“Therefore Jesus said again, ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep’” (John 10:7). Although he has given up his life as the Good Shepherd for all people and has redeemed them from the power of the hellish wolf, nevertheless, we are to understand that by “his sheep” are meant only such people who are converted to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls (1 Peter 1:25). This he designated with the words, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). And on that great Day of Judgment he will lead them into life eternal at his right hand as his sheep and the blessed of his Father. His flock also included his believing disciples, the Jews who believed in him and followed him. He says, “I have other sheep who are not of this stall, and I must lead them to me, and they will hear my voice, and it will be one flock and one Shepherd.” All believing Christians in the world are the sheep of his flock, members of his Church, members of his body; he dwells in their hearts. Through his Spirit he rules over and leads them to heaven.
He is the door to the communion of these pardoned and blessed people. With this he shows how a person is saved. For becoming an upright member of his Church and a sheep of his flock is nothing other than finding grace before God, attaining the forgiveness of sins, and becoming an heir of eternal life; just as he says about his sheep: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). The door is the entrance of a dwelling. He is the door to his kingdom of grace here on earth and therefore also the door to the kingdom of glory in Heaven.
Through sin, however, the door to the Kingdom of Heaven had been closed. When man ate from the forbidden tree, the Lord drove them out of Paradise and stationed a cherub in front of the Garden with a drawn, lashing sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24). Your vices separate yourself and your God from one another (Isaiah 59:2). He is not a God who delights in godless ways. He who is evil does not remain before him (Psalm 5:5).
How now does man, a sinner, return to the blessed communion of God and become his child again? That is the important question on whose answer every human ought to have given serious thought. All religions answer this question. All false religions teach people to trust in their own doing, to make amends for their own sins, and to earn for themselves the grace of God and salvation with their works. They also divide the people into two heaps, the blasphemous and the honorable. Into the first pile they count the tax collectors and sinners, who have fallen into gross sin. Into the other pile they add such as those who conduct themselves honorably before man. The former they banish to hell after death, to the latter they promise the joys of heaven as payment for their propriety. They do not know or consider that a person is from birth a sinner and child or wrath (Eph 2:3). In their ignorance they indeed also appeal to God’s Law, which announces condemnation to the transgressors and promises life to those who keep it. But they don’t consider that this promise1 is in no way valid for those who accomplish a plain outward obedience, but is rather only for those who fulfill the law perfectly and have absolutely no sin. They don’t understand that man, a born sinner whose nature is corrupt, cannot keep the law at all. The apostle writes, “We know that a man is not justified by observing the law” (Galatians 2:16).
The Lord Jesus Christ calls such blind leaders thieves and murderers, because they deceive souls with their false teaching about the salvation which he has won for them with his perfect obedience. These same ones, and all that they have, plunge into eternal death.
The Lord Christ witnesses emphatically, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” Only through him can the fallen person return to the blessed fellowship and the children of God. For this reason pastors2 are to establish themselves on Christ. This is important because they are the ones who point souls to Christ as the basis of their salvation and who, through the pure proclamation of the gospel, help souls to recognize him properly and to receive3 him as their Savior, to place their hope in his judgment and to enter heaven. That is the unanimous witness of all the prophets and apostles. Peter testified in the house of Cornelius, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). He testified to the chief priests and elders of Israel, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul writes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:22-26).
Jesus is the gate for the sheep because he has thrown open the door to heaven by accomplishing perfect satisfaction and has reconciled us with God. Only for Christ’s sake is God gracious to sinners. Only for Christ’s sake does he forgive the sinner his sins and accept him as a child through faith.
Jesus says, “I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved.” This entrance through Christ is an event which the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the person. When a person recognizes with terror from the law that he is a sinner; has sinned seriously and frequently against Gods commands; has earned God’s scorn and disfavor, temporal death and eternal condemnation by his sins; and that no creature, not even he himself, can bring about his rescue; and when the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ works faith in his crushed and troubled heart, and the Spirit gives him faith in this message, then he can now supplicate, “God be gracious to me, a sinner, and forgive me my sins for Christ’s sake, who has indeed died even for me and poured out his blood for me for the forgiveness of sins.” The sinner is also comforted by the Grace of God revealed in the gospel and in Christ. The sinner hopes, through Christ, to be saved. Through Jesus this very sinner enters into God’s kingdom, receives forgiveness of sins, and is converted to the shepherd and bishop of his soul. And as a righteous member of the church of Christ he belongs to the sheep of Jesus. He finds pasture, has life and full satisfaction and will enter eternal life with the elect. For Christ testifies, “If anyone enters through me, he will be saved.”
- 1. Refers to the promise of eternal life for those who fulfill the law, not the Gospel promise of eternal life.
- 2. Unterhirten means literally “under-shepherds.” I have taken the liberty of using a term that might fit our idiom and modern situation.
- 3. Naturally, this “receiving” is the reception of Christ made by our Sprit-worked faith.