Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Gate

Outside my window, it's making a valiant effort to snow this afternoon. When we walked into church this morning, a man pointed to my hair and told the little girl in his arms, "See the snow, honey? Let's get your coat on and go outside." But when I think about the words of today's  "I AM" statement, I imagine myself in an arid climate, standing on the side of a road, trying to catch a single glimpse a man walking along, surrounded by a crowd of people. His feet are dirty; his long, dull-brown robe ragged at the bottom from having been caught against rocks and twigs. His skin is leathery from years in the sun, from sleeping outside--even in boats. Among those in the crowd is a teenage boy with a staff, carefully keeping track of a small herd of sheep--maybe ten or twelve ewes and lambs together. I see the boy with his sheep and I see Jesus see him, see Jesus stop and wait for him. And as I envision this moment, it's here I imagine Him saying a few words about sheep.

The next two "I AM's" are related to sheep (and come in the same chapter--10), so it's good to mention this: though we talk of Jesus as the carpenter (we are definitely told his earthly dad had that profession), I am among those who are convinced that when He was a teenager, Jesus must have also herded sheep. Compared to how often Jesus talks about carpentry, He speaks about sheep a whole lot.  Have you ever noticed that? Since Jesus calls us sheep, it's helpful to see, in these next two days, the two ways He relates to us as His sheep.  So, metaphorically (except for my niece who is actually living in Israel this year), pull up a spot along the dusty road Jesus walked and think with me about sheep, shepherds, the Shepherd and the Gate.

Today, John 10: 1-10
Jesus says, "I am the Gate for the sheep." In the culture of 1st century Israel, sheep-pens were made with thick walls and only one entrance, which was guarded by a 'watchman.' Only the Shepherd--and the sheep, of course--had the right to enter the pen. Jesus is both the Shepherd (tomorrow's "I Am"--see verse 11f) and the Gate.  This makes it a little confusing. But what is important here is that He says, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved."  There is one gate. All other ways into the pen are illegal--thieves and robbers use them. This is a clear statement of how we enter the pen--which is His Kingdom. There is one Gate and His name is Jesus.

This statement comes at the heart of what every person needs to understand about Jesus Christ.  Several years ago, my mother (already in the throes of Alzheimers) went through a phase of hoping that everyone would be saved, or--to use Jesus' words here--that there were either about as many gates as there were sheep, or that there wasn't even a pen at all. I understood Mom's desire for that to be true. People she'd loved had died and she wanted to believe that they'd be 'in the pen' when she got there.  Plus, she was worried that she might not be in that pen herself, if there was only one way in--she didn't understand grace very well by that point, though she had earlier.

We who love Jesus, who have given our lives to Him, must not think that this "I AM" is easy. Not for Him to say, nor for us to tell the world. That I am separating this statement from the one I'll write about tomorrow is, in some ways, a grave injustice, because it's only in knowing what the great "I AM" did to herd the sheep into the pen that gives the Gate the grace we know it to have and be.

But we will dwell here for today. And while we linger at the thought that He alone is the way into the Kingdom, let's consider that His great desire is that each of us enter through that gate. I will say that again. God didn't go to all the trouble of the Incarnation because He only loved some of us.  His desire is for each of us. Every single one of us.  No one is beyond His desire. I don't care if you're a Calvinist and believe in election or a Armenian and believe in the Holiness movement, the place where your theology connects is at John 3: 16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

This is the gate through which we enter. Believing these words. Believing that God did this, believing that Jesus is that begotten Son and that IN Him we are saved. Yes, IN Him we are the sheep who find safe pasture.  John 10: 9 says, "The sheep go in and out and find pasture." A pasture is where sheep are free to eat and sleep and move anywhere they wish--within the fences.  This is the freedom we have when we're in the Kingdom of God--to move about, to do what we're given to do for Him, to "trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture" (Psalm 37: 3).

Gates, however, don't only provide a way in, but keep intruders from getting to us.  It will become redundant how often Jesus tells us that He protects us.  This "I AM the Gate for the Sheep" is definitely one of those promises of protection. A way in and a lock out for the enemy. There is no way anything can get to us if He is the only way in.  If He is our only Gate, we're safe. No matter what the enemy tries, no matter how it looks, we're essentially safe.

Romans 8: 35-37 says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

Because He's the Gate.

If you aren't sure if you've ever entered the sheep pen, know this. You only need to ask and that gate will swing open.  "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
And, if you have a beloved in your life who is still outside the gate--like I do--keep trusting that He is also the Shepherd. Thankfully.

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