Digging Deeper into Scripture: Jesus as the Good Shepherd

As Acts 4, Psalm 23, and 1 John interrelate, two predominant themes present themselves. Firstly, there is certain salvation in Jesus Christ, and in fact, only in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:1–12 records that as Peter spoke to the rulers, elders, and scribe, he asserts, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Psalm 23 supports this theme where, in the first three verses, David describes God’s provision, restoration and protection “for his name’s sake.” Although not a clear reference to Jesus Christ, we can derive that God ministers to sinners for the sake of the promised Messiah. Then, in 1 John 3:16–24, we find comfort in seeing that Christ is our Good Shepherd, showing His love for His flock through His death and resurrection. 

Scripture interprets Scripture

Secondly, we recognize the theme of self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s brother. Experiencing harassment, persecution, imprisonment, and even death, Peter boldly preaches the Gospel, asserting not only God’s physical healing for the crippled man, but also forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. In his first epistle, John bolsters this theme, highlighting that we are to love others in action, meet our brother’s need and even lay down our lives for Jesus' sake. Naturally, these examples merely reflect God’s profound sacrifice for sinners in His Son, Jesus Christ. John explains that while Jesus did receive from His Father this charge to redeem sinners, it was His own choice to lay it down. He does so for no reward, but willingly enters danger to save and preserve His own.

Psalm 23 reinforces this theme as we read it through the experience of Christ. Although there was a period of our Lord’s passion during which the Father forsook the Son, He otherwise endorsed and cared for Jesus during the entirety of His ministry. He led Jesus to green pastures and still waters, in prayer He restored the Son’s soul, during His betrayal, arrest and condemnation, the Father comforted Jesus. He provided for Jesus in order that He could provide for us.

Law and Gospel: Law

There are two concerns related to salvation exclusively through Christ. Although we learn in 1 John that we are to love our brother in action, providing for him in time of need, even to the point of death, and that abiding in Christ means obeying His commandments, we should take great care to avoid seeking provision, approval, forgiveness, and salvation for the sake of these actions. Peter asserts clearly in our reading from Acts that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, the one his audience rejected and put to death. John 14:6 supports this truth.

Relatedly, the Church follows a dangerous path to bend to the way of the world in this regard. There exists the temptation for denominations, congregations, and individual Christians to elevate God’s love over Jesus Christ. Loving others as John describes is centralized so vehemently as to eclipse the message of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. Time in sermons and Bible studies, space on websites and printed materials are spent chiefly to coax Christians into service and to organize such opportunities. This overemphasis on love can also dilute true teaching on salvation. The false teaching runs like this: God’s love covers everything. His affection is great such that He would never allow anyone to spend eternity in hell regardless of what they believe. Given this truth, churches can deemphasize Jesus Christ, and therefore, any other portion of scripture.

Law and Gospel: Gospel

This reading from 1 John charges Christians to care for others and to obey God. Read through it again through Jesus Christ. John makes clear that Jesus showed us love by His death and resurrection. What is often missed is that Jesus obeyed in our place. John writes, “whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.” Jesus obeyed perfectly in our place. Through faith we receive His spotless record of obedience before God. Jesus abides in the Father, we abide in Jesus, and through Him have the Father.

Our reading from John’s Gospel paints a comforting picture of Jesus as the unique shepherd. Although shepherds can certainly be giving, nurturing, and self-sacrificial, even the best fall short of Jesus Christ. Our Lord is not the hired hand preserving the sheep for compensation. He has nothing to gain. When the assault on the sheep puts his own life in danger, the hired hand will run. Jesus placed Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane and stood firm when the disciples ran. Where a shepherd may even break a lamb’s limb to keep it from running away, Jesus was broken on the cross. He laid down His life that we could escape death.

Preaching and Teaching

Firstly, key in on the theme of wandering from God. Sinners are the sheep in need of rescuing. We are apt to wander spiritually. This is manifested twice in the readings. Those in Peter’s day rejected Jesus as Savior; we continue to do so today. Jesus calls us to love our brothers. We put our own interests before all else.

Secondly, when we wander, Jesus comes for us. Psalm 23 speaks of God’s leading, comfort, peacemaking, and final bliss in His presence. In John 10, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks and dies for sinners, then rises to be our eternal Good Shepherd and make us His eternal flock.

Read more about how John portrays Jesus as the unique shepherd in the 1-3 John Concordia Commentary

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Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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