They Did Not Understand John 10:6

A sermon with the St. Paul’s Anglican Congregation, Kingston, Ontario, April 17, 2005

by Robert Brow (

"Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them" (John 10:6).

A FIGURE OF SPEECH In his teaching Jesus used many parables and metaphors, and often the disciples could not see the point of what he saying. In this case he used a "figure of speech" or metaphor about shepherding. We need a whole group of such pictures to fill out for us what faith is, and at first sight some of them seem to be contradictory. He is both King and Servant, a Lion and a Little Child, Rock and tender Plant, Shepherd and Lamb.

As we read the Gospel for today  I invite you to notice three words which are very important for us as Christians: THE GATE, THE THIEVES, THE SHEEP.

Read John 10:1-10

THE GATE Whenever Jesus’ hearers took a short walk outside their city they could see shepherds bringing sheep in for the night. They knew all about the gate that guarded every shepherd’s sheepfold. "The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep" (10:2).

But the disciples wondered what did this have to do with Jesus, their teacher? What did he mean by saying . "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved (safe), and will come in and go out and find pasture" (10:9).

They should have guessed he was referring back to our favorite psalm where King David had said "The LORD is my shepherd, I will not lack anything" (Psalm 23:1). Jesus was making the astonishing statement that "I am the LORD that King David knew as his shepherd." He was telling them that he has his own flock of sheep. This is not to suggest we have wool on our backs, or are stupid and helpless like those animals. But it does mean that he has a special relationship with people that he knows as his flock.

THE THIEVES Jesus’ hearers also knew that thieves were constantly looking for opportunities to burrow into a sheepfold and grab a lamb for their dinner. "Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate is a thief and a bandit" (10:1). But what did he mean by saying that "All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them" (10:8)? He added that "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly: (10:10).    The disciples should have grasped that this was not about stealing and eating persons but a metaphor for the false teachers who deceive and draw Christians after them. His work as Messiah is to bring people into fulness of life and freedom.

All over North America Buddhist teachers are trying to persuade people to lose all desire and so attain nirvana. Just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day wanted to load people with dozens of impossible rules, so we have legalists whose aim is to bring people into bondage. It is easy to recognize false teachers. They usually demand payment for their teaching. Christian forgiveness is free. As a congregation we voluntarily pay the salary of a preacher to make clear the good news, but nobody, however rich or poor, has to pay to come worship God and hear the good news.

THE SHEEP Who then are the sheep that Jesus was talking about? Anyone is welcome to be part of the Lord’s own flock. Nobody is too bad or too ignorant. But having become part of the Christian flock, we soon learn to recognize the shepherd’s voice. And we know that he has a personal concern for us. "The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (10:3,4). All around us there are other voices that invite us to join them in this or that. We are bombarded with messages from those we work with, from religious teachers, and from television advertising. But as we learn to discern Jesus’ voice among all others, we run to him for help and protection. When a sheep gets a thorn in it's foot, the shepherd will tenderly pull it out. When it is wounded on the head, it is anointed with oil. And the shepherd knows how to take us to the pastures where we will get the food of eternal life.

PSALM 23 Now I want to remind you of Psalm 23. Our Gospel is a commentary on what it means. No wonder it is by far the most quoted and loved piece of poetry in the world. Notice how every verse refers to the personal relationship we have with Jesus the Good Shepherd.

"The LORD is my shepherd, I will not lack anything. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall then dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

Prayer : I suggest you thank Jesus the Good Shepherd for making you part of his flock. And if there is any serious concern in your life, tell him, and let him deal with it in his own way.

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