Summary: Jesus gave two images of himself: He is our good shepherd, so we can trust his voice and follow him. And he is the gate, our entry into salvation and ultimate security.
Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice
In John’s thematic gospel we see different pictures of who Jesus Christ is to us. John included seven “I am” statements, where Jesus publicly identified himself with the great “I am,” Yahweh, the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One who would use Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. So Jesus said things like, “I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the true vine.” And in today’s scripture, Jesus added two more images: “I am the gate” and “I am the good shepherd.”
Here Jesus drew on an image very familiar to his listeners: a shepherd and his sheep. I love the story about the devout shepherd who lost his favorite Bible while he was out in the pastures. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The shepherd couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!" "Not really," said the sheep. "Your name is written inside the cover."
In Jesus’ time, sheep were essential not only for wool and for food but also for temple worship. And the image of the shepherd was engrained into the culture of Israel. Several Bible verses used the image of God as the shepherd and Israel as the sheep (Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Ps. 23:1; 28:9; 78:52; 80:1; Is. 40:11; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:11–16). So, it should come as no surprise that Jesus drew on the image as well.
Middle East sheep-herders didn’t use sheep dogs to drive the sheep. Rather, the shepherds led the sheep. How? By using their own voice. They taught the sheep to follow them by recognizing the unique sound of their shepherd’s voice.
Out of today’s parable Jesus identified himself with two images: the shepherd and the gate or door. Let’s unpack what each means for us. First,
1. Jesus is our shepherd. That tells me: We can trust his voice and follow him.
Now a sheep is a very nervous creature, easily prone for trouble. It frightens easily. (One of our puppies is scared of its own shadow. Maybe it is a sheep in disguise!) A sheep might get stuck in a briar patch, or fall into a creek while it’s trying to drink. It is notorious for following the herd, so if one sheep walks off a cliff, it’s quite possible the whole herd would follow suit.
The sheep’s salvation is its shepherd, who is there to protect from predators, to guide to green fields for grazing, to pull out the briars from the sheep’s wool, to feed and water. The sheep learns early on that the shepherd is for his sheep; the shepherd can be trusted.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Paul’s assumption is that God is indeed for us. Just a few verses later he writes, “For I am convinced that [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
We can trust Jesus because he is our shepherd. He guides us and protects us. He provides for us and watches out over us. Like the shepherd here, he calls us by name. And like the sheep here, we need to learn his voice.
There are a lot of voices in the world clamoring for our attention: the voice of style, the voice of popularity, the voice of prosperity, the voice of success. Some voices are healthier than others. Some are downright bad for us. But the one voice we need to hear most is the voice of Jesus.
How do we hear his voice? We read scripture. We think about scripture. We meditate on scripture. We pray on scripture. We talk about scripture. We let it soak into our lives. Jesus is the living word, and scripture is God’s written word. As we get to know Jesus better, we get to know God better. Later in today’s chapter, Jesus told the Pharisees, “The Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38).
As we get to know Jesus better, we understand that he is not driving us forward with sheepdogs or sticks, but he is leading us. Jesus tells us to put God first, and the gospels record him rising early in the morning to pray to his Father. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, and the gospels record him loving and forgiving and healing all those around him. Jesus tells us, “You will be persecuted,” and the gospels record his persecution all the way to a cross. Jesus leads us by example.