Jesus: The Gate
Jesus made some audacious claims. We have heard Jesus say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” We have heard him say, “I am the light of the world.” This morning we hear him say, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
In Jesus’ day sheep were protected in sheepfolds. This was an area with walls made of stones stacked upon one another. There was no roof or door, just a small opening in one of the walls. There might be thorns along the tops of the walls to protect the sheep from wild animals coming in. The sheep could sleep inside this sheepfold.
There was no constructed gate or door because the shepherd was the gate. He would lie down at night in front of the opening to make sure no sheep got out and that no thieves or wolves got in. In this way he assured the safety of the sheep.
When Jesus said, ‘I am the gate” this was the image he was using. He is the one at the entrance protecting the sheep.
Our Lord contrasted himself with the thieves and robbers. They come to steal, kill and destroy. Who are these thieves and robbers? It may well have been the Pharisees.
Pharisees were the religious fundamentalists of Jesus’ day. They were actually lay people who believed the Scripture must be kept to the dot. They were strict law keepers. Pharisees were not priests because they didn’t think the priests, or anyone else, were religious enough. The Pharisees were biblically serious. They often gave Jesus a hard time.
Being biblically serious is important. We read, study, and live by the Scriptures. But throughout history people have sometimes replaced the living God with his written word. The Bible is how God speaks to us. But at times the Bible has become more important than Jesus himself who is the living word of God.
When Jesus calls these biblical fundamentalists “thieves and robbers” he is accusing them of putting principles ahead of people. They take instead of give. They are more concerned with religion and ritual than the sheep and the needs of the sheep.
Today there are still those who are too strict in their reading of the Bible. They use it to bind people instead of nourishing them for life with God. People become turned off to faith or don’t think they will ever measure up to having a life-giving relationship with God. These people make it too hard for any of us to come to God. They rob people of coming to God.
Or there are religious pluralists who say there are multiple ways to God. Every religion is the same. It’s your choice. They keep people out by not giving them a true understanding of Jesus, his uniqueness and sole standing as Son of God. They have no conviction and water down faith.
The thieves and robbers can be those who are too liberal, replacing Jesus with issues. There are deeply important issues in our day that demand a faithful Christ-like response, but issues come and go. First Jesus, then the issue.
Some steal by making themselves the gate. They become the judges of who is in Jesus’ sheepfold, creating large and often legalistic systems that people have to climb.
And then there are what I would call religious show people. For them Christianity is about putting on a good show. It’s a performance with lights, music, theatrical preaching that tantalizes the senses while missing the soul. We see this today in celebrity pastors or other Christian figures who are more media events than faith leaders. But when the show doesn’t tantalize anymore people walk away because they weren’t connected to Jesus but to the emotional thrill of the show.
These are all in contrast with Jesus. One has a positive effect on the sheep. The other has a negative effect. Jesus provides protection, freedom and pasture because the sheep enter through him. The other bring stealing, death and destruction. “The thief acts for his own selfish ends and to the detriment of the sheep. Jesus, however, serves the sheep by providing for them the way of life, which he will do, we learn in the next section, at the cost of his own life.”
So Jesus speaks of a gate, a gatekeeper, a shepherd and sheep However, we are told in verse six that this figure of speech that Jesus’ used was not understood by people. I sure am glad John tells us this because Jesus does seem to mix different symbols. Who is this gate keeper? Who is this shepherd? What about this gate? Jesus will identify himself as the gate, but later as the shepherd as well.
I confess my reading of these verses was confusing for me as well. I’m glad to know those who first heard Jesus say this were a bit confused, too.
One of the things that convince me of the reliability of the Bible is its honesty and its realism. Here John tells us that people didn’t understand Jesus. Our Lord was not some mythical figure who said things and people were instantaneously raised to some higher level of enlightenment. Sometimes he said things and people didn’t get it. The Bible admits this. It is transparent. Authentic. Honest. It’s real.
If what we have about Jesus was just some creative writing I don’t think we would be told that our Lord was sometimes hard to understand. And sometimes I still find certain places in the Gospels hard to understand.
It’s in verse seven that Jesus explains what he is saying. He clearly says that he is the gate and whoever enters through him will be saved. And through him people will go out and come and find pasture.
In Acts we read, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Let’s go back into the Old Testament for a moment. In the book of Numbers, as Moses is facing the end of his life, he asks the Lord to provide someone to lead the people of Israel. It says,
“Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’”
This is the same language Jesus used. Jesus spoke of going out and coming in, and sheep and shepherd. There are those who care for the sheep, and there are those who don’t. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Moses’s request to God. He goes before us and searches out our path. He walks with us through the ease and times of danger. He shepherds us.
Who are the sheep? That is us. The sheep are those who belong to Christ. Notice Jesus’ emphasis on the sheep hearing the shepherd’s voice. Jesus says the sheep listen to his voice. He says they know his voice. He says they don’t listen to the voice of the thief.
Listen to this first hand account of someone who saw how sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd from a person who witnessed this scene years ago in the holy land:
“Some years ago I was staying the night in some shepherds’ tents in the Jebel Ajlun (Gilead). The tents, to the number of ten or twelve, were pitched in a wide circle enclosing a considerable area. In the evening some six or seven flocks were brought within the camp for protection. In the morning, when the time came for the shepherds to take their charges out to pasture, instead of attempting to separate their respective flocks from the crowd of goats and sheep scattered promiscuously over the enclosed space, each man went a little way beyond the ring of tents, and standing there uttered his special call. Instantly the whole mass of sheep and goats was in motion, and as the shepherds continued to call, the several flocks separated themselves, each streaming out of the camp in the direction of their respective guides, and in five minutes not a goat or sheep remained inside. Looking again shortly afterwards, the various flocks could be seen diverging to all points of the compass, each following its own shepherd.”
Sheep are tuned to the particular and unique voice of their own shepherd.
There are a lot of voices speaking to us these days. Amidst all the voices in our world – political voices, social voices, voices of family and friends – our ears first need to be tuned to Jesus. I shared this last week and I share it again: when I hear some advice or statement that catches my ear and I am wondering if it is right, I ask myself “Does this sound like Jesus? Does it sound like his heart? Does it sound like what I read of him in the Bible?”
That is why it is so important to get to know Jesus. Read Jesus. Worship Jesus. Pray to Jesus. Walk with Jesus. You will begin to identify his voice in your life. You will sense his leading.
Jesus said he came to give life and to give it to the full. Abundantly. He was speaking of a life beyond merely physically breathing and walking. He was speaking of something deeper.
In all three of the “I AM” statements we have heard Jesus speak so far, all include Jesus speaking of life.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
And now “the gate” says he has come to give life and to the full.
We all know the call “Get a life!” Or we sometimes say to ourselves “I need a life.” Some people get into a life of ease and say, “This is the life.” Well, maybe or maybe not.
One of the things about this pandemic has been that it has challenged us to think about what real life is. It has revealed what our lives were really about. With travel limited, consumption reduced, jobs and income and certain goods more scarce, obviously health compromised, and social engagement shut down we have had to take stock of what life is about. We have had to spend more time with families, or sometimes not get to see our loved ones. We have had to quiet down a bit, pay attention to the basics, and maybe even face what is going on inside of ourselves more.
We complained we were too busy and now we long for more to occupy our time. We said we were so tired of this and that, and when this and that was taken away we started longing for this and that. We always said we needed a rest and then were forced to rest and didn’t like it.
Some people have realized what they were banking their lives on wasn’t all that great. Some people have awoken to the fact that they thirst for far more. Anxiety, depression, and discontent have increased. Alcohol consumption and substance abuse has risen.
How our world is searching for life today. We are trying all kinds of things to get this thing called “life.”
We all have things that make up our life: family, jobs, leisure, hobbies, church, responsibilities. They find their proper place when they are all connected to Jesus. It doesn’t mean all problems go away. It doesn’t mean we will never struggle. But when Jesus is the gate of our life it does mean other things in our lives are placed in their proper perspective. We are given a sense of love, peace, contentment, and a sense of God. Jesus will say more about the life he came to give in the next part which we will get to next Sunday.
Here’s the final thing on Jesus as the gate: The way into the sheepfold is through him. He said that he is the gate and the way to enter his sheepfold is through him. Whatever I choose to do with my life - and Jesus gives me that freedom - I have to filter it through him. To get into God’s sheepfold I must come in and out through Jesus Christ. We all begin on the outside and enter through him.
Jesus is declaring that he is the one who determines whether someone is a member of the community that bears his name. He is the one who gives the blessings of peace with God. He is the one who gives eternal life.
The salvation he brings is personal but it is not just solely for us. He does not give us our private sheepfold. Sheepfolds are filled with other sheep. But what Jesus gives is not merely individual and private. Jesus knows each sheep by name, and he puts us in a community, or to use Jesus’ image – a sheepfold. He calls people into this community. He guides this community. He provides for it.
Whether you are Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Roman Catholic, or New Life Hallelujah Bible Community Church of God in Christ of Our Redeemer of the Cross, we must go through the gate. Jesus’ flock transcends any local church affiliation.
We are his sheep and together form his flock. He is the way into this flock. And he wants each of us to be part of his flock.
Jesus is not done addressing us sheep. This is kind of part one of a two part teaching Jesus gives. And we will hear that second part next week.
Prayer: O Lord, you are our protector, our provider, our strength, and our guide. Help us to hear your voice and listen to what you speak to us. We long for the abundant life you promise and ask you would give us this life. We long for pasture and pray for protection from all that would separate us from you. Amen.