The Shepherd. The Gate.
Just this past week, I spent some time in the New Testament of John, chapter 10. It is in this chapter that Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep … I am the good shepherd … Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep … I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me” (John 10:7b, 9-11, 14 NLT)
The Shepherd. The Gate. If you are versed in the Bible then no doubt you’ve seen images of Jesus standing near a gate whilst holding a shepherd’s crook. These images of Christ caring for the sheep usually invoke feelings of tenderness, love, and security for Christians. Based upon Bible stories, we can easily romanticize being a shepherd, tending the sheep while they graze in the serenity of rolling hills of sweet grass. We can picture the young David as a shepherd writing Psalms, setting them to music on his lyre, singing his poetic praises out loud while his sheep listen in the open fields.
Yet, do we know some of what is entailed in caring for sheep? It’s work, in fact, it’s hard work. Even today, with all the advances available to modern shepherds, or ranchers (as some like to be called), it’s still hard, hard work. “I find great pride in doing the ancient work of caring for sheep, the humble work of caring for the sick, ensuring the health of each individual, providing feed and shelter and protecting the safety and health of the flock. Shepherding requires more hands-on work than most livestock farming … Shepherds, like the sheep themselves, learn quickly that the path to success depends on tending to the flock but caring for the individual. Providing clean water, ample forage and shelter to an entire flock is essential to maintaining the health of the flock. But the success of a shepherd or shepherdess is in the compassion they have for each individual.” 10 Things I’ve Learned From Lambs. By Craig Rogers on December 9, 2013 (https://modernfarmer.com/2013/12/10-things-learned-lambs/)
At the time when Jesus was born, shepherds were of lowly status. “Dr. Joachim Jeremias says shepherds were “despised in everyday life.” In general, they were considered second-class and untrustworthy.” (https://www.epm.org/resources/2008/Mar/11/shepherds-status/) Yet, it was to these lowly shepherds that the first announcement of the birth of our Savior is made. The shepherds were often out tending their flocks in the fields for days on end, and guarding them at night. It was tiring work. Those who owned their own flocks had a more vested interest in tending, caring, and protecting their sheep. We learn of some of the dangers involved when David says “But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears,” (1 Samuel 17:34-36a, NLT) Sheep tending back then sounds rather noble, rather dangerous, and rather unforgiving all at the same time. Not too romantic at all.
That gives us a visual in our minds eye about daytime care. But how about nighttime care? In the evenings, and overnight, often sheep were herded into “sheepfolds,” which could be pens, walled off areas, or even caves. The intent was to provide a safe area for the sheep from thieves, wild animals, and perhaps even the weather. If there was no gate to the sheepfold area then the shepherd would often sleep across the opening thereby establishing protection for his sheep. The shepherd then effectively became the “gate” between the sheep and the outside world. At times the shepherd faced mortal danger to protect his sheep.
So, Jesus said that He is the Good Shepherd, He is the gate. I now have a better image. And that image is not all the piece and serenity that I originally pictured. It’s not all grazing on lush, tender, green grass while a gentle breeze stirs across the rolling fields. It’s not always a cushy, protected, totally safe area in which to bed down after a long day. It’s more like life, real life. It’s good days, it’s bad days. It’s time to frolic and be happy, it’s times of insecurity and danger.
Yes, Jesus is the gate, the good shepherd. And, we usually think about Jesus being the gate to everlasting life with the Father. He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NLT) There’s an image of Jesus as the gate. He knows His flock, it’s His flock, and His flock only, that proceeds through the gate. He offered up His very lifeblood so that we who believe, are worthy enough to be in the presence of the Father.
However, it’s a new image of Jesus that sticks in my mind. I now picture Jesus standing, and sleeping across the opening of the sheepfold. He’s there at all times, loving, caring for, and protecting me. He’s blocking the gate, the opening between us and Satan. The enemy may parade around, attack away, look for vulnerabilities, but no matter what the enemy does to us Christians, Jesus is always there. He’s protecting us in the spiritual realm, in ways that we cannot see, or perhaps even understand. Satan can wield whatever he wants, Jesus will protect me. It may not be the physical protection that David provided to his sheep against the attacks of lions and bears, but it’s in the assurance that nothing that Satan throws at us will ever take us away from God. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28 NLT) “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (Romans 8:31-32 NLT) “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38 NLT)
That’s some new powerful imagery for me. How about you? Have you ever thought about Jesus in the manner of standing at the opening to the sheepfold, thwarting the advances of the adversary?