One way.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

It is pretty easy to picture Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We have all seen many beautiful and heart moving images of the Good Shepherd, Jesus cradling us as the lamb in His arms. This Good Shepherd Sunday we are asked to consider Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold.

Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold seems a little odd to us. If we come at it from the perspective of modern farming and ranching, we might see Jesus as a wooden gate or a metal fence gate. That seems – well – weird. We have to take a step back to Jesus’ time to recognize what He was really talking about.

In Jesus’ time, the gate to the sheepfold was a man. There would be a big stone pen with a man who stayed at its entrance guarding the sheep. The shepherds would lead their flocks in, and one would ensure their safety. When the time came the shepherds would return, the gate-man would allow them entry. They would call their sheep by name and they would follow the shepherds out to pasture. The gate-man would fend off robbers and carnivorous animals, protecting the sheep.

There are many allusions to shepherds and some even like to focus on those who are bad or indifferent shepherds. Let’s not do that. Our only focus should be on the Good Shepherd. Jesus is called that for a reason.

The reason He is called the Good Shepherd is because He is indeed Good. His shepherding is awesome. His voice is trustworthy. His words are music to us. He draws us to Himself. He leads us. He protects us. He has saved us. He suffered for us, fending off the power of sin and death to rob from us and to destroy us. He took up our defense at the cost of His flesh and blood; at the cost of His life. Finally, as the gate-man to heaven, He opened the door to everlasting life in the joy of the Kingdom – the promise made to each of us His faithful.

The people Peter and the eleven were speaking to were cut to the heart by the truth of Who Jesus is. They asked: “What are we to do, my brothers?” The answer is not fancy or complex, it is simple. Be baptized, enter in through Jesus, the gate-man. Enter through His death and burial so to rise to new life, life to the full, and live like you got it. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Live like you got it.

The giving

“I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

This one used to confuse me. I get Jesus being the Good shepherd. I can envision Him leading us, providing for us, protecting us, and rescuing us when we get lost. I also get Jesus being the perfect sacrificial lamb – the Lamb of God who by His sacrificial death took away our sins and freed us. But, what did Jesus mean when He said ‘I AM the door?’

“I AM the door” is the third of seven “I AM” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I AM” proclamations point to Jesus’ Divinity for He was calling Himself by the same name as God did when Moses asked God His Name. In this statement, Jesus further clarifies that He is the exclusive way to salvation by saying that He is ‘the door,’ not ‘a door.’

As we know, sheep are completely helpless animals. Sheep graze and wander while doing so. They never look up. They get lost. Further, sheep have no homing instinct. They cannot find their way home, even if it is right in front of them. By nature, sheep are followers and they will follow each other right off a cliff. As such, sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd. Shepherds are the providers, guides, protectors, and constant companions of sheep. The relationship between the flock and shepherd was so close that a shepherd easily knows his own sheep, even if his flock gets mingled with others. This bond is so close, that each sheep recognizes its shepherds’ voice and will follow it.

At nightfall, or when the shepherd had to go do business, he would lead his sheep into the protection of a sheepfold.

There were two kinds of sheepfolds. One was a public pen found in the cities and villages. It held several flocks of sheep. There was a doorkeeper, whose duty it was to guard the door to the sheep pen and to only admit known shepherds who would call out their flocks. This is a warning to pastors – for the Lord will only allow those He recognizes.

The second kind of sheep pen was in the countryside and was built by shepherds. It was a rough rock wall with a small open space to enter. There was no gate – rather – the shepherd would protect the sheep by lying across the opening. He literally became the door or gate to the sheep.

When Jesus says, “I am the gate,” He not only reiterating His constant care and His sacrificial love, but His total dedication to complete care for us, His daily provision, His strength giving us full and abundant life.