Cyndi and I installed fencing around our new garden to prevent our plants from becoming a breakfast buffet for a local deer herd. Similarly, Asbury Farms is adding fences to protect our hoop houses and crops from vandalism. The great thing about fences is that they protect and provide peace of mind. The problem with fences is that they’re designed to keep things out, which can be a problem, depending on the thing.
Neither Cyndi nor I want to climb over our fence whenever we need to get into our garden. And neither does our farm staff or volunteers. This means installing a gate so those who need to get inside the fence can do so with relative ease.
In antiquity, entire cities surrounded their borders with high walls to protect their residents. It was a common practice to close the gates at night with armed guards standing watch. These walls added protection from invaders but made it inconvenient to travel in and out of the cities. Larger cities, like Jerusalem, had several gates accommodating traffic from all directions.
Sheep were common in the region where Jerusalem is located. But since sheep needed plenty of space with lots of vegetation for grazing, they stayed outside of the city gates until it was time for them to be someone’s supper. Unfortunately, this meant that the city’s walls did not protect sheep from predators.
Shepherds were in charge of caring for herds of sheep outside of the fortified cities. Sheep were susceptible to becoming someone’s meal, whether natural predators or thieves. The danger increased significantly at night. Therefore, shepherds usually called their sheep into a fenced-in area that offered protection while they, and the sheep, slept.
Sheep pens all had one feature in common. A gate the shepherd can open to let her sheep in or out.
Sheep, shepherds, fences, and gates were common during the first century when the stories found in the four gospels took place. So Jesus used these familiar subjects as illustrations.
One day Jesus and His followers noticed a blind man nearby. The man was born blind, yet Jesus restored the man’s sight. And this caused quite a commotion that led to inquiries, investigations, accusations, and fears of expulsion.
As the episode closes, the man learns that Jesus is much more than a healer. But some community leaders who led the earlier investigations and trials overheard the conversation and confronted Jesus. “Surely you don’t mean that we are the ones who are blind?”
It was time for Jesus to explain how sheep, shepherds, fences, and gates fit into visual acuity.
“Sheep know their shepherd’s voice,” Jesus explained. And at night, the shepherd enters the sheep pen through the gate and calls his sheep to safety. Thieves, on the other hand, climb over the fence to get to the sheep. Moreover, a good shepherd defends their sheep. And a really good shepherd is willing to die defending her sheep.
“I am the Good Sheperd,” says Jesus, “who is willing to die for My sheep.” But who are the sheep Jesus is referring to?
I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep
His sheep recognize His voice, and they enter into His presence through the gate.
Then Jesus takes His illustration to another level to get to the crux of the matter. Imagine that Jesus is the gate and that the Kingdom of God lies within the safety of the sheep pen. This means that we, His sheep, enter into the Kingdom through our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Are you with me? Do you understand what I’m saying?
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Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by Angela Hunt. Daughter of Cana. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.
Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John,” The New Interpreters Bible, Vol IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 665-673.