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I AM...The Gate

"Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened 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 comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. -John 10:1-10

So last week, we kicked off the series that is based on Jesus’ I am statements found in the Gospel of John. And while there are a lot of different understandings of who Jesus is, a lot of different things that we could look to and describe and explain about Jesus, and we could pull those from all of the gospels, and we can pull them from even some of our own experience of how we have experienced that grace in that mercy that is offered to us through Jesus Christ, Jesus very clearly makes some of these statements, and so if Jesus says I am, then that's a pretty good place for us to start and helping the shape and form our understanding of who Jesus is. So last week, we looked at the passage where Jesus says, I am the light of the world. Well, this morning, we're looking in John, and John makes things a little bit complicated in Chapter 10, by kind of weaving two of the I am statements together. In chapter 10, we have Jesus saying, I am the shepherd or I am the Good Shepherd. And it's gonna actually continue in the latter portion of Chapter 10 as well, so I'm not really looking that I am the Good Shepherd as much this morning as I am that statement, I am the gate.

Now, this one I have to confess, gives me a little bit of trouble because my understanding of gates kind of shapes what my thoughts are about what a gate is, and so when Jesus says, I'm a gate, I bring into that all of my experience as I'm sure all of you do. Now, for me, gates have a number of different meanings and functions, so when I was growing up, we moved to the edge of my grandparents farm when I was in kindergarten, and so my summers were often spent going next door to help grandpa with chores around the farm, one of the things that I helped him do from one summer was build new wooden gates for some of the pastors, I learned how to drive nails that summer because the lumber that grandpa pulled out of the barn with some native rough cut wood that was hard. So I probably met more nails than actually went through, but he was patient and let me learn. But we made gates because... Well, he had livestock, and you need a gate to keep the cows where the cows belong, and you need to get to keep the goats where they belong, and you need a gate to keep them out of the field where the beans are growing. So gates are there to keep things out or to keep them in...

We have a gate at our house, the backyard is fenced, there's a gate there, while our children are now old enough to figure out how to open and close it, it's primarily there to keep the dog in… We actually have some child gates in the house to keep the dog out of the living room where the nice furniture is too, so gates are there as barriers. Gates restrict and keep things in and keep things out. Even growing up along the St. Joe River on the back end of my grandparents farm was the dam for the Cedarville reservoir, and my grandfather and then my father were the night watchman, so I got to go back there and watch them do the things they needed to to adjust it from time to time, and those three courses that came under the dam, each had a gate that restricted and held back the water to maintain the reservoir. So when I hear Jesus say I am the gate, I struggle with that a little bit, because in my experience with Gates, Gates are there to impede, to restrict, to hold back, to either keep in or keep out, and that's not necessarily an image that is helpful for me, when I think about who Jesus is, because quite frankly, we live in a world where there's an awful lot of those judgments that go on whether we're doing it in our own minds of who we think belongs in and who belongs out.

Who should be allowed to enter and who should not? We see it in our society in many places, some are necessary, but some of them may be not. So why would Jesus say that I am the gate? And so it made me have to examine a little bit more about what was a gate in his context... Well, in those ancient cities, particularly the bigger cities like Jerusalem, they were walled cities, they were forts that often had multiple gates coming and going out of them, so once again, the gate allowed admittance, but also it could be closed off to keep people out.

And people found comfort in security in that. When I had the opportunity to visit Israel a number of years ago, our tour guide was sharing with us as we were in the old city of Jerusalem and looking out an area that had some low one and two-story apartment buildings, and when Israel actually became the nation established following the Second World War, when the Jewish people that had survived the Holocaust and we're trying to settle somewhere and move back, they had these building projects going on around the outer part of the Old City, and they could not get people to move into them. They wouldn't buy them. So finally they all but started giving them to people, and so people said, Alright.

But what they were finding is that these families, generation after generation had grown up living in a city with walls and gates, that was there for their safety and protection. We'll go out and spend the day in the house. And a night come back and sleep within the walls of the city. So sometimes a gate is there for protection for security. Well, that fits a little bit better with how I would understand or want to think of Jesus, Alright, Jesus is a gate, he's there to protect us from the evil and bad things in this world that would be intent on doing us harm. But as I started looking at it some more, one of the other things that they talk about with Gates, in Jesus day, the particularly this idea of a sheep fold or a sheep pen, is that they would often in a shallow cave or against a cliff face, put up a stone wall of the rocks that were around, put some thorny branches on the top of it and keep the sheep in there to keep them safe at night, but because this was kind of a rough and rudimentary kind of a thing, they didn't have a gate on hinges that would swing open and closed, but rather the shepherd, after the sheep were safely within the confines of the pen, would lay down and either keep watch or sleep across that entrance. Well, that's beginning to give us a little more sense of what Jesus may have been talking about, because there's that part in the reading this morning where he talks about that others have come and they climb over the wall instead of coming through the gate. The thief comes to steal and to kill and destroy. Often, shepherds were plagued by bandits who were looking for a quick easy meal, and my understanding is that sometimes when these bandits would come, what they would do is try to sneak into that sheep pen, butcher as many as they could quietly... tossing them over the fence to their accomplices, Boy, we really need protection at that point, when you think of what's going on...

So again, Jesus says, I am the gate. Okay, help us hear Jesus. What's our understanding? What's our takeaway? Well, the other thing that as I thought about this, and they mentioned the sheep fold that had a wall that had an opening in it, Gates while they restrict, I often think of that gate that swings on the hinges, that the gates either open or closed, keeping in, keeping out. But the gate is actually the entryway, and if you had a sheep fold or a pen that didn't have a gate, now, it would amount to nothing more than a prison. So when Jesus says, I am the gate, suddenly he's also saying that because of me, because of who I am, the possibility for movement from here to there is now a reality, those thieves... Well, they just simply climb the wall and they have no good intent in mind, I am the gate, Jesus says, I am the opening that allows entry in and out. Now, analogies are good because they help us to begin to visualize and understand things, but sometimes it'd be nice if we had more information, so what does that space within the sheep fold represent? Because Jesus talks about that when they enter through me, I am the gate, whoever enters from me will be saved, will come in and go out and find pasture. That it's not just, Hey, I'm opening the door, come on in, but he's saying there's an entry way with me that allows movement back and forth, so what's the here and what's the there... Where is this movement to and from...

I may not have all of the answers, but in my thinking on this as of this morning, subject to change, when I think about Jesus saying, I am the gate, the sheep in the pen may indeed represent the world, that there are others who come into this world, with nothing but ill intent for the sheep, seeking to serve their own wants and wishes, not mindful carrying about the sheep, but the way that Jesus is opened, the way that Jesus the gate has made possible is the opportunity for us to move from the sheep pen into the kingdom of God. And friends, that kingdom that Jesus talked about, while we often think Is that place way up where the roll is called... That is when we leave this life. But the kingdom is where God's will is done. And God's kingdom breaks into this world, into this life, into this experience that we are living right now, and sometimes we get a glimpse of it, and I think that Jesus is the gate allows us to enter into that kingdom to find that pasture, to find that abundant life that He's talking about to be nourished, sustained to be fed and filled with God's presence and love.

Well, when we go back into the sheep fold, we mingle with the other sheep, you see, I used to think that maybe that sheep fold was really heaven in God's kingdom, and we're intend to be, but if we were there, why would he be opening a way for us to leave. And that's what made me start to think, Maybe I have it backwards. Maybe Jesus, through His incarnation, became the gate that opened the way between this life and the next in this kingdom that God has and is working to bring about. Jesus says, I am that gate, I am that way, in which you can come and go with me as your Shepherd said, I wasn't gonna talk about it, but you can't avoid it. We're talking about sheep, Sheep have shepherds.

We're gonna go deeper into that next week as far as what the shepherd does and why, and we've talked about it before, but this new understanding of what a gate is and does has helped me to think a little bit more about who Jesus is, that it's not the part that swings on the post to go open and close and decide, Yes, you can come in, no, you cannot. But rather, the gate is the opening, the opening, that makes the way to new possibilities and new life available to all who head and listen to the shepherd. Now, another note on this, Jesus mentions early in this chapter about the gatekeeper, we try to figure out who these people are, and sometimes we wanna assign names and faces to them, who are the thieves in the bandits... Let's name them off. But there are two numerous to count, and quite frankly, they're probably too different for you and I as well, some may be people, some may be temptations, some maybe thoughts, some ideas that seek to separate us from God. It's pretty clear when Jesus says that he has sheep. That's you and I… It's pretty clear who the shepherd is. Because Jesus says, I am a shepherd.But he mentions in verse 3, the gatekeeper opens the gate for him. So who is this gate keeper? Who is this gatekeeper? That opens the gate. If Jesus is the gate, who is the gatekeeper that's opening the gate for others?

Well, we could say it's God. This week, you're in our Tuesday morning Bible study, we were talking through this passage, and a friend of mine from Warsaw, named Richard is participating with us through Zoom, and we were talking about the gatekeeper, and Richard said, Well, he said, I think you are... I think pastors and people that lead and teach us are the gatekeepers... Well, I don't like having that much authority heaped on me, I'm like, No, I don't think that could possibly be it, but after doing some more reading and reflecting and began to realize that maybe Richard was right, that the gatekeepers aren't just me, aren't just ordained clergy or pastors or teachers, but really any follower of Jesus who points others to Jesus, who points them to the gate, is the gate keeper because they're helping to open up who... And what the gate is, they're helping to reveal and make known who Jesus is in the lives of others, so Jesus is the gate, it's in Him and through Him that we move into whatever the blessings are that God calls us to. And you and I are the gatekeepers, because we are the ones that help others to recognize and find the gate that leads to life, that abundant life that only Jesus can offer.


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