LENT 2023 - Jesus Said: I Am The Door of the Sheep
Wednesday March 1, 2023
A sheepfold. A door. A thief. A gatekeeper. A shepherd.
Jesus definitely had a fascinating capacity to capture the attention of his listeners.
Because He spoke to them of things and people they knew and understood. And yet He spoke of them in analogies and figures of speech that had them wondering, questioning, intrigued...
"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…
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."
The ancient culture of shepherding may have been well-understood by the Jews in Jesus’ day. But to me, talk of sheepfolds and sheep, gates and gatekeepers is out of my league. So, Mr. Google came to the rescue - and I’ve learned some fascinating facts about shepherding in the ancient Middle East.
“Sheep are totally dependent upon the shepherd who tends them with care and compassion. Shepherds were the providers, guides, protectors and constant companions of sheep. So close was the bond between shepherd and sheep that to this day Middle Eastern shepherds can divide flocks that have mingled at a well or during the night simply by calling their sheep, who know and follow their shepherd’s voice. Shepherds were inseparable from their flocks. The shepherd would lead the sheep to safe places to graze and make them lie down for several hours in a shady place. Then, as night fell, the shepherd would lead the sheep to the protection of a sheepfold.
There were two kinds of sheepfolds or pens. One kind was a public sheepfold found in the cities and villages. It would be large enough to hold several flocks of sheep. This sheep pen would be in the care of a porter or doorkeeper, whose duty it was to guard the door to the sheep pen during the night and to admit the shepherds in the morning. The shepherds would call their sheep, each of which knew its own shepherd’s voice, and would lead them out to pasture.
The second kind of sheep pen was in the countryside, where the shepherds would keep their flocks in good weather. This type of sheep pen was nothing more than a rough circle of rocks piled into a wall with a small open space to enter. Through it the shepherd would drive the sheep at nightfall. Since there was no gate to close—just an opening—the shepherd would keep the sheep in and wild animals out by lying across the opening. He would sleep there, in this case literally becoming the door to the sheep.”
To the Jews in Jesus’ day, shepherding was a familiar scene. They knew all about caring for their sheep in sheepfolds, the constant danger of wild animals and thieves entering and killing their flocks, the need for gatekeepers at the doors making sure that only the shepherds could go in…
The only correct way into a sheepfold was through the door. Thieves and robbers would obviously try to climb in by another way. And their only purpose would be to steal and kill and destroy the sheep.
The shepherd of the sheep on the other hand, would go through the door that the gatekeeper had opened for him. That door was the only legitimate entrance-way into the sheepfold. It was the only opening by which the sheep could be assured that he who was coming through was coming to raise them and care for them well.
And that door was the only opening through which the sheep themselves were to come in and go out from the fold. They were never meant to jump the rock wall enclosure - they were expected to enter and leave by the gate.
And so, Jesus spoke to His listeners of things they knew - and yet, He added depth and spiritual meaning to his metaphors so that they might learn more of Him and of themselves.
God is the great Shepherd; and we, His children, are the sheep. We are totally dependent on Him to care and to provide for us, to guide and protect us, to be our constant and faithful companion.
He watches out for us in guarded and protected sheepfold-like places: where we can be safe from the wild animals and the thieves in this life who only want to steal and kill and destroy us; and where we can find shelter and rest when we are weary.
His Son, Jesus Christ, is the only legitimate door through which He the Shepherd can bring us into the fold for sleeping at night - and then take us out of the fold for pasturing during the day. As in ancient-culture shepherding, when the shepherd would lie down at the sheepfold’s entrance-way and sleep there throughout the night, literally becoming the door to the sheep, so Jesus is both our Shepherd who cares for us and protects us; and as He Himself states, the only door to salvation and abundant life, the only door to companionship with the Father (“… No one comes to the Father except through Me.” —John 14:6)
Dear friend: enter into the sheepfold of God’s love and care and salvation today; enter through the only DOOR who is JESUS; enter, so that you might be free to go out again and find the pasture of abundant life that only He can give you and that you so long to have.