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"I HAVE AUTHORITY TO LAY IT DOWN
AND I HAVE AUTHORITY TO TAKE IT UP AGAIN
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
He pictures himself in this text as a shepherd. And he pictures his people as the sheep that he owns and cares about. And in verses 12-13 he contrasts the way the owner responds to wolves and the way the hired help responds.
He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep.
To the hireling sheep-tending is just a job. (It's just rental property, not a homestead.) They don't really care about the sheep. They are doing this to earn a living, not because they love sheep. And so they say, "No job is worth your life. If you're just working for a living, then you sure don't need a job that might kill you." So if a pack of wolves attacks your sheep, and you're just a hired hand, you run. You don't risk your life and fight the wolves. Who cares about a few sheep?
There are at three things--three destroying wolves--mentioned in the gospel of John. Three wolves that Jesus lays down his life to save us from.
First there is the wolf of sin: John 1:29 says of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." Sin is a wolf that destroys the world and cuts us off from God. And Jesus came into the world to draw the wolf of sin off the world onto himself, and do die in the place of his sheep. When the good shepherd sacrifices himself for the flock he becomes like a Lamb and bears the sin of many (Isaiah 53:6-12).
The second and third wolves are death and divine judgment. Death is a great destroyer. It attacks and destroys everyone, great and small, rich and poor, men and women, every race, every creed. It is an omnivorous wolf of destruction. And after death comes judgment: "It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death does not destroy by ending what we had planned in this life and leading to nothingness. It destroys by ending what we had planned in this life and leading us into the courtroom of God Almighty whose law we have broken and whose glory we have despised (Romans 3:23).
But Jesus is not a weak shepherd. When those two wolves threaten his sheep he lays down his life to destroy them and to save us from them. He says in John 5:24,
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
When Jesus laid down his life for the sheep he saved us from three destroying wolves: sin and death and judgment. He saw them coming; he went out to meet them; he drew them away from the flock and gave his life to kill them and take away their power so that they could not destroy the flock.
But now, if the story ended here there would be a great problem. If a flock of sheep lose their shepherd because he laid down his life to save them from a pack of wolves, they are now shepherdless. And even if no more wolves come they will sooner or later run out of green pasture and wander away into the desert valleys of death and perish. And in the end they will not be saved. And the death of the shepherd will have been in vain.
But the story doesn't end with a mangled shepherd lying dead among three dead wolves, and sheep scattered thirsting and starving in the desert. Verse 18 tells us why:
No one has taken [my life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
When Jesus came into the world to save his sheep from sin and death and judgment, he came with a commandment from his Father in heaven. The commandment was that he should die for sinners and rise again. And with the commandment came the authority to do it. "I have authority to lay down my life, and I have authority to take it up again."
He decided by his own authority when he would give himself into the jaws of sin and death and judgment. And after he had lain among the slain for three days he alone had the authority to take back his life again.
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