4th Sunday of Easter
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Amen. In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, dear friends in Christ,
What does it mean to have security? If you’ve ever seen a mother with her child you can understand this. There’s a certain security most children develop with their mother. Apparently researches have determined that not only does a newborn baby recognize his or her mother’s voice from birth, but there are also studies that show that even before birth a baby recognizes and reacts to his or her mother’s voice. And as a father I’ve come to accept the fact that there are times when dad just won’t do. Our baby will be screaming and crying but immediately when my wife takes him, he’s perfectly calm. A child will wake up during the night crying and it doesn’t matter what I say or do, “I want mom!” There’s a certain security that most children develop with their mother – just knowing that she’s there.
Well, on Good Shepherd Sunday we treasure this picture that Jesus gives us of Himself from the world of sheep and shepherds and specifically we treasure a certain security that we have which is even better than that of a mother’s.
And in order to understand the text we need to understand a bit of the context. Jesus had just healed the man born blind, this perplexed the Pharisees, they interrogated the former blind man and when he confessed that Jesus must be from God, they ridiculed him and threw him out of the synagogue. And then in the hearing of some of the Pharisees Jesus said that though the claim to see they’re really spiritually blind. Now, who were these Pharisees? The Pharisees were a religious group in Israel that developed kind of as a reaction against the worldliness and pagan influences that were taking root in Israel at the time between the OT and NT. Their name really means “separate ones.” They poured into God’s Word to see what God wanted them to do, but instead of seeing how God’s Word pointed to a Savior, they turned God’s Word into a rule book that they could follow in order to be God’s special people and earn God’s favor. More than that, many of the Pharisees were also the religious leaders of the people, the “shepherds” of the people, but they taught that people had to earn God’s favor by being “good” people.
And many people followed their false teachings. Many fell into this trap of thinking they could earn God’s favor. Many were led by their teachings to think that they didn’t need a spiritual Savior, didn’t need a Savior from sin, and ended up rejecting Jesus as the promised Savior.
So, Jesus told this figure of speech in their hearing, in his disciples hearing, in the hearing of likely other Jews as well. He used an image very familiar with the Israelites: shepherds. Back in these days shepherds would tend their flocks all day long and then some shepherds at night would bring their flock into some pen or enclosure with a fence of some sort around it. In fact, probably a few shepherds would also bring their sheep all together into one of these enclosures. Then the shepherds would go into the village to sleep for the night. A watchman would be entrusted to guard the gate. So, how do you know who the true shepherds are? They come through the gate. If someone climbs in some other way, they’re clearly up to no good and are a thief and a robber. In the morning the true shepherd comes to the gate, the watchman lets him in, he calls his sheep – even by name and they recognize his voice and follow him out of the enclosure. In fact, apparently it’s been tried that a stranger will take a shepherd’s clothes and even try to imitate his call, but the true shepherd’s sheep won’t come to him, instead they’ll run away because he’s a stranger.
Then Jesus applies it. He is the gate for the sheep. He is the only gate. Anyone trying to enter by some other way can only be a stranger, a thief, a robber, who has only selfish interests in mind and not the good of the sheep. Whoever enters through Jesus will be saved, they will come in and go out and find pasture. Thieves come only to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come to bring life –eternal life, secure life.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not true shepherds. They didn’t have the people’s best interests in minds. In fact many of them were selfishly only interested in their positions and pocket books. The misled people. They led people to trust in themselves and their own good deeds before God. They led people away from Christ. They gave people only false security. They were thieves and robbers.
What about us? How do we know if we are listening to the voice of the true Shepherd or of a false shepherd, a thief, a robber? Are we led to follow things that are not the voice of our Savior? The Pharisees claimed to be teachers of God’s Word and yet they missed the central focus of all of Scripture: that humans are sinful, that they need a Savior, that God has provided the Savior, and Jesus Christ is that perfect Savior – the only gate. They refused to enter through Him. We, too, need to be careful about what we read or listen to. Just because someone calls themselves “Christian” doesn’t mean that they have entered through the only gate: Christ. Like the Bereans God wants us to continually study Scripture and make sure that what we’re reading or listening to is correct. Ask yourself, “Where is Jesus in this? Does this point me to my Savior or does this point me to myself and what I need to do? Is this leading me to rely solely on Christ or is this leading me –even in the least bit- to rely on myself for salvation?” We need to listen carefully because our spiritual security is at stake. Remember, thieves come only to steal, kill and destroy faith.
But we also need to remember that false teaching doesn’t always come in blatant forms like: God didn’t create the world or Jesus isn’t your Savior. False teaching, the thief and robber of our faith, can come in more subtle ways that can work to erode the foundation of our faith. Perhaps in the form of doubt. Doubt that wonders whether or not God is really in control, whether or not God is powerful enough to take care of us in any and every situation. False teaching can come in the disguise of fear. Fear that God won’t provide for us in the future, fear that leads us to rely on ourselves for protection in this uncertain world instead of on God. False teaching can come in the guise of worry. “God might not be able to take care of you tomorrow, will he really take care of your needs? What if he doesn’t? What if you’re left out in the cold? What then?”
And so often we are like sheep who stupidly follow after the thieves and robbers of worry, doubt, fear, etc. Fear, doubt, or worry doesn’t gently lead us, but like a thief or a robber driving sheep away from the fold, they drive us. We’re driven by fear, doubt, worry. We make decisions in our personal lives driven by doubt or worry or fear. We make decisions in church driven by doubt, worry, and fear instead of trust in God. “If we do this, if we do that, we might put ourselves out on a limb and beyond the ability of God to work good out of it!! What if God abandons us?” Fear, doubt, and worry can be just as bad of thieves and robbers as false teaching and rob us of the security that comes from Christ.
The Christian message is exclusive. There is only one gate. There is only one way of salvation. That is found in Christ alone. And it is through Christ alone that we have life, that we have life to the full. The fact that Christ IS the gate and there is no other is wonderful news! For what has Christ done? Christ has fully and freely become our Good Shepherd. How so? By laying His life down for the sheep. Jesus came in order to do just that, He came in order that He, the Shepherd, might lay His life down for sheep that loved to wander after thieves and robbers. Jesus came in order to redeem you, forgive your sins, wash you clean, make you His very own everlasting sheep. Jesus rose from the dead proving without a doubt that God loves you dearly and has forgiven you completely. Jesus is alive and that’s proof that eternal life is yours! That’s the gate! What wonderful news!
Jesus is the gate. Jesus has fully and freely completed your salvation! You know what that means? That means that any doubt, worry, or fear that tries to whisper in your ear to get you to follow it is a thief and robber. Knowing Jesus, the Good Shepherd, as your Savior means that you flee from any voice that tries to get you to doubt, worry or fear in life. Jesus rose from the dead to demolish doubt. Jesus forgave all your sins making God your dear Father in heaven and thereby squashing fear. Jesus has flung open the gate of heaven, himself, snuffing out worry!
And it’s knowing that Jesus is the gate, the he is the Good Shepherd that gives our lives true and constant security.
There’s one final image in Jesus’ words “I am the gate.” In Israel there are actual small caves that shepherds would use to shelter their sheep at night. And they would pile up stones across the opening of the cave and leave about 5-6 feet. Then the shepherd would lead all of his sheep into this enclosure counting them one by one, if one had a scrape or a scratch he’d put oil on it to help heal it, if one had to drink he’d give it some water, and then at night the shepherd would lie in that opening and himself become a gate. No sheep could leave without his knowing it. But also no threat could get to the sheep without first going through him. That gate is your Good Shepherd. He’s promised to be with you, protect you, and take you home to His heavenly pastureland and He will. Live with that security. Amen.