"The Voice, the Gate" Bible Study on John 10:1-10
April 30, 2020, 10:16 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from John 10:1-10 (Common English Bible translation).

I assure you that whoever doesn’t enter into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs over the wall is a thief and an outlaw. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.

So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep.All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.

John 10:1-10 is divided into two parts.  Jesus has been bombarded with questions about his identity in the previous chapter, John 9.  Why is Jesus being resisted?  In John 9:16 and 10:19, the Gospel writer explains the source of some of that resistance: the established religious leaders (Pharisees) and some of their followers.  Is Jesus really the one sent from God, or is he a religious charltan?  In John 10:1-10, Jesus' response is twofold: I couldn't do the things I'm doing if I were not the one sent from God, and besides that, I'm the means of life with God.  To make this point, Jesus employs some pastoral imagery and identifies himself as the genuine Shepherd of the Sheep (John 10:1-5).  Jesus follows by extending the poetic image of himself and his mission: he is also the Gate for the Sheep (John 10:7-10).

Apparently, none of Jesus' critics understand or accept his self-designations.  As Jesus says, his true sheep, his own sheep, hear and understand.  But Jesus' explanation is met with misunderstanding and incomprehension: "Those who heard Jesus use this anaology didn't understand what he was saying" (John 10:6).

In examining more closely the shepherd image in John 10:1-5, we find that the Good Shepherd is tenderly connected to the sheep.  No bandit sheep-stealer, the shepherd enters the sheepfold properly without subterfuge or deceit (John 10:1-2).  He calls the sheep, and the sheep answer when their names are called (John 10:3).  The image conveys trust, transparency, and affection.  The sheep, though dependent upon the Good Shepherd, know enough to follow him but to flee from false shepherds (John 10:5).. They know whom to trust.  They willingly follow the shepherd when he leads them out of the safe confines of the fold; the shepherd goes before them (John 10:3-4).  This leads Jesus into a stark contrast between himself and the aforementioned thieves (false shepherds) who would prey on the sheep.  The sheep flee wisely.

Notice the explicit statement by Jesus.  Jesus calls himself "the shepherd of the sheep" (John 10:2) who "know his voice" (John 10:4).  So, Jesus is the voice for all his sheep.  Jesus also says, "I am the gate" (John 10:7).  It is worth noting that explicit statements by Jesus are not frequent in the mystical, obscure Gospel of John.

Let's explore this imagery of Jesus as the gateway to God and to abundant life -- living life to the fullest.

Psalm 23 says that the Shepherd "leads me in green pastures."

Note that an open gate enables the sheep (followers of the Way of Jesus) to come in and to go out.  Jesus the gate enables the Church to gather in safe, protected places in order to worship, to study (that's what you're doing right now as you read this), and to strengthen one another.  The safe, protected worship places are now in each of our homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We now strengthen one another through our phone calls, emails, social media, and broadcast Worship Services.

And yet the gate is not only for the purpose of entering.  The gate enables the flock to go forth into the world.  Right now that going forth is delivering fabric masks and food items to our church members, friends, and neighbors.  The shepherd not only gathers us together in Christ's name but also leads forth.  The sheep must go forth in order to be nourished and to have life.  It's hard to go physically forth in this time of social distancing.  But we can invite neighbors and friends to participate in a broadcast Worship Service.  We can call church members, neighbors, and friends and ask them how they are doing.  We can deliver needed items to people's porches.

Lots of churches are declining in health or are near death.  I am wondering if their problem is that they have overstressed the church as a gathering place, a safe, protected space where there is grace and love and have under-emphasized the church as a launching pad whence they are sent forth (or as Jesus portrays it in John 10, led forth) into the world in Christ's name?  After all, the church is the people, not a building.  Maybe that's what a lot of churches are re-learning in this time of global pandemic.

The only way the Church can live, the only means of finding life-giving nourishment and sustenance is by following the Good Shepherd into the green pastures.  From all that I have read and experienced, this inward-outward rhythm of gathering in and then going forth to serve is the key to the health of a congregation.  If a church becomes too internally focused, too consumed with the needs and desires of the insiders, and unconerned about the needs of those outside the fold, decline and subsequent death result.

Which way is the gate swinging in our church?  Food for thought.

Stay in.  Stay safe.  Stay well.

Peace & Abundant Life,

Pastor Greg Rupright



05-01-2020 at 1:09 PM
Pat May
Again, but even better, excellent food for thought. Also a kick in the pants for some of us to continue reaching out but maybe reaching FARTHER out in future...
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