When Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” it’s easy to miss just how good that is. While God had always been the Good Shepherd of Israel, he had promised,
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. (Ezek. 34:23)
Jesus laid claim to that promise in John 10, adding something new—that he would “lay down his life for the sheep.” The Good Shepherd would become the Lamb. He continued,
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)
While God had always known his sheep, and his faithful people had known him through his words and deeds, Jesus here promised a new level of knowing—of intimate fellowship—between the Lord and his people: “… just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” By dying for us and by giving us his Spirit believers are now welcomed into the intimate fellowship of the Triune God! Jesus concluded his prayer in John 17,
“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)
This Christlike knowing comes with the gift of supernatural hearing. Jesus said, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out … his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3, 4). New birth heals deaf ears. We can know and hear our Good Shepherd!
And that is where pastors come in. We have the extraordinary privilege of speaking for the Good Shepherd. Someone clips a mic on us, and our flock somehow hears the Lord! They know we’re not him, of course, but they hear him nonetheless. Recently, when our pastor preached from John 14 on Jesus’ promise of a place prepared for us, Jesus himself reassured me deeply.
We also help our people know Jesus by the way we pray. Our calling and experience attune us to Christ’s voice in ways our people need. But we tend to get the blurts when we pray. Instead of listening, we’re prone to rambling streams of consciousness. We don’t wait attentively for him to guide our prayers for ourselves or our people. I have a quiet and godly friend who told me years ago, “I refuse to talk faster than I can pray.”
One year during Lent I set out to pray with all the households in my congregation. We’d meet for a half hour. I began, “Jesus said, ‘My sheep know my voice,’ so we’re going to be quiet for a few minutes and I’m going to try to listen for what he’d say to you, or how he’d have me pray for you.” All I’d learned about these various people was crammed on shelves in the back of my mind, along with a fair amount of Scripture. So, I’d be quiet till I sensed the Spirit carrying one thing to the front of my mind.
Sometimes I was given a particularly perceptive prayer. Other times it was a timely word of commendation or blessing. I’d say that one thing, and then be silent again till the Spirit brought out something else. Those were among the most extraordinary times of prayer I’ve ever had.
Since it is our extraordinary pastoral privilege to help our flock know and be known by their Good Shepherd …
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.