“Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10.7-10
What my trips to Israel have taught me that first century sheep pens did not have gates. Most of these pens were built with stones, or from a cave, but they did not have doors. If wood was scarce and moving stones every time to form a door would have been labor intensive and a blanket would not keep the sheep in, the best method for early shepherds was to sleep in the gate. Thus they became the gate. Stretching their bodies across the opening ensured that anything that came or went out had to cross over them.
So as Jesus is teaching, he is using this analogy and applying it to himself saying, “I am the gate for the sheep.” Ok, sounds good, the early listeners were tracking with this line of thought. Whoever enters though me, Jesus says, will be saved. “All who come before me are thieves and robbers.” The sheep, Jesus continues, will “come in and go out, and find pasture.” These sheep who are tended by Jesus are kept safe. A thief, should one appear — “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” But Jesus has come that “they may have life and have it to the full.”
So my question is, if Jesus is the gate, and we become his sheep by going into his sheep pen, who is the thief and what is this “life to the full” that we are promised? Is fullness of life only possible by remaining under the care of the shepherd? The sheep don’t always remain in the pen. They go out and come in, Jesus says, and find pasture — food, water, sustenance.
The thief, who is the devil, our own desires, wants and selfish ways, take us out of the sheep pen unprotected as we are enticed by our own evil desires. As long as we remain under the care of the shepherd, we will have a full life — hope, blessing and provision. But once we venture out onto our own as sheep, we are unprotected and will fall victim to lions, wolves, snakes and anything else with claws, teeth and a desire to devour our very souls.
Notice that Jesus compares us to sheep — not the smartest animals but more importantly, we have no means to defense on our own. Without Jesus we are susceptible to attack.
So why in the heck would any of us want to venture outside the sheep pen? With Jesus we can come and go as we please as we remain in his will and under his safe-keeping. But on our own, we are doomed for failure. Jesus is the gate for the sheep. He is our protector, provider and Savior. Cling to the cross. Come to the Christ. Find hope in the one who not only saves you from your sins but satisfies your soul as well.
“O Lord God, I dare say that sometimes I wander. Sometimes I roam unprotected by your hand. Why would I do that? I know better. I know that by myself I am a target for destruction, but with you–
I am set up for success. Each time in the Bible your people obeyed you, You would bless them, but on their own they would fail. Come now Lord and remind me of your goodness. Save me from the penalty of sin and death. Help me run towards your arms and rest in your care. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen