2016-8-16 Jesus: The Door of the Sheep

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          August 21, 2016

“Jesus: The Door of the Sheep”
Text: John 10:1-10

I never fail to be struck by Jesus’ skill at telling stories.  He is a master storyteller—and though His stories indeed entertain, they do much more.  When Jesus tells us stories, as recorded in the Gospels, He tells them to a purpose, namely, to illustrate either some facet of Himself or some facet of life with Him. We have such a story today.  It is a story to which each of his original hearers—Pharisees living in modern-day Israel—could relate with ease.  Moreover, our next two I AM sayings rise from it.  Let us, then, give ear to the reading of God’s written Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Jesus gains interest, and teaches, from His figure of speech (10:1-6).  He paints a vivid word picture for us as He intertwines truisms about shepherds, thieves and robbers, and sheep.  Let’s look a bit more closely at each of these characters in turn.  Jesus tells us that shepherds, in contrast with thieves and robbers, enter the sheep-fold by the door—most likely merely a passageway narrow enough for the gatekeeper to block with his own body.  The gatekeeper opens to the shepherd—and to none other.  The shepherd calls his own sheep by name, and the sheep follow him.  More than this, the shepherd leads the sheep from the front (as opposed to driving the sheep from the back)—and the sheep, once again, follow the shepherd.

Compare this with the usual behavior of thieves and robbers.  We hear more about them toward the end of today’s text, but the little we hear of them in the similitude speaks far more than we might expect.  Unlike the shepherd, thieves and robbers enter not by the door of the sheep-fold—which is guarded diligently—but they attempt to enter the sheep-fold by another way (over the rock wall, e. g.).  Not only is an unusual entry point part of the modus operandi for thieves and robbers, but also they likely throw in a good measure of stealth and deception to boot.

The sheep, we are told here, recognize the shepherd, but they do not recognize strangers.  Hence, they will follow the shepherd, but they will not follow strangers.  In fact, they will dread the approach of a stranger—and they will not dare to approach a stranger.  Obviously, thieves and robbers form an important class of strangers for sheep to avoid.

Jesus finishes His figure of speech, and He perceives that His hearers fail to understand.  Therefore, He explains Himself more fully (10:7-10).  Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I AM the door of the sheep.”  Recall, that in Jesus’ I AM sayings, He both makes implicit comparison—in today’s case, comparing Himself to a door through which sheep pass in and out—and explicit declaration that He is God.  God incarnate, therefore, is the door of the sheep.

Jesus may refer to a door proper, but the context best fits the sense that Jesus is the doorway, or the passageway, for the sheep.  The passageway can be either opened or closed, as Jesus Himself either bars the way by His Person or permits passage as He pleases.  The passageway is shut against those who would harm the sheep.  It is also barred against those who fail to submit themselves to the Shepherd’s Lordship.  Happily, though, the passageway—the door—is open to the ones entering the sheep-fold through Jesus.  The ones entering through Jesus will be saved—that is, they will be rescued, delivered, and the like from the penalty, power, and presence of sin.  To continue the imagery of Jesus’ similitude, the saved sheep will go in and out and they will find pasture.  They go in to the fold for protection, they go outside the fold for provision (to wit, pasture), and at all times they know the presence and leadership of their shepherd.

Jesus, toward the end of today’s text, contrasts himself with the thief (that is, ultimately, the evil one).  The thief comes only but to steal, kill (literally slaughter or sacrifice), and destroy.  He thinks nothing but of enlarging himself by harming the sheep of Jesus Christ.  Against this, Jesus comes that we may have life—and that we may have it more abundantly.  This abundant life involves, among other things, exquisite relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.  It involves good nourishment for our souls from His written Word, the Bible.  It also involves the production and enjoyment of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians v.22-23).  What right-thinking person doesn’t want an overflow of God’s love, joy, peace, and so forth in his life?  To have these things—to have Him—is to have life and to have it to the full.  Moreover, to have Jesus Christ is to have everlasting life—a life without end, to be sure, but a life ongoing now and ever more abundant as we walk in Him.

People try to enter into what Jesus alone provides—abundant, eternal life—through any number of doors of their imagination.  Some try various doors of self-exaltation.  They build monuments to self, both tangible and intangible, and they crave the approval—yea, the adulation—of the crowd.  Others try doors of self-gratification.  They partake of pleasures forbidden by Scripture (such as harmful substances and improper intimate relations, to name but two), and then they wonder—when the mad rush after these forbidden pleasures has ended and they are spent—why they fail to satisfy at any deep (let alone ultimate) sense.  Even Christians, safely in Christ’s sheep fold, wander away from Him to these things and receive His loving use of the crook to restore us to Himself—but such wandering and incompleteness is the painful, necessary lot of those outside Christ’s saving love.

We have an example from Scripture of one who sought fulfillment apart from God in Christ—Solomon.  He, led by the Holy Spirit, tells us his story in Ecclesiastes.  He tried monuments to himself.  He tried forbidden pleasures.  After all these, and near the very end of his book, Solomon declares, “The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Solomon, of course, is right.

Therefore, beloved ones here this day, Hear the voice of Him Who is the door for the sheep.  Follow Him out of dangers of various kinds, follow Him into good pasture and secure shelter, and follow Him, in faith and discipleship flowing therefrom, into life—eternal and abundant.

AMEN.