When people speak about themselves they usually do so to hijack some attention. I see it all the time – in conversations people get frustrated with short attention spans and so they brag a little and appear flashier than they really are. Not so the Messiah. When He talks about Himself He simply states the truth. To make His statements understandable He cloaks His self-portrayals in imagery. “I am the gate” is one; “I am the good shepherd” is another one.
On that note – I find it interesting that Jesus refers to Himself as a shepherd, not a sheepherder. There is a significant difference between the two: Sheep herders drive their herds much like cowboys drive their cattle by pushing them from behind, while shepherds guide their flocks by leading them from the front. Also flocks differ from herds. While herding associates with feeding and running together, a flock is meant to congregate in places or alternatively head towards a location. To put it bluntly: Jesus is no cowboy and God’s children are not mindless sheep driven by one.
In Psalm 23 we put ourselves in sheep’s shoes (that is to say if sheep wore shoes) because King David wrote the lyrics of Psalm 23 entirely from a sheep’s perspective. [Psalm 23:1-4]:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23 could not showcase the relationship between sheep and shepherd more beautifully. I believe this is what Jesus is referring to when He says about His sheep. [John 10:14-15]:
“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.”
Our relationship with the Lord is designed to grow past mere acquaintance. We are invited to know Him intimately – just as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father – a level of intimacy that is special indeed.