We began by trying to find one word to capture the heart of Jesus, and I chose the word compassion. But if I were to collapse all that we have seen about Jesus’s compassion into only one biblical text, perhaps the statement that best captures His compassion for human beings is found in Matthew 9:36:
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
That may be the key. The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus came as a Servant (philippians 2:5–8), as our Savior (matthew 1:21), and as our Sacrifice (hebrews 9:26)—but don’t miss the fact that He also came to be our good (see below, john 10), great (hebrews 13:20), and Chief Shepherd (1 peter 5:4).
In ancient Israel, the shepherd provided for all of the needs of the sheep. The shepherd cared for them 24/7 in every circumstance. The shepherd was their everything—their guide, protector, caregiver, food source—because the shepherd cared about the sheep.
This is why the role of the shepherd was such an important picture of Jesus and His care for His flock. Jesus’s shepherding was even prophesied in Micah 5:4:
And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they will remain, because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
This word picture anticipated the way Jesus would care for His own, and He leveraged that imagery beautifully in John 10:11–18:
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, 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 hired hand 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. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so 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.”
Notice the comprehensive nature of the care that Jesus gives to His sheep—a stark contrast to the religious shepherds of Israel’s earlier times (see ezekiel 34:1–10) and the lack of care their current spiritual shepherds were giving them (see matthew 23:1–32). As such, Jesus called to them as the true Shepherd of their hearts who would care for them and for their deepest needs.
That invitation extends to us as well.
Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we have a Shepherd. And this Shepherd is deeply engaged with us. Deeply concerned for us. Deeply committed to us. Why? Because in every situation of life we know He has experienced what we are experiencing, and has He great compassion for us. His compassion motivates Him to come to our aid.
We are not alone. Our Shepherd is with us. He is the living embodiment of compassion who sees us in our distressed and dispirited state and cares for us as no other can.