English service - August 15, 2021
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
“I AM the Gate”
Good morning everyone joining us in person and online again today. I’m happy to be with you wherever you are. We are continuing the series of messages on the “I AM” sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Last month we learned again what Jesus means when He says, “I am the light of the world.” Today we find Christ using another figure of speech in presenting Himself, this time as “the gate.” Actually, He says this just before a different but closely linked metaphor, “I am the good shepherd. . .” (John 10:11). I want to try to separate these two as much as possible, just to keep a clear focus on the meaning of Jesus as the gate. But it’s my first time to give a message on this particular teaching of our Lord, so let’s see how it goes.
What is the gate? To what does it open? To what is it closed? And how can you enter it? Those are the questions I’d like to answer with you today. So let’s jump in.
First, what is the gate? You may have heard Jesus’ words as “I AM the door,” especially in older English translations. There is no real difference in meaning there. It’s just that the word door used to mean pretty much any type of opening, or entrance. In the King James Version, for example, the stone was rolled away from the door to Jesus’ tomb. It didn’t need to have a knob, handle, frame, or hinges—or be made of wood or metal or whatever—to be called a door.
In John 10 Jesus is using the image of a shepherd, sheep, and a sheep pen, so many translators decide it is more natural to use gate to describe the entrance point to the sheep pen, or sheepfold. Some shepherds were the owners of the sheep, usually of a smaller number. Other owners did not take care of them personally but would hire a shepherd to do the job. Shepherds would take the herd out during the day to places they could find food, water, good rest spots, and whatever else they needed. They might stay out overnight, especially if they had to go far from home to find enough food or water. (Shepherds and sheep were out at night in the famous Christmas story when the angels came to announce Christ’s birth.)
But after a long time out in the fields with sheep, the shepherds eventually would bring the sheep back to a pen, where they could stay safely. Each village would have one of these, a fold for sheep and often goats, in or near it. It was surrounded by a wooden fence or—more often—stone walls, which would make it difficult for wild animals or robbers to get in and hurt the animals. The community pen was a place of protection, security, and peace. It would often have sheep belonging to different shepherds. They would all come in and go out through the same gate. It didn’t matter so much if they got mixed together because the sheep knew their particular shepherd’s voice, and the shepherd knew them, typically each by name.
After bringing the sheep home to the pen, the shepherds would need rest, too. So they would hire a gatekeeper, or porter, to watch over the sheep in the pen and make sure they were safe. This person was the guard for the night shift. Only shepherds were allowed through the gate. Thieves would sometimes come. Of course they would have to climb over the fence, or wall, to get in. They didn’t have barbed wire in those days, but the community would put thorns on the tops of the walls to make it more difficult for trouble-makers to get to the sheep.
You can get a rough idea of the kind of situation Jesus is describing by looking at this picture. As you can see, it’s not exactly clear whether there is actually a gate that opens and closes or not. Even more importantly, at least at some times, the shepherd actually was the gate—opening up or closing off access to the pen by physically being in the entrance. So Jesus is already leading into His next word-picture of Himself as the good shepherd.
How about the sheep pen? Jesus doesn’t tell us directly and exactly what it symbolizes, as He does in the case of the story of the wheat and the weeds, which we heard about in last week’s youth message. So if you listen to different teachers present this story, they will often use a variety of words to introduce the pen. They may say it stands for heaven, God’s presence, the kingdom of God, salvation, the good life, peace, the Church, Judaism, Israel, something similar, or some combination of these. They all have a great deal in common, though none is exactly the same as the others. It’s clear that the sheep pen is home—a place of safety, protection, and life.
But there is a theological problem that Bible teachers will try to avoid. Later in this same chapter (v. 16), Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this sheep pen. I must bring them in too. They also will listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock and one shepherd” (NIRV). Well, there aren’t “other” Gods, heavens, or Israels, etc., according to the Bible’s teachings. So some preachers will limit the meaning of the sheep pen to something such as any place where God’s flock (His people) temporarily live. Personally, I do not see that it is necessary to narrow down the meaning in this way because Jesus says that these others “do not belong to this sheep pen.” He does not say they never will. They do not now mainly because the Shepherd has not yet gone to save them. He will. It seems that Jesus is talking about the non-Jewish people who will hear the good news of salvation in Him. After His death, return to life, and message’s being told to them, many will come to know Him as their Shepherd. “Then there will be one flock and one shepherd”—the peace and unity that God wants so deeply to give the world’s people. Seen in this light, I think it is safe to understand the sheep pen as the kingdom of God—the place where God’s people live in His presence.
So the gate is the way to life with God, our Shepherd. In that sense, privilege, right, ownership, and authority are in the presence of the gate, and the sheep benefit greatly from these. We are already seeing here shadows of the approaching I AM teaching from John 14:6. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
That leads us into the next question. To what does the gate open? The larger answer is in v. 10. It is the gateway to “hav(ing) life. . . in the fullest possible way.” Abundant life, plenty, more than enough, overflowing, not just existing but really living. That’s good news, especially after over a year and a half of COVID-19, isn’t it. I need more of that—don’t you? But I also need to understand it more. What is the abundant life to which the gate opens like?
Well, Jesus tells us three things in particular. “Anyone who enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out. And he will find plenty of food” (v. 9b). Entering eternal life through Christ the gate, we find the way to being saved, to freedom, and to provision. In one sense, you can say that living in God’s freedom and provision is what it means to be saved. God’s work is not only to protect life but actually provide it. Yet salvation in this context seems to have a particular meaning, so we’ll see more in just a minute what Jesus is focusing on in saying He saves the sheep. For now, remember that “come in and go out” is a way of describing entering and leaving the pen from day to day in freedom. It doesn’t mean being saved and lost, saved and lost, or anything like that. It is a word picture of living in peace under the guidance of a loving shepherd. Then there is “find plenty of food.” When the sheep come in through the gate and live in the protection and freedom of the good shepherd, they can say with the writer of Psalm 23:1-3a, “The LORD is my shepherd. He gives me everything I need. He lets me lie down in fields of green grass. He leads me beside quiet waters. He gives me new strength.”
Well, there are the great blessings which Jesus, the gate, makes open to us. But gates also keep things out, so to what is Jesus, the gate, closed? In other words, what does He mean by using the image of a gate, especially in talking about “thieves and robbers” (v. 8). They don’t come in by the gate but climb in another way (v. 1) “. . . to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10). Christ is describing something that was known to happen. Thieves would come into the sheep pen over the wall or whatever. But they could not simply get the animals to follow them out because the sheep did not know them and would not follow their voices. So the robbers would kill the sheep right there in the pen and throw them over the fence. Later they would take the wool and meat from their bodies.
When Jesus says this, He is not just explaining a theory He has or warning about something that could happen. In many ways, it has just happened in front of Him and His listeners, in fact. We can’t understand Christ’s words in this section of John 10 without seeing what has taken place in chapter 9. You may remember that there is a man who was born blind. Jesus heals his eyes, and this hot news quickly spreads around Jerusalem. Pretty soon his neighbors and others who have known him for a long time take him to the religious leaders, the Pharisees, and they begin trying to judge what has happened. Instead of rejoicing in the great gift of sight that God has given this man and celebrating with him, they get upset because the Lord “worked” on the Sabbath by healing the man. They have already rejected Jesus in their hearts, deciding He is only a man and cannot be God’s Son. When the man who can now see does not go along with them in condemning Christ but challenges them, they get angry and kick him out of the synagogue. Put in very simple terms, they not only reject him from their community but condemn him to hell.
By contrast, Jesus hears what has happened, searches until He finds the man, shows him compassion and acceptance, then tells him the truth that He is the Son of Man (the Messiah). Soon the man has made a decision to believe in Jesus and begins worshiping him.
But some Pharisees are there at this time who start debating with Jesus about what has just happened. They and Jesus’ new disciple (“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see”) apparently are the ones Christ is speaking to more than anyone else in saying everything that is now John 10:1-21 (“I AM the gate” and “I AM the good shepherd”). These Pharisees are the ones He is talking about specifically when He says (10:8a), “All those who ever came before me were thieves and robbers.” He is speaking of false prophets. True prophets like Moses and Elijah pointed people to Christ, the gate, and were not acting dishonestly.
Jesus is condemning the spiritual leaders because they are in the position of being shepherds of God’s flock. They should be coming in through the sheep gate and taking care of the sheep properly—getting to know them well enough to call them by name, earning their trust, leading them to food and water, protecting them, and so on. But in reality they are acting more like thieves who climb over the wall and come in to kill and destroy. They don’t care about the sheep at all that we can see in this story. They are all about themselves, their position, their power, their desires. That’s the way they have just treated the man Jesus healed in John 9, and they are the kind of people Matthew 23 describes as false shepherds. Jesus says there (vv. 13, 34):
How terrible it will be for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter. And you will not let those enter who are trying to.
So I am sending you prophets, wise men, and teachers. You will kill some of them. You will nail some to a cross. Others you will whip in your synagogues. You will chase them from town to town.
We who are followers of Christ need to remember that opposition is not rare or unexpected. He teaches us to get ready for it but to know that being joined to Him and having the gift of eternal life is worth any price we may be called to pay. We also need to keep in our minds that the Pharisees whom Jesus confronts here are the “good people” of their time—the ones others thought were especially close to the Lord because of their many good works. It’s easy for us to join in condemning them, but especially those of us who have the responsibility of leading the people of God must remember the high standard to which He holds us in guiding His people to live faithfully and lovingly. If we don’t, we could be called “thieves” and “robbers” along with the Pharisees because of the way we lead—or fail to lead—His people in following Him as our shepherd.
So let’s take to heart the warning that Colossians 2:8 gives us:
Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don't depend on Christ.
There’s one more matter connected with what the gate shuts out. When Christ makes the bold claim to be “the gate,” He is also saying that there are no other gates which lead to the life God has in His plans for humanity. There aren’t 15 gates. It’s not OK for anyone to just cut a hole in the wall and make a new gate. There is only one. There are no gates of good works, of following certain systems or styles of worship—no gates of tradition, of being born into the right group, or anything else that will allow us to enter life in the kingdom of God. We may decide that ease, comfort, popularity, success, achievements, possessions, or whatever else is the gate to life. But Christ warns us that these are false hopes. If we base our lives on them, they will in the end rob us of the only true chance we have for life under the leadership of “the Shepherd and Guardian of (our) souls” (I Peter 2:25).
That’s what Jesus is talking about when He says the following (Matthew 7:13-16a).
Enter God's kingdom through the narrow gate. The gate is large and the road is wide that lead to death and hell. Many people go that way. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that lead to life. Only a few people find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you pretending to be sheep. But on the inside they are hungry wolves. You can tell what they really are by what they do.
But, Jesus, isn’t it narrow-minded to claim that you are the only way? Shouldn’t we be more inclusive instead of excluding other views of the world? When I ask Christ those questions, what I think I hear in reply is that His teaching that He is “the gate” is narrow-minded if it is not true. But it is true, and because it is, there is nothing more sensible than arranging your life according to it. It would be arrogant and bigoted if I made that claim for myself or held that belief just because I thought it was true. But God is God, and He has every right to say what is true. He says the “large gate” is inclusive but does not protect the sheep as the narrow gate does. In fact, if I insist that all truth claims have merit, possibly equal merit, I am actually denying the uniqueness of all of them. That “many roads lead to the top of Mt. Fuji” argument cuts out the basic teachings of traditional Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other monotheistic religions. It is not inclusive but exclusive in many ways.
In modern cultures such as many in the West, Christ’s claim to be “the gate,” “the way, the truth, and the life” cuts against the current belief in “expressive individualism.” The idea that I am whoever I choose to be, no one else can tell me who that is, and I find my greatest fulfillment by expressing what I feel inside, has grown in popularity. The Christian belief that I am who God created me to be, and I find my greatest fulfillment by discovering and becoming that person in a relationship of love and trust with Him, can offend the values of current culture more and more sharply. Yet it remains true. Christ-followers continue to find reliable the teaching of I Timothy 2:5, “There is only one God. And there is only one go-between for God and human beings. He is the man Christ Jesus.” We believe Peter was telling the truth when he said in Acts 4:12, “You can't be saved by believing in anyone else. God has given us no other name under heaven that will save us.”
If this is true, as Christian faith holds, then “I AM the gate” is actually a completely inclusive teaching because it shows the way to life, peace, and wholeness for anyone who is willing to enter. It is exclusive only in the way that fire is exclusive in the burning some people and cooking delicious food for others. It’s not the fire that leads to a good or bad outcome so much as the choice a person makes to use it carefully or carelessly. In other words, “I AM the gate” accurately describes a reality of life, the way the world works. If it is narrow, it is the narrowness of truth. We need to go through Christ if we want to live in salvation, freedom, provision—to be fully alive. The only people excluded from that truth are those who exclude themselves by not accepting it.
Jesus could present Himself as a wall, three meters high, which people had to somehow climb in order to enter the sheep pen. He could say, “I am the ocean” which you have to swim across to enter His harbor. He might declare, “I am the tunnel” and we would have to feel our way through the dark to find Him waiting on the far side. But He does not call Himself any of these. He makes the way to salvation available to anyone who will go through the gate and makes it clear how the pen can be entered.
How is that? Jesus points to three things in v. 3b. “The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” God, the shepherd, is always speaking to us, particularly through the Bible but also through the Church, prayer, our personal experiences, and other ways. However, at some point we as individuals begin to listen, for example through a message like this at church, conversations with a friend, or whatever. Then there comes a time when we realize that God is not just making grand announcements for the entire world, but He cares about us personally—you, me, each one in His world. He knows not only our names but everything about us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and still chooses to make us His own. He calls us to follow and trust Him to guide us along our life’s journey, from moment to moment and hour to hour. Then a key turning point arrives when we are ready to make the commitment to go where He leads. We begin taking steps of faith, letting Him direct our decisions about how to spend our time, the words we use in speaking to people, the goals we choose to pursue, and all parts of our lives. He “leads (us) out” through the gate as we follow, step by step.
If you are a Christian, you already have begun that journey of faith and passed through the gate in following the shepherd. If there are people listening who are not yet Christ-followers, maybe you are ready to begin your life under His care today. Whatever your case, the invitation is open to you. Christ has made it plain: “I Am the gate.” Let’s pray that we all will come to know Him in that way more and more each day.
Lord, we now take in our hearts again the fresh reminder of how Jesus, the gate, provides us (v. 9) a way “in” to safety and rest and “out” to the supplying of our needs and to refreshment. God, we see how the shepherd’s sheep are saved from wild animals, robbers, and accidents by being in the sheepfold, coming in and going out through the proper gate, and finding provision for every need under the shepherd’s guidance. Help us to build the habits of looking to you and receiving from your hand the protection, freedom, and provision that we need from day to day. And help us to use each day as a chance to gain more experience in listening, recognizing your voice, and walking with you by faith. Through this, make us able to know you more fully and reject more readily the other voices that call us away from you and your protection. This is our prayer, in the name of Christ, the gate, our Lord and savior, amen.
Lawson, S. (2017, October 18). I AM the Door. BCDallas Video. Retrieved July 29, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=arCNra-XIPs &t=1398s
MacArthur, J. (2014, August 12). I Am the Door. Grace to You. Retrieved July 23, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANvoTfDSZgc&t=1554s
Myers, J. (n.d.). Who Are the Sheep Not of This Sheepfold? Illustration. Retrieved August 9, 2021 from https://redeeminggod.com/sheep-not-of-this-sheepfold/
Sproul, R. C. (2017, March 25). I Am the Sheepgate-Part 1. Retrieved July 28, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_mFGAnP8Ss&t=301s, https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KqZZAGJ1XI, and https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=AnH1LiK-AdI