John 10:11, 17-18 (NRSV)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.
This is the primary mark of a good shepherd. He is willing to die that the sheep might live. That is what the story of the cross is all about.
– Edward Markquart, Sermons from Seattle
Sheep appointed for the slaughter, ready to be sacrificed, were ransomed with the blood of the shepherd. He laid down his life, hyper ton probaton, not only for the good of the sheep, but in their stead. Thousands of sheep had been offered in sacrifice for their shepherds, as sin-offerings, but here, by a surprising reverse, the shepherd is sacrificed for the sheep. – Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume 5
A comment on this text from H. H. Farmer has stayed with me over the years, to the effect that in his suffering and death Jesus was by no means a victim of circumstance, like a windblown leaf whipped about by evil forces. No one took his life from him. He offered it freely. Before the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate, he is in control. He declares that they would have no power over him save from on high. He can already see his place at the Father’s right hand of power. These others cannot. They are the excited ones, and thereby the weak ones. With a regal air he speaks of his power to lay down his life and take it again. Herein lies the power and mystery of the Easter faith, that this risen Lord and faithful Shepherd has done the decisive deed in beating down sin and robbing death of its paralyzing thrall. – From Shepherding by F. Dean Lueking
Extended quote by William Loader from his blog First Thoughts
The ancient shepherd of Palestine or Asia Minor had to be tough, worked often in areas of sparse growth, frequently amid danger from wild animals and sheep stealers, and, above all, had to protect the flock, especially at night, when they would often be rounded up into a small pen. John 10 reflects this less than idyllic world. The bland teddy bear image gives way to a picture of tension: positively, a shepherd doing his job to the utmost; negatively, dangers which threaten the sheep (in the present and the future) and which will kill him. Life and death dance together…
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For some, various images of atonement come flooding in at this point: he became the sacrificial lamb. This may be a helpful image, but we should see that it is not really what John is talking about. Rather John is referring to Jesus’ being prepared to face danger and death for the sake of his disciples. It is not about theories of atonement. His commission (command, as John 10:17-18 put it) was to come offering life. This he did. Carrying that through faithfully meant being prepared to die for it. This he did. This happened in the light of the larger goal: so that he could take up his life again and then, through the Spirit, spread it over all the world.
You are not a hireling who runs away at the sight of danger,
but Your fidelity was tested and proven on the wood of the cross.
Accept the gift of our gratitude for Your marvelous care.
Help us to hear and follow Your voice.
Watchful Shepherd, who protects the flock
and searches tirelessly for those who wander from the fold,
retrieve the lost and bring them home.
Tend and heal their wounds.
Good Shepherd, who lays down His Life for His sheep,
nourish Your people with the Bread of Life,
that we may reflect Your likeness
and enjoy the spring of Living Water that never ends.
Amen.– traditional prayer, author unknown
Click here for a beautiful reflection entitled The Shepherd’s Voice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.
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