Dying to Preach
The Good-to-Great Shepherd
Of course, Jesus uses the title for Himself in John 10. And Peter and the author of Hebrews follow suit. Perhaps the most fascinating time it is used as a title is Hebrews 13:20 where the writer describes Jesus as ". . . the great shepherd of the sheep." The title is as fascinating as it is mysterious. However, the title is a fitting and perfect ending to the book of Hebrews. A few thoughts about the title.
The title is definite. He is the shepherd. There is a hint here of his Messianic role. In Ezekiel 34 God criticized the shepherd-leaders of Israel because they were neglecting the sheep. They were selfish, they did not protect the sheep and, worst of all, they were eating the sheep. It's hard to claim you are a good shepherd when your breath smells like roasted lamb. God decides He will be the shepherd of Israel, and He would do this by rising up King David to shepherd them. "And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them . . ." (34:23). What the shepherds of Israel would not do, David would.
David was a great leader, but the best man is a man at best. David showed at once how great a human king could be and how limited. He won and he failed. So Israel would have to wait for the ultimate shepherd to arrive. So in John 10, when Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd, and in 10:16 where he says there will be "one sheep, one shepherd," it is no mystery that this was a reference to Jesus coming to be everything David was not. It's definitive. He is the shepherd and he would provide what others could not.
One can't see that title and not think of Jesus as the shepherd of Psalm 23. The point of the beloved Psalm is his provision, "I shall not want." I shall not want for daily provision, I shall not want for rest, I shall not want for protection from my enemies. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
But this is not his title in Hebrews 13:20. The title is also specific. He is not the Good Shepherd, He is the Great Shepherd.
The Great Shepherd
So why is his title the Great Shepherd? The answer is in the text. "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 . . ." The Great Shepherd is the perfect title for Christ because in the resurrection Christ provides everything the book of Hebrews describes.
The writer takes pains to describe that in his death he was our atoning sacrifice (9:12). And, after he arose, he not only became the priest who makes a way into the holy place (9:23, 24) but the one who keeps that access open (9:25, 26). He makes a way, and he keeps the way open! He is the way-maker and he is the Way: he is the access and the accessibility. The one who granted us access stands as a permanent way into the holy. In the resurrection, Jesus is the great shepherd.
Peace on earth was not won in a manger. It was won on a cross. Therefore, the shepherding nature of Christ has as much to do with a tomb in Jerusalem as it does with a manger in Bethlehem.
That's the truth that guts heaven of its angels to come to earth. That's what makes soldier-angels talk to shepherds about peace. And this is what the shepherds were to go see. The Great Shepherd who would make peace with His blood.
Merry Christmas—and all praise to Jesus, the Great Shepherd!
Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.