To whom do we listen?
(John 10:1-10 / May 3, 2020)
Are you sick of the news yet? That is a question we could ask any day of the year, but perhaps especially during this time of COVID-19. I don’t watch a lot of news on TV, but I do read my share of it in the newspapers and on the internet. Is it just me or does it seem that every story is about the Coronavirus and what we should or should not do as a result of it?
I understand why it is garnering so much attention. But it is amazing to me how so many experts can speak on the subject and come to quite different conclusions.
And as I ponder on these things (as I tend to do), the thought enters my mind, “You know, I bet this is what people think of when it comes to religion and church.” How do you even know who to listen to? You have all these denominations. You have all these experts. And they all seem to arrive at quite different conclusions. So, how does one know to whom he or she should listen?
Well, you see how timely and relevant the Bible always is. Anyone who says the Bible is irrelevant has never read the Bible, or at the very least, has not understood what they’ve read. Jesus, in his Good Shepherd discourse, addresses this most relevant question: when it comes to our beliefs, to whom should we listen?
In Jesus’ day the answer was: “To the religious leaders, i.e., the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law”. In Martin Luther’s day, the answer was essentially the same: “You listen to the experts”, which at that time were the bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church.
So, what about today? When it comes to what we believe about God, are we just supposed to listen to our pastors? And if so, which ones? For you realize that there are many different pastors out there, and they are not all saying the same thing.
Jesus’ answer in John 10 is straight forward. “We are to listen to The Pastor, that is, Jesus himself. He is the Good Shepherd and his sheep listen to his voice. Indeed, that is how one can tell a sheep that is part of Jesus’ flock from one that is not part of his flock. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice” (John 10:27).
Now, keep in mind that the title “pastor” is Latin for “shepherd”. The reason we call church leaders pastors is because of the shepherd-sheep relationship that pervades the Bible. Of all the pictures that God uses to help us understand the nature of our relationship with him, the picture of a shepherd (a pastor) looking after his sheep is by far the most prominent.
And Jesus is the Good Shepherd. All other shepherds are merely “undershepherds”. Undershepherds because they are under the authority and teaching of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus.
So, understand that there is a hierarchy within the church of God, but it is not between men. It is between God and men. There is the Chief Shepherd, and there are under shepherds (pastors and teachers). The undershepherd is just a servant. He does not speak on his own. He has no authority to rule on his own. He simply communicates the words, desires, and promises of the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
So, there is the Good Shepherd, and there are good undershepherds. In the same way that there is the Good Shepherd, and there are bad undershepherds. Jesus refers to the bad undershepherds as “thieves and robbers” (v. 1). He says that the true sheep of God will recognize them as “strangers” and run away from them. Which is why the Pharisees became so incensed with Jesus, because they knew he was talking about them.
It will help to read John chapter 9 before you read John chapter 10. In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a man born blind. The Pharisees refuse to accept the man’s testimony that Jesus is the one who healed him. They reason that if he did heal him, he must have done it by the power of the devil, and therefore no one should follow him. Anyone who does is to be expelled from the temple. And so, they expel the man whom Jesus had healed.
Were they right to do so? Was Jesus really a “sinner” as the Pharisees had labeled him? You see, if you were an average Jew living in Jesus’ day, you would have had to address this question because there were so many who were saying one thing about Jesus while at the same time, so many who were saying something else. So, “to whom should we listen? “I do believe in God,” the average Jew would have confessed, “but how do I know which teacher to follow?”
Jesus says, “The way you can recognize a true shepherd (and therefore the one you should listen to), is from the way he gains access to the sheep. It is from the way he engages with the sheep and brings them in and out of the sheep pen, that is, the community of God. He uses the gate.”
Now, I don’t know what picture appears in your mind when you think of a sheep pen, but in ancient Israel the sheep pen was a walled, circular area, and there was only one way in—through the gate. The true shepherd obviously had free access in and out of the gate. The watchman would let him in because he knew that he was the real shepherd, and the flock was his to tend. The sheep, themselves, knew him as the true shepherd because they recognized his voice, and so when he called them, they followed him.
Now, think of a stranger. He doesn’t go through the gate to access the flock because he knows that the watchman won’t let him in. He’s not the true shepherd. So, he has to sneak his way in. He has to climb over the wall if he is going to have access to the sheep. Which means that he’s up to no good. That is why Jesus refers to the false shepherd as a thief and a robber. They are not his sheep, and the fact that he has to climb in by some other way is proof that he is up to no good. So, which shepherd goes through the gate? That is how you will know! And that is whom you, me, and all of God’s sheep should follow.
So, the gate is the litmus test. The gate is what determines who is a true shepherd of God (a good pastor), but it also determines who is a true sheep (a Christian). In both cases, the true sheep and shepherd are recognized by their use of the gate.
Here is the main point: Jesus says, “I am the gate” (v. 9). Did you catch that? He says, “I AM the gate.” I think it was five Sundays ago when we studied John chapter 11 with the raising of Lazarus. At that event Jesus declared to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). We said that Jesus purposefully used the phrase “I AM” to equate himself with God for that is the name God gave to Moses in the burning bush.
We also said that John includes in his Gospel the seven “I AM” statements that Jesus made, for his purpose in writing was to show that Jesus is, indeed, true God. He is God incarnate. And here Jesus says, “I am the gate.”
There is only one entrance into the kingdom of God, into God’s fold, if you will. It is through Jesus. If we are ever going to be numbered among the God’s sheep in heaven, it can only be through Jesus. For Jesus is the Messiah sent from heaven who takes away the sin of the world.
You can’t enter into heaven if you’re dirty with sin. In the same way, you can’t enter a royal banquet with dirty clothes. You must be clean. Jesus is the one who cleans us with his blood. When we pass through the gate that is Jesus, he forgives all our sins, and God remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
Which is precisely what the Pharisees rejected. They rejected that Jesus was the Savior. And it is likewise what so many false shepherds/false pastors reject today. They say that salvation is a result of what you do rather than being the product of what Jesus has done. They say that there are many ways to heaven. They say there are many gates that give entrance to God’s sheep pen.
Except that’s not what Jesus says here. He says, “I am the gate for the sheep” (v. 7). Notice the exclusivity of that statement. There is only one gate. On another occasion Jesus taught, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). So, enter it, Jesus says. “Enter through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13).
How? Through faith. When we believe that Jesus is the only access point into the kingdom of God, the gate opens, and we are able to walk right in. And, if by God’s grace, we come into contact with a pastor, that is, a human shepherd, who also teaches that Jesus is the only access point into the kingdom of God, we want to listen to him. For we recognize that his voice sounds awfully similar to the voice of the Good Shepherd Jesus. And Christ’s sheep listen to his voice.
Which brings us full circle to what we learned last Sunday (and with this I close).
On the road to Emmaus Jesus chided his disciples for being slow of heart to believe and know all that was said about him in the Holy Scriptures. No one can learn your Bible for you. You are responsible for your own learning, and if you are a parent, you are responsible for that of your children. The voice of Jesus in the Scriptures is crystal clear. If you say, “But to whom should I listen when it comes to the things of God?” The answer is Jesus. If you know what Jesus says in his Word, it will be very easy to know which human pastors (undershepherds) to follow. You won’t have confusion. Rather, there will be an abundance of pasture for your soul to graze on. And you will enjoy life in its fullest expression, not only as a member of God’s flock here on earth, but ultimately in the eternal pastures of heaven. Amen.