By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 3, 2020
John 10:1–10 (ESV)
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
How are we all doing right now? We are still asked to stay at home, and it is getting harder especially when weather outside is incredible. We get on the news and we see people urging the continued stay at home orders and we also see people asking for those orders to be lifted. It is difficult to know what the correct response is. It is like the old 80’s song says, “should I stay, or should I go? If I stay, there will be trouble if I go there will be double.” It is difficult to know what is right during this chaotic time, and to be honest many of the voices we hear seem to be polarizing.
I try not to speak about politics when giving a message like this because we all have our opinions, and we each come to our own conclusions using the information we have gathered. And when we listen to people that might have a different opinion, instead of considering the information they are looking at and comparing it to what we are looking at, we tend to get into a shouting match. Should we stay or should we go? Am I right or are you wrong?
I bring this up because this is what Jesus is in the middle of during this week’s narrative. Just prior to this story, Jesus healed a blind man from birth. When the disciples saw this man sitting there, they asked Jesus a question, “who sinned, that this man was born blind.” Today we might not fully appreciate the depth of this question because we live in a different era of history. We, as a society, have medical professionals that research various ailments, and find solutions to the problems. The research on these things over the past fifty years is astonishing, and every year we gain more understanding. I personally cannot understand the vastness of the advancements, but I do know that I nearly died because of the Chicken Pox and now neither of my sons will have that disease because of the advancements in medicine. But this man was born blind, and in the perspective of the first century person, there must be a reason for this to happen: either the man sinned or the man’s parents sinned to such a degree that God cursed him in such a manner.
We might laugh at the superstitious ideology, but we should stop because we still do this today to some degree. We still ask questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Most of the people that I interact with outside of the church that oppose my perspective in life, general use that one questions to deem faith as illogical. Their argument is that if there is a good and loving God, how could something like this pandemic happen? And to be honest any answer we could give to this question will never be enough because I am asking it too. I do not know why. All I do know is that it is happening to us and it is happening because of us in many ways.
Well in the story, Jesus’s disciples asked that question that we all ask in some form, and in the area were teachers and leaders that held various opinions and taught those opinions to the people. These opinions, like many of ours were vast. They would range from the man sinned before birth somehow, maybe he dishonored his mother in some embryonic thought that we could not know but it was deserving of God’s wrath. While another view might be that of fate. Another might think that the man was born blind because the parents did not offer the proper sacrifices. Just like today, for every situation there were any number of opinions. The problem is that each of those opinions were so caught up in trying to determine which one was right that they totally distracted from the fact that there was a blind man from birth that had been living in their community, and that blind man was still a human being.
Jesus answered those in that debate by simply saying that this man was born blind so that the glory of God could be shown. Think about that answer for a moment. Those words are both encouraging and enraging, but there is something there that is profound. We suffer, but how are we living our lives through the suffering?
Well because Jesus said that the man was blind so that God could be glorified and then healed the man, a greater debate ensued. Who is Jesus and who gave him the authority to do what he is doing? The religious leaders brought in the poor formerly blind man and demanded answers. They were so caught up with being right that they missed the especially important fact that this man’s condition was such, so that God would be glorified. They were angry because their power was threatened, their standing within society was hindered by someone outside of their social class. They were blind to the fact that both they and Jesus was urging the man to give God the glory for the things He has done, because it was not done in the way that they thought was proper.
This is where today’s passage comes in. It was after the great debate surrounding the healing of the blind man from birth. Jesus told them, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” The religious leaders took great offense to this because they perceived correctly that Jesus was calling them out, he was calling them blind to the truth of God.
In today’s passage Jesus explains why he was saying those things. He explains it in terms of the world surrounding them. He speaks of a sheepfold, of shepherds, and livestock thieves. I have a basic understanding of this story because I grew up on a farm. I have cared for livestock and I have had to make sure those animals were protected. While I was in college, I would wake up at four in the morning to feed the cattle, drive to class for an hour to get there at seven in the morning, then I would attend classes till four in the afternoon, only to come home to gather the cattle back up and fix the fences that they had broken through while I was away. Animals require care. I raised cattle, not sheep, and cattle are more independent than sheep. The amount of care that I gave to cattle is minimal to the amount of attention that was required for sheep. And this would be even greater in ancient times when there was not the luxury of our modern fencing.
Sheep would be taken out every day to the surrounding wilderness to graze. Someone would be given the job to make sure the sheep would be cared for, leading them out to the pastures, leading them to water, leading them back to the place of safety at the end of the day. The sheepfold is that place of safety. The fold was an area where some sort of wall was built to gather the sheep in during the night. They built these folds because at night when the shepherd was asleep, predatory animals would stalk the herd, and try to get one animal separated from the others so that they could eat it. But animals were not the only predators on the prowl, there were also humans that would prey upon a sleeping shepherd and make attempts to merge some of your sheep into their herd. To help protect your flock families and villages would build these walled areas. Shepherds would lead the sheep from one to another, allowing the sheep to graze on the land in between. They were built in the wilderness and they were built on the edges of communities. And they would protect the sheep from the wild beasts and would help prevent the thieves from stealing, because now the thief would have to physically lift a sheep over the wall to steal it.
The ancient shepherd would lead their sheep into these folds, and at times there would be several flocks in one sheepfold, allowing each shepherd to have a bit more rest because there was one gate that needed watched. In the morning each of the shepherds would go to the gate and call out to their sheep. These sheep since they were so accustomed to following their shepherd, they knew his voice, and they would rise and follow only their shepherds voice. There could be several different shepherds using one sheepfold and the moment the shepherds would talk their sheep would approach only their one shepherd. Each shepherd would use their own manner of speech, they would have their own call that would attract the attention of their sheep.
There is a bond between the sheep and the shepherd that is developed over time. For all the daylight hours they hear one voice, urging and pleading with them to follow. And if these animals are like the ones that I raised they might have heard a few words of frustration too. Little tones in the words might prompt a sheep to pick up their pace, or to turn to the right or left. But there is a language that is developed over the time, a language between the sheep and their shepherd. When used outside the relationship it sounds ridiculous and idiotic, maybe even frightening.
Previously Jesus said that the leaders of the people were blind, now he is saying that they are not speaking in the tones of the shepherd. They are speaking with a different voice. They are using their voice to garner power over the sheep instead of leading the sheep. A thief does not lead the sheep, they do not call the sheep, the only way for a thief to obtain the sheep is to physically move the sheep by force, or to distract a sheep from the others. The distraction can be in many forms, but primarily they entice the sheep using the sheep’s own appetite. But why would one want to steal the sheep?
A shepherd builds the flock, a shepherd cares for the flock, but a thief is looking only for a quick return. The shepherd is concerned with a long timeline, where the thief is focused on something right now. Once they have the sheep, they are moving that animal to a market of some sort. Jesus says that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but he came to give life more abundantly.
I have thought about that final verse of today’s passage often. The word abundantly just grabs our attention because we live in a consumer culture. I like the thought of having more. This is not exactly what Jesus means. When I was a child, my dad took me to my grandpa’s house, and we looked at the cattle. He and my grandpa told us to look at the cattle and pick the one we thought would be the best mommy cow. I do not remember how old I was at the time, but I know I was young and still in elementary school. I looked at all the cattle and I found the one I like the most, it was the only one that had spots and the color was also distinctive from the rest. My dad, then unloaded a steer from a trailer and we loaded up the cow. This cow gave birth to a calf, when it gave birth to a bull, I would trade it for a heifer, and if it gave birth to a heifer, I kept it. Eventually I had a herd of my own. This herd was capital I used to obtain my education. This is the difference between a shepherd and a thief. The shepherd builds with a goal in mind. Carefully tending so that there is an increase for the future. The thief consumes, lives for the moment.
Jesus wishes to give us an abundant life. When we look at that word from a consumer mindset, we think of blessing now. God will give me wealth, health, fame, and power. This is the mind of the thief, instant gratification. Yes, God might make some immediate changes in our life, but still struggle. Jesus speaks of an abundant life in different terms, it is a change of lifestyle or focus. It is training our hearts and minds to listen and look deeper and wider. It is trading a bull for a heifer so that the herd grows.
Jesus spoke these words to the leaders of the people. He is telling them that the sheep will hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him. The shepherd is the God that everyone in this story claims to follow and the voice could be the words of scripture. There is something powerful in this, because after numerous wars, after countless quests to eliminate the children of Israel both in ancient and modern history, they remain. When we look at the words of scripture, we can see some profound things regarding society and healthy living. The dietary laws if followed promote a healthier lifestyle, that medical science and prove, yet they were given thousands of years before we even knew of heart disease. The law of God promotes abundant life because it is a long-term focused lifestyle. Jesus did not dismiss that law, but he called the leaders out on how they were manipulating it. They were twisting the words of God to satisfy their appetites and to gain power and influence over the people. And the words that once promoted life, became instruments of oppression. What was once good lead to coercion as well as apathy both were working together to destroy the lifestyle of God with us, because the focus was instead on us.
Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. He is God with us. He came born of Mary, so that God would be with us in every aspect of life. He grew up in a community with us. He grew not only physically but in wisdom and knowledge just like every child. He had a career, becoming a master in his trade. And after thirty years he began his ministry. Jesus came to show and teach us what life with God looked like. His complete life speaks the fulness of God. And when he says that he is the door or the gate he is telling us that he is the way because he is God with us. And he proved this through his life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus is the gate to the abundant life, and he is calling us to join him in that life. The world is out there arguing about staying at home or going out again to work, and Jesus is calling us to listen to his voice. Are we listening or are be being distracted? The abundant life starts right here. It begins when we turn to Jesus and respond to his lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service to others. Maybe this is just what we need to do: Worship, pray and be of service to others. Maybe we have been so focused on abundance that we have put ourselves in a position where plague was bound to happen and God is calling us to a different life, a life of less but more.
As we join in the silence, I encourage us all to consider how these times we are living through could be for the glory of God. And consider how we can participate in the abundant lifestyle of Christ even in a time of social distancing. Let us now take time away from the distractions of the world so we can focus on the voice of our good shepherd and become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.