John 10:1-10 The Fourth Sunday of Easter 3 May 2020
Twice in this passage from John 10, Jesus says ‘I AM the gate for the sheep’ (v7) and ‘I AM the gate’ (v9) NRSV and GNB. (‘door’ in the AV)
Seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus uses the expression ‘I AM’.
‘I am the bread of life’. John 6:35
‘I am the light of the world’. John 8:12
‘I am the gate’. John 10:7&9 (or I am the door)
‘I am the good shepherd’ John 10:11
‘I am the resurrection and the life’. John 11:25
‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’. John 14:6
‘I am the true vine’. John 15:1
Jesus’ followers would have been familiar with the Old Testament and in Isaiah 40-55 there are various references where God says ‘I am the Lord’. Similarly in John’s Gospel there is a general theme to explain who Jesus is – ‘the eternal Word of God, who became a human being and lived among us’(Good News Bible introduction to John’s Gospel). John writes to bring his readers to faith in Jesus Christ. John himself explains ‘The Purpose of This Book’ in 20:30-31 ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’. To help explain this John includes the seven I AM sayings of Jesus.
Jesus’ followers would also have been familiar with the various Old Testament passages that refer to sheep and shepherds. They would have known that there were bad shepherds, eg: Jeremiah 23v1 ‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord’. In Ezekiel 34 v1-10 the prophet tells of Israel’s false shepherds, eg v2 ‘….. Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?’
But his followers would also have known the prophecies about the good shepherd. Whereas Ezekiel 34 v1-10 was about false shepherds, the chapter continues in v11-31 where the prophet tells of God the good shepherd, the true shepherd. Eg In Ezekiel 34:23 ‘I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd’. God had promised a second King David. It might remind us of the hymn ‘Hail to the Lord’s anointed’ which continues ‘great David’s greater son’. We read in Isaiah 40:10-11 ‘See, the Lord God comes with might ……He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep’. Probably most familiar of all to us is the much loved Psalm 23 which begins ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …’
Now in today’s reading from John’s Gospel chapter 10, Jesus says of himself ‘I AM the gate for the sheep’ (v7) and continues in v11 &14 ‘I AM the Good Shepherd’. Jesus is our good shepherd. We, his followers are the sheep, the sheep cannot survive without the shepherd. But we remember that ‘all we like sheep have gone astray, we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’, Isaiah 53:6. We have strayed from God, but Jesus died to save us, to restore our relationship with God. We note the strong link between the OT & NT scriptures.
I recall driving along the A35 to visit my daughter and family in Exeter, when we came to a halt near Bridport because a flock of sheep were wandering in the road. The traffic jam was building up, the police were on the scene but the sheep did not obey their instructions, they did not recognise the voices of the police. Eventually the shepherd arrived. The sheep recognised and responded to his voice, they were rounded up, and went back to safety into the field through the broken section of fence which had enabled them to escape on to the road. Then the traffic could move on. The unguarded broken section of fence not only allowed the sheep to get out, it could also have allowed fly tippers, etc to gain entrance to the farmer’s field.
At the time of Jesus, the sheep would spend the night in a sheepfold. If it was in the village, the entrance to the sheepfold would be protected by a strong gate (v2,3). But when the sheep were away from the villages and out in the fields, at night time the shepherd would still collect them into the sheepfolds. These sheepfolds would be open spaces surrounded by a wall which had an opening through which the sheep could both enter and leave the sheepfold. But there was no gate across this opening, and so at night time, when the sheep had been collected together inside the sheepfold, the shepherd himself would lay across the entrance. This meant no sheep could leave, nor intruders such as wild animals could enter the sheepfold. The shepherd was the gate, there was no entry or exit except through him. When Jesus said ‘I am the gate’, he would have had this scenario in his mind.
In v1-6 Jesus tells a parable which the people did not understand (v6). In fact we too may find it confusing. It is ‘unpacked’ more fully in v7-30. Our Gospel Reading for today stops at v10 which is an almost arbitrary stopping point. But in explanation of the parable we read in v7“So again Jesus said to them ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…’ and v9 ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. ” The sheep in the fold were kept safe and secure by the shepherd who laid down across the entrance of the sheepfold. Jesus is saying that he is the gate. He is the one who keeps us safe. We are the sheep, he is the shepherd. We are the sheep who recognise the shepherd’s voice and are kept safe as we follow him. Jesus is our good shepherd (v11).
But we must be on our guard. There were ‘bad shepherds’, they are referred to in 10:1 – ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit’. We must beware of false prophets and false teachers, eg those who deny that Jesus is Lord of all, or those who suggest we can save ourselves by some means apart from Jesus Christ, etc. These false teachers and false prophets are like ‘a thief and a bandit’. We read in John 14:1-6, a passage often read at funerals, Jesus said that he was going to prepare a dwelling place for the believers, he said ‘And you know the way to the place where I am going’. Thomas said to him ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way’? Jesus said to him ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). The entrance to the Kingdom of God is through the one gate, Jesus Christ is that gate, it is through Jesus that we enter God’s Kingdom. He keeps us safe eternally.
Jesus emphasises ‘I am the gate’ in 10:7&9. How can we know that Jesus is truly ‘the gate’? The Easter story is our answer. Jesus died for us on the cross, taking our sin upon himself. As we say in the Nicene Creed ‘For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!