How can Christ be the Shepherd and the gate?

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus (John’s gospel), by rosie moore.

John 10 contains two of Christ’s seven I AM statements in John’s gospel, namely, “I am the gate” and “I am the good Shepherd”. These two claims cannot be separated if we understand the figure of speech that Jesus used to convince the Jews that He was the Messiah, the one and only ‘door’ to God’s salvation. Jesus offers us and his original hearers the only access to safety, security, nourishment and protection. Best of all, he issues an open invitation for each and every one of us to enter his Church, and a promise to those who do. Verse 9 and 11 are key verses:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

But there’s plenty more that Jesus says to put flesh on the bones of these two profound claims, echoed five hundred years before, when God’s people were in captivity in Babylon:

“And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23).

Let’s ask the Lord to show us more of Himself in this amazing teaching that John has recorded for us.

The false shepherd.

It’s interesting that Jesus describes Himself by way of contrast to the false shepherds or ‘hirelings’ of God’s people. The context helps us understand why. This chapter is a continuation of the last, where Jesus had been speaking about the Pharisees, the false shepherds who refused to acknowledge or celebrate His amazing healing of the man born blind.

Jesus did a miracle right before their eyes. But instead of worshipping Christ, the Pharisees willfully suppressed the truth of the man’s obvious healing, shaming and slandering him when he simply offered his honest testimony: “You are this fellow’s disciple!” they mocked, but “we are the disciples of Moses!” (John 9:28)

Ignoring the beautifully clear and logical testimony of the man and his parents (John 9:202530-33), the Pharisees threw the new convert out of the synagogue and hurled insults at him, “You were steeped in sin at birth,” they accused the man, “How dare you lecture us!” (John 9:34). Not only did they deny the evidence that Christ was the Messiah, but they also banished the man from the symbolic dwelling place of God with his people—the synagogue. The Pharisees’ chosen path of spiritual blindness makes more sense in light of Christ’s description of false shepherds in chapter 10.

So what are the marks and motives of the ‘hirelings’ who set themselves up as shepherds of God’s people? Jesus draws us a character sketch,

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber… All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them… 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full….12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (selected verses from John 10:1-13)

They climb in some other way.

The bottom line about every false shepherd in the Old Testament, the early church and even today, is that they don’t enter through the real ‘door’, which is by the blood of Christ and his atoning death on the cross. Instead, they climb into Christ’s Church some other way, and thus, have no love or concern for God’s people. They are not saved themselves, so cannot lead others to salvation.

Perhaps the ‘other way’ into the Church is their great learning or impressive CV; eloquence or giftedness; charisma or a characteristic that the world values highly at that particular time. Some are just bullies who climb over the wall using strongarm tactics. A false shepherd knows how to look right and sound right.

But the end game of the hireling is always to steal, kill and destroy God’s Church. He or she tries to rob lost people of the true way to the Father; to kill the joy and fruitfulness of the Church; to destroy the holiness, peace and gospel zeal of God’s people; to rob God’s people of the potency of God’s word.

In one of his sermons in 1884, Robert Murray M’Cheyne quotes verse 5, “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice,” warning Christians to make no friendship with false shepherds. He reminds us to beware of worldly and covetous ministers, for they will come to destroy. He warns believers to flee from those who the world favours, the ones who flatter and impress, the ones who speak of sin and God’s holiness but do not know it in their own hearts. They are the church leaders who come to rob God of his throne and rob God of our souls. M’Cheyne’s words are worth heeding today.

These are the false shepherds who climb in some other way. But what are the marks of the Good Shepherd, whom Jesus claims to be?

The true shepherd.

Jesus tells us explicitly, “I am the good shepherd,” and then proceeds to give us his credentials:

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice….I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Every time I read this passage, I’m stirred all over again by its beauty! I want to weep when I think of Christ as the access gate and our Shepherd, who died for Jews and Gentiles alike, his lambs that were condemned to die.

He didn’t flee the wolves.

Christ didn’t flee when he saw the wolves— the wolf pack of soldiers and officials who came to arrest Him in the Garden (John 18:12); Caiaphas the high priestly wolf (John 18:14); Pilate the Roman governor (John 18:31); the crowds and chief priests baying for His blood (John 18:15); the soldiers who shredded his clothes (John 19:24). And of course, Jesus faced head-on the rage of the great wolf himself, Satan, known also as the devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8), the dragon who tries to devour the child that “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Revelation 12:1-6).

Christ, the real Shepherd entered in by the door, even though He was the door. He entered by his own blood. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, Christ “went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12).

Reading Christ’s own words in John 10, I’m reminded of how much it cost Him to make us his sheep and bring us into His spiritual tabernacle. Unlike the Pharisees, who banished the formerly blind man from the Temple, Jesus lets us in! He didn’t have to enter into the sheep pen to be our good Shepherd, and I know that I was a particularly motley, lost little stray. But He chose to take our sins upon himself, so that we could access his sheepfold. Christ’s Church is the only place of safety, security and protection. What a privilege to be called one of Christ’s own sheep, known personally by name, and given a new name!

Marks of the good shepherd.

Jesus calls each one of his followers by name, just as He called Zaccheus from a tree; Simon Peter from a fishing boat and the grieving Mary by the empty tomb. Christ knows each of us by name (John 10:3). When we were lost and wayward strays, He called us individually to himself and gave us a new name. He still calls us to follow him and listen to his voice in the Bible.

As the shepherds in Palestine lead their sheep from the front, Jesus goes before us in every way: To the well to drink; to the green pastures of rest and renewal; through the dark valley of the shadow of death. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned” (Isa 43:2).

The true shepherd never abandons his sheep. Our good shepherd will always be with us and will go before us, even if human shepherds fail us.

But the marks of the perfect Shepherd should characterize every human shepherd whom Christ sends to look after his sheep. Pastors, elders, teachers, disciplers, parents—we’re not just hirelings who are paid to do a job. We’ve been appointed as shepherds over Christ’s lambs, tenderly placed in our care.

We answer to the Chief Shepherd for the way we lead, feed and protect His lambs. As good shepherds, we lead with diligence and vigilance; with kindness, constancy and courage, even fearlessness when the wolves are around (1 Peter 5:4). We never abandon the sheep.

Just as Jesus goes before us, so every human shepherd should show people the way to the true gate– the cross of Jesus Christ. We can never grow weary of inviting inside any man, woman or child we find outside of his sheep pen, but let’s never encourage anyone to climb in by some other way.

Promise of the Good Shepherd.

Christ’s promise is that “anyone who enters through me will be saved… He shall go in and out and find pasture…I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

It’s a promise of immediate entry into Christ’s church, along with all the privileges —safety, security, nourishment and peace, forever. There are no passports required to enter this sheepfold, and no sin or human characteristic can bar us from its gate. But it’s useless if we just admire the door or make plans to enter it at some later stage. We must leave everything at the gate and enter in.

The gate is still open, but it won’t stay open forever. One day it will slam shut, “for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:17). The promise of the good Shepherd and the privilege of the sheepfold is for those who enter through the gate now.


Robert Murray M’Cheyne, A Basket of Fragments.

I am the Light of the World


Series: Face to face with Jesus (John’s gospel), by Rosie Moore

There are seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. Last week we looked at the first—“I am the bread of life” from John 6. Today we look at the second “I am” statement. Jesus said,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In this statement, Jesus doesn’t merely point to the light. He points to himself and says that He is the light of life to all those who follow him.

What extraordinary claims Jesus made! Imagine one of our world leaders making statements like this today. Most promise safety, peace and prosperity but I’ve never heard a political or religious leader dare to call him or herself the light of the world! Don’t you wish for a godly ruler who epitomizes truth and holiness? A leader who is good, pure, honest and reliable? A King who leads his followers to flourish, rather than a tyrant who controls his subjects for self interest?

John is particularly fond of this language of light and darkness. First let’s look at the immediate context of Jesus’ claim in John 8:12:

When Jesus made this stunning claim, he was speaking in the part of the temple where the offerings were placed (John 8:20), where candles burned to symbolize the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the desert (Ex 13:2122). It is in this context that Jesus claimed to be the light of the world. Jesus was plainly identifying himself as God’s promised Messiah King. And even more than that, He was claiming to be God himself.

God is light.

The Old Testament is brimming with pictures of God and his Word as light. Here are just some of them:

The pillar of fire represented God’s presence, protection, guidance and faithfulness to his covenant people.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? (Ps 27:1).

“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Ps 56:13)

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

“The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Ps 104:2).

“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart, The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Ps 19:8).

And then, there are the prophesies of Isaiah, likening God’s promised Messiah to light. The gospel writers are in no doubt that these prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus:

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2Matt 4:16).

“I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa 42:6-7Luke 2:32)

This week, let’s pray before we even begin to think through Jesus’s statement, “I am the light of the world:”

Lord, as we sit at your feet to listen to you, give us light to understand your amazing claim. Shine your light in our hearts, so that we can see you for who you are and worship you as the only One who can bring us out of darkness into your wonderful light. Show us your truth and holiness. Teach us how to live as children of the light and to shine as lights in our world. Amen.

Defining light.

It’s tempting to come to Christ’s statement with a whole bunch of esoteric ideas of our own: “I think light is this, or that…”

But John says,

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Light represents what is pure, true and holy about God, while darkness represents what is sinful and evil. Jesus says that we must follow Him if we want to walk in the light. We don’t get to define the light for ourselves. Throughout the Bible, light is associated with two main ideas: God’s Truth and God’s Holiness.

Contrary to postmodern thinking, Truth (with a capital T) is not something we decide for ourselves, nor can we discover it through science, medicine, sociology, politics or any human philosophy. God the Creator is the only source of divine truth, and so, only He can reveal Truth to us. We need his divine revelation to know truth.

Perfect truth.

Although we all desire to be wise, just like our ancient ancestors in the Garden (Gen 3:6), the reality is that we have all turned our backs on God, refusing even to acknowledge Him as Creator or give thanks to Him as Lord. As a result, our human hearts are darkened and foolish (Rom 1:21-23). Paul says that in professing ourselves to be wise, we actually become fools.

Jesus’s claim to be the light of the world stands in stark contrast to our own heart of darkness. Our thought processes, assumptions and logic are dark and hostile to God. By nature, we think in ungodly and crooked ways, so that even the most highly respected intellectuals can be fools. We all need God to shine the light of his gospel into the darkness of our futile thinking.

Only through God’s lens of Truth, revealed to us in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, can we make sense of this world. This includes our understanding of human identity and sin; race and ethnicity; justice and law; gender and sexuality; marriage and family; the gospel and the Church; work and the environment; health and our bodies; and every ethical issue we face. Only Christ and His Word can provide the worldview that we need to see clearly, so that we don’t stumble about in the dark, mimicking our culture, and making things up as we go along.

As CS Lewis famously said,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

We need the revelation of God’s truth to see clearly. But we also need the light of God’s perfect holiness.

Perfect holiness.

No other human being has ever claimed to be perfectly pure and good, yet Jesus stood in front of all these people and pointed to Himself as the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness. After claiming to be the light of the world, He then asked the audacious question that no sane person would ever dare to ask, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:45).

If we are even half honest, we will see that we cannot even look at God and live, because He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:161 John 1:5). But Jesus, the perfect God-man, gives us access to God’s light. He experienced the horrific darkness of sin in our place when He died on the cross and brought God’s truth and holiness down to earth, purifying believers from all our sin. In response, His followers ought to walk in His light and live by His truth (1 John 1:6-7).

That’s why Paul can urge the Philippian church (and 21st century Christians), to “shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:15). We are empowered to display His light and lead others to Him by our lives and conversations. We are like lighthouses guiding people away from the rocks of darkness and destruction. Like fairy lights adorning a dark world (Matt 5:14-16).

The Light of the world.

In his prologue, John introduces Christ as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9)

Jesus’s light is not restricted to a certain group. It is for everyone in the world. But in the next few verses, John reminds us that not everyone will receive Christ. Even his own people who heard him announce, “I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world” would reject Him as the Christ (John 1:10-11).

Whoever follows me…

Jesus’s inclusive invitations are never unconditional or everlasting. Jesus clearly says that we must take a step into the light and follow Him if we want to grasp the light of life. But sinners who don’t turn to Christ and put their trust in him, will not find light anywhere else.

A few chapters later, Christ made an urgent appeal to his hearers in the first century, as He does to us today:

“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” (John 12:35).

Jesus calls you and me to respond in obedience to the light of the gospel that we’ve been shown. None of us knows if we will still have tomorrow to turn to Him as the light of life.

Sometimes it’s not pleasant or comfortable when our life is being exposed by the light of Christ. By nature, we are drawn to darkness like a moth to a flame, even if it means that we don’t know where we are going. It’s easier to stay in the darkness of our own sinfulness and confusion. The truth is that we love the darkness more than the light: The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19).

But isn’t it infinitely better to be exposed now, rather than walk in a state of darkness, not just in this world but for all eternity? There is a consequence to every choice, and there’s a frightening consequence if we persist in rejecting the Light of the world. Light and life always go together. But so do darkness and death.

When we follow Christ, we step into the light of repentance, forgiveness and freedom. Listen to how John describes this wonderful light of repentance:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness….if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world…” (1 John 1:8-92:1-2)

Living in the light.

The apostle John has reminded us today that it is only in Christ that humanity will find the true Light of the world. Satan and his henchmen will continue to masquerade as angels of light, cunningly crafting noble lies and shining false lights for the world to follow, just as they’ve done since Genesis 3. But as Christians, we are called to follow Christ alone, who has revealed Himself through the pages of Scripture.

Walking in the light means being people of truth and holiness. It means refusing to live by lies, but instead placing all things under the scrutiny of God’s Word, our source of truth. Living in the light means rejecting false narratives, false assumptions and false emotions, exposing fake ‘lights’ and replacing them with the truth. It means living in the purity and holiness of Christ, in love and fellowship with other believers (1 John 2:10). And when we sin, it means that we don’t conceal our sin, but confess it to the Lord. The light is not just a decoration, but needs to be switched on by Christ’s followers.

As people of light, we must not rely on books, articles, preachers, social media platforms and so-called experts to find truth on issues we face. It’s good to read widely, but we must turn to Christ and His inerrant, sufficient Word to shed truth on every issue, to convict our conscience and equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).

No matter how dark and confused our world is right now, when we turn to Christ and His Word day-by-day, God’s light invades our thinking and opens our eyes of understanding. We will never be lost or wander in futile circles if we know who we are, how much we’ve been forgiven, and where we are going. Jesus Christ is the world’s only light, in this life and the next.

John’s final words about light in the new world were written down in the book of Revelation. What a wonderful picture of the Lamb as its lamp, with darkness and deceit banished forever!