The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for His Sheep
John, in his Gospel, borrows the beautiful image of God that permeates the Scriptures: God is our shepherd. And that image may be the most common symbolic image reproduced through the Christian era. From mosaics in the second-century catacomb resting places of those first Christians in Rome to magnificent stained-glass windows in hundreds of 20th-century church buildings from Europe to Australia, the shepherd shows himself ready to protect and feed.
When Jesus applies that image to himself, in John 10, he pictures the absolute devotion the shepherd maintains in every circumstance. His whole existence is given to keeping the sheep well fed, well watered, and safe from any creature that would prey on them. He would willingly give up his life to keep the sheep alive!
Yet, of all the images imagined and painted of “The Good Shepherd,” not a single artist pictures him hanging on a cross, holding a helpless (and bloodied) lamb, with a flock of faithful sheep grazing on the hillside below, safe within the view of the shepherd.
But that’s the image Jesus describes in John 10: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:14, 15, 17, 18, author emphasis). He is not a mere employee, paid to protect the sheep. He is the owner who loves his sheep dearly.
Here . . . at the cross . . . do you see yourself as a wandering lamb, rescued from mortal danger by a shepherd willing to risk his life—yes, to give his life so that you might live? When these symbols of his body and his blood come before your eyes, do you once again paint the image of a good shepherd willing to lay down his life for one little lost lamb such as you?
Are you known of the shepherd? Of course, you are. And that is why you are here: to love and obey the shepherd who so loves you that he would die if he could save you. And he has.
Ron Davis is a retired teacher and active member of LifeSpring Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he is privileged to lead Communion meditations regularly.