Monday, January 20, 2014

The Door of the Sheep (John 10:7-10)

One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in all the world is the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. Dating back to 537 AD, the cathedral was built to be a Christian Church – the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in what was then the capital of the Roman Empire. Over the years, there were changes, features were added, modified, and renovated. The most noticeable of these changes are the Islamic minarets that tower over the building, installed in the fifteenth century when Muslims conquered the city and converted this significant Christian church into an Islamic mosque. But long before that, in the ninth century, Emperor Theophilus made a less noticeable change to the building. He had new doors put in. But these were not just any doors. These doors were built 200 years before Christ’s birth for the pagan temple of Apollos in the city of Tarsus, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. Theophilus had those doors moved to Constantinople and installed in the Hagia Sophia, and he had them marked with the sign of the cross and the name of Jesus Christ. Today, the Hagia Sophia is a museum, but throughout all of its history, as a church, as a mosque, and now as a museum, those doors have remained unchanged. Those doors serve as a lasting reminder of a significant truth: the way into God’s presence is marked with the name “Jesus Christ,” and unless you come by Him, the door into God’s presence will remain locked and barred against you.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus uses seven vivid images to describe Himself, His divine nature, and His mission of salvation. In each one, He pairs the image with the powerful phrase, “I am,” or ego eimi in Greek. This is, of course, significant, given that when God revealed Himself to Moses, and Moses asked the Lord to tell him His name, the Lord said, “I AM WHO I AM.” And so, the phrase, “I am,” is not a mere statement or a meaningless phrase. It is an announcement of God’s very own presence. Every time the Lord Jesus took up those words ego eimi, “I am,” He was announcing to His audience that He was God in the flesh. The seven vivid images that He uses in John’s Gospel reveal aspects of His divine nature and His saving mission. We have seen two of these statements already in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 6, we see Jesus saying, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (6:35). In Chapter 8, He says, “I am the Light of the World; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (8:12). We find the third “I am” statement here in our text today in John 10. Jesus says in verse 7, “I am the door of the sheep,” and again in verse 9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.”

It is a surprising statement, given that in the immediately preceding verses, Jesus was identifying Himself as the shepherd. Here, He says He is the door. Is He the door, or is He the shepherd? The answer is “yes.” In a sense, it is entirely right and fitting for Jesus to be symbolized by both the door and the shepherd. In the ancient Near-East, during warmer weather, the shepherds would stay overnight in the fields with the sheep. The sheep would be corralled into a makeshift pen, essentially a circle of stones with an opening on one side. When nightfall came, and the sheep were safely enclosed, the shepherd himself would stretch his own body across the opening and become, as it were, a living door for the sheep. If you want to come into that sheepfold, you have to come by way of the shepherd. Jesus is the Shepherd, and He is the door. And this text answers for us the question of how Jesus is the door of the sheep.

I. Jesus is the only door of the sheep (v7-8)

Sometimes people are funny about doors. There are some people who refuse to sit with their back to the door. There are some people who, as soon as they walk into a place, they do a quick study of the room to see where all the exits. Sometimes, they might get nervous when they find themselves in a place with only one way in, and only way out. In a place like that, if you find a door, you have found the only door there is. And Jesus says that when it comes to entering into everlasting life, there is only one door. You notice that He says, “I am the door.” He does not say, “I am a door,” or “I am one of the doors.” He is exclusive here; He says, “I am the door.”

Perhaps you have come here today convinced that there are multiple valid pathways to God and to eternal life. It may be that you think Christians are narrow-minded and intolerant for daring to say in this progressive society that there is only one valid way to God. Friends, if that is what you are thinking today, first let me say that I am so glad you are here. Second, let me challenge you to do what all good intellectual scholars are trained to do – go to the source. Do Christians say that there is only valid way to know God? Why, yes, in fact, we do. But the question should be, “Why do Christians say this?” And the answer is, because Jesus Himself said this. You say, “Where did He say this?” For one thing, He said it here: “I am the door.” But, more clearly and certainly He says it in the sixth of these seven “I am” statements in John. In John 14:6, He will say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Note the exclusivity there: the Way; the Truth; the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The first followers of Jesus understood clearly what He meant by these words. In Acts 4:12, the Apostle Peter restates this same truth as he proclaims, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” The Apostle Paul said it this way, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). The Apostle John said the same thing in these words, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 Jn 5:12). The exclusivity of Jesus Christ is something that Christians have believed and proclaimed since the birth of the Church. And where did we get this idea? We get it from none other than Jesus Christ Himself.

When you consider Jesus Christ, you really only have a handful of options available to you. He is either a self-absorbed liar, a lunatic with delusions of grandeur, or else He is who He claimed to be – including being the only way to God and to eternal life. Now, in the history of the world, there has never been found any serious intellectual movement that would seek to label Jesus as a self-absorbed liar. Even those who do not believe in Him will remark about His humility, His compassion, and His noble teachings. Never has there been any who have seriously considered Him to be a lunatic with delusions of grandeur. On any list of the wisest people to ever live, Jesus always ranks high near the top. By common consent, then Jesus is not a liar and not a lunatic. So, what other option could there be? He is who He said He is. He said He is God-in-the-flesh, the “I am.” He said “I am the door,” “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” the only means of knowing God and entering into eternal life.

Now, here someone will say, “But there have been others who have made claims such as these before. What about them?” There were many in Jesus’ day, and many who came before Him, who claimed to be Saviors and Messiahs. That is why Jesus said, “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers.” Obviously, the “all” here is not completely exhaustive. He is not referring to Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and a host of other faithful and godly people who had served the Lord and His people wholeheartedly. But then again, none of them claimed to be “the door” to God and to everlasting life. But there were many others who had made that claim. They said, “Follow me, and I will lead you to find true meaning in life. I will lead you in the path of peace. I will lead you to encounter God.” By the multitude they came, and they come still today. But Jesus said every single person who ever came or ever comes making these claims is a thief and a robber.

A thief and a robber are different from one another, and two different Greek words are used here to signify that. A thief is one who steals cunningly or by stealth. The Greek word is kleptes, from which we get kleptomaniac. A robber is one who steals by violence. It is the difference between a shoplifter and a bank robber. And spiritually, there have been plenty of both in the history of the world. Some deceptively lead others away from truth and life with fine sounding words and subtle falsehoods. Others take their spiritual prey by force, leading them in paths of violence and tragedy. It sounds unbelievable, but they have been effective and persuasive. Multitudes have followed them, and multitudes still do. But Jesus said, “the sheep did not hear them.” They might deceive multitudes, but they do not deceive those who are the true people of God. They know the voice of the Shepherd. They follow Him. These do not allow themselves to be seduced or stolen away from the simplicity of faith in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 11:3). They have the ability to compare the words and ways of these pretenders to the person and Word of Jesus, and when they do, they see them for what they are: thieves and robbers. They know that there is one and only one gate that leads to God and to life – and that is Jesus Christ. He is the door of the sheep. The only door.

II. Jesus is the Open Door for the Sheep (v9a)

The need for a door on the sheep-fold is quite obvious. It keeps thieves and robbers out. But there is another all-important function of the door. It serves to let the sheep in! And it is this function, rather than the other, which Jesus emphasizes most in this passage. He is the door, and it is important for us all to know that the door is open!

In verse 9, Jesus says, “If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” Salvation awaits on the inside of this door. But perhaps you wonder, “Salvation from what?” I can remember a time in my life when I would hear Christians ask me, “Are you saved?”, or in some cases they would say, “You need to get saved!” I didn’t understand what they meant. I didn’t think I was in any sort of imminent danger. But I will never forget the day when I finally came to understand what they meant. Frankly, it became clear to me that the thing that God desired to save me from was God Himself. For most of my life, I had rejected God, rejected Jesus Christ, argued that He did not exist, and lived as if He did not exist. I was seeking my own pleasure and pursuing whatever course I thought could deliver pleasure to me. But, as I was reading the Bible, almost on a dare by some Christian friends, I was suddenly, inexplicably, and undeniably aware that God really did exist. My immediate thought was that this was the worst possible discovery I could ever make. If God really was there, then assuredly He would call me into accountability and judgment for how I had been living my life. I did not need to be convinced that I was a sinner. In that moment, I suppose that every wrong I had ever done came flooding into my mind. I knew that if the Lord were to give me what I deserved, that hell would surely be my eternal fate. But it was in that crisis of my soul that I came to know about Jesus, the door that opens to salvation. In His death on the cross, He had become my substitute, bearing God’s wrath in my place. My sin was punished in Him so that I could be forgiven and made clean before God. There was no denying that God existed, and that I was guilty before Him. And if there were any hope for me at all, it was surely in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone. Every other religious system in the world says that the way to God is to work harder, to try harder, and to be better than you are. Jesus Christ does not say that. He alone has laid down His life in a sacrificial death to bear our sins, so that we can be cleansed and saved. No one else has done that for you. He is the only door that opens to salvation.

It is important to recognize that the door to salvation is open. The Bible says that all of us are sinners, and in our heart of hearts we know it is true. Our own conscience is sufficient to convict us of the truth of it. No matter what we say, we know that there is right and there is wrong, and we know that we have done wrong. But Jesus says that if we enter through the door, if we come to Him by faith, we will be saved! Saved from our sin! Saved from hell! Saved from judgment! Saved from wrath! In short, in Jesus Christ, the door is open by which God will save us from God and for God!

The door is open, and it is open to all. Notice Jesus says, “If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” You say, “Can I enter in through that door?” Well, are you anyone? If so, then you qualify. You might say, “Well, I don’t know, I have been pretty bad.” He says, “Anyone!” And you might even say, “Well, as for me, you see, I’ve been pretty good. Do I need this door?” And again, He says, “Anyone!” And that “Anyone!” applies to everyone, because no matter how good we are, we are still sinners before God. The standard is righteousness – a sinless holiness that was personified and exhibited in the person of Jesus Christ. You might be better than your friend or your neighbor, but you aren’t better than Jesus. Therefore, you need to be saved, and the door is open to you.

And it is at this point that some Christians will raise an objection. They will say, “How can you say anyone, when we have this thing in the Bible called election or predestination?” Well, first and foremost, we can say “Anyone,” because Jesus said “Anyone.” If your theological system makes Jesus out to be a liar, then you need to change your system. But did He not say, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him?” He did. He said that in John 6:44. And it is true. But He also said “If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” And that is equally true. If it helps you, imagine it this way. Jesus is the door. And on the outside of the door, over top of it, it is inscribed, “If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” And so you enter that door. And as you do, you turn to look behind you, and you find that over the top of the door on the inside is inscribed, “No one came come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.” You see, no one comes through that door that God has not drawn. From His vantage point, the door is reserved for all those whom He has foreknown and effectually called unto salvation. But from our vantage point, whosoever will may enter into that door. In the end we will find that no one will but those whom God has chosen. You may ask, “But how can I know if I am chosen?” This is how you know – you enter in. No one will enter in only to find that they were not chosen. This same Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” The fact that you chose to enter in is evidence that God was calling you, drawing you, and had chosen you. It is His drawing that is evidencing itself in you in that desire to come to the door and enter.

The door is open, and today, it is open to you. I say today, because the fact of the matter is that it will not be open to you forever. There will come a point in every person’s life when the door will close. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto man to die once, and after this comes judgment.” You do not know the day of that appointment, but God does, and it is an appointment that He will keep. Thus it is a matter of some urgency that you do not sin away the day of grace. This is the day of salvation, now is the time (2 Cor 6:2). Enter in while the door is open to you, and be saved. Jesus is that open door.

III. Jesus is the door of opportunity for the sheep (v9b)

When a person completes a level of education, whether high school, college, grad school or whatever, it is a momentous occasion marked by a special event called a “commencement service.” That’s a strange word for it. “Commencement” means “beginning,” not “end.” We think of it as an ending to something, but the word commencement reminds us that it is not the end, but the beginning. Now is the time to go out and do something with what you have learned. Some people view salvation as “the end” of something. Well, in a sense, it is. It is the end of the old way of life, the life of sin. It is the end of bondage to Satan. It is the end of futile living for one’s own self. But, I want to challenge you to not view the Door that is Jesus Christ as a finish line, but rather as a starting line. Becoming a Christian is not the end, it is the beginning – the commencement – of a whole new way of living. Entering in through this door is entering into a whole new world of opportunity.

Jesus is the door of opportunity for intimate fellowship with God. Jesus said that by this door, the sheep may go in. You are going into the very presence of God. In fact, He is actually coming into you. The Spirit of God is moving in and taking up residence in the core of your being. You are going into God’s family, as an adopted son or daughter. You are going in to know Him and be known by Him, to have Him as a Father and a friend. Having been previously cut off from Him because of your sin, you have been cleansed in the blood of Christ, and welcomed in to His embrace.

Jesus is the door of opportunity for mission for God. What is it that you are really living for? For most Americans, the aim of life is to get a good education, a good job, make good money, buy a nice house, drive a nice car, climb the corporate ladder to the top, and have beautiful children that you can teach how to do the same thing, only better. It’s the American Dream, right? Suppose you attained it. Suppose for a moment that it was all in hand, and then death came. How much of that would really matter in eternity? You cannot take any of that with you, whether you go to heaven or to hell. But what if I told you that Jesus Christ offers you something far more meaningful, an opportunity to live for something that would matter forever? He does. He said that He is the Door, and by this door, the sheep can go out. They can go out for Him to impact the world for Him. Sheep go out this door and they find other sheep, lost sheep who are scattered and don’t have a shepherd. And they bring them back in through the Door. You can be a part of the mission that God has been pursuing since the world began, and that is to fill this planet with passionate worshipers giving praise to His name. As I read the Bible, I find that there are only two things on this planet that are going to last forever. One is the Word of God – it stands forever (Isa 40:8; 1 Pet 1:24). The other is the souls of human beings. They will live forever, either in heaven or in hell. So, why on earth would anyone seek to find fulfillment in the fleeting things of this world when they could be occupied with the mission of imparting the everlasting word of God into the everlasting souls of men? You can live for more than yourself! Do something that matters! You can be on mission with God and for God! But only if you find Jesus as the door and come in to Him, and then go out or Him!

Jesus is the door of opportunity for nourishment from God. He says that you can go through this door and find pasture. Why does a sheep need pasture? To stay alive! The pasture is where the sheep eats, and it has to eat to live. Through Jesus Christ, we have access to the food that nourishes our soul. After all, this is the one who said, “I am the Bread of Life, he who comes to Me will not hunger….” (John 6:35). He feeds us with Himself. How does He do this? He does it every time we meet with Him over the pages of His unfolded Word, the Bible. Reading it is eating. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). You need this Word more than you need your next meal (an appropriate reminder at this hour, no doubt!). By this word you live! It is your pasture. How do you find it? You can’t. Unless you enter into this door that is Jesus!

Finally, Jesus is the door of opportunity for satisfaction. Mick Jagger gave voice to the unspoken, unsatisfied longing in every human heart – “I can’t get no satisfaction!” You know what that feels like don’t you. You’ve tried, and you’ve tried, and you’ve tried. You’ve looked for it in education, in your work, in money, in possessions, in relationships, in sex, in drugs and alcohol, and on and on. And what has it gotten you? Disappointment, frustration, despair. Those are the things that the thief – Satan, the enemy of your soul -- offers to you. He dangles them out in front of you and says, “Come and do this, try that, it will satisfy you.” Why does he do that? Because he hates you. He has a threefold plan for your life – to steal, to kill and to destroy (v10). And he is good at it. You know he is. He has done it to you, just like he has to me.
Jesus is not like that. He says that He has come for a different purpose. He has come that you may have LIFE, and have it ABUNDANTLY! Now, that is not just a promise of heaven and eternal life. It includes that, but it is more than that. He’s already promised that in verse 9 – if you enter through Him you will be saved. That’s eternal life. But, what kind of offer would it be for you to just have an endless supply of days to fill with the frustration of unsatisfied longings and meaningless pursuits? No thank you. But this offer is more than that. It is not just eternal life that you have to wait until death to experience. It is abundant life that begins the moment you walk through the Door that is Jesus Christ. It is a life in which the deepest longings of your heart are satisfied forevermore in Him. It is a life in which your greatest treasure is something that can never be stolen or taken away, it will never break or wear out, because your greatest treasure is Him! Abundant living is not living with what this world considers abundance. It is a life that can stand to lose everything, because you know that this one thing is something that you can never lose. And what a glorious testimony this abundant life is to the world, when it seems that all has been lost in the wake of suffering and tragedy, and the Christian says, “No, all is not lost. I have not lost my treasure. Christ is my treasure, and He is with me still, and He is enough.” That is a life that most people will never know. This is the life you were meant to live – life in Him that is found as you enter into the door that is Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt 7:13-14). Make sure you are one of those few. Come in through Jesus and be saved. Know the fellowship with God that is found inside that door. Go out  on mission for Him. Find that pasture by which He sustains and nourishes your life. This is abundant living. It is found through Christ, the Door. He is the only Door, and that Door is open to anyone who will enter. Enter in and live!

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