May 3rd, 2020
John 10:1-10 “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 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.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Sermon: Where’s the main entrance?
I vividly remember the day Francy and I were married in Portland, Oregon. I was a Protestant and a member of Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville. Francy was Roman Catholic, and her entire family were members at St. Rose, the parish church near her high school at Holy Child Academy. There were strict instructions from the priest: no music during the service; no photography in the sanctuary; and I would not be served Holy Communion. I arrived dressed and ready for the ceremony, but was quickly escorted to the church basement to prevent me from seeing the bride before the wedding. It was dark and damp. I diligently searched, but could not find a restroom. None of these restrictions could dampen our spirits. This was the day God ordained for us to become man and wife. Recently, we held a District training event at St. James UMC in Little Rock. The church campus is huge on three levels with a complex, colored map in every hallway to help you find your way. Even with volunteers posted in the hallways, it was extremely difficult to find our way to the next classroom. Finally, we found the classroom and sang a chorus of Amazing Grace: “I once was lost, but now am found; t’was blind, but now I see!” Can you imagine the problems visitors might encounter on their first visit to St. James? Jesus makes a special effort in this short passage to help every visitor find his or her way. He wanted everyone to know where to find the front door, the main entrance into God’s kingdom. Jesus himself would stand at the door to receive any and all who may come. He was the shepherd, the gate keeper, the gate. This is no ordinary gatekeeper, who would not recognize strangers. Instead, he will greet all comers by calling them by name and welcoming them into God’s kingdom. Notice Jesus did not provide colorful maps, volunteers to guide each visitor, or suffer from a distinctive lack of signage.
Let’s examine each role Jesus performs. First, he is the Shepherd. A good shepherd know every sheep in his fold. He calls each one by name. They recognize his voice. They come when he calls. He leads them to green pastures and cool, clear waters. Can you hear the words to his sheep’s favorite scripture? It’s Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name'ssake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The shepherd does far more than feed his sheep. He restores theirs souls. He leads them in the paths of righteousness. He anoints their heads with oil. He fulfills their every need. He forgives every sin and offers the gift of eternal life. He welcomes me into God’s kingdom here on earth and for all eternity in heaven. That’s what I would consider a full service shepherd. The gatekeeper stands at the main entrance. He was the keeper of the door, who guarded the entrance to a city, the temple, or even a rich man's house. A guard was stationed at any entrance through which an unwanted visitor might enter, especially at night. This must have been a lowly job to protect the gate for a wealthy landlord. This lowly position Jesus freely accepted just as he washed his disciples’ feet. Perhaps, we need to look at John 14:6 for further information about the gatekeeper: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus transforms our understanding of the gatekeeper’s role. Yes, he is guarding the entrance to heaven. But it is not a lowly servant’s position. Belief in Christ is the only way into heaven. Everything else is a lie; Jesus is the Living Truth. Jesus is the author of life as our creator and Lord. He is the only source of eternal life in heaven. Jesus made it abundantly clear. No one can enter God’s kingdom except through him. Why should we offer our allegiance to anyone else? That’s why we sing: “My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior Divine. Now hear me when I pray; take all my guilt away. O let me from this day be wholly shine.”
Finally, Jesus says that he is the only gate. There were numerous gates into the Holy City of Jerusalem: Beautiful Gate, Benjamin's Gate, Corner Gate, East Gate, the Gate of Ephraim, First Gate, Fish Gate, The Gate of the Foundation, Fountain Gate, Horse Gate, the Gate of Joshua, King's Gate, Middle Gate, Miphkad Gate, New Gate, North Gate, Old Gate, Potsherd Gate, the Prison Gate, the Refuse Gate, Shallecheth Gate, Sheep Gate, South Gate, Upper Gate, Valley Gate, Water Gate, and the West Gate. In Revelation 21, we find that heaven has twelve gates, each one guarded by angels. By contrast, Jesus said that he is The Gate. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Many people look for shortcuts or detours, avoiding contact with the Savior, who is the Narrow Gate. The road to heaven is not an interstate highway or an autobahn. A Gospel hymn suggests: “We should not veer to the left of the right, but stay in the middle of the road.” Jesus explains that the way that leads to new life is both difficult and narrow. We must be prepared to serve, not to be served. We must be prepared to suffer as he suffered. We must be prepared to sell all we own and give to the poor. We must be prepared to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must be prepared to die, so that in dying as a sheep of his fold, we might be raised to eternal life. Consider the narrow road to be a narrow suspension bridge across a very deep canyon. There are no alternatives. We must cross that bridge one at a time. Don’t look down; it will strike your heart with terror. Don’t veer to the left or right, or you may plunge into destruction; fix your eyes upon Jesus. He will guide you home. “Lead me, Lord. Lead me in thy righteousness. Make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou Lord only, that makest me dwell in safety.”
Jesus will lead you to the main entrance.