“I am the gate; I am the good shepherd” (John 10.1-21)

“I am the gate; I am the good shepherd” (John 10.1-21)
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As we move from John 9 with its emphasis on the blind seeing, Jesus changes the metaphor. With an everyday agricultural picture he contrasts a true shepherd with a mere hireling. At first he just paints the picture without applying it spiritually at all. But his listeners failed totally to understand what he was telling them (10.6).
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The false shepherd (10.1, 5, 12/13)

Jesus underlines three points in his description of the thief and the hireling who is looking after sheep which are not his own.
a) The true shepherd will always enter the sheepfold openly through the gate. But anyone who climbs in over the wall will be not only a common thief, but also a ‘robber’ (10.1). The word used here for ‘robber’ conveys a sense of violence, describing men such as Barabbas (18.40), the bandits in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and the two men who were crucified with Jesus (Matthew 27.38). Beware people who will not use the proper entry gate! In John 10.7 Jesus describes himself as “the gate for the sheep”, so be very careful of anyone who refuses Jesus as the way into the sheepfold!
b) However much the thief may pretend to be a shepherd, the sheep will not accept him (10.5). They know their true shepherd and will refuse the call of the thief. They will not ‘follow’ him. In the Gospels ‘follow’ signifies true faith and commitment to Jesus. His original call to his disciples was “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4.19). In following Jesus, we come to believe and trust in him. This will lead to committed obedience, following his commands and example. However much the thief may call them to follow him, the sheep will not recognise his voice and will run away from him when he approaches them.
c) As the hireling does not own the sheep himself, he will not be willing to face danger in order to protect them. He suffers no loss if some of them are killed by a wolf. Faced with the danger of attack by a wolf, he will just run away and abandon the sheep. Unlike the true disciple, the hireling avoids all danger and suffering in service of his master and on behalf of the sheep and their welfare.
What a picture these three points give of Jesus as the door and as the good shepherd! What a contrast with false shepherds too!
The sheepfold

In John 10 John does not use the common Greek word for a sheepfold which appears several times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Obviously meaning the sheepfold, Jesus refers to it with the word commonly translated ‘palace’. For the sheep their pen represents safety, comfort and general well-being. For them it is indeed like a palace. Evidently too they do not want to leave it and face the dangers outside where wild animals represent a very real threat. So Jesus says that the true shepherd leads the sheep out (10.3) and ‘when he has led them out, he walks before them’ (10.4). Literally in 10.4 Jesus ‘throws out’ his sheep and then reassuringly walks ahead of them. This rather violent word for ‘lead/throw out’ in 10.4 is used also of God sending/throwing out labourers into his harvest field (Matthew 9.38). Just as the sheep may not want to leave the palace of their pen, so also Christians may prove reluctant to leave their comfort zones and venture out into the harvest fields of mission. So God’s Spirit has to flex his olympian muscles and throw them out! In secular speech this same strong verb was used of throwing smelly rubbish as far as possible from your house – no public works men collected rubbish in those days! I am of course not suggesting that Christian workers can in any way be paralleled to smelly rubbish!
In the sheepfold it may feel like a palace to the sheep, but actually they needed to go outside for pasture. Likewise for Christians we need to leave our Christian bubbles and our comfort zones if we are to develop our spiritual muscles and grow. Jesus also declares that he has “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (10.16). In the vitally significant context of Jesus laying down his life in sacrifice and then resuming life through his resurrection, we are here reminded of Jesus’ purpose that reaches out not only to his own Jewish ‘sheep’, but also to others. As Jesus’ followers we inherit his longing to gather in the multitudes of all peoples everywhere that they may join us as ‘one flock with one shepherd’ (10.16). Jewish and Gentile sheep, Christians of every nation and people, share the same one shepherd and form together the one church of God.
The Door and the Good Shepherd
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a) The door (10.7)
Only through Jesus should we seek to enter into life. Those who try, without Jesus, to gain entrance into God’s people and his church  turn out to be false in their life and ministry. On the other hand, Jesus assures us that those who come through him “will be saved” (10.9). Through Jesus and him alone God gives us true light and life. He alone saves us from every evil and delivers us from the baleful influence of the world around us. Even with ferociously hungry wild animals threatening us, we can know the shepherd’s safe-keeping. Only through Jesus can we truly enter the loving fellowship, life and teaching of the church sheepfold. And it is with him going before us that we can dare to move out into the mountainous and dangerous world.
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b) The good shepherd ((10.11/14)
Let us remind ourselves of what we have already noted. As the good shepherd Jesus confronts the dangers on our behalf, laying down his life for our salvation and then taking it up again in life-giving resurrection. In his position as our shepherd he knows us each one by name in a wonderfully intimate personal relationship. He graciously brings us into the glorious palace of his church and sheepfold, also leading us from in front when he drives us out of our comfort zones into the dangers of life in the world. He constantly speaks to us and we therefore know and recognise his voice. How important it is to have such a relationship with him that we can distinguish between his voice and the tempting voice of the Devil, that of our own desires or any false prophecies which may be shared with us. As we walk through life, Jesus goes before us to lead us into green pastures to graze and feed.

Once again the people are uncertain how to react to Jesus. Some accused him of being demon-possessed because his teaching seemed unacceptably radical. Others remembered how he had given sight to the man born blind. They observed that a demon could never open blind eyes (10.19-21). Teaching and preaching about Jesus stirs up opposite responses. In the fearful days of the Soviet Union I once asked an old lady how people reacted when she preached openly in the crowded buses. “But you know how people react! You know your Bible”, she replied. “What a stupid question! It is always the same – some believe and some don’t”. How true! So let us not be too worried if some reject our witness to Jesus, but rejoice in those who do come into faith and new life!
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