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John 10:11-18

In the Gospel text today, Jesus speaks one of his many “I am” (ego eimi) statements. This time he declares, “I am the good shepherd.” (vv. 11, 14). Anytime Jesus makes one of these statements in John, we are reminded of God’s divine name given to Moses in Exodus 3:14. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), ego eimi is the phrase that becomes the divine name, and this is the phrase that the Jesus uses in John’s Gospel.

Jesus’ reference to being the good shepherd is both a divine and a messianic reference (think the shepherd King David). What is odd here is the first and foremost characteristic that Jesus attributes to the good shepherd: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He says that he “lays down his life” five total times in this 7 verse passage.

The idea of the good shepherd laying down his life is odd because this is not expected of a divine figure or the Messiah. While the prophets mention that the Messiah will suffer or die a couple of times, death was generally not an expectation for the Jewish Messiah. Dying for their sheep is also not necessarily an expectation for an actual shepherd either. Of course, a shepherd’s job is to protect the sheep as best they could, and David says that he risked his life defending his sheep from lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-36). Still, a shepherd would only do so much to save a sheep.

While Jesus’ point that he “lays down his life for his sheep” is undoubtedly a prediction of his death, it’s not only that. This is not just a reference to his sacrificial death; Jesus’ entire life is one of committing to a self-sacrificial way of leading his followers. Jesus laid down his life when he flipped the marketers’ tables in the temple (2:13-22). He lays down his life when he risks his reputation by speaking to a Samaritan woman (4:7-29). He lays down his life when he heals on the Sabbath (5:2-18). And to jump ahead in the story, Jesus lays down his life when he stoops to wash the disciples’ feet (13:1-11). It is these examples and his entire ministry and life that lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. He has committed to laying down his life from the beginning and remained faithful to that cause, resulting in his death.

Reading this text, we may wonder who the hired hand is. Does Jesus have someone in mind? Is it the religious leaders? The political leaders? Who knows. The point indeed is that what le