The Good Shepherd of Israel
As shepherd of a flock, I am called upon to comfort and to encourage people who hurt. Although there are times when I don’t know what to say, I know that even though this frail shepherd fails, there stands the Good Shepherd ready to minister to His flock.
In our last study on John 10, we observed the Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. Since He is the Good Shepherd, He does good things for His sheep. We have already seen that He cares for His sheep and He communes with His sheep. However, there is one more good thing that Christ does for His sheep – He consents to die for them.
He Consents To Die For His Sheep
In presenting Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus told the Pharisees that He was going to die for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. . . As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11, 15). His death differed from that of other shepherds. Ordinarily a shepherd’s death is accidental. It isn’t planned. He doesn’t volunteer to die. He is killed while risking his life for the sheep.
Christ’s death was no accident. He consented to die for His sheep. 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” (Jn. 10:17-18). Our Lord’s death was no tragedy nor was He a martyr who unwillingly died for a cause. He was the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. The Father gave Him a commandment to lay down His life for us, and in obedience to God’s plan, He bowed to the will of the Father.
The last few hours of our Lord’s life illustrate that no one took His life – He gave it. Each of the four Gospels tells us the same basic story of Christ’s death, but John’s account is unique. Matthew, Mark and Luke disclose details that emphasize His human suffering. John, however, omits certain details of Christ’s humanity because his purpose is to emphasize the deity of Jesus (Jn. 20:30-31). When John presents the events leading up to Christ’s death, his writing demonstrates that Jesus was completely in charge of the whole thing. Contrary to what many believe, Jesus was not the victim of mankind’s wickedness. He wasn’t tricked, trapped or surprised by His enemies. As John presents the arrest, betrayal and death of Christ, his presentation illustrates the great truth that no one took Christ’s life – He gave it up.
A few hours before His arrest, Jesus and His men were in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem. He had been explaining to them that He soon would depart and was giving them truths needed for Church-age living. But even while He was talking, Satan was preparing to attack Him. In John 14:30 Jesus said, “Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” Satan was coming to lay hold of Christ, but there was no sin in Christ for Satan to latch onto. Jesus was sinless, so the devil could not condemn Him to death. (“For the wages of sin is death” [Rom. 6:23].) Why then did Jesus allow Satan to lay hold of Him? Jesus explained by saying, “But that the world may know that I love the Father” (Jn. 14:31).
Jesus voluntarily put Himself into the hands of Satan’s workers to demonstrate His love, obedience and submission to His Father’s commandment to lay down His life. That’s why the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel closes with the words, “Arise, let us go from here,” In essence, Jesus was saying, Let’s get up men. I am going out to meet the enemy. Most likely He left the upper room with His men, instructing them as they walked along the winding streets of Jerusalem, stopping somewhere to pray the high priestly prayer of John 17, and finally departing the city for a garden on the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane.
The Garden of Gethsemane often served as a place of retreat for the Lord and His disciples. This night, though, Jesus went there for a different purpose – to be present when Judas arrived with the soldiers. John 18:2 tells us, “And Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place; for Jesus often resorted there with his disciples.” Luke 21:37 says that Jesus and His apostles, including Judas, spent every night on the Mount of Olives. Jesus was making it easy for Judas to find Him. The religious leaders didn’t want to arrest Him in Jerusalem in broad daylight because they feared the multitude would rebel against them. Knowing this, Jesus purposely made His arrest simple for them – He is alone at night with just eleven men.
When Judas arrived with the Roman soldiers and the Temple police, Jesus was waiting for them. John 18:4-6 says, “Jesus, therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus, of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, who betrayed him, stood with them. As soon, then, as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” Why did they fall backwards? Because His words revealed to them that He was deity in flesh, for “I AM” is the name of God (Ex. 3). Apparently (although we aren’t told this specifically) accompanying Christ’s words was a flash of majestic glory so that the soldiers fell to the ground. It was the Lord’s way of demonstrating to His disciples that He was in charge. No army (a Roman band of soldiers could be as large as 1,000 or as small as 200) could have overtaken Him without His compliance. The soldiers and Temple police were at His mercy – lying helpless on the ground.
In addition to this display of His sovereign control of the situation, Jesus tells the army not to arrest His disciples. He says, “I have told you that I am he; if, therefore, ye seek me, let these go their way” (Jn. 18:8). What an amazing scene – hundreds of soldiers are standing before Christ to arrest Him, and He is commanding them. And what is even more astounding is that they are obeying Him. He isn’t a captive, but rather a King giving orders. Peter knows what is going on. He understands that Christ is calling the shots, so he gets courageous and starts swinging a sword (Jn. 18:10). Peter is ready to take on the whole army because he knows that he can’t lose with Christ.
What Peter doesn’t understand, though, is that it isn’t Christ’s intention to fight. Jesus said, “Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (Jn. 18:11). In other words, He was saying, Peter, we aren’t going to fight them. Can’t you see that the whole plan is coming together? I am not going to run from the cross. I am going to carry out the Father’s plan by laying down my life. He bowed to the will of the Father by allowing Himself to be arrested. “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him” (Jn. 18:12). They bound Him because that was the standard procedure in making an official arrest. In Christ’s case, though, it was entirely unnecessary because He was giving Himself as the sin sacrifice for the world.
After His arrest and trial, Jesus was crucified. Yet even the horrible ordeal of crucifixion could not take His life. He had to relinquish it. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is quoted as saying that His time had not yet come (Jn. 2:4; 7:6). There are other places where John says that men tried to lay hold of Christ, but He escaped (Jn. 8:59; 10:39). No one could ever take His life on their terms. Christ planned to lay down His life when the time was right. John 19:28-30 records for us when Christ consented to die by saying, “After this Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar; and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished; and he bowed his head, and gave up the spirit.”
Jesus consented to die after every Scripture referring to His life was fulfilled. When He cried “It is finished,” it was not the moan of a defeated man, but rather the shout of a victor. It was the triumphant declaration of one who had just completed the task of redemption. Having paid for the sins of the world, Christ “bowed his head, and gave up the spirit.” Normally, a crucified victim’s life spirit would ebb away, and then his head would slump forward. Christ, however, calmly laid His head to rest and then dismissed His spirit because it was His time to die.
For 2,000 years people have asked the question, “Who killed Jesus?” In one sense, the Jewish leaders and the Roman soldiers were responsible for Christ’s death. In another sense, all of us put Him on the cross because He was there dying in our place. Yet the fact remains that in still another sense, no one took His life, for He said, “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (Jn. 10:18). He consented to die because He is the Good Shepherd. His goodness took Him to the cross where He could pay for the sin of every lost sheep. (“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” [Isa. 53:6].)
If you are a lost sheep, then the Good Shepherd invites you to come to Him today.