Understanding the role of today’s ‘I AM’, the Good Shepherd, means we need to seek to understand this role in an agricultural sense. As city dwellers this is harder for us to do!
Gordon posed this question for us to chew on: How has Jesus been ‘I AM’ in your life recently?
Before delving into the passage, let’s look at some background to the terminology. When God told Moses who he was, ‘I AM’ was used to convey the meaning of an absolute being who worked on behalf of his people. He works on behalf of us today in just the same way. He reveals himself to us in the present tense, showing us his true identity. He isn’t a God of the past who doesn’t understand what we are going through today.
Just as when we want to enter into a relationship with someone, we have to reveal to them something about ourselves, Jesus tells us who he is using the term ‘I AM’. He is approaching us, wanting to have a relationship with us. Jesus isn’t an aloof king who lives out of reach of his people, but one wanting to be alongside them and accessible.
We turn now to the passage itself: John 10:10-21. There are 5 truths in this passage which underline elements of the ‘I AM’, and how he is present with us today.
1. The Shepherd owns his sheep – he states his claim on our lives, in an affectionate, loving way. We belong to Christ and are prized by him. We are sheep, who are defenceless and do stupid things, but thankfully God has a staff rather than a sword, and he protects us and turns us back from our wanderings. He paid the cost of our ownership with his life:
In the Old Testament sheep were sacrificed to die for the sins of the shepherd, but in the New Testament this has been reversed – Jesus the Good Shepherd died in place of us, his sheep.
2. The Shepherd knows his sheep – he can remember each of our names (unlike Gordon, as he admits!). The knowledge God has of us is more than information about us. He sees his own character in us, so he knows about our character. He wants a relationship with us, even though he knows all about us, so we have nothing to fear in approaching him. His love is unconditional.
3. The Shepherd calls his sheep – he loved us first and is calling us to join his people. In a later verse Jesus makes it clear that belonging and believing are connected:
We don’t believe first and then be called by God. He calls us to belong and then we believe.
4. The Shepherd cares for his sheep – knowing us isn’t enough, God also cares for us. I really like the term Gordon used for God’s people seeking to reflect God’s care for others, calling us ‘under shepherds’. We reflect the Good Shepherd on earth. A good flock should be a place of restoration, not retribution. In Psalm 23 God uses both the rod and staff in his role as Shepherd, exercising authority with compassion and protecting the flock.
5. The Shepherd gathers his sheep – his purpose is to save us as sheep, so he brings us back when we stray. The church has a tendency to be comfortable with its own kind, and Jesus shows this is not the right approach – there is one flock of all people worldwide:
There is no room for ethnic arrogance in the church.
Gordon ended with what our response to these five truths should be:
- The Shepherd owns his sheep, so follow him
- The Shepherd knows his sheep, so reflect him
- The Shepherd calls his sheep, so listen to him
- The Shepherd cares for his sheep, so keep accountable to him
- The Shepherd gathers his sheep, so focus on others