Last week in our live Sanctuary worship service, we continued the Lenten worship series, I AM, with “The Gate,” In which we examined together what it really means when Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life — indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.”
As we’ve discovered already in this series, in the Gospel of John, everything has multiple meanings — and this statement of Jesus is no different. In one sense, when Jesus says, “I am the gate,” he is referring to how a shepherd cares for and protects his flock, offering them a sense of both freedom and protection.
The image of the “gate” Jesus refers to here relates to the sheepfold, which in that time was not the hinged structure we might think of today. In those days, the sheep were contained at night in a circular stone enclosure that would often have on top of the stones some long sharp thorns to form a barrier for predators who might try to climb over the wall to get to the sheep.
Then there would be an opening in this enclosure for the sheep to go in and out of the fold, and once they were safely inside for the evening, the shepherd would actually lie down in this opening to make sure nothing could get into the sheepfold during the night. Sometimes if it was cold, a shepherd might instead build a fire there at the entrance to help them stay warm to ensure that any intruders would be discouraged or prevented from getting to the sheep.
So, the shepherd, both literally and metaphorically was the gate that kept his sheep safe from predators. This image Jesus provides to help us understand who he is and his role in our lives is one of protection and vigilance — the deep commitment and care of the shepherd for the sheep.
This I AM saying of Jesus assures us that in your coming in and going out, his deep care offers us a sense of both freedom and protection. Another part of this image of Jesus has to do with how sheep are able to discern the voice of their shepherd. His is a voice to listen for and follow to find comfort and safety — apart from the voice of another, which might lead us away from this fold.
Last summer we had Al Staggs came to First Church to do his one-man show presentation of Dietrich Bonhoffer, a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident whose writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential. Bonhoffer’s book about these experiences, The Cost of Discipleship, has been described by many as a “modern classic.”
Throughout this work, Dietrich Bonhoffer constantly speaks of the importance of discerning the voice of Jesus amidst all the messages in the world around us that may be telling us to think and behave in ways that are not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. This, I think, is as important a message to us today as it was in Bonhoffer’s time.
So how do we learn to discern the voice of Jesus amidst the many voices and messages we encounter every day? How do we recognize the place of safety and comfort where we can rest with Jesus as our Gate?
I enjoyed exploring these ideas with you last Sunday online and look forward to this Sunday.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
John 10:2-10 Common English Bible (CEB)
The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.
I am the gate
So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life — indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.