Be joyful in HOPE,
patient in affliction,
faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s
people who are in need.
Romans 12:12-13

Good Shepherd
Sunday – 2023

Sermon Text: John 10:1-10

Prayer: Lord, gather us into Your sheepfold; lead us by Your hand. Give us shepherds who feed Your sheep on the good pasture. Bless them and guard Your flock. Let us also be found among Your people, and have life through You. Amen. (Book of Family Prayer 375-6)

In the name of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, who did lay down His life for His sheep, who was dead and yet is alive forevermore to feed His sheep and take care of them: Grace and peace to you from Him, yes, from Him!

This gospel reading is the beginning of John 10. This is the “Good Shepherd chapter.” This bit ends just before Jesus’ words in verse 11, “I Am the Good Shepherd.” That bugs us. We love those words! Why can’t we hear them?

Instead, we hear Jesus say, “I Am the Door of the sheep.” Not quite as drawn to that one. There are many pictures of Jesus the Good Shepherd, but none of Jesus the Door. The door isn’t personal. It’s a thing on hinges.

But “I Am the Door” comes before “I Am the Good Shepherd” for a reason. The reason is that Jesus is talking to wolves, in the presence of His sheep.

At the end of John 9, where Jesus heals a man born blind, after a long day of intimidation tactics by the Pharisees against the man, Jesus says to him in front of the Pharisees, “For judgment, I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” The Pharisees asked if Jesus was calling them blind, and then:

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” That’s where John 9 ends. But Jesus simply goes on, talking to the Pharisees, and says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way” – he’s talking about them – “the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.”

So Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, but it’s in front of His disciples. What He says is to the Pharisees, but it’s to benefit His disciples, to protect them with these promises that they’re His sheep and He’s their Shepherd.

He does this with the picture of the sheepfold, the doorkeeper, and the shepherd who works to keep his sheep from being stolen away.

This comes from the shepherding customs in Jesus’ time. A shepherd who had a flock of sheep would have an enclosure or “sheepfold” to keep them in at night. The sheepfold had two purposes: to keep them safe and to keep predators out. The walls around it were high, often made of stones, too high for a wolf to jump in and devour them.

There was only one way in: through a door. Inside the sheepfold was a doorkeeper or gatekeeper. When the shepherd came, leading his sheep, the doorkeeper would open the door. The shepherd had been leading them all day, out in the open. At the end of the day he went ahead of them guiding them to the sheepfold, and the doorkeeper opened the door to the shepherd.

Now Jesus introduces another wrinkle. He says there is a “stranger” who would steal the sheep. To steal a sheep at night he would have to climb over the wall, and once inside would have to coax a sheep to come to him. The sheep would be kept safe, not just by being inside, but by recognizing that the stranger got in the wrong way and also because his voice was different. Jesus emphasizes that “the sheep know his [the shepherd’s] voice.” The different voice of the stranger would cause them to “flee from him,” Jesus says.

What is Jesus doing here? He’s warning Christians, who are His sheep, about what can happen inside the visible church on earth, which is the sheepfold. He’s saying that it’s not all fun and games inside the sheepfold. The “stranger” of whom he speaks isn’t harmless, but Jesus says that he “is a thief and a robber.” Jesus is talking about His sheep getting stolen.

We know the devil is the one who wants to steal us from God. He wants to steal your soul. But he uses people. He uses their words, their powers of persuasion, and their intimidation tactics. Jesus wants His sheep to recognize these voices that are contrary to His voice and His teaching. He wants them to flee, which means rejecting it, not being lured in.

In spite of Jesus’ clear warning, and the epistles are very specific about this, it’s alarming how many baptized Christians are stolen away. Even while they are in the visible church, going to church, even while they are still growing up in the church, the contrary voices are busy stealing their minds and hearts away, even while they’re still in school: they teach contrary to what God says about how He made us, and that our sexual identity is not our own choice but His choice, and what His design for marriage is.

Or when Christians find themselves alone in the world, and feeling lonely, they are lured by the voices that encourage them to indulge their anger and be driven by their fears, and they lure them to a version of so-called Christianity that is mostly angry and that forgets what mercy is.

Or Christianity is equated with “being nice” or “tolerant,” and thus through the influence of friends, Christians can move toward approving everything and condemning nothing, which is to completely lose the saving message of Law and Gospel as the substance of saving faith.

When we say this takes place inside the church, it isn’t necessarily inside the church walls. It’s wherever the Church – Christians – are, where we live and work and go to school. We are not to be “of the world” but we are in the world. He shows us this safe enclosure, the sheepfold, but it actually exists in the world. The church is wherever His Christians are. It’s a two-sided thing, and it’s kind of risky. First, this is how the Lord can “bring others who are not [yet] of this fold.” But also the world can lure us away. But that’s how God is. He’s willing to take these risks, for the salvation of all.

So what are we to do? Jesus shows us in the second part, beginning where He says: “I Am the Door of the sheep.” He goes back to the picture of the sheepfold, and especially the moment when the doorkeeper opens to the shepherd. Jesus says He is the Way in – the only way in. When the door opens, the shepherd and sheep actually come in. This is the promise for us!

Jesus says: “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” If we will only hear it, this is such a great promise! “He will be saved!” That’s you!

So it’s true, we can only make a wreck of things. We don’t recognize how we’re being lured away slowly. The point Jesus makes is that His sheep who know His voice well don’t listen to those other voices. So our failure in this area comes from a failure in listening to His Word. It isn’t just that we know His Word. Of course, we know Bible stories and verses. But it’s letting His Word speak to you, letting His Word tell you who you are and form your identity from what God says of you, not what the world or our feelings say. It’s letting His word of mercy and forgiveness sink in. It’s His word of forgiveness, it’s His blessing, enacting a new reality for you every day. To be very, very current in hearing the Gospel, receiving it with open arms.

That’s not my work or yours. That’s His work. He does that. He does it through His called shepherds, the pastors. The pastors are the doorkeepers. They just swing the door open when they preach the gospel. But Jesus is the Door. You come in, He says, “by Him” – by His doing, by His power, by His love, by His persistence and patient working, as the Spirit works faith in you through His word. And then Jesus is also the Shepherd, who comes in – and where is that, it’s not just inside the church walls but everywhere His Christians are. First He feeds you here. But where is He taking care of you as your true Shepherd, and guarding your faith? Wherever you are!

So we should be drawn to this statement Jesus makes of Himself: “I Am the Door.” He is the Door. He opens it. He leads and you just follow and get to enjoy what He’s prepared for you. Get used to thinking of your life this way: “I don’t do anything but follow” – and then be sure to follow close!

Think of your life as a Christian this way: “I don’t do anything but go in through the door that’s opened for me.” That’s why we pastors love our job. We’re just doorkeepers opening the door into eternal life for Christ’s sheep. Then we come to enjoy the pasture with you. Amen!