Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
God intended from before the foundation of the world that you and I and all people, from the greatest to the least, would always be sheep. His purpose from the beginning and for all time is that all human beings would always be sheep in need of a Shepherd. He never intended that we would be sheep for a season and then cease being sheep and become something less needy, less dependent. We will always be sheep by God’s design.
And those who are happy to be sheep, and who hear the voice of the Great Shepherd calling them, and who follow him as their only hope, and trust in his sacrifice on their behalf—those sheep are now, and always will be, more than sheep. They are children of God (1 John 3:1), heirs of the universe (Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 3:20-23), co-rulers with the King of kings (Revelation 3:21), the bride of Christ (John 3:29; Revelation 21:9), shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43).
Always more than sheep. But always sheep in need of a Shepherd. No matter how glorious our destiny as the children of God, and as those who will one day judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), we will never outgrow our sheep-like need of a Shepherd.
When a person is born again and becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, here’s the way the apostle Peter describes that homecoming. He says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). We were straying like sheep in the dreamworld of unbelief, but in the new birth, we awaken and return to the Shepherd of our souls. Your soul was made to have a Shepherd. Salvation means returning to the Shepherd of your soul. That’s what it means to be a Christian: We are sheep, and we have a faithful Shepherd of our souls.
Always Our Great Shepherd
Then one day—perhaps soon—Jesus Christ will come a second time. And Peter describes it like this in 1 Peter 5:4, “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” When Jesus comes, he will come as a Shepherd.
To be sure, he will be more than a Shepherd when he comes. He will be the King of kings (Revelation 17:14; 19:16); he will be a warrior (Revelation 19:11); he will be a servant (Luke 12:37); he will be a Bridegroom (Matthew 25:5); he will be a friend (John 15:13); he will be God over all blessed forever (Romans 9:5). But he will always be a Shepherd.
And in the age to come, after the second coming, as time rolls on, for millennia after millennia, Revelation 7:16-17 says that Jesus will still be our Shepherd. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our Shepherd.” This is the way it was meant to be. We will always be sheep. We will always need a Shepherd. And Jesus will always be our Great Shepherd.
Four Basic Questions
So in view of this, I have four basic questions: 1) Who is this Great Shepherd? 2) How is it possible that he could be our Shepherd today and forever? 3) What does it mean for us to have such a Shepherd? 4) Why did God design it this way so that we always need a Shepherd? All these questions are answered in Hebrews 13:20-21.
1. Who is this Great Shepherd?
The Great Shepherd that we have is the Lord Jesus. Verse 20: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep . . .” Jesus is our Shepherd today and forever. And he is great—a great shepherd.
To make clear how central this is to God’s purposes, consider that God has always called men to be shepherds of his people. In other words, he has ordained that between himself and us there be a human shepherd. In the Old Testament, the leaders of his people are called shepherds. In the New Testament, he calls men to be pastors and teachers. And the word pastor means shepherd (Ephesians 4:11). But the way this serves to highlight Jesus as our Great Shepherd is how non-great other human shepherds are and how badly other human shepherds fail.
Sometimes I am afraid to open the newspaper for fear that another pastor will have brought shame and disrepute on the name of Jesus. And then I look in the mirror and consider my own shortcomings and how far short of Christ’s shepherding I fall. Some of you are sitting there utterly disillusioned with Christian pastors. They have abused, manipulated, fornicated, embezzled, denied the faith, and you want nothing to do with them or their Christianity.
What I want you to see, that you may not have thought of before, is that God knows this about human shepherds, and he is very angry about it, and he planned long ago that there would be a perfect Shepherd who never fails, never abuses, never manipulates, never fornicates, never embezzles, never denies the faith.
Listen to God’s indictment of the shepherds of Israel and what he promises. Jeremiah 23:1-2: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the Lord. . . . ‘You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.’” Ezekiel 34:4-5: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.”
But then he makes these promises. When Micah prophesies that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem in Micah 5:2-4, he adds, “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” (see Ezekiel 34:23-24). And Isaiah joins the chorus of hope in Isaiah 40:11: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
So when Jesus came, he came fulfilling these promises. He said: “I am the good shepherd. . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14-16).
There is one shepherd who will never let you down. He laid down his life for you. And if you will receive him, his death for you guarantees that he will take care of you forever.
Who is the Great Shepherd? It isn’t me or any other pastor-shepherd. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone. Your soul was made to be shepherded by Jesus.
2. How is it possible that he can be our Shepherd?
Now how can this be? He died and we are undeserving sinners? How can he be our Shepherd like this? Hebrews 13:20: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant . . .” Jesus can be our shepherd, even though he died, because God raised him from the dead never to die again. And Jesus can be our shepherd, even though we are undeserving sinners, because he was raised from the dead “by the blood of the eternal covenant.”
Read it again slowly: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead [there’s the resurrection!] our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant . . . [there’s the blood of the eternal covenant].” The eternal covenant is the new covenant that Jesus mentioned the night before he died when he said at the Lord’s Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). And the new covenant as Jeremiah describes it (Jeremiah 31:31-33) is God’s commitment to forgive and preserve his people. It was because Jesus’ blood so completely secured the eternal covenant of forgiveness and transformation for his people that God honored this achievement by raising him from the dead (see Romans 4:25). That’s why verse 20 says he raised him “by the blood of the eternal covenant.”
So how can Jesus today be our shepherd? He lived two thousand years ago and he died, and we don’t deserve him. Answer: The God of peace raised him from the dead. He is alive today. He is a Great Shepherd today. And God did this because Christ paid by his blood for an eternal covenant of forgiveness for all who receive him. He is alive, and he is gathering his undeserving sheep from all the peoples of the world. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:15-16).
If you receive him, trust him, follow him, you have a Great Shepherd.
3. What does it mean for us to have a Shepherd?
And what will that mean for you? Our text mentions two things. Hebrews 13:20-21: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, [here’s the first thing it means for you] equip you with everything good that you may do his will, [and here’s the second thing] working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, [and here’s how you know all this is the work of your Shepherd] through Jesus Christ.”
The God of peace does two things for us through our Great Shepherd. First, he equips us with everything good that we may do his will. That does not mean that you have everything you need to be rich and famous and healthy and beautiful. It means you have everything you need to do his will. If he calls you to do a thing, he will give you what you need to do it. Our Shepherd does not promise to make us rich in this world. He promises to give us what we need to do his will.
That’s why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). You will have everything you need to do God’s will for you. Including everything you need to die well for his glory (John 21:19).
And, second, it says in verse 21 that through our Great Shepherd, God is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.” Our Great Shepherd doesn’t just give us the green pastures and quiet waters that we need. He gives us the inner strength that we need. This is how he keeps us from making shipwreck of our faith. When he paid with his blood for the eternal covenant, here is the promise from that covenant that he bought for all of his sheep: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant [there’s the eternal covenant], that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). Our Great Shepherd works in us what his pleasing in his sight. That is, he works faith in us, and he will not let us become unbelievers. That’s what it means to have a Great Shepherd. So what does it mean to have Jesus as our great Shepherd? It means that he provides everything we need to do his will, and he works in us the faith to persevere in this to the end. Which leaves one last question:
4. Why did God design it this way so that we are always sheep and always need a Shepherd?
The answer is in the last phrase of verse 21: “. . . to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” This may refer to the God of peace or it may refer to our Great Shepherd through whom he cares for us. In either case, the point is the same. Glory, praise, honor, admiration, esteem, wonder—all these belong to God and to our Great Shepherd and not to us. The glory of the great shepherd-work is theirs, not ours. We get the care; he gets the tribute as the shepherd care-giver. We get the protection; he gets the honor as the shepherd-protector. We get the guidance; he gets the esteem as the shepherd-guide. We get the provision; he gets the trust as the shepherd-provider. We get the joy of being loved like this; he gets the glory.
This is the way he designed it. To him belongs the shepherd-glory and to us belongs the sheep-joy. We would not want it any other way.
Glory to the Great Shepherd
Jesus Christ is alive today. And if you receive him, he will be your Shepherd—your Great Shepherd. And I promise you, it will be your great joy to give him the glory for being your Great Shepherd. Amen.