Galilee was sheep county. Shepherds and their little flocks dotted the hillsides.
David’s song, the familiar twenty-third Psalm, while describing God as a Shepherd, also teaches us about the day-to-day duties of every shepherd. The shepherd guides his sheep to pastures and ponds. He guards his sheep from predators and pillagers. And a good shepherd would defend his flock at all cost. He’d even “lay down his life” if necessary (John 10:15). The shepherd guides, guards and guarantees.
After a long day of grazing the hills and valleys, the shepherd would often find refuge for his sheep in a securely fenced enclosure. Here they would be safe until dawn.
They didn’t have barbed-wire or chain-link fencing, so the corral was made of rocks. It was large enough for several flocks. The sheep and the shepherd gained access to the pen only by the gate, the one and only entry/exit point.
In the morning, the shepherd would stand outside the corral and call his sheep. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4, CSB).
A little context will be helpful...
In John’s ninth chapter, Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus “spit on the ground, made some mud from the saliva, and spread the mud on his eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the pool of Siloam.’ So he left, washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:6-7, CSB). Wow! Hallelujah!
This ticked-off the Pharisees. Jesus was stealing their limelight. They had been the authority over all religious matters in Israel, and now this carpenter from Nazareth was becoming popular among the masses. And to make matters worse, Jesus had the audacity to heal the blind guy on the Sabbath Day. According to their contrived and convoluted regulations, healing on the Sabbath was not allowed, as apparently healing the blind was work... or maybe spitting in the dust was against the rules.
So, when we get to John’s tenth chapter, Jesus was teaching about sheep, shepherds and sheep pens, but more importantly, he was drawing a comparison between rule-based religion and an eternal relationship with a personal, loving God.
Jesus taught that there is one way into the safety and security of God’s care. That way is the single Gate. Jesus said, “I am the Gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9, CSB).
This is Jesus’ third “I am” statement in John. He said, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35) and “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12). He’s the only Bread, and He’s the only Light. Here Jesus says, “The rules and regulations are not the way to joy-filled eternal life. Rather, He says, enter by the only Gate. “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10, CSB).
I’m a dumb, dirty, defenseless sheep. I’m glad I was led to the Gate... and I’m glad the Shepherd loves me and leads me!