“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. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 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 listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
There, by the single storey, white walled house is a stone enclosure and on top of the walls, briars grow. Inside the enclosure is safety, outside are the wilds of ancient Israel. Animals seek their prey, thieves seek their spoils and crevices await those who are not sure of foot.
Guarding the door into this sheepfold is a doorkeeper, and he keeps watch over the flock in this pen. He knows the shepherd, and is happy to open up the pen when he comes near. The sheep also know who their shepherd is, and come trotting along when their hear his voice, knowing that he’ll be leading them to food and water. Place in front of them a stranger and they remain flighty, but a familiar call will bring them forth.
From time to time, the doorkeeper will notice someone skulking around the walls of the sheepfold - a sure sign they are up to no good. The shepherd always comes to the door. The thieves will scramble up over the walls an attempt to sneak away a lamb or two, the robber will use violence to the same end. The shepherd is also fighter. Did not the boy David slay Goliath with his shepherd’s sling?
Here, then, is the picture that Jesus paints. One familiar to the residents of ancient Israel from time immemorial. Here, too, is an image of the Christian life. Christ the shepherd and we the sheep.
But what of this business of Jesus being ‘the door’?
This all comes down to the question of authority. You don’t have to be a shepherd to lead off some sheep. After all there were plenty of thieves and robbers who had their eyes on the sheep, but their intent was not to care for the sheep. They were after a fast profit, or a quick meal. The sheep who fell into the hands of the thieves were not going to be made to “lie down in green pastures” or be led “beside still waters” (Psalm 23). They were destined for a swifter end.
It was only those who entered by the door who had the best interests of the sheep in mind. The door would only open to those who were the true shepherds, who had the authority from the owner of the flock to lead the sheep.
Now, if we are the sheep in this the question arises: what does it mean to be led? After all, we are capable - when the government allows - of getting our own food and water, and we have houses in which to shelter. How are we led? By what we are taught!
The outcry over ‘fake news’ bears witness to the fact that false teaching can result in false beliefs, but the difficulty does not only arise when people are deliberately trying to mislead. When a hundred scientists, journalists and presenters give us a hundred different opinions over how to control a virus who do we trust? In the end, we might simply shake our heads and echo Pilate’s question: “what is truth”? (John 18:38). In which direction shall we turn? What - or who - do we trust?
This is the situation which Jesus was addressing, and by describing himself as the door he is saying that he is the one who allows those who are trusted to gain entry to the sheep. Those who teach in accordance with Christ’s words, are to be trusted. Those who teach with the grain of Scripture lead the sheep safely, but those who teach otherwise are the thieves and robbers of which Jesus speaks.
Later on in the Gospel, Jesus describes himself as “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). It is his path alone which truly leads to life. Or, to quote from our passage, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.
So, sheep - be on your guard! Test words spoken, written or preached against the standard of the Bible. Don’t trust those who come creeping over the walls, but only those who come through the door of Christ. Follow the Good Shepherd who leads you to still waters, and beware those who may beguile you down murkier paths.