The way we farm sheep in New Zealand does not help us that much when it comes to what Jesus has to say in the reading we had today… we are used to driving sheep, with dogs, private farms and fenced pasture rather than open range and communal sheep pens for security at night. Garry Burge sets the scene of Jesus day and the proverb he tells the Pharisees, by telling the following story…
During the Palestinian uprising in the late 1980’s the Israelis decided to punish a Palestinian village near Bethlehem for not paying taxes (the villagers said that the taxes simply went to supporting the occupation of their land so why pay?). The officer in charge placed everyone’s sheep into a barbed wire enclosure as an incentive to pay, they were held hostage. Later in the week one lady came to him and begged to have her sheep returned, she was a widow and it was her only means of support. The officer laughed and said that there was no way he could separate out her sheep from all the others, unlike here they don’t tag ears. The women explained that she could round up her sheep, and the office quipped that if she could do that he would let her take the sheep. They went to the gate, opened it and the women’s son came and started to play a tune on his flute, over and over again. Slowly some sheep popped their heads up from amongst the whole herd. They came to the gate and the women and her son went home followed by her twenty five sheep.
In John 10 Jesus says I am the door and I am the good shepherd to help his listeners understand a proverb he told, about sheep listening to their shepherd, that they hadn’t got. In doing so Jesus reveals who he is to them and us. This week we are going to look at the I am the door saying…next week we will look at the I mam the Good shepherd saying…
In saying I am the gate Jesus states that he is the only way in which people may enter into relationship with God and find abundant life. He contrast himself with other would be shepherds who are out only to use the sheep for their own purposes.
In the prologue to his gospel, John says that in Jesus, the word of God came and dwelt in our world, pitched his tent in our neighborhood and we beheld the glory of the one and only son, sent from the father. Glory has the meaning of the weighty reality of who someone is, and in Jesus the weighty reality of who God is came and dwelt with us, and in exploring the I Am saying in John’s gospel I am hoping that just like with the different colours we get when we pass light through a prism that we might see the different dimensions of the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. That we may capture a renewed vision of the Glory of God in our midst that it would fill us and overflow to the world around us.
To understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to put it in context with what has gone before. Last week we looked at John chapter 8 we saw Jesus standing at the festival of tabernacles in Jerusalem and saying I amthe light of the world. He repeats that claim at the beginning of chapter 9 and as a sign of what that means he heals a man who was born blind.
The Pharisees investigate the miracle and because it happened on the Sabbath they deduce that Jesus must be doing these things because he is demon possessed. How could he work on the Sabbath even to heal. They reject the man’s assertion that Jesus is a prophet and when he continues to champion Jesus’ cause they cast him out of the synagogue. Now whether that is simply getting him to leave or excommunicating him… instead of being received into the people of God healed and restored, he is ostracised. Jesus finds him and reveals that he is the Son of Man, a messianic title from the Old Testament and speaks of spiritual sight and blindness. The Pharisees object to the suggestion that they are blind and Jesus tells them the proverb we have at the beginning of our reading this morning. Contrasting himself with others who would call themselves shepherds but are simply out after what’s in it for them.
To get our heads round what is being said we also need to look at some of its context within the whole of scripture. In the Old Testament God is often referred to as the shepherd of Israel, psalm 23 is probably the best known example of this ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ says David. Israel’s leaders are also referred to as shepherds and in the reading we have from Ezekiel 34 we see that God will remove the false shepherds, who feed on the sheep rather than feeding the sheep, and God will look after his sheep himself. In the proverb that Jesus tells the Pharisees he is insisting that he is the true shepherd of the flock, and those who God has given him will know his voice and listen to him. The man born blind is an example of that he had not listened to them but To Jesus and found life.
The Pharisees don’t get what Jesus is saying, So Jesus unpacks it by saying that he is the door.
He is the gate and while we may be used to hearing this saying in Matthew’s gospel. Here Jesus points to the fact that for both would be shepherds and for those who are God’s flock they must enter through him. As I mentioned last week the Pharisees believed that they were put right with God because of their heritage and if they kept the law faithfully and strictly that God would bless them. Anyone who did not keep their standards were shunned. But Jesus says it’s not the keeping of the law but rather it is in him that life and belonging to God’s people comes.
In fact he goes beyond that to assert that all who have come before him are robbers and thieves. There are other false messiahs and many people pedalling ways to find life, but Jesus says unless they come through the gate they are no good. Like with the break down laws in rugby today unless they come through the gate they are offside and should to be penalised. Now it is hard to fully understand who Jesus is referring to. And it helps us when we ask does he mean Moses and the prophets from the Old Testament. The answer is no because Moses and the prophets point us to Jesus. Once someone points us away from a dependence on God’s grace and God’s goodness revealed in Jesus Christ then there is a problem.
Jesus is the gate; he is the one who invites us to find life in him. Jesus is the one who like with the man born blind speaks light and wholeness into our darkness and brokenness. He is the one who welcomes us in. He enfolds us in his love and grace, and makes us his people. He is the one who is able to lead us to good spiritual food, which is what a shepherd does, as we looked at before Jesus said I am the bread of Life, whoever comes to me will not be hungry or thirsty again.
Jesus is the one who offers us grace and mercy, it is not through what we do or what we can achieve but only through him. It is that wonderful revolution of grace. It is only as we ourselves come to Jesus and enter are we able to be shepherds for those around us, drawing them into the same gate that we have found.
I want to make some observations today about how Jesus as the door applies to our lives.
The first is really going back to the proverb Jesus told… In his book “when Love came to town “, Paul Metzger starts his commentary on this chapter by talking about TV Preachers who while preaching about Jesus demand people send them money and when they do God will bless them. He doesn't name names or put anyone specific down, but rather leaves it open for all of us to ask the question how are we like the TV preacher. It gives us a modern day example of what Jesus is up against. The shepherd who is more interested in what they can get, and manipulates people to get it. Contrasting that with Jesus who is the door and next week we will see is the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He says that this passage invites all who would be in ministry and leadership in the church to look at ourselves. It may not be about money, but what about status and power. The Pharisees wrote people off who didn't keep their standards do we often put people in the inbox or the out-tray, in the fold or outside dependent upon how they measure up to how we think things should be done?
The second is that one of the things that stood out to me in this passage was that the door wasn't just the way into safety. Do you notice how in the proverb Jesus uses the shepherd comes and calls the sheep out of the fold and they follow, did you notice that the sheep go in and out of the gate and find pasture and abundant life.
Jesus does call us into the safety of his sheep fold but there is the sense also of Jesus not calling us into a hunker in the bunker mentality either But to follow him out into the desert round about and as we follow him he will lead us to pasture and life.
The phrase our goings in and goings outs is in scripture a figure of speech which means all of our lives and it is good to know that Jesus is able to care for us in all of life, and in all of life’s terrain. But the other thing is that the gate often leads us out of our comfort zones and our walls and it’s only as we follow Jesus as our shepherd into new paths and new places that we will find food for our soul and abundant life.
I had the opportunity to speak to many university students, when I worked there, about why they were studying and it was interesting many of them even the Christian ones talked about their aim being to get a good education and get a good job and get the good life and it worries me when I hear that because they were simply settling for the western materialistic dream. Just maybe the gate leads to a willingness to serve; it leads to dark shadowy places or places where we will doubt ourselves and our choices, but if Christ is the door to that place if he is the shepherd leading us it is in those places that we find, not just the good life but abundant life.
Andrew Dunne uses another analogy. He says that Christian often want to swim between the flags but find that their spiritual life can often go flat doing that. I am a parent and I want my children to be safe so I swim between the flags, but I am also a surfer and I know that often the real adventure of life is out where the big waves are where it is not so safe. My prayer is often that of Francis Drake, captain Jesus meet and guide me midst the wild waves.
People Jesus is the door, today he might be speaking to you about coming to him and finding life, be it a new relationship with God through him. It maybe that there are places of darkness and desert in your life and you need to have the door of God’s grace open there. Or just maybe today Jesus is opening the gate and calling you out beyond your comfort zones where there he will lead you to pasture. Either way Jesus is the door to abundant life.