A lot can be said about just the first six verses. The imagery of the shepherd is one that we heard on Sunday. We were told on Sunday in Revelation 7 that the Lamb, the one who was sacrificed on our behalf, became the shepherd. This is repeated here in this Scripture as well. Jesus is called the gate and then he is called the shepherd. There are so many images of a shepherd in Scripture. The most famous is probably Psalm 23 which describes the Lord as our shepherd.
Interestingly enough the times that shepherd is used the most in Scripture is when it is describing the religious leaders of the Jewish people and they are called bad shepherds. You can look at Ezekiel 34 pretty much the whole chapter. Not nice things are said about the shepherds of the people who were responsible to bring them to a closer relationship with the Father. Jeremiah 25:34ff also speaks of the shepherds on whom the Lord has turned his back because they have not done his bidding. So it is nice here to get a good shepherd who will care for his sheep.
I want you to be aware of this imagery where the sheep in the pen come out of the pen because they recognize the voice of the shepherd. This is no joke. Oftentimes the shepherds would be in a type of co-op where they would all put their sheep in a common pen. In the morning when it was time to get their sheep one at a time the shepherds would stand at the gate and call for their sheep. Only their sheep would come out at this time. This is still true today. Shepherds still call their sheep by name and the sheep respond if they know the shepherd or run away if they do not.
Our desire ought to be to run to the Lord whenever he calls us. There are some mixed metaphors in these verses where Jesus goes from being the shepherd to the gate. But it all works, doesn’t it? Jesus is the one through whom we have access to the Father. Jesus is the one with whom we are able take comfort and in whom we are able to trust. The words that I love in this chapter are: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I’m all about having an abundant life. It is what the Lord wants us all to have. He wants us all to have a life which is full of his bidding and his desires for us.
This is one of the first times that Jesus argues with his detractors while they have stones in hand ready to stone him to death. It is a bit of a risky strategy, but it seems to work in this case. Why are you going to execute me for the works that I do. We are not going to execute you for your works but for your words. But my works reflect my words, so if my works are not of God’s bidding then you can have a case against me. It is a very convincing argument. All the people knew that his miracles and his healings had to come from God. They had never seen anyone who performed the miracles that Jesus was performing, so he had to come from God…right? Well, they went from wanting to stone him to wanting to grab him, and he escaped from their hands.
He had enough, he went back across the Jordan to where John had been and many came to him there. Scripture tells us that many believed in him there. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never had a church. Think about that. So much of our faith today is wrapped up in our church. What the pastor says, who the pastor is, the community of believers with whom we celebrate life’s joys and trials, the programs that we have and those that we are not able to offer. So much of our faith is wrapped up in our church. Did I mention that Jesus never had a church?
Not having a physical structure that ties you down has its advantages. You are more mobile. You are nimble, you are able to address needs as they pop up within your community and you have way more resources at your disposal than if you have a campus with its upkeep and other difficulties. A church without walls allows people to be a church just as a people. I know, I have experienced that type of a church. It is intense, it is non-stop. But it also has its disadvantages. A church without walls is also a church that is putting a lot of its energies into finding places where its programs can be carried out. A church without walls may have more difficulty in making a mark within a community.
But did I mention that Jesus never had a church?