Bible Reading: John 10:1-10
Theme: Christ is the Good Shepherd
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is my pleasure to reach you today with the Word of God. And I pray that God will minister to you in your specific situation for God’s own glorification and your edification.
Today’s sermon is based on one of Jesus’ engagements with one of the most influential religious groups of his day – the Pharisees. The Pharisees are presented in the gospels as the main opponents of Jesus and the early Christians. Even though they believed in life after death and the resurrection of the body, they held a very strong legalistic view that it is only by obeying the law of God strictly that one can be justified before God.
This makes them not to believe in a messiah-like Jesus who would save the world by sacrificing himself for the sins of the world. As a result, they were best known for putting up outward piety through “good works” and the keeping of the commandments of Moses. They believed that good works, merit, and the like would earn them salvation and not the grace of God. They were extremely arrogant in claiming self-righteousness with the high tendency of overburdening the citizens with the Law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations and requirements that are oftentimes contradictory in themselves. They were utterly mean and cruel to the ordinary citizens who could not possibly adhere to every set of moral rules they prescribed for them.
Despite the fact that the Pharisees focused rigidly on holiness and are perceived so by the citizens, Jesus knew them from inside out. He always rebuked them for overburdening the people unreasonably. In Matthew 23 and Luke 11 for example, Jesus exposed their sinfulness by calling them hypocrites and comparing them to whitewashed tombs which are beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead human bones and uncleanness:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside, are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:13, 27-28). I
n today’s Bible reading, Jesus is still talking to a group of Pharisees. And using images from everyday life situations, he spoke about himself as the good shepherd and the gate for the sheep. It is a common understanding that the rightful use of the gate into the pen is what differentiates the shepherd from the thief. If someone was greeted by the gatekeeper at the entrance of the gate to the pen as he or she goes into the sheepfold, observers from outside would know that that fellow is either the owner of the sheep or a shepherd. But if anyone tries to enter the pen by climbing over the fence or breaking the gate forcefully, and avoiding being seen by others, that person is considered a thief or a robber.
Jesus describes himself as the gate for the sheep and the good shepherd who protects the sheep from thieves and robbers like the Pharisees and those who came before him. He says “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
By describing himself as the gate, Jesus is promising his followers salvation, safety, and satisfaction. Many people followed Jesus during his lifetime because unlike the Pharisees and other religious authorities of the day who were mean and cruel to them he had shown them love and compassion and was merciful to them. He went about hanging out with sinners and getting close to everyone including the sick and the outcast and listening to their stories and offering them encouragement and healing.
A story is told about a famous actor who was asked by a pastor to recite Psalm 23. The actor agreed on the condition that the pastor would also recite it. The actor’s recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause. When it was the turn of the pastor, his voice was rough and broken probably from many years of preaching. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied: I know the psalm, but the pastor knows the Shepherd.
Is the Lord your shepherd? Is he your gate to salvation? Is he your source of safety and satisfaction? Jesus is still the gate and the good shepherd that would lead those who hear his voice and follow him obediently beside still waters and in the right paths. He would restore their souls as the Psalmist says (Psalm 23).
What we need to know today brothers and sisters is that the Christ who gave life, protection, and satisfaction to those who followed him will give us also protection and victory over this deadly global pandemic. Indeed the “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
May the Lord Jesus Christ take away every form of fear and anxiety from us and lead and protect us as our good shepherd. And as the gate, may he usher us into the presence of God. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
Rev. Confidence W. Bansah (Ph.D.)
Minister of St. George’s and Christ Church