Summary: Third of a seven week series on the "I am" sayings of Jesus
One of the first things that came to mind as I began to prepare the message this week was the game show “Let’s Make a Deal”. Many of you, like me, remember the original show, hosted by Monty Hall where the contestants were given a number of choices throughout the show. At the end of the show, two of the contestants were offered the opportunity to win the big deal, which was hidden behind one of three doors. For each of those final contestants, their choice of Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3 determined what prize they would go home with that day – something valuable like a new car, or something of far less worth.
Today, we’ll examine another door, one that is far more important than any of the three doors on “Let’s Make a Deal” because it has consequences not only for our lives here on earth, but also for eternity.
This is the third of seven messages where we’re getting to know Jesus better through His own words as we examine the seven “I am” sayings found in John’s gospel account. As we’ve seen previously, Jesus is clearly claiming to be God with each one of these statements and He uses each of the statements to reveal something about His character. And even more importantly for us, each of those statements also reveals how we are to respond to Jesus in order to appropriate what He offers to those who choose to follow Him.
For me, the passage that we’ll begin looking at this morning and continue with next week is by far the most challenging that we’ll face during this series. As we’ll see, the next two statements we’ll look at – “I am the door” and “I am the good shepherd” – are intertwined to a large degree and can’t be totally separated from each other. So it becomes even more critical than usual to put our passage into its proper context – both in terms of the surrounding text as well as in the cultural and historical background of the time.
So go ahead and turn to John chapter 10. In just a few minutes we’ll read the first 10 verses of that chapter. But before we do that we’ll take some time to set the stage.
Jesus’ discourse in chapter 10 follows immediately the event recorded in chapter 9. There Jesus has healed a man who had been blind from birth. But because the healing had taken place on the Sabbath, the Jewish religious leaders cast the man out from their assembly and also condemned Jesus for violating the Sabbath regulations. There is little doubt that Jesus is addressing those religious leaders with His words in chapter 10.
As He does so many other times, Jesus uses something familiar to His audience to make his point. But since not too many of us are familiar with how shepherds operated in that culture and that is the key to understanding what Jesus says let’s make sure we have that needed background.
There were two different types of sheepfolds that are relevant to our passage. In each town there was a common sheepfold. At the end of the day, after the sheep had been grazing in the nearby pasture, all the shepherds would bring their sheep to that common sheepfold to stay for the night. And there would be a gatekeeper who would keep watch over that sheepfold overnight. That duty was probably rotated among the various shepherds. The next morning, the shepherds would come to claim their sheep by calling to them and the sheep would follow their shepherd because they recognized his or her voice. And the gatekeeper would insure that only the legitimate shepherds were able to enter the sheepfold and that each one left with only his or her sheep.
But often when the areas around the town became overgrazed the shepherd would have to take his sheep to a more remote area and it was too far to return to the town at night. So the shepherd would have his own sheepfold, just for his sheep. This might be a natural feature like a narrow canyon with only one opening or a cave or the shepherd might have to fashion a sheepfold out of rocks or branches. But regardless of how the sheepfold was constructed, there would be only one narrow way in or out of that enclosure and the shepherd would actually sleep in that opening in order to keep the sheep from escaping or for predators to be able to enter into the sheepfold to harm the sheep.
With that background in mind we are now ready to read our passage:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.