Today’s scripture and sermon are about an old profession, shepherds. Usually at some point in High School young people take a personality inventory. Part of this inventory is to help them to choose a profession. It is unlikely, I believe, in our times that one of the professions they would choose to be is shepherd. In fact, it’s unlikely most of us have even seen a shepherd, except perhaps in a picture or on television. Shepherd is not a common profession in our culture, but in Jesus’ day the work of the shepherd was well known and important.
In the gospels Jesus often uses parables to teach spiritual principles using events found in the everyday life of his contemporaries. The whole Bible, Old and New Testament uses the image of a shepherd to help us better understand the relationship between God and his people. In our reading Jesus continues with this tradition and the first image we find is that of a shepherd going and coming through the door of a sheepfold. The second one is that of sheep coming and going through that gate or door.
Now, due to the cultural and in time distance we have with Jesus’ audience; to understand better the statement of Jesus as the gate or the door, we must understand the ancient Middle East customs in Jesus’ time. Back then, there were two kinds of sheepfolds or pens. One was a public sheepfold found in the cities and villages. It would be a structure large enough to hold several flocks of sheep. This sheep pen would be in the care of a doorkeeper, whose duty was to guard the door or gate to the sheep pen during the night and to let the shepherds in every morning. The doorkeeper was a worker. Maybe this is the kind of sheep pen Jesus had in mind in verse 1-6, when he says, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.The gatekeeper opens the gate for him.”
The second sheep pen was found not in the cities or villages but in the countryside, in the open. The shepherds would keep their flocks in this sheep pen during the months of good weather. This type of sheep pen was nothing more than a rough circle of rocks piled into a wall with a small opening to enter, those sheep pen did not have formal door or gate. Through this small opening, the shepherd would drive the sheep at nightfall. Since there was no gate to close—just the opening—the shepherd would keep the sheep in and wild animals and robbers out by lying down across the opening. He would sleep there, becoming the gate or door to the sheep pen. If anyone wanted to harm or steal the sheep, it must be over his body. Maybe this is the sheep pen Jesus had in mind in verses 7-10.
This parable from the gospel of John, very well describes Jesus’ ministry since our salvation was accomplished because Jesus laid down his body for our salvation. In John 10:17-18 Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Every time we celebrate communion, we hear the words, “This is my body given for you or broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Within the context of the Good Shepherd and this parable, we can paraphrase these communion words like this: “As the shepherd laid down his body as protective gate between the wild animal and the sheep, I laid down my body as a protective gate between you and the enemy of your soul; remember, my body was broken and wounded for your protection.”
Jesus laid His body down as a living sacrifice; His body was broken because, as the shepherd from the parable lays his body across the opening to protect the sheep from harm, Jesus laid His body for our salvation. We have a shepherd who really cares for us.
Brothers and sisters, without Jesus Christ as our shepherd and door, we live without protection, without faith and hope; without Jesus Christ our shepherd and door of our lives we are easy prey for the enemy of our souls. Satan tried to destroy our lives, but Jesus our Savior got in between; and His body, not ours, took the suffering. His blood, not ours, was poured out; His body, His blood not ours were the payment for our transgressions. Peter reminded us that last Sunday, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
This beautiful parable reminds us that the thief who came to steal and kill and destroy must go over Jesus’ body, before touching us. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Satan our enemy had to go over Jesus’ body; Jesus protected, us -His sheep- with His body, as the Good Shepherd does when he laid himself between the sheep, the wolves, and the robbers, becoming the door of the sheep pen. Nowadays, Satan is trying to destroy our lives but Jesus the gate stops him from coming in, and today we can say with the prophet Isaiah, “by his wounds we are healed.” When Jesus laid his body on the cross, he was broken by the nails, and the whip for our redemption; He was crushed for our iniquities; His blood was poured out for our salvation.
Another image from the parable is, the shepherd’s voice calling our names. Verse 3 says, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” It is so comforting to know that in the sight of our shepherd, we are more than numbers. We are more than a social security number. We are more than the unused balance on a credit card, or a number in our credit report. We are more than a statistic on a computer printout. We are known by our names, and God cares for us and calls us: sheep of his pastures; We are the sheep he tends.
The sheep listen to his voice… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. This image of Jesus’ voice calling us reminds us of our obedience. He is leading us out and we must follow and not get astray. The action of lead us out reminds us that he knows where he is going; he knows where he is taking us; he knowns where the pastures we need are waiting for us to be feed; he knows where we need to go.
Brothers and sisters, let us find comfort in the idea that the Good Shepherd goes before us to prepare the way, this means there is no place that we go that the Shepherd has not already been. Wherever he leads us, he has already made sure the path is clear and safe. There may be rough parts in the road, there may be struggles, but The Good Shepherd has already seen that, and he knows how to help us navigate the territory. He has already prepared a way for us to get through. All we have to do is continue listening and obeying His Voice. The Voice of the Shepherd Goes Before us and his rod and your staff, they comfort Us.