“The Shepherd’s Love”
Sermon preached by Pastor James A. Fontaine on 12/13/09
at Burncoat Baptist Church, Worcester, MA
3rd message in a 5-part Advent sermon series entitled
“Regarding Shepherds and Sheep”
One of the reasons I chose to preach this Advent sermon series entitled
“Regarding Shepherds and Sheep” is because the Bible has a lot to say about
shepherds and sheep. As we will see next week in more depth, shepherds were the
first to see the Great Shepherd when He was born. The Bible even talks about the
need for under-shepherds, men who were in charge of watching over the people. In
Numbers 27: 16 – 17, Moses said, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all
mankind, appoint a man over this community 17 to go out and come in before them,
one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like
sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus Himself spoke about the people in a certain way in
Matthew 9: 36 where we see that “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on
them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” It
seems clear that the desire of God is for His people to have shepherds watching over
them for their well-being. And, as we saw last week, the prophet Micah foretold of
the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ in Micah 5: 4 – 5a where the prophet wrote that
“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of
the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will
reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace.” A shepherd was coming,
the long awaited Messiah who would save His people from their sins.
But what does it mean for the Lord to be our shepherd? How does the Lord Jesus
Christ model the traits of a shepherd? After all, Hebrews 13: 20 describes Jesus as
the “…great Shepherd of the sheep…” Well, the Bible gives many descriptions of
shepherds and Isaiah in particular will show us five traits of what it means for the
Lord to be our shepherd.
First, the prophet tells us that the shepherd tends his flock. In Isaiah 40: 10 –
11a, Isaiah wrote, “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for
him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his
flock like a shepherd…” Now to see the Sovereign Lord coming with power
acknowledges a great deal about how awesome He is. We also see a clear vision of
Him as a king who came with power to rule. This whole picture of the Lord as king
is something that even Christians can have a hard time acknowledging fully. Many
people want to think of God as a best friend who gives you the warm fuzzies, as our
best friend who would never be angry with His children. But the simple truth is that
the Lord IS king and He will come to judge with great power at the end of time. We
are to acknowledge the Lord in that way because that is who He is.
Yet, with all that power and the awesome respect we are to have for Him, the
Lord tends His flock like a shepherd. There is a special kind of care that a shepherd
gives to His sheep. Quite simply, the shepherd is responsible for the lives of the
sheep; he is responsible for their care. And since sheep are such dumb animals, they
need someone to guide them and care for them.
For Christians, we can affirm the truth of Psalm 23: 1 which tells also what the
Shepherd does: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Earthly shepherds,
even ones who put their lives on the line for their sheep, can lead imperfectly. But
with the Lord Jesus as our Shepherd, we will never be in want because the Lord
always meets our needs perfectly and guides us on the right path so we will have an
Jesus affirmed this in John 10: 7 – 10 where He said,
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me
were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate;
whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find
pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that
they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 I am the good shepherd.”
In these verses, Jesus made the distinction between the good shepherd and those
who may pretend to be a good shepherd. When the sheep follow the good shepherd,
they will find pasture and a full, abundant life. The thieves and robbers only try to
harm the sheep.
But the Great Shepherd is the way to life and safety for the sheep. In speaking
these words, Jesus was echoing a future statement He made in John 14: 6: “I am the
way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And
when Jesus said He was the “gate” for the sheep, a specific Greek word was use to
affirm that statement. The Greek word “ ” (thura) means “door, gate.” 1 And
that is exactly what Jesus is for His human sheep: He is the only way to eternal life.
There is no other way to heaven except through faith in Him alone. And only when
someone enters through the door or gate of Jesus by faith is someone saved. As part
of His flock by faith, we are under His eternal care and we can confidently affirm
the words of Psalm 100: 3 where David wrote, “Know that the LORD is God. It is he
who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Once saved,
we are a part of His flock and we have the great comfort of knowing that the
shepherd tends his flock.
Also true is the fact that the shepherd protects his flock. You know, there are
times as a father when your kids are hurt or scared: it could be a thunderstorm; it
could be a bad dream; or they fell off their bike and got hurt. And you know what
they need most? Sometimes, your kids just need to feel the comfort and protection
of daddy’s arms. And after hugging them and holding them tightly for a while, the
hurt and fear often go away because they feel the safety of being with their daddy.
In Isaiah 40: 11b, the prophet describes that picture from a heavenly point of
view in writing that, “He gathers the lambs in his arms…” What a tender picture of
loving care! And that is exactly what the Great Shepherd is; He is loving and caring
toward His sheep and they are protected in His loving arms.
This truth is seen in Psalm 23: 4 where David wrote, “Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and
thy staff they comfort me.” In this well-known passage, we see that the sheep have
great comfort because the Great Shepherd walks with them through every moment
Kurt Aland, et al The Greek New Testament Fourth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche
Bibelgesellschaft, 1998) dictionary page 84.
of life. And the rod of protection (to whack wild animals who could attack the sheep)
and the staff of direction (to guide the sheep from dangerous paths) brought them
comfort. The Great Shepherd will protect His sheep from all danger.
Jesus told of this truth in John 10: 11 – 13 where He said,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the
wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the
flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and
cares nothing for the sheep.”
As His sheep, we never have to worry that we are being watched over by a hired
employee who will run away at the first sign of danger. The sheep don’t belong to
the hired worker and since he has no investment in them, he will run away when
danger appears. The Great Shepherd, though, will watch over and protect His sheep
all the way to heaven. We can rest comfortably amidst any troubling circumstance
of life because, with Jesus as our Great Shepherd, we know and experience the truth
that the shepherd protects his flock.
So, the shepherd tends his flock; the shepherd protects his flock; and
thirdly, the shepherd loves his flock. In Isaiah 40: 11c, Isaiah wrote that “…He
gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” This is another
picture which tells us just how much we are loved as the sheep of the Great
Shepherd. The Lord Jesus Himself told of the extent of His love for His sheep in
John 10: 14 – 16 where He said,
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - 15 just as the
Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.
They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
In verse 16, Jesus mentioned the sheep that were not of His sheep pen who also must
be brought in. This was an allusion to the fact that, while He first preached to the
Jews, Gentiles would also be saved. They were not yet in His sheep pen but soon
would be when the disciples went out and preached to all the nations.
Did you notice, though, how Jesus as the Good Shepherd showed His love for the
sheep? Jesus said in John 10: 15b, “…I lay down my life for the sheep.” And wasn’t
love the motivating factor in Jesus’ death on our behalf? Kenneth Barker and John
Kohlenberger III wrote about the depth of a shepherd’s love when they wrote that
“The concept of a divine shepherd goes back to the O.T….It involved both a protective
concern and a sacrificial attitude…The good shepherd stands ready to sacrifice his
total self for the sake of the sheep.” 2
And the Bible clearly affirms that Jesus was not only ready but willing, in love, to
sacrifice Himself on the Cross for us. John 3: 16 tells us clearly “For God so loved
the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not
perish but have eternal life.” In Romans 5: 8, Paul wrote “But God demonstrates his
own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And we see the
summation of this in 1 John 4: 9 – 10 where the beloved apostle wrote, “This is how
Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary: Volume 2: The New
Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1994), page 331.
God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we
might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and
sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The Great Shepherd showed His
love to us, his sheep, by giving His life on the Cross as payment for our sins.
And it is because we ARE His sheep that He was willing to do this for us. Most of
us would do anything for our children including giving our own lives for them. God
did the same for us through His Son. And He did it because we are His sheep, His
human children. After all, in Ezekiel 34: 31 (the English Standard Version), the
Lord said, “And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God,
declares the Lord GOD.” As people who have professed faith in the Lord Jesus
Christ as the only way to salvation, we have become His sheep…and He is our God.
He gave His life to save us like a good shepherd would. Because of that, we can say
that we know the shepherd loves his flock…He proved it on the Cross.
It is also true that the shepherd guides his flock. Sometimes life can be scary
even as children of God. Disasters of all kinds, health, economic and otherwise, can
rock our worlds and, even though we know with certainty that God is with us, we
can initially be struck with fear as to how God will provide us comfort and care.
Isaiah and David are very instructive on this point. In Isaiah 40: 11, the prophet
wrote, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and
carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Now we have
to remember that when Isaiah wrote this, the people and Israel were in a bad way.
The Assyrians had taken over during Isaiah’s time and the Babylonian Captivity
was on the way as well as the Exile a century and a half later. The people were
already facing tough times…and they would get much, much worse.
Despite all that, the Great Shepherd would gently guide His sheep safely through
these troubling times. While things were bad “on paper,” if you will, the people
wound be led and guided gently by the Lord. David affirmed the gentle guidance of
the Great Shepherd in Psalm 23: 2 where he wrote, “He maketh me to lie down in
green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” A shepherd will always bring
his sheep to green, fertile pastures and not to some dry, dead land. And the
shepherd would also bring his sheep to still waters, not some rushing current that
could spook the sheep or carry them away in the current.
During troubling times on earth, the Great Shepherd will provide for us in
similar ways. When the winds of trouble swirl around us, we can find peaceful
pasture in Him and we can never be eternally swept away. Remember the words of
assurance Jesus spoke in John 10: 27 – 29: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know
them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no
one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is
greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.” The Great
Shepherd will guide us in this life through trouble and will provide for our needs.
We have peace in this life because of our status as God’s sheep and we know that
nothing can sweep us away from Him eternally. As Micah 5: 5a tells us, “…he will
be their peace.” Indeed the Lord will always be our peace in this life because we
know that the shepherd guides his flock.
So, the shepherd tends his flock; the shepherd protects his flock; the
shepherd loves his flock; and the shepherd guides his flock. Lastly, we will
see that the shepherd saves his flock. Having the Great Shepherd as a guide in
this life surely brings comfort to us, His human sheep.
But following Jesus is NOT ultimately about this life…it’s all about the next. For
if the benefits of following Jesus were only about this life, what’s the point? Having
peace in this life comes about because we are secure in the next life because we have
accepted Christ in faith. We can thereby enjoy this life without worrying at all
about the next.
Isaiah spoke prophetically about salvation in Isaiah 40: 10 where He wrote “See,
the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is
with him, and his recompense accompanies him.” The reward Isaiah prophesied
about here may be the return of the Israelites to the land after the Exile.
We are not Christians, though, so that we receive a reward in this life; our
reward is in the next. And that is ultimately what the Great Shepherd brings us to:
our eternal reward. David again is instructive in Psalm 23: 3 and 6 where he writes
about the true nature and reward of having the Lord as the Great Shepherd: “He
restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. …
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in
the house of the LORD for ever.” Isn’t that the ultimate benefit of the Lord being our
Great Shepherd? Because of His death on the Cross to pay for our sins and because
our faith and trust in Him as the one and only way to salvation, He restores our
souls, He turns us from our sinful ways and we WILL dwell in the house of the Lord
our Shepherd forever! In addition to all that we have seen, the shepherd saves his
According to Kenneth Barker and John Kohlenberger III, “The image of
“shepherd” arouses emotions of care, provision, and protection. A good shepherd is
personally concerned with the welfare of his sheep.” 3 That is why I felt it important
that we understand just how Jesus exhibited the traits of a shepherd. If we were
going to look at the prophecy of the Shepherd who would come from Bethlehem who
would be the Savior of all those who put their faith and trust in Him, we needed to
understand Jesus as the Great Shepherd He truly is. In 1 Peter 1: 25b, the apostle
referred to Jesus as “…the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” On this third
Sunday of Advent when we have lit the shepherd’s candle, it is my hope and prayer
that you have clearly seen the love, care, guidance, provision and salvation found in
the Great Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, Jesus Christ the newborn King!
Ibid, page 823.