"I am the Good Shepherd."—John 10:11

Rural objects seldom fail to charm. To gaze on nature's beauties is never-wearying delight. But no scene is more attractive than when on the mountain-brow, or in the sheltered valley, the Shepherd is seen tending his flock.

Here Scripture lends abundant aid to multiply the interest. Shortly after the fall, the gates of Paradise fly open. Who is the first to enter? It is righteous Abel, a keeper of sheep. David is called to sit on Israel's throne. What was his early occupation? It is written, "God took him from the sheep-folds: from following the ewes great with young." (Psa. 78:70, 71) Who are the first to hear from an angel's lips good tidings of the Savior's birth? They "were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." (Luke 2:8) Thus sacred thoughts exalt the shepherd-life.

But deeper instruction must now be sought. Here is the chosen title of the blessed Jesus. Paul's eye gazing upon Him extols Him as "that Great Shepherd of the sheep." (Heb. 13:20) But who can declare His greatness? In every sense it is unsearchable. In every attribute He is great as God can be. Peter speaks similarly. He exhorts the under-shepherds to "feed the flock of God;" and he adds, "When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." (1 Pet. 5:2, 4) He is indeed "the chief among ten thousand." (Song 5:10) He is high above His ministering servants as the heaven of heavens surmounts the earth. How precious are Ezekiel's words, "I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even my servant David. He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd." (Ezek. 34:23)

To His people Christ indeed is all. He alone is all-sufficient for their every need. In Him all power resides. In Him they have superabundant help. But when He would display Himself to His beloved flock, He points not to His greatness, His preeminence, His power, His majesty, His glory—He rather shows His loving heart, His tender care, and sums up all in the sweet word, "I am the Good Shepherd." Good indeed He is. How good, eternity alone can show! Faith is thus encouraged to draw nearer, and behold the Lord in the office of the Good Shepherd.

I. A Shepherd knows his sheep. His knowledge almost exceeds belief. His constant watchfulness imprints each face on His retentive mind. Observation makes Him marvelously familiar with them.

Thus Jesus knows each member of His flock. They are His portion by His Father's gift. "They were Yours; You gave them to Me." (John 17:6) The possession consists of an innumerable company of immortal souls. Can such a treasure, so bestowed, not thoroughly be known?—They are His crown. "Come out, you daughters of Zion, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced." (Song 3:11) Where is the monarch who knows not his crown?—They are His spouse loved with an everlasting love. Where is the bridegroom who knows not his bride?—They are His children, the creatures of His will, the new-born of His Spirit, the adopted of His grace. Where is the Father who knows not his sons?—He has the mother's tender heart. "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. (Isa. 66:13) "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isa. 49:15) Maternal instinct knows her offspring.—Where is the brother who knows not the loved ones of his home?—Where is the friend who reads not a friend's heart? Jesus is "a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Prov. 18:24)

Thus every tie conspires to imprint on Him the knowledge of His sheep. The sheep are dispersed in every age and every climate. They are limited to no period and no place. They extend from Abel to the last-born of earth. They inhabit cities and wild deserts. They are found in torrid plains and ice-bound tracts, in isles of the sea and mountain heights. They belong to all nations, kindreds, people, tongues. But on each the eye of the Good Shepherd ever rests. They are as Canaan—"The land which the Lord your God cares for: the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year, even to the end of the year." (Deut. 11:12) In the wilderness Hagar is seen. "She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me.'" (Gen. 16:13) Nathaniel is told, "When you were under the fig-tree I saw you." (John 1:48) From the tree's branches Zaccheus is called down. No darkness hides, no prison-cell conceals, no crowds prevent discovery. Each believer may always rejoice in the truth that his image never fades from his Lord's sight. He knows the way that he takes. This knowledge is protection. "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." (Heb. 13:5) His knowledge never slumbers, sleeps, or errs.

II. A Shepherd feeds his sheep. It is his daily care to lead them to the pastures where the best food abounds. He guards them from unwholesome fields, in which herbage is rank, and weeds might injure, and thorns and thistles mock the hungry mouth, and poison lurks in a beguiling form. Thus he nourishes, and the flock thrives.

The prophet takes up the image, and exclaims, "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd." (Isa. 40:11) They need nourishment, and largely He supplies. Their appetite is spiritual, and spiritual is their regalement. He brings them to the fertile meadows of the Word, and says, "Eat, O friends; drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved." (Song 5:1) Bodies retain not life except through food, and sheep would perish without pasture. But the Word supplies abundantly. Around the camp of Israel the angels' food fell only in the morning dew; but at all times the Word is near. The power of the Word to strengthen and revive consists mainly in its revelations of the Savior. "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy." (Rev. 19:10) Here the hungry soul is cheered by gladdening views of His wondrous person, His everlasting love, His tender grace, His willing sufferings, His atoning death, His rising power, His ascending glory, His interceding might, His coming kingdom. Invigorated by views of their ever-present, ever loving Lord, they are strong for toil. They renew their strength in His appointed ordinances, and mount with wings as eagles. In the congregation of the saints, in united prayer and praise, they brace their nerves and gird up their loins. They see their Lord uplifted in His courts, and they return "rejoicing as a strong man to run a race." (Psa. 19:5) A table is prepared before them in the house of their pilgrimage—even the sacramental feast. Here is much-loved refreshment. In these green pastures they lie down with great delight, and the food is sweet to their taste. Thus tender is the heavenly Shepherd. Thus nurtured is the happy flock. They feed and sing, He is indeed "the Good Shepherd!"

III. A Shepherd protects his sheep. Many and mighty are their foes. In themselves they are weak and tremulous as a broken reed. The wild boar out of the forest marks them as his prey. The roaring lion watches to devour. Savage dogs would mangle. The wind, the rain, the tempest, threaten to destroy. The Shepherd knows these perils, and protects from all.

Thus Jesus screens His flock. "Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; You surround them with favor as with a shield." (Psalm 5:11, 12) It is superfluous to state that Satan is the arch enemy of the flock. For strength he is a lion, for fierceness he is a dragon, for twisting deviousness he is a serpent. His might almost reaches almightiness. His many vassals, as legion, are an universal swarm. His vigilance never slumbers. His skill is barbed by world-long experience. His wrath is vehement, because his time is short. He wars with desperation because a hopeless doom is near.

How is it that faith is not extinguished by his efforts? How is it that the sheep are not all driven to his prison-cell? There must be a Shepherd almighty to protect. He who delivered David "from the paw of the lion, and from the paw of the bear" (1 Sam. 17:37) is the same rescuing Lord, "yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8) Paul seemed to be in the jaws of ruin, but he testifies, "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, and I was delivered from the lion's mouth." (2 Tim. 4:17) In direst extremity let the believer cry, "Rescue me from the mouth of the lion; save me from the horns of the wild oxen." (Psa. 22:21) A protecting arm will speedily be outstretched. A barrier is erected which has salvation for its bulwarks. At the command of Jesus angels encamp around and deliver them. Thus His sheep "never perish, and no one can snatch them out of His hands." (John 10:28)

IV. A Shepherd heals the ailments of the sheep. His heart is tender love. It is, moreover, skillful care. The flock is subject to variety of ills. Inclement seasons bring disease: contagion may be contracted; injuries from accidents occur, and sickness from many causes weakens. The well-trained Shepherd knows how to use the suitable relief. He watches anxiously, he diligently tends, he wisely nurses, he administers right remedies, and so effects a cure. It is his pride to have a healthy flock.

Here the Good Shepherd cannot be hidden. Jehovah-Rophi—"I am the Lord who heals you"—is His chosen name. (Exod. 15:26) Is it not written, "Who heals all your diseases." (Psa. 103:3) And again, "He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds." (Psa. 147:3) In the kingdom of grace the lament is never heard, "Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?" (Jer. 8:22) Over His flock the Sun of Righteousness ever "shines with healing in His wings." (Mal. 4:2) When He came to procure for His people everlasting health, miracles of bodily healing were foremost in His credentials. His reply to the disciples of John is, "Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and heard; how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised." (Luke 7:22) At His word all maladies took flight. No case was too inveterate or too severe. As many as touched the very hem of His garment were made perfectly whole. So, also, He heals the sickness of the soul. His present kingdom is a spiritual Bethesda. "From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it: but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." (Isa. 1:6) Each believer is in himself loathsome, as the man "full of leprosy." (Luke 5:12) But let the cry ascend, "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean." "Heal me, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved for You are my praise." (Jer. 17:14) The Good Shepherd will put forth His power, and spiritual health shall be restored.

V. A Shepherd shears his sheep. At times excessive wool would be a burden. There may be profit in the fleece; but without such thought the sheep must be relieved. Unburdening process must be undergone. The Shepherd perseveres amid resisting struggles, and soon sees lightness and health exulting in the fields.

The Good Shepherd similarly gives freedom from obstructing weights. He calls His followers to the good fight of faith. They need unburdened arms. They must nimbly run the upward race. They need unshackled feet. They must fly heavenward on the wings of hope; their wings must not be pinioned to the earth. Their hindrances are many and diversified, and must be all removed. Some are adhesive as the very skin. Some are cancers deeply rooted in the body. The excision is painful, but it must be endured. Thus an agile flock is fit for the appointed work. The Good Shepherd spares not, and the result is vigorous life.

VI. A Shepherd enfolds his sheep. When the shades of evening thicken, the scattered flocks are gathered to their fold. They wander not amid pitfalls, nor are left an easy prey of roaming beasts. Convenient shelter is their night-long home. Together they lie down, guarded and secure.

The Church is the present fold of Jesus' flock. "The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47) Here they are housed during the dark days of time's continuance. They repose together waiting for the dawn of the perfect day. Under-shepherds watch around. The storm may pelt, but they are not exposed. They may hear the howling of the hungry foe, but they cannot be reached.

This fold is but the prelude to the endless home. "They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appears before God." (Psa. 84:7) "They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came." (Gen. 12:5) "There shall not a hoof be left behind." (Exod. 10:26) "So it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land." (Acts 27:44) In the "Father's house are many mansions," and they shall all be filled. Of all the children given by God, not one shall be lost. All the sheep shall be securely and forever folded. They never more shall hear the storm. They never more shall dread the foe. The Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep, shall be among them as "a Lamb that had been slain." (Rev. 5:6) They shall follow Him "wherever He goes" (Rev. 14:4); and He "shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters." (Rev. 7:17)

In prospect of this fold, let believers "gird up the loins of their mind, be sober, and hope unto the end." (1 Pet. 1:13) Let them rejoice, give thanks, and sing. Let them clearly show the Good Shepherd's marks. They are marked in the ear, because they hear His voice; marked in the foot, because they follow Him; marked on the brow, because "Holiness to the Lord" is there inscribed. The motto over the earthly fold is, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not lack." (Psa. 23:1) Over the heavenly house letters of glory shine, "Never again will they leave it." (Rev. 3:12)