Today, Christ tells us that He is the Door to the sheepfold, that is, He is the way to enter the Church. Only through His passion, death, and resurrection are we redeemed and made saints of God. Only by the merits of Christ are we counted among His sheep.
But there is also a doorkeeper. Who is that? On this Wednesday after Pentecost, it is natural to think that the doorkeeper is the Holy Spirit. Sure enough, this seems to fit the context. The Spirit opens Christ, the Door, to us. He opens our sinful hearts so that the Word of God may enter in. He opens our minds so that we are able to understand the Scriptures which point to Christ. Without the Spirit doing these things, no man can enter the sheepfold. As Saint Paul said, “No one can call Jesus ‘Lord’ except through the Holy Spirit.”
Of course this does not exclude Baptism, in which the Word works with the water to bring faith, and this only by the Holy Spirit. Nor does it exclude the Lord’s Supper, where the Word and Institution of Christ provide us a Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins.
So the words of Christ about the gatekeeper of the sheepfold certainly seem to fit the Holy Spirit.
Yet, upon reflection, we might also think that the doorkeeper could be pastors. Pastors who shepherd the sheep also open the door. They first of all preach the Law for repentance and good works, although they do not preach it in order to trust in it for salvation. That part is given to the Gospel, which they also preach. Pastors say, “Look, you are sheep. You are not strong and able to save yourselves. Look how you fail to keep God’s commandments! That is why you need this Shepherd and this sheepfold. Come to Christ and be part of the Church by believing in God’s grace given in His Son. Do not be willful, stubborn sheep, but come inside.”
These are the true pastors. They are not illegitimate shepherds, who climb into a congregation without a call, or who try to close the gate on sheep who need to enter. They do not try to make people obey their way into the sheepfold. Nor do they try to make themselves into the Good Shepherd, but only use their office as gatekeeper to lead the sheep to Christ.
So pastors, also, seem to fit the role of doorkeeper for the sheepfold.
Which is it? Is it the Holy Spirit, or is it pastors?
Turns out, this is a distinction without a difference. In other words, the answer is a both / and. This is not to say that pastors ARE the Holy Spirit. You do not have to watch me for very long to tell that I am not holy and perfect God. But the Holy Spirit has closely bound Himself to the Word of God. So the holy ministry, which is the ministry of the Word, always carries with it the Spirit’s work. When the Gospel is preached, or administered, or poured on someone’s head, the Holy Ghost is there.
A false ministry that misuses the Gospel, or that preaches only the Law, can carry no guarantee of the Spirit’s presence. That is why we need to keep our preaching and teaching pure. No doctrines of men here, or else the Spirit’s presence is in doubt.
But because we have the pure doctrine, then we know that here is the gateway to the kingdom of God, which is His sheepfold. Here the Spirit is ready to let lost sheep in through the work of slaves who speak His Word.
But some people may say, “What a stinky sheepfold! Why would I want to go in there?” It is true – sheepfolds stink. That is the way sheep are. The sheepfold appears to be nothing glorious. On the contrary, it often appears repulsive.
On this point, be careful, for two reasons. First, be careful about judging the smelliness of sheep, because you are a sheep as well. Behind most people’s resistance to the sheepfold is self-righteousness. Beware, lest you find yourself judging others. If you pull away from a congregation because you are too good for them, that is an attitude that a pharisee could be proud of.
Secondly, beware because the stench of the sheepfold is only the surface appearance. God has declared these sheep to be His holy children. Be careful that you do not contradict the judgment of God and insult His flock. He is willing to call these His body, the holy Church.
The surface appearance is true if judged externally. We sheep are still sinners. We still do things that a saint of God should not do. Yet saints we are. We are not saints because of our righteousness, but because of the Shepherd.
He became the door by laying down His life. If we insult the status of the sheep, we are actually insulting the death of the Shepherd. He valued these sheep so much that He suffered the worst agony of all for them. He allowed Himself to be nailed to the Cross of Golgotha with the weight of the whole world’s sins upon His shoulders. Yet out of that Cross He has built a doorway to enter the sheepfold.
See the true nature of the sheepfold in the Resurrection of Christ. He laid down His life in shame and humiliation. He looked to all the world like a criminal, an unclean man, even a man cursed by God. Yet He was vindicated when He stepped forth from His tomb. He was revealed by His Resurrection to be the true Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer.
The sheepfold likewise must bear shame and humiliation in this life. We must be treated as the outcasts, the unclean, the haters and fools of this world. Yet we will be vindicated at the Resurrection of all men. The glory that is ours in Christ will be revealed, and the true nature of the sheepfold will be seen. This is no stinking pen for dumb animals. No, this is the everlasting kingdom of the saints of the Most High God.
So do not despair, when it seems that the church is downcast and a failure. Do not let it trouble you when we are treated as the garbage of the world. What we are will be seen. Our Shepherd will reveal Himself one more time and say, “These are mine. I claim them for all eternity.”
Until that great day, the Spirit keep you in faith. Amen.
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