The Good Shepherd
1. The focus of today's passage of scripture is on two declarations that came forth from Jesus' mouth. The Lord said, "I am the gate of the sheep," (verse seven). He also said, "I am the good shepherd," (verse eleven). What was the Lord intending to tell us with these statements? As we inquire into what he meant by them, I would like for us to turn our ears to the words from today's scripture.
I Am The Gate Of The Sheep
2. First, the Lord said, "I am the gate of the sheep." The gate [could be] defined as the gate to the sheep pen or fold. There is a flock of sheep in the fold. There is a flock of sheep which is taken care of by the shepherd each day. Every morning the sheep are taken out by the shepherd, led to pasture, and fed. Then, in the evenings, they are led back into the fold and protected during the night. There is this blessed flock of sheep in the fold. Christ said, "[I] am the gate" to the fold which these sheep are in.
3. Even in the Old Testament, the people of God are likened to a blessed flock of sheep like this one. For instance, in Psalm one hundred the lyrics go as follows. "Know that the Lord indeed is God! The Lord created us. We are the Lord's, his people, the flock of sheep which is cared for by the Lord," (Psalm 100:3). Or, as a single [lamb] among this flock, I could even call to mind Psalm twenty-three, which starts out singing of the blessings [as one of] the Lord's sheep. "The Lord is [my] shepherd, I will never lack. The Lord makes me lie down by the source of the green grass, he escorts [me] near to the waters of rest, he restores my soul. The Lord guides me in the right way as appropriate to his name," (Psalm 23:1-3).
4. Sheep are mostly weak animals. They do not have weapons to defend against their enemies. They cannot even watch their own selves. Humans often boast that "The only one I depend on is me," but in reality, we're no different from [a flock of] sheep who cannot watch one of its [members]. But, the psalmist from before sung it like this: "Even when I go into the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear disaster. You are with me. Your rod, your cane, it encourages me," (Psalm 23:4). Thus, the people of God are likened to a flock of blessed sheep taken care of by their shepherd.
5. But, then again, in an important passage in the Old Testament a description of a very not so blessed flock of sheep is used in contrast with the blessed flock of sheep. [The passage] is Isaiah chapter fifty-three. "We are a flock of sheep, we have gone the wrong way, and have gone in many directions. The Lord has laid all of these sins of ours on his shoulders," (Isaiah 53:6).
6. The image of lost sheep having been separated from their shepherd and having gone on their own selfish ways is being used in that [passage]. Isaiah chapter fifty-three is stating that that has been the history of the Israelites, God's people. Also, the history of the Israelites, the lost sheep that they have been, projects forth the image of all human beings. Even still today, as [humanity] wanders about the barren land, famished, battered with wounds, squealing aloud, doesn't human society come off like sheep? The problem does not lie in being in a barren land or wilderness. It is that they have no shepherd. Whenever sheep go their own selfish way, there is only destruction ahead.
7. For a wayward sheep to be saved, all it does is come back to the shepherd. It just returns to the flock of sheep at the shepherd's side. Human sin has gone its own selfish way and turned its back in rebellion against the shepherd. It is as the scripture says in verse six. Thus, in order to return to the shepherd's side, all we do is have him forgive our sin. Humans cannot by themselves open the gate to return to the flock cared for by the shepherd. We only have him open the gate of sin's forgiveness for us. This opened gate is, indeed, Jesus Christ. The Lord said, "I am the gate. The person who goes through me will be saved."
8. In Isaiah chapter fifty-three, which we just read, the scripture says, "The Lord has laid all of these sins of ours on his shoulders." Whose [shoulders] is that? The text in Isaiah doesn't say. But, clearly Jesus went the way to the cross in order to become the one who bore unto death all of our sins upon himself. Jesus said it, and precisely because he is this Jesus, he could say it. [Jesus] said, "I am the gate. The person who goes through me will be saved. Such a man will go in and out [my] gate and find pasture," (verse nine). By his bearing the responsibility and dying as a substitute for our sins, the Lord became the opened gate that we pass through. We return to the flock by entering through that gate, and we begin to live out our lives as the flock which is cared for by the shepherd.
I Am The Good Shepherd
9. Then second, the Lord said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life away for the sheep," (verse eleven). Jesus is not only the gate to salvation. He is also the very shepherd who graciously takes care of those saved after going through the gate. In addition, he said the following: "I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and [my] sheep know me. [The way I know my sheep and they know me] is the same as [the way] my father knows me and I know the father. I will give my life for the sheep," (verse fourteen).
10. The shepherd knows his sheep. The sheep also know their shepherd. At the background to this statement is the daily life of the Palestinian shepherd. They name each and every sheep and live with them. When looked at from our perspective the sheep all look the same, but they were able to tell each sheep apart from the other. This type of bond between shepherd and sheep is written as "The shepherd calls the name of his own sheep and takes them out" in verse three. In short, for the shepherd it is not just some "flock" of sheep. Each individual sheep is important to him. That a shepherd "knows" his sheep means, not that he knows what a sheep is, but that he knows each sheep by itself and calls each one by name. Jesus does not just know what a human being is, he knows me and he knows you with our different names that we have.
11. Going further with this, the Lord says of this relationship that "[The way I know my sheep and they know me] is the same as [the way] my father knows me and I know the father." We cannot help but say that this statement is quite astonishing. Jesus himself says, "I and my father are one," (10:30). There is there a fellowship of love between the Father and the Son, they have a oneness. This is fundamentally one and only one relationship. But, he states that that relationship is also passed between Christ the shepherd and the sheep who follow Christ.
12. The Lord knows us. He knows us inside out. The Lord knows even our sins when we have rebelled against him, and also our weaknesses hidden inside, which we never want to bring out into the open. Having known his own sheep so thoroughly like this, he says the following statement repeatedly: "I will give up my life for the sheep." As a matter of fact, Jesus knew that the disciples who were with him would soon abandon him and scatter off. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him three times. Jesus stated this even in regard to them though like that. "I will give up my life for the sheep."
13. The reason Christ the shepherd is giving up his life is so that the sheep will obtain life, so that they will obtain eternal life after [his] having made atonement for their sins. Those "sheep," for whom he said that "I will give up my life for the sheep," are not sheep as in a common noun. When the Lord gave up his life, he didn't mean it just "for the human species" or "for Christians." That's not for whom he gave up his life, it was for me and for you, whom the Lord calls by our names.
14. Yet, he didn't speak only about shepherds here, but also about thieves and robbers. "Anyone who came before I did is a thief and is a robber," said the Lord (verse eight). In the morning before the shepherd came in through the gate, someone might have come in to the flock, which would be a thief or a robber. They came in crossing over from some other spot. The Lord said, "I clearly say to you. Though they have entered the sheep's fold, the one who crosses over from some other spot and does not enter in through the gate is a thief and is a robber," (verse one). When a thief or a robber comes in and not just the true shepherd, the important thing is that [the sheep] do not listen to those who are not [their] shepherd. It is as the scripture says, "Anyone who came before I did is a thief and is a robber. But, my sheep have not heard what they say."
15. What is the difference between a shepherd and a robber? Like the Lord said, [the difference] is in where they come in through. It is whether they come through the gate or not. The gate is Christ, the atonement for sin through the cross of Christ. The robber crosses over from some spot beside this gate. They don't necessarily always come on [to you] with robber kind of clothes on. Messages that speak of salvation apart from the atonement of sin through the cross often sound attractive. Messages that speak as if salvation can be obtained not through the cross, but through human effort and good deeds sound attractive. Because then people can be proud of themselves. Because [it] can accept [them] without [their] even having to admit their sin and humble themselves. Such a teaching changes into many different forms and has been sneaking into the church since its earliest days.
16. It's the same even today. We should not give heed to the voices of those who approach by crossing over from a place that is not the gate of Christ, the gate of the cross. The Lord says, "The only reason a robber comes is to steal, to slaughter, and to destroy. The reason I came is so the sheep receive life, and what's more, so they receive it abundantly," (verse ten).
17. As of Wednesday of this week we enter into Passion season. For about six weeks until Easter celebration, we will spend musing of the crucified Christ's suffering. Jesus was crucified and became the gate of our salvation. Let's keep our eyes fastened upon Christ our gate. In addition, as the good shepherd, he gave his life away for the sheep, for me, and for you. Let us be followers of the shepherd by turning our eyes on [Christ the good shepherd], opening our ears faithfully towards his voice, and recognizing his [voice].