercion, but by preference: i.e., He chose to die. As he said, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father" (John 10:17-18).

The irony of this situation is that the Shepherd, in Himself, was stronger than the adversary. But this was not a contest between Jesus and the devil -- that would be no contest at all. The sheep were the point! They were weak and astray, under fierce assault by the evil one. However, God was not justified in protecting them simply because they were His offspring. The Lord does "pity" the people, remembering they are but dust (Psa 103:13,14). However, that "pity" or compassion was not sufficient to rescue the people from their dilemma. A life had to be given -- an innocent life. It was none other than the "good Shepherd" Who laid down--voluntarily laid down--His life for the sheep.

How wonderful the language of the Spirit concerning this sacrifice. "Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God. First He said, Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not desire, nor were You pleased with them (although the law required them to be made). Then He said, Here I am, I have come to do Your will. He sets aside the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant]. And by that will [new covenant], we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 5:5-10, NIV).

God was never satisfied with the sacrifices He Himself ordained. He did not ordain them for Divine satisfaction, but as a prelude to the supreme sacrifice. They conveyed to men a concept they could not of themselves conceive--the penalty being paid by the offended One, instead of the offender! In the context of Divine dissatisfaction, the Savior steps forward, as it were. He acknowledges that the Scriptural affirmations of submission and willingness spoke more of Him than of others. A "body" was prepared for Him through which Divine gratification would be realized.

The "good Shepherd," by laying down His life for the sheep, would bring an end to the tyranny of Law, and induct the era of grace. The "sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" freed the sheep from the condemnation of the Law. It also gave the sheep a new covenant, or "that will," which makes them "holy."

When Jesus gave Himself for the sheep, He submitted to be ravaged by Satan. As the powers of darkness converged upon Him, time was allotted them to do their worst. The night our Lord was betrayed, He said to his captors, "But this is your hour--when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53, NIV).

Evil appeared to be unrestrained in the execution of Satan's diabolical will. But this was not the case at all. Peter proclaimed, "this Jesus, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23, NIV). If Jesus had not GIVEN His life for the sheep, this statement could never have been made. The apparent invincibility of the devil was due to the willingness of Christ Jesus to lay down His life for the sheep. If it were not for the sheep,

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