“and I lay down my life for the sheep”
Of course He does! For many glorious reasons.
“I am the good shepherd,” so He speaks in the preceding verse, “and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” He knows, recognizes and acknowledges them as His own; and they know, recognize and acknowledge Him as their own.
Jesus is not a thief and robber. That’s a frightful thing: a thief on the loose, amuck in a flock of sheep. Such a thief comes only with evil intentions. He doesn’t know the sheep, and they don’t know him. He comes only to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. “I am come,” says Jesus, “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Jesus is not a hireling either. A hireling is little better than a thief and murderer. He works only for himself; is not the shepherd of the sheep; doesn’t know and love the sheep as his own; is not concerned about them. Consequently, he will watch and feed the sheep as long as there is no danger. Comes the wolf, however, he will take to his heels and leave the flock to the greed and violence of the foe. A hireling will not give his life for the sheep. He doesn’t care that much about them.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He does not work for Himself at the expense of the sheep. He loves them; knows them as His own; wills that they shall have life in abundance.
Therefore He can add: “And I lay down my life for the sheep.”
A deeper reason still He gives when He says: “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father.” I know My sheep! What is more, however: I know My Father! I know His mind, His will, His heart. I know how He loves the sheep and wants to save them for His Name’s sake. And I know that the Father wants Me to lay down My life for those sheep. “Therefore doth My Father love me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again.”
It’s the picture, often referred to in Scripture, of a shepherd and his flock.
Visualize it! The sheep are gazing in the pasture, content and confident; the shepherd is seated on a knoll, whence he can keep watch over his flock. Or, the sheep are on their way to the pasture or back to the fold; the shepherd is leading them and they follow faithfully.
Suddenly an enemy approaches. A wild beast, perhaps, a lion or bear or wolf. Perhaps they are evil men. The purpose is to steal the sheep, or to kill and devour. The sheep, defenseless and bewildered, panic and huddle together in mortal fear.
See, however, what the shepherd does. Were he a hireling, he would take to his heels. Now, however, he takes his place between the flock and the oncoming foe. He compels the enemy to divert his attack to him. Fearlessly he fights to the bitter end; even though the odds against him are overwhelming; even though it costs him his life. Seeing this, we say of that shepherd: he lays down his life for those sheep.
The same is often said of a soldier, who dies in battle. He gave his life for his country.
Still, the picture is imperfect and inadequate, too. Really, that shepherd does not give, lay down his life. It’s taken from him, by force.
In the first place, mere man cannot lay down his life. To lay down one’s life means to give it, voluntarily, by an act of one’s own volition. Mere man cannot do that. He may fight to the death; risk his life; permit an enemy to take it by force; do violence to himself. But, mere man cannot simply lay down his life.
Besides, that earthly shepherd has no such intentions. No more than that soldier who dies in battle. He fights to live, not die. To his dying gasp he struggles to save himself and his sheep. That is because the life of his sheep depends, not on his death, but on his life. If he dies, they die; if he lives, they live.
With Christ, therefore, all this is much more wonderful.
The Good Shepherd CAN lay down His life in the fullest sense of the word. No man can take it from Him. Really, the enemy does not kill Him. He GIVES His life. He can do this because He Himself is God in human flesh. “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.” Verse 18.
When the Good Shepherd dies, therefore it is only because He will it so. That is His sole purpose in coming down from heaven. His whole heart is not in living this life, but in dying.
The differences, therefore are obvious. The earthly shepherd cannot lay down his life; the Good Shepherd cannot be deprived of it. The earthly shepherd does not want to die; The Good Shepherd does not want to live. The former dies to live; the latter lives to die.
The reason, too, is obvious.
THE enemy of God’s people, who must consume us as we are by nature, is not the world, not Satan, but God Himself-the consuming wrath of God. World and Satan, as well as hell and damnation, are but instruments of that wrath.
That wrath has its cause in the guilt of sin, which must be blotted out shall that wrath be no more.
That guilt of sin can be blotted out only in the way of complete satisfaction. The full penalty of sin must be borne.
That penalty is death; eternal death according to body and soul. Shall we live, we must die. “The wages of sin are death.”
That death the sheep could never die; that penalty they could never bear. In the first place, because it is eternal, infinite; and the sheep are finite. They could never finish the job, and live again. Secondly, because the punishment, to have atoning value, would have to be borne in love. Unwilling suffering can never reconcile with God.
What the sheep themselves could never do, however, Christ did for them. He can down from heaven into the flesh and blood of the sheep, assumed their guilt, laid down His life to blot out that guilt, took it again to apply unto His own all the riches of that atoning sacrifice.
That is the mystery of Calvary! “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
For the sheep!
That would be quite impossible. For these sheep Jesus lays down His life. If Jesus lays down His life for a sinner, that sinner is saved. His sins are gone and his is reconciled with God. Had Jesus done this for all men, all men would now be saved. There can be no condemnation where there is no sin.
Besides, to apply this to all men would be contrary to all Scripture. Again and again Jesus speaks of them “who the Father has given” Him. “This is the Father’s will which hath sent me (Listen carefully, for here Jesus Himself tells us what is God’s will concerning man’s salvation), that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” John 6:39.
And certainly, this would be contrary to this entire chapter. Throughout Jesus distinguishes between the sheep and those who do not believe. Concerning the latter He says: “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” Arminianism like to turn about and read: ye are not of my sheep, because ye do not believe; you all could be my sheep, if only you would believe. The great decision is yours after all. Jesus says; “ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” The former therefore, is the fruit, not the cause of the latter. Concerning the sheep Jesus says: “My sheep hear by voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never persish.”
Who then are the sheep?
They are those whom when the father has given from all eternity. The elect! What other answer can be given? Were they not His sheep when the Good Shepherd can down from heaven? Were they not sheep before they were bought or heard His voice and believed? Isn’t that plain from what Jesus says in verse 16: “And other sheep I have (notice: I HAVE which are not of this fold: them also I MUST bring, and they SHALL hear my voices? If then we are sheep before we are bought and before we hear His voice and believe, what other answer can be given then this: The sheep are the elect of God from all eternity.
Furthermore, the sheep are those who experience the fruits of this election in their hearts and lives; who are born again by almighty grace; who are united with Christ by a true and living faith who can say in truth; “I am crucified with Christ, and I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”
For those sheep the Good Shepherd lays down His life. Not because they live, but in order that they should live. Not because they are righteous, but in order that they should be. Christ died, not for the living, but for the dead-dead sheep; not for believers, but for unbelievers – unbelieving sheep; not for the righteous, but for the ungodly – ungodly sheep. In every case, for the sheep, and them only.
These sheep only He had in His mind and heart from Bethlehem to Calvary and forever more.
To them only He applies this wonderful redemption.
Now in principle.
Presently in heavenly, perfection.
And all of grace, for God’s Name’s sake.