Who Are You Following?
August 31, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Right after today's gospel reading the following is written. "Jesus spoke this parable to the Pharisees, but they did not understand what the story was about," (verse six). Having said that, Jesus added another statement. It [begins in] verse seven. Well, since the people who were listening right there could not understand [him], still less are we, in a different time and culture, likely to understand as we hear just this section of the parable. So, while we listen to verses seven and following in which Jesus gives additional explanation, we want to listen closely to the Lord's message to us. It is the two pronouncements that Jesus made about himself that are particularly important. One is the statement in verse seven, "I am the gate of the sheep." The other one is the statement in verse eleven, "I am the good shepherd."
Through The Gate Comes The Shepherd
2. With these statements in mind, let's give another round of listening to the parable. Jesus said, "I truly say to you. The person who does not go through the gate but crosses over some other place to enter the enclosure of the sheep is a robber and a thief. The person who enters from the gate is the shepherd. The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd and the sheep know how to tell his voice. The shepherd calls the names of his own sheep and takes them out. When he takes out all his own sheep, he stands at the front of them. As the sheep know his voice, they follow. But, they never follow anyone else, they run away; because they do not know anyone else's voice," (verse one through five).
3. In this text is found the parable of the enclosure of the sheep. When the morning comes, the sheep are led out from the enclosure by the shepherd. Then, when the evening comes, they are led into this enclosure and are safely kept. Each day of the sheep is with the shepherd. Without the shepherd, the sheep cannot live for even one day. Those who were hearing this knew that well. How important is it for the sheep to follow the voice of the shepherd? The shepherd leads the sheep to life. Jesus said that he himself is that kind of shepherd. "I am the good shepherd."
4. The scripture says, "The shepherd calls the names of his own sheep and takes them out." That was the custom back then. They gave names to each one of the sheep, they made their living with the sheep. As we look at them, the sheep all look the same to us, but that's not how it was for the shepherd. For the shepherd, what was there [with him] was not a mere "flock." They were individual sheep that had names given to them. In verse fourteen the following is written. "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and the sheep also know me." That's a shepherd. Where it says the shepherd "knows" the sheep, it does not mean he knows all about sheep, but that he knows each sheep individually, which he calls with [their own] names. That's how Jesus is. He does not only know all about human beings, but he knows me and he knows you, each of us with our own names.
5. But, the main thing in today's parable is about this shepherd "entering through the gate." The text says in it that "The person who enters in from the gate is the shepherd." Here something puzzling is going on because Jesus also says, "I am the gate of the sheep."
6. Thus at first glance, it does look a bit puzzling for sure. But actually, for us in this place it is very simple logic to follow because we already know that the Jews who were listening to this did not figure it out. What might that be? It is that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross to atone for our sins. It is that he was slain as the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. With this assumption, Jesus had given this to them. Therefore, afterwards, he says, "The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep."
7. Thus, wherever [this text] speaks about Christ, it is always, "the crucified Christ." Even in Peter's epistle which was read in today's second reading the following was written there about Christ. "And hanging on the cross, he himself bore upon his own body our sins. He did it so that we would die to sin and come to live according to righteousness. Through the wounds that he received, you were healed," (First Peter 2:24). In this way then, Christ himself is the Christ who bore our sins on his body.
8. That [same] Christ says, "I am the gate." Thus, the gate stands for none other than the cross of Christ. The shepherd comes to the sheep through the gate. The sheep see the shepherd as the shepherd who has come through the gate. We see the person of Jesus Christ as the one who has come through the cross.
9. Just ago, I made the statement that "The shepherd knows [his] sheep." Christ knows us. As human beings with names, as human beings who have lived each of our own lives to this point in time, he knows [us]. This means that he knows our sins. It is in this way that we are known. But, we can follow him all the same in peace. Because Jesus is the one who has come through the cross. Because he is the one who has atoned for our sins.
10. Thus, since "the gate" is the gate of the cross through which the shepherd has come, it is also the gate of salvation for the sheep. We, as the sheep, are saved through the gate of the atonement for sin which Jesus Christ has accomplished for us. In verse nine the following is written there. "I am the gate. The person who enters in through me is saved. Going in and out of the gate, that person finds pasture."
11. "Going in and out of the gate" is a Jewish expression and means to make a living, to live out one's every day life. The gate of the sheep is with the day to day life of the sheep. Because of the fact that the gate is there, there is always an abundant pasture, and they live healthfully, overflowing with life. Those saved by going through the cross of Christ will make their day to day lives with the cross. Because of the fact that the cross is there, because of the fact that God's forgiveness which comes through the cross is there, we can truly live with the shepherd and live all the while being led to life.
Thieves Come In From Another Place
12. But it's not necessarily just the good shepherd who gets close to [them]. The thief also does. Since this parable was given to the Pharisees, "the thief" and "the robber" obviously have to do with the Pharisees. It says in verse eight, "All those, who have come before I have, are thieves and robbers." Thus, the Lord is pointing to the already existing teaching of the Pharisees, the already existing legalistic religion, and the already existing religious authority which was centered on the Pharisees, and he says of them that they are "thieves" and "robbers."
13. But, in regard to the thieves and the robbers it was said in particular that "Those, who cross over from another place and do not go through the gate, are thieves and robbers." Thus, it was certainly pointing directly to the Pharisees and to the religious authorities of that day, but even more broadly, the point is that we could say that it points to a teaching of salvation that does not require atonement for sin, that does not require the cross. In other words, it is a teaching of salvation that does not require forgiveness of sin.
14. What's the idea behind not requiring the cross and not requiring forgiveness of sin? There are only two options in order to not require forgiveness of sin. One is that you are truly a sinless person not needing to be forgiven. You are righteous. If someone is righteous like that, there is no need for forgiveness of sin. The other is that you decide not to see your own sin. Even though you are not actually a righteous person, if you can't even take a look at your sin [because] you put a lid over it, then you will become "desensitized" to the need for forgiveness of sin.
15. Well, the first of these two options will not be open to the person truly trying to live by faith in God. -- Because though it might pass as human righteousness before people, that it will not pass as such before God becomes obvious. -- Because though one can make the claim with respect to men and women that "I have no need to be forgiven," the person knows that he or she cannot make such a claim with respect to God. God is light. The act of believing in God is like exposing oneself under an intense light. When one is exposed to the light, the dirt is made plain. Even the problem of the many different sins in one's life becomes clearly visible.
16. So with the first option smashed away like that, then only the second option is left. It is the way of being in which a person lives without turning his or her attention to one's sin any more, even though the person is not actually righteous, but [rather] a person with sin. One cannot do that when under the light. While facing the living God, one cannot live this way and then not take a look at one's sin. So what do they do? They keep God at a distance. They keep the light at a distance. When they keep the light afar, then because it is dark, they don't need to look at the problem of their sin any longer. Thus, by keeping the light at a distance, they have something else in its place.
17. What does a person, who doesn't want to quit being religious, still have at that moment? They have an idol. They have a god that judges no one. They have a god that will never hold them accountable to anything even if they [could ever] be face to face with it. What does a person have who does not want to have such an idol? They have "the law." Instead of truly coming face to face with the living God and living in God's presence, they have "the law." They [have to] keep something. They [have to] do something. While they are all the time with all their might doing and keeping something in form alone [and] in the name of God, they are not coming face to face with God in [any] true sense, they are not exposing themselves under the light of God, and they are not having any living fellowship with God either.
18. To begin with, since they have distanced themselves from the light, they have no salvation where they are. Nor do they have true life. Such a way of being does not revive a person. Instead it ends up killing them. Therefore, the Lord calls it a thief. It seems that's how the Pharisees, the chief priests, were in the time of Jesus. However, this kind of thing has been going on over and over in the church as well. Robbers and thieves have taken various different forms and gotten close to the sheep.
19. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." The shepherd has come so that the sheep receive life, and what's more, receive it abundantly. Jesus the Shepherd is able to revive us in a true sense. I am repeating myself, but he can do so because Jesus the Shepherd has come through the gate, he has come through the cross. Jesus said, "The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep," and he truly did give away his life for us. To atone for our sin. To allow us to obtain forgiveness of sin. Therefore, we can follow him in peace, even though we are known by him. And when we are led by him, we have no need to take refuge in the darkness any more. We have no need to distance ourselves from the light. We have no need to substitute the living God for anything else. We can walk with Jesus in the light. We mustn't ever take refuge in the darkness!