It is amazing the things that one learns when the lens through which we look at Scriptures is no longer the perspective of man, or the regurgitated food of another, but simply the voice of the Holy Spirit within each and everyone of us who choose to follow the Good Shepherd.
I must have read the gospel of John a dozen times and yet today for the very first time I have seen something which I had never seen before. Each word filled with fresh revelation and the power to break strongholds and the religious spirit which is deeply rooted in our generation’s understanding of what The Body of Christ is and how it should serve in this world, a revelation which in previous years I was unable to see, because I could not filter through the impurities of men’s interpretation, men’s desire to control and manipulate, to own one’s freedom which was ransomed by the blood of Christ alone and given freely and unconditionally, one of the main pillars which sustains the Christian faith. Jesus spoke of not wanting to disclose certain truths to his followers because they were not yet ready to hear certain things, not ready to accept the truth. I now see that had I had this revelation years ago, I would have not accepted it as the truth because my paradigm for The Truth was not the voice of Jesus himself, but that of men and their own interpretations.
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
1 “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 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. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 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.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “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.”
There are various darts that pierced right through my spirit as I read these words.
It has always been understood within the institutional church, or at least many of the churches here in the UK, that when Jesus spoke of “The thief” who comes to kill, steal and destroy, he is referring to the devil in this particular passage. When I was an “infant” Christian and I relied on the nurturing of those whom my local church had appointed, accepted and entrusted with my spiritual development, I was taught that “The thief” in that particular passage refers to the devil. Whilst I don’t discount that these three purposes sum up pretty well what the devil is intent on accomplishing on this earth, it is not him whom Jesus refers to in this passage, and Christian leaders today do Jesus’ message a great injustice and disservice when they assume that this is what is being spoken off in this message. Indeed, it is my belief that in assuming it is the devil whom Jesus speaks of in this passage, Church leaders are masquerading their own responsibility to their congregations and to Christians all over the world.
It is my belief that when Jesus spoke of “the thief” in this passage he was not exonerating today’s church shepherds who are in essence its pastors or pastores as we call Shepherds in the Spanish language, from their responsibility to lead the sheep in a manner which honours and is faithful to the example set by Christ himself of how to lead the sheep. In this episode Jesus is not exonerating those called to lead by putting the blame on the devil for those sheep who are attacked by wolves and scattered. No, he is clearly calling to account, to integrity and to the truth, those who have been granted the honour and privilege to follow into Jesus’ steps in leading, protecting, and guiding HIS SHEEP.
I believe Jesus is not only referring to the time during which he speaks these words, but that this is a prophetic utterance giving us a glimpse into the deception which many Christians are part of specially today. Jesus said:
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”
The point Jesus is trying to make is that He is the ONLY way to salvation, to freedom, to grace and to the forgiveness of sins. Many shepherds today contradict and do a great disservice to the concept of grace when they set in place hoops through which their sheep have to jump in order to feel apt, worthy and deserving of being a member of that pen. The loyalty to the human shepherd himself and his vision for his congregation, and not faith in Jesus Christ, become the ultimate test whereby an individual is deemed to be deserving of being a member of Christ’s body, appointing the human shepherd instead of Christ himself as the gate through which the sheep must enter. This is the ultimate and most despicable of idolatries for it comes at the hands of those whom God entrusted with the most honourable of crusades. I equal it to the spy who joins the enemy’s ranks to gain a vantage point over their primary threat, they get up, close and personal pretending to be someone they are not and when they have what they came for, they kill the very ones whom they claimed to want to protect.
Like thieves, false shepherds will often be subtle, cunning and manipulative in their approach to the sheep, but ultimately, the depths of their hearts are revealed when they see “the wolf coming” and they abandon their sheep and run away. One can clearly see in this picture that it is indeed the wolf that represents the devil here and not those whom Jesus referred to as thieves and robbers. The thieves and the robbers are those false shepherds who will put a price on salvation, forgiveness of sins and on grace rendering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross meaningless and worthless.
My spirit also felt greatly stirred as I read: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice”.
Indeed, we see from both the Old and the New Testament that God’s leading of His sheep is always preceded by the warnings of His prophets who pave the way by preparing the heart and spirit of men to receive what it is that God has to say to His people, to the churches. These are often individuals who are set apart for a very understated and often unrecognised and thankless task, but it is that very humility, isolation and the utter death to validation from others required that qualifies them for such a mighty and most worthy task. This is why God’s watchmen will always be taken out, exiled into a different spiritual realm where any pulls of the flesh will be exterminated through the antidote of death to self, persecution and rejection by those whose opinions most matter to them. It is an arduous process, not for the faint-hearted, and only those who obey the voice of the good shepherd to pursue that calling will survive the furnace that transforms hearts of stone into pure gold, a gold which glorifies in nothing of itself but will only serve to reflect in its entirety the glory and goodness of God himself.
I was equally intrigued and stirred by Jesus’s repetition of the fact that he is the gate through which His sheep come into the pen to then be led out again.
“He calls his own sheep 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” John 10, 3-4 and then “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10, 9
Tell me, how many shepherds do you know in today’s Western church who make it their life’s purpose to not only draw the sheep in but more importantly, lead them out into green pasture? For is it not fair to say that many shepherds today only draw the sheep in so that they can call it their own, claim it as a trophy, a reflection of their own wise and efficient leading skills, their closeness to God as they deceive themselves in believing that many sheep means they were anointed by God more than anyone else, in believing that many sheep translates into God’s reward for their good works, and good use of their authority given from above?
There are two clear ways to discern whose ministry honours God’s Good shepherd:
One is to see what a shepherd does once the sheep has come into the pen. The Western Church has come up with all sorts of formulas and enticing ways to draw the sheep in and get them to confess publicly that they believe in Jesus Christ and make a commitment to follow in his footsteps, but one can easily see whether the sheep did indeed come into the pen through the right gate that leads to life, a life to the full or instead through the empty promises and deception of the thieves and robbers who stand to gain something for themselves as they draw the sheep into the pen.
The other way of testing whose shepherding is rooted in following the voice of Jesus Christ is observing whether any given shepherd walks the walk along with the sheep through thick and thin, through green pastures and thorny bushes too. To this day I cannot understand how pastors justify hopping from one pen to the next, casually disentangling themselves from the sheep that have been put under their care, clinically washing their hands off, severing spiritual bonds established by God himself. I find it bewildering that the institutional church has set in stone a system whereby shepherds get promoted like CEOs, whereby shepherds can climb up the success ladder and be relocated to lead bigger numbers which produce bigger dividends. Please someone, put me out of my misery and tell me where in the bible such fallacy came to be justified? And please do not mention the example of the apostle Paul. A bigger salary or a greater reputation and fame were not the incentives that led him from church to church, but his calling to oversee and nurture those put under his care who in turn continued what the Holy Spirit started through him. Nowhere in the New Testament we see a pastor who once he ceases to shepherd a church, all contact, leadership and nurturing of that church is severed to the point were limbs are amputated, sheep scattered and the body is left to gradually bleed to death. This is a common occurrence in the Body of Christ today. Trust me, I have experienced this first hand. The reason why church leaders have come to accept this as the truth, to tolerate such carnage and often be at the forefront of it is because Christ is no longer the gate through which their sheep are called to come through but the tight and controlled hoops they have established to secure their own control over a precious flock they understand to belong to them and not to be owned by Christ alone: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns 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. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” John 10, 11-13 So bold, so blatant. There is nowhere to hide!
There are too many deceitful shepherds out there who sadly are deceiving themselves first and foremost, as they claim to be following the apostle Paul’s model of “being The Church” in this world, when in reality only seek to make a name for themselves and pride themselves in having started a church which has in turn birthed many others. No piece of evidence illustrates this point better than another ongoing fallacy: denominationalism which has been used by the devil to destroy the unity that Jesus called His Church to display which emulates his bond with the Father, and to discredit in this way the love of Jesus in this world through His sheep.