The Gospel Truth (John 10:1-10)
Rev. David French

The gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent relates the story of a blind man who received his sight from Jesus. You may recall that this sign caused a great deal of controversy because Jesus gave sight to this man on the Sabbath. Some of the religious leaders felt that this violated the regulations against working on the Sabbath. These leaders interrogated the man who had been blind and eventually ejected him from the synagogue. At the end of that reading, Jesus declared that while the Pharisees could see with their physical eyes, they were spiritually blind.

Today, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear what happened next. Jesus continued teaching. Among His listeners were the man who had been blind, those Pharisees, His disciples, and others. Jesus told them some very basic earthly truths that have a heavenly meaning. There is not really a story involved, so we can't quite call it a parable. Instead, we call it a figure of speech. Jesus made some fairly obvious observations about sheep, shepherds, thieves, and robbers. Then He applied these earthly observations to our spiritual condition.

From an earthly perspective, Jesus’ remarks about the sheepfold are pretty much just plain common sense. People who enter the sheepfold by climbing over the wall are up to no good. People who have legitimate business in the sheepfold enter through the door. The question is, “What was Jesus' meaning from a heavenly viewpoint?” Who do the sheep represent? Who do the thieves and robbers represent, and who are the shepherds?

Some of the sheep were among those who listened to Jesus on that day - the man who had been blind, Jesus’ disciples, and others. The Pharisees are the thieves and robbers - people who pretend to be part of the church, but, in fact, lead people away from the true church. Of course, Jesus Himself is the shepherd who calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

How is it that the Pharisees are among the company of thieves and robbers who enter the church by illegitimate means? The Pharisees taught a salvation that came from obedience to the Law of Moses. Their teaching is one example of the many religions of the world that all have that one fatal flaw. 

Ultimately, all false religions look for salvation within the individual. Many, like the Pharisees, have a code of ethics that a person must follow in order to obtain salvation - the Law of Moses for the Jews, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Book of Mormon, and many others. Others look for salvation through their own inner light, following their heart, letting their conscience be their guide, and so forth. Still others say, “It doesn't really make any difference as long as you pick a good set of moral guidelines and do your best to live by them; everything will work out.” Most of these teachings sound pretty reasonable, but Jesus tells us that they are all thieves and robbers intent on our destruction, which means anyone who asks us to do anything to earn our own salvation is asking us to do the impossible. They are trying to set us up for the fall. They are one of the thieves or robbers who want to steal you away from God and destroy you.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” That is, all true teachers of God’s Word focus on Jesus - the door. We say with Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). False teachers say things like, “Everybody knows that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. Now let's move on to the other teachings of the Bible, the things we do.” They want us to forget that all the teachings contained in the Scriptures have their foundation in who Jesus Christ is and what He did to save us from our sins.

The simplest way to test anyone who wants to teach us about salvation is to ask, “What does this teacher say about Jesus?” Does this teacher enter the sheepfold through Jesus, or does he climb over the wall? Is Jesus true God begotten of the Father from eternity? Is Jesus true man born of the Virgin Mary? Is our salvation free to us because Jesus paid the price for our forgiveness on the cross? Is our resurrection assured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is our salvation from God alone with no contribution on our part? “He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.” 

Jesus offers a different path for our salvation; a path which He has cleared all of the obstacles and paved with His blood. You see, Jesus purchased salvation for us with His holy life, innocent suffering, and sacrificial death. We and all who, by grace through faith, believe are His lambs.

He is the one who calls us by name as the Holy Spirit works faith in us through the Word - when we hear the Word and read it - when we feel the Word as it is combined with the water of baptism - when we taste and smell the Word combined with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, is the One who calls us by name and leads us in the paths of righteousness and life everlasting.

Jesus paid the ultimate price for us. He suffered the wrath of God against each and every one of our sins. Our salvation cost Jesus everything, but it costs us nothing. Jesus gives this precious, precious salvation to us as a free gift.

Since we are His lambs, He leads us on the path of everlasting life. We know this because Jesus rose from the dead. And just as He rose, so also one day God will raise all people from the dead. On that day, all those who believe in Jesus will be united body and soul in the eternal joys of heaven. In that place, false teachers will never again tell us that we must make some kind of contribution to our own salvation. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus warns us against spiritual thieves and robbers. It is bad enough that con artists use sweet words these days to empty the bank accounts of others, but it is far worse when false teachers use sweet words to empty your heavenly account, replacing God’s grace with our worthless human effort. Jesus Christ calls us by name. We know His voice because we listen to Him. We are His sheep, and He is our Good Shepherd. 

In His name, Amen.