Is life meant to be a drudge, wandering from one unfulfilling lust to another or is it meant to be full of joy and wonderful surprises?
I want us to realize that the real joys in life are found in the things that Jesus provides.
We will see how Jesus provides every wonderful blessing in life through the metaphor of sheep in a sheep pen from John 10:1-10.
Living with Sheep
Sheep are very social, will flock together and may readily follow the first sheep to make a move. Healthy lambs feed frequently. A lamb that bleats all the time is probably hungry. Lambs remain close to their mothers but their curiosity can get them into trouble. Sheep are generally docile, but rams can be aggressive especially during breeding season. Head butting is a way for rams to dominate the hierarchy. Ewes may become aggressive after lambing to protect their young. Sheep have excellent memories and trust a shepherd who handles them gently. Unlike sheep ranchers who must drive sheep, a shepherd can train sheep to come by voice command. Like church services, various pens and barns are used to receive the sheep for close inspection and group attention. Sheep instinctively know that they are better off together (John 10:1).
The “Dumb Sheep” Myth
Some may see church-goers as just dumb sheep. Yet the idea of “dumb sheep” is just a myth. Sheep are very intelligent animals. Modern research shows that sheep can remember the faces of up to fifty other sheep and ten human faces. They can find their way out of mazes very quickly. Sheep are smarter than humans in being able to find the plants they need for herbal cures of various illnesses. Sheep in Yorkshire, England have even taught themselves to roll across cattle grids to feed on neighboring pastures. After only one feeding from a group of people, sheep remember who brought the food. Very importantly, sheep know by instinct that independent action is not the best battle strategy for defending against a predator. Instead, when threatened they flock together in a technique known as folding (John 10:4).
The Voice of Jesus
What is the voice of Jesus like? Is it harsh and authoritarian? Is it soft and effeminate? John 10:4 presents us with one picture of Jesus’ voice. It is a voice that the sheep hear. People preach and listen to the voice of all kinds of things other than Jesus’ words. Yet his is the voice that the sheep listen to. All other voices are suspect as potential robbers. Just as in a real flock of sheep, where each can be taught its name, so too does the voice Jesus call each by name. It is a personal relationship. The sheep also recognise the voice of Jesus and follow him. They will never follow another. In fact, they go the other way from the un-recognized voice of a stranger. We can all learn to recognize the voice of Jesus.
Figures of Speech in the Sheep Pen
When Jesus spoke of us being sheep and his being the gate for the sheep he was not speaking literally but figuratively (John 10:6). It is like a mother who calls her infant the most beautiful child in the world. She is speaking in what we call hyperbolic language not literal. It is wrong to pride ourselves on taking the Bible literally, when an overly literal interpretation often misses what God intended. We can all be thieves and robbers entering a church to steal the peace, kill the joy and destroy the unity. Yet the more we listen to Jesus, the more we find spiritual pasture that feeds our souls, the more fulfilled our lives are now as we experience paradise on earth in a manner not available to those who never come to church, to the sheep fold.
When a Gate is a Gate
Jesus described himself as the gate for the sheep (John 10:7). Picture a shepherd sitting or sleeping at the entrance to a sheep pen. There is no wooden gate. He is the gate. Who is a true shepherd of Jesus’ flock? Anyone who claims to be a pastor (shepherd) but does not enter by the legitimate gate is a thief and a robber. The only legitimate way is to enter via Jesus, the gate. Entry via Moses is not a legitimate gate, but neither is entry via Paul. Entry via the pope is not legitimate, but neither is entry via Luther, Calvin or Wesley. All of these people may have been wonderful servants of God, but none of them is the gate. Only Jesus is the gate. So, when is a gate a gate? When that gate is Jesus.
Good News in the Sheep Pen
John 10:8 informs us that even though thieves and robbers may sneak into our churches, there is also good news in the sheep pen. We don’t need to be concerned because as we follow the Good Shepherd we will learn to know his voice. It may be the soft words of one who does good works, letting their light shine. It may be in the words of Jesus preached in a sermon. It may be in the words of encouragement given by a spiritual mother or father in the congregation. Jesus leads us into a worship service each week and he leads us back out into the world to where we will be blessed with lush spiritual pastures. The good news is that the Great Shepherd has come that we may have life now, more than what is expected.
Is Christianity a religion of freedom or restraint? It is both. There are times when we need protection and defense. There are also times when we need to run free. In John 10:9 Jesus talks about being the gate. We may say the gatekeeper. If we listen to the voice of the gatekeeper, he will lead us out when it is safe. If we ignore his voice, we may desire to run at the wrong time, headlong into danger. If we enter into safety through the gatekeeper, then we know that he will be watching. It is important for us to be following the right voice, the voice of the gatekeeper, Jesus. Inside the gate is freedom from harm, because the gatekeeper guards us. Outside the gate is freedom to run with protection, because the gatekeeper leads us.
Life to the Full
As the cycle of nations takes its natural course in the Anglo Zone, there is a real spiritual opportunity. The Anglo Zone (those nations that speak English) have been at the pinnacle for centuries now. First it was British and then American dominance. As power and wealth arrived, the English speaking nations slowly drifted away from Jesus Christ. Materialism tends to do that. As the delusion of material wealth took over the Anglo culture, spiritual and family destruction have increased hazardously. We have the highest divorce rates in history and the highest crime rates in the world as people have left God in droves in a hedonistic rush for power and wealth. The thief has come and stolen and killed and destroyed us. Will we return to the one who can give us life to the full (John 10:10)?
As sheep in God’s flock, we eventually learn to recognize the voice of the Great Shepherd. He sits at the door of his Church acting as gatekeeper. As we come in and go out through him we find spiritual pasture and life to the full.