The Good Shepherd

John 10:7-17
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.

The Good Shepherd
The Congregational Church of Easton – April 21, 2024
John 10 has three different “shepherd stories.” In two of these stories there are a pair of metaphors which Jesus uses to describe Himself. First, let me set the stage a bit. Jesus has been debating with the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day. He likens them to thieves and robbers, who would mistreat the sheep for their own selfish gain. He likens Himself, on the other hand, to the true Shepherd.
In those days a shepherd would be in charge over the combined flocks belonging to several families in a village. He would come to the gate of a home each day for the purpose of taking that family’s sheep out to pasture along with other sheep. On hearing the familiar call of the shepherd, the one inside the home would open the gate. Each shepherd would either have a distinctive call that would signal his arrival to the sheep, or he would have a distinctive tune that he would play on his flute. The sheep would not go with someone playing a different tune. They had been trained to recognize that particular tune played by their shepherd. So, the gatekeeper—and the sheep—would only respond to the voice or the call of the true shepherd. Which is exactly the point that Jesus is making. Those who are His sheep respond to Him and not to the call of the thieves and robbers.
In Jesus’ second story, He pictures the open pasture where sheep are taken to graze. In warm summer months they are sometimes left to sleep overnight. Not without security, of course, because circular walled enclosures with one opening were constructed out in the countryside. Thick clusters of thorns would line the tops of these enclosures so as to guard against predators trying to steal sheep in the night. Once the sheep were safely inside this pen, the shepherd would serve as the door, positioning his body to sleep at this lone entrance to the sheep pen. So, this same man could be said to be both the shepherd and the door. This solves the puzzle of what seems like a mixed metaphor that Jesus uses here, when He says, “I am the Door” and “I am the Great Shepherd.”
Jesus’ picture would be familiar to the people of His day. The sheep pen had only one door; there was only one way for the sheep to get in and out. Jesus chooses His metaphors on purpose. When He says, “I am the Door,” we are to understand that He is the only door by which the sheep may make their way into the fold. If the sheep don’t enter through that door, they stay outside for the evening!

In Matthew 7 Jesus says,
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
When we see a door, we understand it is an access point, the place to enter the building. And Jesus says, “Enter.”
When you are remodeling a house, you look for doors in places like Lowe’s and Home Depot. Many of their doors are beautiful, with etched glass and nice trim. That’s all well and good, but doors aren’t made for admiring; they are made for entry. It is not enough to stand and look at the door; we must enter.
And yet, there are plenty of people who seem to be content to “admire” the Door, that Jesus is. Count them as “fans”! They like the uplifting feeling they get when they attend a worship service, or they like the music, or they enjoy other trappings of Christianity. Others admire Jesus as an ethical teacher. but the idea of entering through the Door, Jesus, is an idea they haven’t entertained.
But Jesus says, “Enter”. He describes in Matthew 7 that there is a broad door, leading to destruction. Most people walk through that door. Most people think in terms of doing those things which will qualify them morally to be good enough to achieve their version of nirvana. My atheist friends, without any belief in anything after the grave, are trying to find happiness and self-esteem. Others, who believe in some version of heaven, try to get there by walking through the gate of human achievement – being good, going to church, living up to ethical standards.
All these various approaches can ultimately be rolled into one, under the caption, “what can I do to earn my way into heaven, as I understand it?”
But there is a second door; let’s call it the Door of Divine Accomplishment. Jesus tells us this door is narrow. Not many find it. It is not attractive to our human pride, because those who enter cannot claim they deserve what they find when they walk through. Those who enter this gate can boast of no self-achievement. The salvation that is found through Jesus rules out our good deeds as a contributing factor. On the cross of Calvary Jesus paid the price that we couldn’t possibly pay. He did for us what we could not possibly do.
Here’s a question: is it easy or difficult to enter the narrow gate? Ponder that for a moment. Best answer?: “Yes!” It is in one sense easy, and in another sense very difficult. To enter into that gate involves us turning away from any self-effort and putting all of our trust in Jesus Christ as the One Who has paid the price sufficient to secure our salvation. That happens apart from any good deeds done on our part.
It can happen this morning for you, no matter what kind of life you have lived. In this sense, it’s an easy thing to enter the narrow gate: you don’t have to go out and do a bunch of good stuff, or make amends, or turn over a new leaf, or join a church, or anything. You could even say to God,
Lord, I know I’ve made a mess of my life. But I know that Jesus Christ is God, that He came in the flesh and then rose again from the grave. He died for me, taking my sins on Himself. I accept by faith the free gift of eternal life You offer on the basis of what Jesus has done. I turn away from serving myself and I place myself in the position of your servant now. Forgive me, Father, and change me into a new person.”
That’s an example of entering by the narrow gate that leads to life.
Recognizing that we contribute nothing whatsoever to our salvation cuts against the grain of our natural pride and self-reliance. It’s a blow to our egos to admit that we are helpless and not the good people that we’d like to think we are. It is difficult to humble ourselves and come through the narrow gate, but that is what we must do, because our baggage of pride and self-reliance won’t fit through that narrow gate.
In verse 10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Listen to Eugene Peterson’s take on this in his paraphrase, The Message: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” “More and better” life; that’s what Jesus is the Doorway to —
True love in a world of hatred.
Inner peace in a world of turmoil.
Joy in a world where happiness comes and goes.
Purpose in a world that doesn’t make much sense.
Soul prosperity in a world that measures prosperity by such things as bank accounts, IRA’s, and net worth.
Jesus says to us, “I am the Door.” Have you entered that door to more and better life? Consider this for a moment. Have you accepted that you are OK just the way you without having to achieve anything? If so, you have entered by the narrow gate.
A man of great wealth did what Jesus said was a difficult thing to do: he humbled himself and came to Christ, found salvation through faith in Jesus. He tried and tried to share his faith in Christ with his friends, trying to explain to them that salvation was to be found by the grace of God alone.
To illustrate this, he devised a plan: out of his many millions, he wrote checks to several friends, checks for a million dollars. And he tried to give those checks away to illustrate grace. But none of his friends would take the checks from him—because they would not have earned them. Consider what they were saying: my pride is so strong that I won’t take your free gift, no matter how large it is.
But God’s salvation is like the millionaire’s: amazing in its value, absolutely free for the taking, unable to be earned, but only accepted when we do so in simple faith in Jesus alone.
Let us pray. Holy One, We thank you that we don’t have to earn your gift of abundant life. We thank you for inviting us to enter through the narrow gate in which we are OK just the way we are. Amen