Last week, in The Shepherd and His Flock, Part 3, we learned that a sheep pen was a low, open enclosure with a simple, ungated opening. The shepherd, himself, would lie down across the opening to keep predators out during the night. We also learned that sometimes many different flocks of sheep were kept within a single sheep pen, and when this was the case, a “watchman” was hired to guard the gate. In the morning, the flocks were separated by each shepherd simply calling his own sheep. The sheep would follow only the voice of their own shepherd. Finally, we saw that “Shepherd” is one of the many names God uses for Himself throughout the Old Testament. Thus it was imagery the people were familiar with. They should have understood Jesus’ meaning.
But they didn’t: “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what He was telling them.” (John 10:6 NIV)
So Jesus tried to tell them a bit more plainly: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7 NIV)
Remember, in a sheep pen with just one flock, it was that flock’s own shepherd who lay down across the opening, thus ensuring that predators could not have access to the sheep. Now Jesus is telling us that He is the “gate”. He is the one who lies across the opening to our sheep pen!
And did He not do just that?
How, you ask?
The Bible teaches that there is but one way to Heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) In essence, Jesus stretched Himself out across the gap in the “sheep pen” where we reside. The “thief” attacked and killed Jesus in our stead! We, the sheep on the inside of the sheep pen, should have been the recipients of the vicious attack, but we weren’t! Our Good Shepherd lay Himself down to protect us from the punishment that we deserve. He took the fall so that we don’t have to do so!
But isn’t there a catch somewhere?
There always is, isn’t there?
The catch is this: Just because Jesus took our punishment for us doesn’t mean that we have free access to get to Heaven anyway we feel like it! Just like the gate was the only way for sheep to get into the sheep pen, Jesus, in His famous statement, “I am the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7b NIV), is telling us that the only way for us to get to Heaven is by going through Him! There is no other way! In fact Jesus goes on to say as much: “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:8-9a NIV)
But what happens to those who try to enter another way?
Jesus is clear: “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 NIV)
Is it any wonder that Peter was later quoted to say: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
And just in case we still don’t get it, Jesus repeats Himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it …” (John 10:11,12 NIV)
Let’s remember that if a sheep pen contained more than one flock, a watchman would be hired to guard the sheep pen. But a watchman wasn’t the shepherd. The sheep were not his own. If he were to find his own life in danger, he would abandon the sheep, and the predator would have nothing to stop him from attacking the sheep. What Jesus is saying here is that He is not a hired hand: He is the good shepherd, He is the gate to the sheep pen. He will not abandon His sheep. In fact, He lay down His life for His sheep! Now that, friends, is love!
And that love, that safety from the devil, is what Jesus offers to each of us today. He took the fall for us, opening, through Himself, the way to Heaven. And that’s the most important gift He could possibly give us!
But is Salvation the only advantage to being one of God’s sheep?
Join us next week for The Shepherd and His Flock, Part 5: I am the Good Shepherd.
In His love,
Lyn Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two teens, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries.
(To access the entire “The Shepherd and His Flock” mini-series, please click here.)