The Door of the Sheep
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
So as we get started this morning, I want you to think for a minute about the happiest moment of your life. Really try to do this.
Think about your life — maybe from when you were a kid all the way up to now — and try to think about the happiest, most joyous experience you’ve ever had. [Think about that.]
I asked myself that question earlier this week, and it popped in my head right away: it was my wedding night. My wife, Melissa, and I stayed at a Hilton hotel in Florence.
It was over ten years ago now, but I remember it well. Melissa and I were in Florence . . . South Carolina — because we were headed to Florida for our honeymoon, but North Carolina to Florida is too far to drive on your wedding night, so we had decided to stay in South Carolina, in this city called Florence, about an hour from the coast. And I remember the details, man.
We were already packed up and ready to go before the ceremony. So we did a short reception and then left right away in my car. And I remember it was the best car ride I had ever had. And we even got to Florence a little earlier than we thought, not wanting to waste any time — but it was still daylight outside, so we decided to grab something to eat at this fried chicken place. Now this was a different fried chicken place than I’ve told you about before, but it was the best fried chicken I had ever had. And then we got to the hotel a little later. It was a Hilton … Garden Inn (you know the Garden Inn is a little different), but it was the best hotel experience I had ever had. We made it up to our room and the rest is history — we’ve had seven kids in 10 years.
And here’s the thing: out of all the details I remember about that night, the drive and the fried chicken and the hotel, and the ice box I took and filled with water and how the first thing I did when we sat down in the room was take a towel and dip it in the water and wash my wife’s feet because marriage is bigger than me — and because Jesus tells husbands to give themselves up for their wives, which sometimes that means you serve your wife in self-denying ways when you’d rather be doing something else. Of all the things I remember about that night — of all the things I remember about the best night of my life — I don’t remember anything about any of the doors we walked through.
We don’t usually think a lot about doors. Chances are, when you think about the happiest moment of your life, you don’t remember the doors.
And yet Jesus here in John 10, in the third “I am” statement we find in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, verse 7: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
Where We’re Going
Jesus uses the metaphor of a door — which means that doors exist to tell us something about Jesus, and I want us to see that this morning in John 10.
There’s a lot to look at in this chapter, and we’re going to be here again next week, so for today, I want to just focus on what Jesus is saying in verses 7–10 — because I think here Jesus is telling us something very important.
So as for the sermon, there are two movements: First, there’s the context of how we get here; and then second, there’s the here where Jesus tells us something very important. So we’re starting in the first movement to get here to the second movement.
#1. What Is the Context?
I want to bring up the context of this passage because it’s a direct carry over from where we finished last week. Last week we were looking at John 8 when Jesus said he was the light of the world, and then in John 9 Jesus proves his point by healing the blind man, physically and spiritually, and then remember, that it caused this big ruckus with the Pharisees. They didn’t believe the man used to be blind. They didn’t believe Jesus had healed him.
And so then when we get to John 10, to these same Pharisees and the same crowd of Jewish people standing around, Jesus starts teaching again. We see that in verses 1–5. And what Jesus does there, to open Chapter 10, is he tries out this new “figure of speech” on them (that’s what John calls it in verse 6).
Jesus does this mashup of metaphors, still speaking judgment on the Pharisees, and John tells us in verse 6, in a little parenthetical, that nobody understood what Jesus meant.
Jesus was talking to them, using some sheep-farming imagery, but nobody understood it. And so what we find in verse 7 is kind of like “Take Two” of what Jesus has been saying. Jesus is going to give these people another figure of speech that’s connected to verses 1–5, but it’s not exactly the same.
And I think getting that straight will help us make sense of the passage. Because what is not happening in verses 7 and following is a direct explanation of what Jesus says in verses 1–5. Jesus is not spelling out for us here in verses 7–10 the metaphors he first used in verses 1–5. He’s not decoding anything. He’s not saying, “Okay, the sheep I mentioned before are my disciples. And the robbers are the Pharisees. And the shepherd is me.” He’s not doing that. Instead, verses 7–10 (and the rest of the passage) is more like he scratches what he said before in verses 1–5 and he starts all over with a different angle.
And Jesus starts this different angle with the words “Truly, truly.” That’s when you know Jesus is about to say something good. Jesus doesn’t waste any words. He never just threw words around. But when Jesus starts a sentence with “truly, truly” that would be our cue to get still and listen up.
And that’s what Jesus is doing here. He says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
Don’t Sweat the Sheep Stuff
Now at this point — let me just step back for minute and give you a little behind the scenes. At this point, when you’re writing a sermon, you kind of come to a crossroads. There are a couple different ways I could go here.
One option is that I could really go after this imagery of sheep, and I could tell you all about how we don’t really understand the metaphor because sheep-farming isn’t part of our culture, and so then of course after telling you that, I could turn around and surprise you with a big shepherd’s staff that I brought with me, and a shofar (because you have to have a shofar), and then I could start telling you all about what it was like to be a shepherd in First Century Palestine (because I went to seminary and I know), and then I could show you some slides up here about what the hills looked like that sheep grazed on and all that. I could go that route. We could talk all about sheep-farming. But I’m not going to do that because I don’t really care about what you know about sheep-farming.
Instead, the best way to go here, or at least the way we’re going, is to just get to the point that Jesus is making. Let’s just get to the point. Because when we get to the point Jesus is making, I think the metaphor will make more sense.
So what we’re going to do now is just look at verses 8, 9, and 10 — just three verses — and we’re going to try to understand what Jesus is saying.
Verse 7 here just serves like the introduction. It’s like the heading. But the focus is on 8, 9, and 10. And what we find there is a CONTRAST. It’s a contrast in two parts. Let me show you.
The Contrast in Two Parts
First there’s Part One in verses 8 and 9. Jesus says in verse 8:
All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
Okay, so in verse 8, Jesus starts by making a statement. He’s making a valuation about those who came before him, and there’s some questions about exactly who he has in mind. He could be talking about imposters who came before who pretended to be the messiah (because that happened in Jewish history), but I think the statement should be taken as more general.
In verse 1 Jesus talks about “thieves and robbers” and it’s widely agreed that he’s referring to the Pharisees. And so, with that in mind, I think the “thieves and robbers” here in verse 8 are anyone who has been teaching something different than Jesus. Jesus is referring to anyone in the past, including the Pharisees, I think, who have asserted a religious claim on the people, and threw around their religious authority at others’ expense.
One way to say it is that Jesus is talking about all “the anti-Jesus people” who came before him — because when Jesus stepped into the world it marked the dawning of a new day. All the others before him, if they were not pointing to him, were fake. The were phonies. They were cronies of the devil. And so then the sheep — Jesus’s disciples, his followers — they didn’t listen to them.
That’s what Jesus is saying in the second half of verse 8. “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”
But now look at verse 9. Jesus says,
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
Now this is another statement, but this is one that Jesus makes about himself. Verse 8 is a statement about the thieves and robbers. Verse 9 is a statement about Jesus. And although there’s not a grammatical contrast in between the two verses, there is absolutely a contrast going on here. Jesus here is drawing a contrast between himself and those who came before him.
Those who came before him were thieves and robbers, and the disciples did not follow them. Jesus, however, is different. Jesus is the door, and anyone who comes through the door that is Jesus will be saved, and being saved means you go in and out and find pasture. And the idea there is that you are taken care of. And Jesus does that in contrast to the thieves and robbers. That is Part One of the contrast.
Now notice verse 10. Verse 10 is Part Two of the contrast.
And here Jesus uses the exact same construction he did in verses 8 and 9. He makes a statement about all the others, the thieves and robbers, and then he makes a statement about himself. And what he does here is give us the same contrast he did in verses 8–9, but he expands it. He tells us a little more.
He does this first by making the statement in verse 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
The thieves and robbers in verse 8 are all those who came before Jesus, who the sheep refuse to follow, and here in the parallel Jesus tells us And also, by the way, the thief only wants to destroy you. So the thief is a bad deal.
But then there’s the second statement in verse 10. Jesus says about himself: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
So see the contrast: the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy you. Jesus comes to give you abundant life.
[Does everyone see what Jesus is doing here? Do you see the contrast he is making?]
Okay, so all that is still over here, in the context. And we’ve been trying to get here, to the very important thing that Jesus is saying to us. . . .
#2. Jesus Tells Us Something Very Important
That’s where we are now. We are here. And here Jesus is telling us something very important. This is what it is: Jesus is saying that he is better than everyone and everything else.
That is the meaning of the contrast he’s making. He holds up all the others who came before him, and then he holds up himself, and his point is that he’s better.
And he makes that clear in two ways.
First, Jesus is better because all the others will let you down.
Now, the thieves and robbers that Jesus is talking about — all the others he’s talking about — are those who came before him who did not point to him or who taught something different from him. I think that’s the direct meaning of “thieves and robbers.”
But we should ask: Does what Jesus say about them apply to anyone else? Like what about those who have come after Jesus in the last 2,000 years who have claimed spiritual authority but don’t point to him? What about the quacks who have come after him? Does what Jesus say here — that they come to steal, kill, and destroy — does it apply to them?
I think it does. I’m thinking mainly now about religious stuff, like world religions or the occult or the charlatan, prosperity preachers on TV — all the non-Jesus religious people after Jesus fall into the same category of those that Jesus is contrasting himself to here. We can call these the religious competitors. Jesus is better than all religious competitors because the religious competitors will let you down.
So there’s that, but then I think we can take another step in application. The contrast that Jesus is making doesn’t just apply to the religious guild, but really it applies to anything that we might put our hope in. It applies anything that attempts to influence us or show us the way or fix our problems.
So now don’t just think religion in the traditional sense. It’s more than that. The contrast Jesus is making here applies to everyone and everything that promises you something it can’t deliver and takes from you something it doesn’t own.
And that’s all around us.
Over-promising and under-delivering is the air we breathe. That’s basically what Consumerism is — and as a nation, we are the biggest consumers in the history of the world, so this is something we should be mindful of.
As a society, we are encouraged, and told everyday, that we’re supposed to want more and have more, and the subtle promise behind all of that wanting more and having more is that if we could just get that little bit more then we will finally be happy. And so we chase after it. We fall for the false promises again and again that if I just had BLANK my life would be as it should be.
And the worst thing we could do is to think that somehow all that wanting is set aside in its own compartment, disconnected from our souls. We want to believe that our never-ending wanting of stuff has no spiritual impact on us, but that’s just not true. Consumerism is actually a type of religion in itself — which is why the greatest religious threat to your soul may not be Rob Bell and Deepak Chopra, but it’s one-swipe Amazon purchases on your iPhone.
Just a thought. Because if we’re not careful, every time we swipe we are falling for an empty promise, and the empty promise is about more than the product. The empty promise, in the whole scheme of things, is selling you a certain picture of your life — it’s the good life, the full life, the abundant life — we all want that kind of life! And more times than we realize, that’s what we’re swiping for.
And look, I’m not trying to ruin anybody’s day, but can I tell you something?
All of that stuff will let you down.
Good things, no matter how many of them you can pile on, will not satisfy the craving of your soul — and if you are looking for them to do that, they will actually steal, kill, and destroy you. You and me always wanting more and having more is actually more being taken from us, until one day we die, and none of it goes with us.
Jesus is better than these empty promises — Jesus is better than all the others — because all of it will let you down.
But there’s more. And this is the last point.
Second, Jesus is better than all the others because only Jesus gives you abundant life.
So it’s not just that all the others will let you down, it’s that only Jesus can give you the abundant life we want so badly. Jesus says that two different ways, first in verse 9 and then in verse 10. He says in verse 9,
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
Then, verse 10,
I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.
So according to the parallel, to be “saved and go in and out and find pasture” is the same as having life and having it abundantly. Now the first statement in verse 9 is rich with some Old Testament allusions about how God leads his people as their shepherd (Ps. 80:1; Is. 40:11; Ps. 23:1), and it’s beautiful. But I really appreciate verse 10. Because in verse 10 Jesus just makes it very plain for us: I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.
Straight from the mouth of Jesus. He came to give you and to give me abundant life. Now what is that?
I wonder what comes to your mind. What do you think is the abundant life?
Some of you right now are sitting out on a boat, under the sunshine, drinking a cold, sweet, Iced tea — and life is good. [And if you have seven life jackets, we’re coming with you.]
Some of you, maybe you’re thinking about the abundant life and you’re holding hands with someone you love and they love you and it’s getting all romantic for you. Some of you are at work and you’re doing great and you’re making deals and you’re getting promotions and you’re earning respect and everybody likes you — life is good. Some of you are in perfect health and at age 90 your drinking protein shakes and you only dress in active wear and your running marathons. The abundant life is what I’m talking about. What is that?
Well look, if you could teleport to anywhere you wanted at any moment; or if you could be with the person of your dreams forever and never have a conflict; or if everything you touched turn gold with success, or if you never, ever got sick — if you could have all of those things, it’s still not the abundant life Jesus is talking about here.
So then, what is?
The abundant life that Jesus came to give you is that God loves you and he’s never going to stop.
It’s that all your sins are forgiven and all the things that used to separate you from God are now gone, and now, because of Jesus — because he died for you and was raised from the dead for you — there is not a single thing in the universe that can stand in the way of God’s grace to you.
It is unending grace. God will never get tired of you. God will never regret saving you. God’s mercy will flow into your life as an endless ocean of inexhaustible wonder. So brain tumors, come what may! You are never going to die. You are never going to be snatched from his hands. You are never going to be in a situation where he is not already there, with you, and working for you, so that all of your suffering, and all of your pain, and all of your circumstances are used by him to cause good for you.
And because that is true, when you’re standing on shaky ground, or when it feels like the mountains are being swallowed by the sea, or your sinking up to your neck in the swamp of sorrow, you can know that God is not mad at you. He calls you his child. He calls you by name.
You are so alive. You know that in him all the things that you have ever really wanted are truly found; the deepest cravings of your soul are satisfied in his glory. You become the richest, most secure person in the world because you have the greatest of all gifts and it will never ever be taken away from you. He loves you and he’s never going to stop.
That is the abundant life. And Jesus said he came to give that to you. He is the door to that.
Which might make a little more sense to us now.
Think back to the happiest moment of your life. To your wedding night or whatever it was. Chances are you don’t remember the door involved. It feels inconsequential. It’s just a door.
But imagine that in that moment just before you were about to experience that happiest moment of your life, imagine that all of a sudden there were a hundred doors all beside each other, and you see them all, but you went through the right door, and because you went through the right door you experienced the happiest moment of your life. That’s when you remember the door. The door matters then.
And see, that’s more like the image Jesus gives us. It’s not that there’s just a single, boring door out in the middle of nowhere, and Jesus says he’s that door.
It’s that there are hundreds of doors out there. There are thousands of doors out there, but there’s only one door that gets you abundant life, and Jesus is saying I’m that door!
That is what the contrast is about. That’s what Jesus is saying to us. If we are going to have abundant life, he’s the only door. And he says come on. He tells us to walk through his door.
And that’s what we do at this Table.
At this Table we remember that Jesus died for us and was raised from the dead for us. And we remember there is nothing we could ever do to earn his love, or to deserve his grace. We are not good enough for Jesus. He loves us because he loves us. He’s the door and he says come on.