READ : John 10:7-9
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 heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:7-9 rsv
My wife Helen and I spent some time recently in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We were there for the National Senior Olympics. If you can believe this, I was a contestant in those games, hurling the javelin. I had done some of that in college a long time ago, but until recently hadn’t touched a javelin for 43 years. I decided to try my hand again in the 1992 Michigan Senior Olympics, and there qualified for the nationals. So there we were, with 7200 other senior athletes, getting ready for the competition in Baton Rouge.
When we arrived at the track and field stadium, we could tell that events were already in progress. We could see the crowds in the upper rows of the grandstands. We could hear their cheers, and through the fence and the thick hedge inside it, we could dimly glimpse some of the athletes. Our problem was that we couldn’t get in to the stadium. We walked for what seemed quite a distance in one direction and found nothing but a locked gate. Then we started back the other way and walked again for an even longer time. It was frustrating. We had come all this way to Baton Rouge; now we were just outside the arena, but we couldn’t for the life of us find an entrance. There was no way to get inside, no door, no gate. And climbing over that high fence didn’t seem like an attractive option.
Well, finally we found an open gate and were able both to witness and participate in the National Senior Olympics. It was a happy, memorable experience. Just in case you’re asking, out of 62 contestants in my age group, I came in eighth. No medal, no ribbon, but a lot of fun and excitement.
The experience we had outside the stadium made me think of this passage of Scripture. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 10, at verse 7:
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 heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Jesus is talking about an entrance for the sheep into a place of safety and security, a place like home. He’s presenting Himself not only as the Shepherd of the sheep but also as the doorway into the fold. And He’s making it plain that He is the only entrance. Think with me about those things.
INTO THE FOLD
First, the entrance for the sheep. In our Lord’s time, sheep were commonly herded in a walled enclosure, mostly open to the sky. The fold could be a courtyard, adjoining a house. There was always one opening through which the sheep filed when they went out in the day to find pasture and by which they returned at night. The fold was “home” for the sheep. It provided shelter from the worst of the elements, and especially from wild beasts. As night began to fall, the sheep were always led back to the safety and security of the fold. No matter what storms broke over the land or what predators were on the prowl, all was well for the sheep. Nothing could harm the gathered flock.
The shepherd, of course, was responsible for his sheep. He cared for them. He was their companion and guide when they went out to pasture by day and when they returned at night. He left and entered by the same door.
Jesus speaks also of pseudo-shepherds, who cared nothing for the sheep but sought only to prey upon them. They didn’t enter by the door, as the shepherd did. They tried at times to clamber over the walls. If you saw a man doing that, you knew he was up to no good. He was an intruder, a poacher, an enemy, not a shepherd. You could be sure of that because he didn’t come in by the door.
Clearly, Jesus is talking here about more than sheep. The sheepfold stands for the gathering of God’s people to Himself. Those climbing over the wall are the false teachers and the pseudo-prophets who come only to steal and kill and destroy. The safety of the fold here represents the shelter of the Father’s house, where the people of God are saved from sin, death and every evil power. That place, that haven, that security, is entered by the door, the door of the sheep, the entering place for the Lord’s flock.
JESUS THE DOOR
Jesus says that He is that door. Maybe we’re a bit puzzled by this imagery. We know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. How can He also be the door? It helps to remember that we’re not talking about a wooden or a stone door, with handle and hinges. Try to envision simply an entrance, an opening into the fold. It was frequently the case with a near-east shepherd that he would lie down with his body across the entrance to the sheepfold. Thus he made himself the door. Any intruder or wild beast seeking to harm the sheep would have to encounter him first. He placed himself, his own body, between his beloved sheep and any kind of danger.
That image is a powerful one for me. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, has done for His people? He interposed, as it were, His own life between us and all that threatened to destroy us. He came to bear our sins and carry our sorrows. The stroke of judgment due to us descended upon Him. He threw Himself into the breach to protect us from every onslaught, to spare us, to save us. He drank the cup of our evil to the dregs, giving Himself to die the bitter death of the cross, and on the third day, He rose again. That’s how He became for us the door into God’s fold.
Sometimes Jesus speaks of Himself as the ladder linking earth and heaven, on whom the angels of God ascend and descend. Sometimes He describes Himself as the way to the Father’s house, the road that leads Godward. Paul calls Him the one Mediator between God and men. And here, in beautiful pastoral imagery, Jesus presents Himself as the door.
Remember the account of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden? Listen, from Genesis 3:23, 24: “. . . therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Fellowship had been broken now between God and His human creatures. Sin had erected a barrier of separation. The flaming sword turned every way to block the way back. It seemed impossible now that the man and the woman, God’s estranged humanity, could ever return to communion with their Maker and Lord.
It was to meet that kind of need that Jesus came. See His sufferings on Golgotha in that light. The print of the nails in His hands, the mark of the spear in His side – were not these wounds from that “flaming sword” that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life? We may approach again now, we may come back to the garden of God, we may enter the Father’s house and be near to His heart because the sword of judgment against sin was buried in the Savior’s side. Hear how Peter expresses it, “Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Yes, that He might be for us the doorway to eternal life.
THE ONLY ENTRANCE
Can we rightly say then that Jesus is the only entrance to the kingdom of heaven, the one door? This is a point at which many say they have difficulty with the Christian faith. They are willing to see Jesus as a prophet, as a profound religious teacher, as a guide to the good life. They are ready to accord Him an honored place among the great saints and sages of mankind, even as leader of one of the world’s great religions. But they resist the claim that He is the one Savior, the one door.
Isn’t this a kind of spiritual imperialism? they ask. Who do these Christians think they are, claiming not only that their religion is best but also that it’s the only way of salvation for all mankind? Have they no appreciation for the deep spirituality in other religious traditions? Can they not admire the zeal and self-abandonment of those who seek God in other ways? Surely, these maintain, it’s intolerance of the worst sort to say that our way in religion is the only way. How narrow-minded can we be!
And yet those same people would welcome what they call “narrow-mindedness” in other spheres of life. If you’re flying in a 747 jumbo jet and your airport destination has one runway that can accommodate such a plane, you’d like the pilot to zero in on that one runway, wouldn’t you? You’d rather he wouldn’t consider too seriously other ways of approaching the airport. If one medication is needed to cure an illness of yours, you’d like your physician to single out that particular prescription, wouldn’t you, instead of offering you a variety of other remedies not suited to your condition? Or if you’re asked a question on an important test that may have a bearing on your whole future career, and there’s only one right answer to the question, you’d like to be sure of the answer so that you can express it. The reason: it’s the only answer that will be accepted.
It’s a question, friends, of truth. If one person claims that the universe was created by chance and another says that it’s the work of God’s creative hand, they can’t both be right, can they? If the representatives of various religions make competing truth claims about how we can know God and be in living fellowship with Him and what pleases Him, they can’t all be right, can they? If one says that your sins are washed away by bathing in the river Ganges and another claims that forgiveness comes from inflicting great sufferings on yourself, and still another says that forgiveness is by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we can’t incorporate all of those into one system, can we? If some religious views are true, others must be plainly false.
The question then becomes one of credibility. Whom will we believe? Whose word about these things will we trust? Here I believe Christians are frequently misunderstood when they make the claim that Jesus Christ is the one Savior, the one mediator, the one way, the one door. They’re accused of arrogance, of claiming that their beliefs are preferable to everyone else’s. The truth is that they are not presenting their views. They didn’t originate these convictions. Their personal opinions don’t enter into the situation at all. They are simply witnesses to Jesus Christ. They are ambassadors for Him. They are presenting the words that He spoke, the claims that He made. They have themselves believed the testimony of Jesus and His apostles and now they seek to pass it on to others. Their proclamation that Jesus Christ is the only entrance to the kingdom of heaven is a matter of faithfulness to the One who has called them. If people feel that they must reject that message, they are obviously free to do so. But their quarrel is not with the messengers. It’s with the One who sends them.
We’re back to the central question, aren’t we: who is Jesus Christ? Is He a scoundrel, a deceiver, a man who leads people astray? Or is He the faithful witness, the Son of the Most High? Are His claims to deity and Saviorhood so much megalomania or are they heaven’s truth? All of us must decide about these things. And let’s remember as we do that the One who made these claims is the One who loved us enough to lay down His life for us and then rise again.
I wonder, what will your answer be? Jesus said it, “I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved . . . .” Will you enter – today? When I was a young pastor, I used to teach children each summer in Daily Vacation Bible School. Here was one of the simple songs we sang. I leave its words with you:
One door and only one, and yet its sides are two.
Inside and outside, on which side are you?
Prayer: Father, may every person sharing this program find the one door into the sheepfold. In Jesus Christ. Amen.