“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” – John 10:1
The chapter preceding the one from which this text is taken tells of the healing of the man born blind. It describes the state of the Pharisees, the Jewish teachers, who neither saw nor understood, but were as blind leaders of the blind.
The chapter containing our text is not a new discourse, but a continuation of that recorded in the preceding chapter.
There are some who say that we can know nothing about heaven or about God, yet these things are what the Scriptures profess to teach. It is because men take counsel of themselves rather than of the Word that they are blind to these truths. The Divine love is always over us; the Divine wisdom teaches us; the Divine power protects us. And this trinity of Divine attributes is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because He alone has the power to save and bless, He says that He is the door of the sheepfold and that those who attempt to climb up some other way are thieves and robbers. To enter the sheepfold by the door is to acknowledge, believe, and love the Lord, and so to follow Him.
Spiritually the sheepfold is heaven. The majority of people today believe in a future life, however vague and uncertain that belief may be. Absolute denial of God and a future life is practically confined to the so-called learned world. Doubtless the great majority of people would like to enter heaven, of which the sheepfold of our parable is the symbol. Indeed everyone is seeking what he thinks to be heaven, and to the extent that he thinks at all about the future life, he looks forward to life in heaven. And that the way to heaven may be made plain our Lord declares that He is the true Shepherd and that if we hear His voice and follow Him, He will surely lead us into life eternal.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
“All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
The thieves and robbers are they who seek heaven without looking to the Lord. They are they who attempt to climb up into heaven by their own strength, and seek to gain entrance in their own name, who try to take from the Lord what is His and claim it for themselves. For example, some ask, “Why should we shun evils as sins against God? Why is it not sufficient to shun evil as evil?” But evil may so be shunned merely as hurtful to our own reputation or success; this is shunning evil from a principle of self-love, not from love to the neighbor.
In the fifteenth Psalm we read, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour… He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent.” He who does good for what he can get out of it is here likened to one lending money for the interest it brings. And again, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Anyone may shun an evil for a sufficiently great external reward. But this is not shunning evil from a belief in God as the revealer of the laws of right and wrong. And indeed such shunning of evil is an ignoring of sin altogether, and in the last analysis the denial of the existence of God apart from man, for such people in looking to the dictates of self-interest for the truth look to a power within man rather than to a power outside of man for guidance.
Again, some seek to enter heaven by first seeking the things of this world. They condition happiness on the possession of material things, perhaps saying within themselves, “When I am prosperous, I will do good with my possessions, but until I have plenty, I can do nothing.” And sometimes benefactions are even used as an excuse for illegitimate practices in securing the means. This is an attempt to enter heaven by some other way.
Someone has well said, “If you would have companionship with the wise, become wise and you will obtain it; if you wish the association of the noble, become noble and you will have it.” This law holds of heavenly life. If one wishes the association of angels, he must become heavenly in character. Riches or poverty, accidents of birth or fortune make no difference. We are what our characters really are. And our character is determined by our philosophy of life.
Why shun evils as sins against God?
“He that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.”
He is an hireling whose only interest in labor is in its profit to himself. His object in life is not the uses he performs in society, but what he can do with his earnings. The hireling does not lay down his life for the sheep. Self with him is always first. He has neither the motive nor the power to stand against actual temptation. When the lusts of evil and falsity break forth like the evening wolf, seeking to devour, there is no real affection for goodness, and no adequate resistance can be offered.
But there is another lesson in our text: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” Those who follow the Lord are likened to sheep whose shepherd is the Lord. That the Lord knows the hearts of all is many times stated in Scripture, but here it is stated that those who follow the Lord know Him. This is the distinguishing truth of the Christian religion – that the Person of God is revealed in Christ. We shall always find that those who do not know and acknowledge God in Jesus Christ have no definite conception of God. They know not whom they worship. And as worship cannot long endure if there is no definite concept of God in the mind, it is written: “No man cometh unto the Father except by me.”
In the days of Apostolic Christianity the disciples followed the Lord from personal devotion and recognition of the quality of His love. And they obeyed Him more or less blindly. This was to be expected in the childhood of Christianity. They knew that the Lord was the Messiah, Jehovah Incarnate, but they did not fully understand. Today the world has passed out of the period of spiritual childhood, and has become more mature, capable of independent thought about spiritual things… This is a new age. A new revelation has been given. Now we are permitted to enter intellectually into the truths of faith. This is not given to all. There are still those to whom the Lord, though in their hearts they recognize Him as the one God, still intellectually remains a mystery. “Though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in him. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” To the hearts of many today the Lord is speaking as the one God, yet to their understanding He does not appear clearly. It cannot be always so. The cry, “Shew us the Father and it sufficeth us,” must be answered, and in the words of the Savior Himself: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” But the heart must be prepared first. Men will not find God by looking inside themselves. The answer to the cry, “Show us the Father,” has been given. The new revelation opens the Word to the understanding. The revelation of today supplements the belief of the heart with an answering intellectual response and confirmation, and brings it from the realm of mystery down to human comprehension.
To some at least in these latter days the merest glimpse of the truth of Jesus as the one and only God has been attended by wondrous joy, a joy too deep for words. It banishes all the dark fears of God and of the future life with the assurance, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” and “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” Jesus ascended and glorified is our Savior, our Lover, our ever-present help. In Him the great mystery of God, and with it the mystery of life is finished. So in the Apocalypse John writes of the mighty angel who appeared before him with a book in his hand:
“And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,
“And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:
“But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.”
While there is no end of minor mysteries remaining, the great, deep mystery of God is finished: “I know my sheep, and am known of mine.”
We have our work to do before we can realize this in our lives. As He overcame the powers of darkness, so must we overcome, by shunning all that He tells us is evil, not merely as hurtful to our prosperity, but as a sin against His truth, or better still against His spirit of perfect love. Everyone who reads the Word reads the words of the Master. We see the Lord in the Word. But if He is not our shepherd, if we do not humble our hearts as little children to learn of Him, it may come to be said of us, “When we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men.”
If we are to be the Master’s servants, we must partake of His spirit. If we cannot accept the Lord’s words, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” it is because Jesus Christ is not what we think the Father ought to be, because we admire other qualities – force, ability to get along in the world, power to make others serve us – more than those which Jesus showed forth, because we refuse to regard as the greatest virtues innocence, humility, and the love of serving, and to strive for them in our own lives.
“I am the door.”
“He that entereth not by the door… but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”