We need to back up a little bit in the Gospel of John to place this teaching in proper context. The Gospel of John follows the pattern of sign, dialogue, then discourse. Jesus will perform a sign or miracle. Then will come a dialogue with some group about what they experienced followed by Jesus’ teaching about what the sign means. This text I read today is part of a discourse that follows a miracle. So, I want to back up to the miracle.
In Chapter 9, the Gospel tells the story of Jesus giving sight to a blind man. It is verses 1 – 12. Let me read that to you.
1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We[a] must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
Following this sign, there is a dialogue between the Pharisees, the blind man, and his parents. The Pharisees are investigating the miracle trying to figure out who did it and what it means that a man could perform such miracles. Jesus had performed the miracle on the Sabbath and the Pharisees couldn’t believe that a man of God performed a miracle on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were stuck in the mud of believing that no man of God would perform miracles on the Sabbath and the man given sight argued that Jesus be from God to perform a miracle like this. They came to an impasse and the man was thrown out of the Temple.
Next begins the discourse. Jesus starts with a short teaching about spiritual blindness before the text about the sheep and the gate. Jesus’ discourse tells about sheep in a sheep fold. He says that anyone who tries to enter the fold by climbing over the wall and not entering through the gate is a thief.
I can’t help but think of the sheep dog and Wiley Coyote cartoons on Looney Tunes when reading this text. In the cartoons, there is no sheep fold. But, Wiley Coyote is a sheep thief trying to steal the sheep. The sheep dog always catches him and saves the sheep returning it safely to pasture.
The sheep are safe in our Biblical text because they know their shepherds voice and won’t be led astray by a stranger. The sheep in the fold are protected by a gatekeeper who lets the sheep in and out for the shepherd. The shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures.
This text can get a little confusing because there are all kinds of metaphors being used. There is a shepherd of the sheep who is allowed in the sheepfold by the gatekeeper, but Jesus hasn’t yet said that He is the Shepherd. Instead, Jesus says He is the gate. This is one of several “I am” declarations that Jesus makes. You might recall that Jesus says, I am the Bread of Life (6:35), I am the Light of the world (8:12, 9:5), I am the Good Shepherd (10:11), I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25), I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6), and I am the Vine (15:1). These I am sayings are unique to the Gospel of John and in them Jesus tries to explain who He is to the Disciples.
We often think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. There are a lot of hymns to choose from for a day when we talk about sheep and Jesus and a shepherd. But, there are no hymns about Jesus as the gate. It is pretty easy to understand Jesus as the shepherd that leads the sheep in and out of the fold and guides them to safe pastures.
Jesus, upon His arrest, was remembered to have said something significant. Jesus had said to God that He had not lost a single one that had been given to Him. He had fulfilled His job as the gate keeping all the sheep that had been given to Him to keep in the fold. These words at His arrest lead me to another metaphor in this text. It is so rich with metaphor and meaning.
Another metaphor Jesus uses is that of a thief. He says two things about a thief in this text. He says that whoever tries to enter the fold by climbing over the wall is a thief. Jesus also says that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, that is the thief comes to steal sheep, kill the sheep and destroy the fold.
There is only one time that a thief is mentioned in the Gospels that refers to a specific person. In chapter 12 of the Gospel of John, Judas is name a thief because he was stealing from the common purse used to fund Jesus’ ministry and care for the poor. And, every mention of Judas in the Gospel of John mentions that Judas was the one who would betray Jesus. Judas was the thief and he destroyed Jesus’ ministry and was a pawn in the plot to kill Jesus. So, it is true, Judas, the thief came to steal, kill, and destroy. But, Jesus has a final word about thief. Jesus says the thief may have ill intentions, but He has come that the sheep may have life and have it abundantly.
We are tempted to think of this text in terms of eternal life. That the sheep fold are for those who believe. That only those who are saved may enter the sheep fold. And, that there is only one proper way to enter the fold. It is easy to say that this is all about eternal salvation for those who believe in Jesus Christ. But, I think it is more than just eternal salvation. I have been preaching lately, and for that matter I often preach about, the salvation of here and now. Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. He wouldn’t have much to say if He was only talking about eternal salvation, but He has plenty to say about life.
His signs and miracles are about salvation in this life. Let’s go back to the story of the man born blind, because this text is a discourse about that miracle. Jesus offered the man salvation when He gave him sight. For the man born blind, his salvation was sight. He could get a job and he wouldn’t have to beg any longer. If he wasn’t begging anymore, he would have a different station in life. He could make friends and live a different life than that of an outcast beggar. The gift of sight is the type of salvation and abundantly living Jesus came to give us.
If you’ve received an email from me, you might have noticed that after my signature lines there is a line that says, “Live Abundantly – John 10:10b.” That one phrase, have life abundantly, is my favorite favorite verse from Scripture. I have lots that I like, but have life abundantly is my favorite. I take it as a commandment. If Jesus came to give me life abundantly, I should live life abundantly.
Abundant living is different to everyone. To the blind man it was a new life with sight. To some it is being a mother or father. For some it is love. It may be giving to others or serving others. Abundant living is about being the best person you can be and living up to the full potential God has given you. It is about completely living as God intended and fulfilling the plans He has for you.
Abundant living often involves resurrection. Sometimes life is painful and disappointing. Sometimes we face trials. Sometimes we lose someone or something dear to us. But, there is always resurrection, because God does want us to be happy. God gifts us with new possibilities everyday so that we can enjoy this life. There are always blessings to count and thanks to give. God invites us to live abundantly in all the ways He offers us, because that is what Jesus came to give us, abundant life.