Jesus: King or Shepherd?

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The Magi called the boy Jesus “the King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), but they also described him as “the shepherd” of Israel (v.6).

How can a king be a shepherd?  Kings live in palaces and command armies, but Jesus was born in a stable and then had no particular home.  He once said: “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt.8:20).  Kings are the most powerful people in the land, but Jesus commanded only twelve followers, and was rejected even by those he came to serve.  He was scarcely a king!

He was, however, like a shepherd.  He called people to follow him, to hear his voice and to obey it.  Psalm 23 depicts God as a shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”  And Jesus cared for his followers, his sheep, with a loving , self-sacrificial concern. (See John 10: 1-18.)

So why call him a king?  Well, if Jesus was divine, then his commands have an authority greater than those of any earthly king.  And if we believe he was divine, we owe him absolute obedience.  But unlike earthly kings, Jesus does not insist that we obey him. Like a shepherd, he leads us but does not force us to follow. And unlike earthly kings, he is not interested in power, but in loving relationships.  His will is that we love God and love one another.

We have to choose whether to honour him as our king, or not.

Will the whole earth ever honour him?  Because his will is very good, we hope that one day everyone will follow him.