So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
(John 10:7-18 ESV)
In this one paragraph Jesus destroys all of our presuppositions. First, after reading verses 1-6, we suppose him to be the Shepherd who enters by the door. But Jesus here claims to be the door itself.
A sheepfold was an interesting sort of place in the First Century. These were large corrals, sometimes caves, sometimes natural rock formations that merely required a small amount of fencing and a gate or door in order to contain large numbers of sheep. All of the shepherds working in a particular area would bring their sheep to such a place for overnight safety and to give the shepherd a break from constantly being out of doors. A hireling was paid to keep watch over the corral. There was only one way in or out of a typical sheepfold. And Jesus uses this image to show us how he is the way to safety.
We also suppose that there were pastors watching over Israel along the way who were credible leaders. Jesus blows that out of the water when he says , “All who came before me are thieves and robbers.” Does that include such notables as Isaiah and even Elijah? How many of the prophets, elders, and judges, even the kings of Israel and Judah would have laid down their lives for the people? After the contest on Mt. Carmel with the prophets of Baal, didn’t Elijah run for the hills when Jezebel threatened him? And wasn’t his complaint that he was the only one left in Israel who was faithful?
Sure it is uncomplimentary, but we who suppose ourselves to be Shepherds need to realize that there was only ever ONE good shepherd. There was only one who ever owned the sheep. At best, we are hirelings. We’re the kid who tends the sheep once they’re safely in the sheepfold at night. Someone pays us to hang out and make sure they don’t run off. And you don’t think that if a wolf suddenly lunged at us, even the best of us would flee? Maybe that only happens in the Western Church. I’ve heard stories of pastors in China accepting great persecution on behalf of their people. Still, Jesus is serious when he tells us that HE is the good shepherd.
Another thing we pastors have to watch out for is identifying too strongly with “our” people. They’re not ours. In many respects we’re simply another stupid sheep someone put in charge. It is like a circus master taking a whole truckload of peanuts and asking the “chief” elephant to guard them! The sheep belong to the Shepherd – to Jesus – and to no one else. The minute I start saying, “MY church… MY team… MY leaders… “ I have begun the decline of MY church.
The most difficult statement to get over is where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Don’t let a false shepherd lead you in the wrong direction. Jesus is not speaking here of universal salvation. What he is saying here is that there are others who were not born in Israel whom Jesus was called to save as well.
The door of the sheep was the way in for sheep from many flocks. But all of the sheep that are kept safe there come in through the same door. There are not many doors through which sheep may come and still dwell in safety. Only One ever gave his life for the Sheep. Buddha didn’t do that. Mohammed didn’t do that. Not one other religious leader ever gave his life in order that others might live eternally. Many have sacrificed their lives for others (Romans 5:6-7), but only Christ gave his life so the sheep might live eternally. The fact that Jesus had life in himself – the power to lay down his life of his own accord and take it up again at any time he wished, is what makes him the one and only door of the sheep.