3 Things You Won't Believe About This Text
"Clickbait" is a headline or picture on the internet that is designed to tease you into clicking to bring increased traffic to their website. Clickbait is not for your benefit but theirs. The sermon title, 3 Things You Won't Believe About This Text", is clickbait, but it's for you. We think we know all about this popular text, but we don't. And you won't believe what we don't know.
You won't believe whom Jesus is speaking to. This is Jesus' last public speech John records before the Passion, and it's addressed to people you know, in a situation you know but probably don't remember. Jesus' disciples, friends, enemies, and the man born blind whom Jesus healed and was excommunicated because he could see Jesus are all here.
The last exchange with the audience before our text begins is this: "Jesus said to the healed blind man, You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.' Then the man said, Lord, I believe,' and he worshiped Jesus. Jesus said, For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.' Those Pharisees who were with Jesus heard Him say this and asked, What? Are we blind too?' Jesus said, If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.'"
Then with no break in the conversation Jesus says, "I tell you the truth" and begins to sketch the figure of a walled sheep pen, with one gate, a shepherd, and his sheep. That's the first paragraph, and the Holy Spirit Himself tells you this is what Jesus is doing saying, "Jesus used this figure of speech." John doesn't use the word parable' as the other Gospel writers do. He uses this word 3 times. It describes a figure of speech with an especially lofty point (BAG); unlike a parable it's not a story but a pointed illustration (Buls, Exegetical Notes, Gospel, A, 89).
This beautiful illustration which we know as the Good Shepherd was not just said to believers, followers, apostles, but enemies. The same enemies who Jesus said in chapter 8 sought to kill Him; the same one's He said had the devil as their father, the same ones who picked up stones to stone Him. They are among the hearers of this, but get this: No one understood what Jesus was telling them. That's what the Holy Spirit says. Not only didn't His bitter enemies, the ones who wanted Him dead get this, but not His followers, not His apostles, not even the recently converted healed man.
The first thing you won't believe about this text is whom Jesus is speaking to. The second thing is what this text is about. We hear the ending of the first paragraph in our head this way: "They did not understand what Jesus was telling them," but I do. True, we are 2,000 years into the revealed mystery of Who Jesus is and What He came to do, but do you see that this text is about intolerance?
You need to hear the "dun-dun-duun" sound here. Because you know intolerant is the worst thing you can be in 21st century America. All religions are equal; your truth doesn't cancel anyone else's out; you can't criticize anyone for the choices they make whether it's killing an unborn baby, deciding to change gender, or live as husband and wife without being married. It's all potato-potahto; tomahto-tomato. However, the mark of genuine revelation by God is exclusiveness and intolerance (Bultmann (!), Morris, 508). Once the true Way, the only Gate, the One Shepherd is revealed, it's impossible to accept or even tolerate another way, other gates, or other shepherds.
So be intolerant of any shepherd who comes to you apart from the gate Jesus; be intolerant of other voices than that of Jesus; be intolerant of any way to heaven other than Jesus, other than His keeping of the law in your place; other than His paying for your breaking of those laws. Be intolerant of those who speak of you doing things for Jesus rather than the Shepherd doing the acting and the sheep doing the receiving. Whoever enters into the sheep pen apart from the Gate Jesus can only be a thief and robber.
Take a breath and hear what Jesus is saying to whom. He's telling the healed man and all who were afraid to confess Jesus because the Pharisees would excommunicate them that the Pharisees are thieves and robbers. And remember we're just months from the crucifixion, and who will be hanging between 2 thieves? Actually, the word thieves' in our text is not the word used there. It's the word translated robber in our text, and who else is identified by John by that same word? Barabbas.
Do you see the irony, the shame, the tragedy unfolding here? Those in our text couldn't but you can. This is Hercules wife being tricked into using poison on him thinking she was giving him a love potion. Or if you prefer an illustration from Scripture: This is Haman dying on the scaffolds he built for Mordecai. Just months before Good Friday Jesus says His enemies are robbers. How they must have hooted and hollered when the crowd chose to save a robber and crucify Jesus! How they must have jeered at the cross as Jesus hung suffering and dying, bleeding and sighing between robbers!
The first thing you won't believe about this text is whom Jesus is speaking to; the second thing is what this text is about; and the third thing you won't believe about this text is who Jesus' words are for. Sure, they are for the healed blind men to know that he sees everything more clearly now. Sure, the apostles are to know that being sent by Jesus as they were means they are not in the category of the thieves and robbers who come of their own accord. Scripture always makes this distinction: false teachers "come." The true ones are always sent (Buls, 90). This is why our Confession of Faith doesn't recognize self-called pastors. No, one decides on their own the Holy Spirit has told him to be a pastor or wants him to be one.
But this text is for more than followers, believers, apostles, and friends of Jesus, it's for His enemies: the thieves and robbers who want to see Him dead, and Jesus knows will eventually succeed. Just like to the very end Jesus calls Judas "friend," just like to the very end Jesus with a look recalls the denying Peter to forgiveness even as he sees his sins in all their horror, just like to the very end He welcomes the dying robber into Paradise, so Jesus at this very end tells His enemies too He is here for them.
I told you the first paragraph is identified as a figure of speech and the Spirit says no one understands it. In the second paragraph Jesus drops the figure. No one is going to go to hell because Jesus didn't speak plainly enough or do enough for their salvation. Both paragraphs are introduced by the words only Jesus ever says, and they mean far more than we think they do. Sometimes Jesus says, "I tell you," sometimes He says, "Truly, I say to you," but when it's all on the line when living, dying, damning, saving is on the line, Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you" as the NASB has it.
The KJV has "Verily, verily". Even the 2011 NIV is better than our 1984 insert. We have a simple, unremarkable, "I tell you the truth." The 2011 has "very truly." Literally, the Greek is "Amen, amen, I say to you." Our Small Catechism takes up this expression in explaining the "Amen" at the end of the Lord's Prayer. "Amen, amen, means, yes, yes, it shall be so.'" A newer translation has, "Amen, amen, means "Yes, yes, it going to come about just like this" (Kolb, 358).
It's all on the line here and Jesus leaves no one out. He's speaking to the most hardened sinners, the most certain unbelievers imaginable, that is leaders of the church, and He says He is there for them. "I am the Gate" Jesus says. That's those freighted word ego eimi which is Jesus' revelation that He is nothing less than the great I Am, Yahweh, Jehovah, revealed in the Old Testament. The time before Jesus said this to them in chapter 8 saying, "Amen, amen before Abraham was born I AM" it moved them to pick up rocks to stone Him. The last time Jesus speaks these words to His enemies is in Gethsemane they flatten them instantly.
But not here. Here they are promise: I am the Gate "whoever enters through Me will be saved." "Whoever" is not big or broad enough. It's not whoever' but all'. "All, as many as" or "all, whoever" is the correct translation. The darkest sinner, the deepest sinner, the most hardened sinner is not excluded. Jesus is the narrow Gate that is wide enough for a person riding a camel piled high with a lifetime of guilt to get through. Jesus is the Gate that is so tiny that the biggest sinner can fit through.
The key is the word "Me." That too is emphatic. The broad gate of good intentions, doing your best, being sincere about what you believe is too narrow to get anyone into heaven. The big teaching that all faiths tolerated rightly by a free society end in salvation is too small. The wide gate that says pet sins can come with you into heaven is too narrow. The tiniest sin you defend, accept, protect is like that little metal thing in your pocket at airport security. "Beep, beep" goes the alarm. Only in this case you're not stopped from boarding a plane, you're stopped from going to heaven.
This is not how it is with Jesus the Gate. All, whoever enter through Him "will be saved." Yes, though as you will sing shortly, you "believe were sinners more than sands upon the ocean shore," you are to believe the next two lines singing them even louder and lustier than the first two. Though your sins are more than anyone can count: Jesus "hast for all a ransom paid, for all a full atonement made."
There is not a commandment anyone could bring up that Jesus hasn't kept fully, completely, to the Nth degree. There's not a law you have broken poking your conscience right now that Jesus didn't fulfil in your place. But what about the payment for my breaking it? No matter if you, an enemy, or the devil himself were to go through the stack of bills you owe for your sins, none of you could find one stamped Past Due. All of them were stamped on Good Friday Paid in Full, and the ink is Jesus' blood.
Clickbait is for chumps like me; this text is for all sinners even you. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday of Easter (20170507); John 10: 1-10