Who do you call when you're in trouble? Who's the person you phone when you're stuck, or when the car runs out of petrol? Or you can't work out how to fill in your tax return? Who do you call when you need advice? Wisdom? Guidance? When there's something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?!
Whose advice do you follow? Whose opinion do you value? Who would you really listen to, when they offer you constructive criticism?
When you're young, you follow your parents. You follow their advice; you trust their decisions for you, As you grow up, you start to question their wisdom! You start to trust other people and other things.
Who do you follow? That's what we're thinking about this morning.
In John 10.1-5 Jesus describes a part of everyday life that his original listeners would have been very familiar with.
It's obvious isn't it. If you're the shepherd and you own the sheep, then when you go to see how they are or to look after them, well then you enter the sheep pen by the gate. And the man on the gate recognizes you, and lets you in. But if you're not the shepherd…If you're not trying to look after the sheep or care for them, but you're trying to steal them…well then you don't use the gate. You try to be more sneaky than that.
Back then, it was common for lots shepherds to put all their sheep together in one pen overnight. And so the first thing the shepherd would do when he arrived in the morning was to separate out his sheep from the rest. And how does he do it? Well this particular shepherd calls them by name. They know his voice, they recognize him, and so when he calls them, they follow him. Which also explains why they wouldn't follow a stranger when he calls them. Because they don't recognize his voice. Jesus is describing something that all of those who were listening to him originally would have been very familiar with.
These days, I guess, most of us don't know much about sheep farming. I don't even know where the nearest sheep farm is. But in those days everyone would have understood and recognized what Jesus was talking about. Which is why v.6 comes as a surprise. This was a figure of speech. In other words Jesus is saying more here than we might think. Everyone listening would have understood what Jesus meant in terms of raising sheep. But that not really what Jesus was talking about.
What he was really talking about, they didn't understand. And to help us understand we need to go back to the Old Testament.
Look at what is says in Isaiah 40.10-11
See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
Then he blessed Joseph and said,
'May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
Finally look at Jeremiah 31.10
Hear the word of the LORD, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
'He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'
Throughout their history God had talked about his chosen people being like his sheep, with him as their shepherd. It was a familiar picture all the way through the OT. And now Jesus is doing the same thing here. He's using the picture of sheep and their shepherd to teach them about God and those who are his. But the people don't understand. So Jesus uses the same kind of language, and tries again. And the first thing he says is this
1) "I am The Gate" (v.7-10)
Now, Jesus says, he is like the gate on a sheep pen. The thieves and robbers? Well in this picture I think they were those people who had come before Jesus claiming that they were the Christ, God's chosen one. And the sheep, as ever, are God's chosen people.
And Jesus' point is simply this. The only way for a sheep to get into the sheep pen is through the gate. And in the same way, the only way for anyone to get in and be part of God's people is through Jesus. The only way to be part of God's kingdom, the only way to be saved and to have eternal life, is through Jesus.
Sin is like a wall that separates us from God. We should live our lives giving glory to God, and thanking him, and praising him, and worshipping him. But we don't. And every time we don't, that's sin. And it puts a barrier between us and God. We have cut ourselves off from a relationship with God. Our sin is like a wall that we have put up between us and God. We have made ourselves his enemies and not his friends. And the only door in that wall is Jesus.
He is the gate. He is the only way into a right relationship with God. There will be no-one in heaven who has not come to know Jesus, and put their trust in him, on earth. That's what Jesus is saying here. "I am the Gate."
Now some of us here this morning already believe that. But perhaps there are also some people here who don't yet believe that, And in my experience people normally have one of two objections to what Jesus says here.
The first is this. If I put my trust in Jesus. If I choose to stop my old life. If I stop following what the world says and start following Jesus…Won't I be missing out? Perhaps you (or your friend), you like what Jesus says. And you like what the Bible says, most of the time. You reckon that Christianity is probably right, and if someone really pushed you, you might even call yourself a Christian.
But the thing is…You don't want to get too involved just yet, because you think you might be missing out on some other things if you do. You've seen what keen Christians are like. You've seen what they do and what they don't do… And if you're honest you're not quite sure that's for you yet. Maybe later, after you've had a chance to experience a bit more of life and have a bit of fun.
I remember thinking all those things.
So many other things promise us life don't they? Careers, relationships, travelling the world, meeting different people. There's life all around us, and if I choose to follow Jesus now…I'll be missing out, won't I? All those other things that claim to bring life, they actually end up taking life away. Careers, relationships, travelling the world, they can all be great things, God made them for us. But if you make them your God they won't give you life they will take it away. But if you choose to follow Jesus, then you will have life… New life… Eternal life… And you will have it to the full.
That's the first objection to this idea of Jesus being the only way to be saved. Aren't I missing out if I follow Jesus? And Jesus says, no. In fact he is the only way to have life in all its fullness.
The second is this. How can Jesus claim to be the only way, aren't there lots of ways to God? Aren't there lots of paths up the same mountain?And that leads us onto the next thing Jesus said.
2) "I am The Good Shepherd," (v.11-18)
As we've already seen, the image of God being like a shepherd and his people being like sheep is one that was familiar to the Jews in the Old Testament. But the image wasn't just a familiar one, it was also one that constantly reminded them of failure.
In Numbers 27.15-17 we read this
Moses said to the LORD, 'May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.
And God did appoint leaders over his people, just as he promised. The problem was, as we read in Ezekiel 34 earlier, the shepherds that God appointed turned out to be bad shepherds.
The word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.
The kings and rulers of Israel didn't lead the people or care for them like a good shepherd. And so later in that same chapter we read how God changes his mind. Instead of sending others to be the shepherd of his people, God himself would come.
For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.
Human leaders had failed, so God promised that he would come and be the good shepherd himself. And now in John chapter 10, we read that Jesus said, v.11a
I am the good shepherd.
Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of the promise that God had made. He's claiming to be God. And how can we be sure that he is the good shepherd? Look at the end of v.11 and v.14
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
He's not like the hired hands in v.12 and 13…who run away at the first sign of trouble to save themselves. They don't really care for the sheep. But Jesus does. They are his sheep, and he will put himself in harm's way to protect them. And he does so willingly.
It is the Father's plan for Jesus, the Son, to sacrifice his own life for his sheep. And Jesus obeys his Father because they love one another. But he also lays down his life willingly. Jesus is the good shepherd. Just a few weeks after he said these words he proved himself to be the good shepherd by sacrificing his life, and dying on the cross. God promised that he would come and be his people's good shepherd. And he did. Jesus is God. And that's why there is no other way to be made right with God. That's why we must, and can only, be saved by going through Jesus. Because there is no one else like Jesus. He is the only way to the Father. If you like, and if it's not too confusing, he is the Gate, because he is the Good Shepherd. Which leaves us this morning, with just one question.
3) Are you His sheep?
The question that Jesus' parable and his claims leave us with this morning is this…Are you one of Jesus' sheep? And is Jesus your shepherd? Do you know Jesus?
Jesus' sheep know his voice? Do you listen to him speak to you? Do you read his word, the Bible? And do you not just read it, but do you trust it? Do you believe what he says and obey what he says, because he is your shepherd, and you recognise his voice? Do you follow him? In your life do you choose to follow him, even when it's not what you want to do? And do you trust that he is still your shepherd, and that his rod and staff still guide you even when you go through hard times? Even if, as it says in Psalm 23, he might lead you through the valley of the shadow of death?
Do you believe he is the Gate? Or are you still trying to earn your own way to God by being good enough? Are you trusting him as the Gateway to life, or are you still looking for life through the false gateways of wealth and career and relationships? Who do you turn to when you're in trouble? Who do you call on when you need help? Whose advice do you follow? Whose opinion do you value? And whose criticism do you take on board?Is it Jesus? And his words? Do you follow him? Do you know him?
Well then you are his sheep…and he knows you. Today there are people who belong to Jesus all around the world. But they all belong to one flock, and they have one shepherd. And, as v.3 tells us, he knows each one of us by name.
If you know Jesus, then he knows you. He cares for you and loves you. He is with you, will lead you and will always do what's best for you. He is the Good Shepherd, and the Gate. Following him not only brings fullness of life today, but it will for all eternity! Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Gate. Why not trust your life into his hands?