We are continuing to explore what Jesus said about himself using the statements, “I am.” As the image in our bulletin depicts, moving left to right, Jesus said about himself, “I am the good shepherd, I am the true vine, I am the bread of life, I am the gate or door, I am the way, the truth, and the life, and finally, I am the resurrection.” Jesus was using figures of speech when describing himself with these words. Figure of speech should not make us nervous. We use a variety of figures of speech in our everyday conversations. “I’ve told you this a million times!” That is a figure of speech called hyperbole. When I was a teenager living with my parents, my father said to me on more than one occasion as I stood in front of the television, “You make a better door than a window.” He was using a metaphor.
In our Bible passage, Jesus said of himself, “I am the gate,” or in some translations, “I am the door.” This too was a metaphor in which two things which are unlike each other are compared. In this case, Jesus compared himself to a gate in a sheep’s pen. In this case, the figure of speech was used to open people’s eyes to a truth that is hidden right in front of them. Truth can be hidden from us for two reasons. One reason is that we lack knowledge to understand what we are observing. The second reason is we are looking a scene but we unwilling to see it differently than we have thought about in the past. The Greek philosopher, Plato, in his work, The Allegory of the Cave, explained that we most often see life played out in shadows and silhouettes. The figures casting the shadows are behind us. From those shadows in front of us, we try to understand what those figures look like behind us. We are in many ways filling in the blanks and gaps between those shadows because we are blind to the truth. If we live that way long enough, then we forget that the shadows are not real and we become blind to the truth that cast those shadows. In our Bible passage today, Jesus used a figure of speech to improve the spiritual understanding of those willing to be taught the truth and to challenge the spiritual blindness of those unwilling to be taught.
Our passage today is found at the very beginning of Chapter 10 from the Gospel of John. Before we look at that passage we need to spend a minute looking at the end of chapter 9, as our gospel writer, John, was describing the response to Jesus’ healing of a man blind from birth. A nameless man went to the synagogue to share the good news that he had been cured of his blindness. But the religious leaders, the Pharisees, did not believe the man’s claims. No amount of evidence seemed to convince the Pharisees the man had been healed. Enraged by the man’s continued insistence he had been healed, the Pharisees kicked the man out of the synagogue building and out of the community of the Jewish people. The man could now see but was a complete outcast. In Chapter 9, at verse 35, we find that Jesus once again encounters this isolated man. What happens at this juncture in Chapter 9 leads right into our passage in Chapter 10.
“35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36 ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ 37 Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ 38 Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ 41 Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’” As Chapter 9 ended Jesus’ was charging the Pharisees with spiritual blindness for being unwilling to see what is going on before them.
This leads us into our reading today at verse 1 of Chapter 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.”
Jesus used a scene familiar to the Pharisees. The scene involved a shepherd, sheep, a pen for the sheep, and a gate to that pen. Jesus’ point was to every sheep pen there is only one true entrance. The shepherd of the sheep enters and exits through that one gate. He calls his sheep and leads them into and out of the pen. The shepherd leads the sheep during the day towards food and water and then back to the pen in the evening for rest and safety. The Pharisees would have seen shepherd and sheep engaged in this ageless dance countless times. The Pharisees would also have understood that the shepherd and sheep scene was often used to describe God’s relationship (shepherd) to the Hebrew people (sheep). But in Jesus’ scene, he added a twist. Jesus said there are other people interested in the sheep but for very selfish reasons. They want to steal and slaughter the sheep for the money or the meat. They are thieves and robbers. These people will not use the gate. They know their motives are selfish and so they seek to keep their motives hidden from others, particularly those at the gate to the pen. They avoid the gate. So they sneak into the pen by climbing over the wall. The Pharisees understood Jesus’ words. What the Pharisees claimed they did not understand was how the scene Jesus painted related to them or their behavior. The Pharisees could not make a connection between the scene Jesus’ painted and their previous conversation. The Pharisees were unwilling to open their minds and hearts to see things as Jesus saw things. The Pharisees preferred to look at shadows and believe them to be real rather than looking toward the light and seeing things for what they are.
With great patience, Jesus took another step to explain more precisely the truth. “7 Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.’” A gate or the door is the point of entry to a space that is enclosed. Gates or doors control who may enter or who may exit that space. We all understand a gate or a door. The sheep pens of ancient Israel had gates or doors to them at the opening to the wall or barrier. Jesus his previous painting of the sheep pen very personal by making himself the gate to it. Jesus did not change the motif that the sheep represented God’s chosen people. This was a critical point since Jesus had placed himself personally into the story of God’s care for his people. Jesus was essentially saying to the Pharisees, “I know you see the shadows as to how God leads his people, how God will save his people, but now turn and see that I am the one casting those shadows. Turn from the shadows and see the reality that, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
Now having the Pharisees’ attention, Jesus continued, “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.” Jesus’ was blunt. Those who came before him, whether claiming to be the Messiah or claiming that listening to them brought peace and safety were no different than robbers and thieves; they were or are only in it for themselves. There are so many people today who seek people to follow them and be influenced by them. Of a recent list of the top 40 most influential people in America, no more than 4 were Christian. Most of the people on the list were entertainers offering their own philosophy of life seeking people to abandon their faith; they are spiritual robbers and thieves. Jesus said we can know who the robbers and thieves are because they avoid the gate and come over the wall.
Why do these people avoid the door and try to enter the enclosure another way? Let me give you an illustration from my family. I have two sisters. One sister, Marie, is 14 years old than me and the other sister, Sue, is 12 years older than me. Late one night, or more accurately in the very early morning hours, the sister, Marie, arrived home from a date. She was well past her curfew and everyone was asleep. That was her first mistake. Her second mistake was Marie left her house keys in her bedroom. She would have to knock on that door and wake my father, the gatekeeper, to open door. She wanted to avoid that door. So Marie climbed up onto the roof of the porch. My sister Sue’s bedroom had window that looked out onto the porch roof. Marie’s plan was to wake Sue and have her open the window so Marie could come into the house through the window and avoid the door. Marie knocked and successfully woke Sue. Unfortunately, in her half-asleep state Sue thought Marie was knock on the door downstairs. Sue got out of bed walk past the window with Marie looking in and went down the stairs to the front door. Once at the front door, she opened the door and started calling for Marie, “Where are you?” Not long after, lights came on; the doorkeeper awoke. Jesus point was clear. Those seeking for themselves will avoid the door or gate because they do not want to engage the doorkeeper and have their lives examined.
Jesus said, “9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” Jesus established the sole means by which the sheep (those moved by God) can have salvation is through him. “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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). Jesus’ words would have fallen hard on the Pharisees. They thought they understood the shadows and that their interpretation of God through their practices brought salvation. Jesus was saying, “Look not at the shadows, turn and look at me and understand.” “They [the sheep, God’s called] will come in and go out, and find pasture.” Those who have salvation will experience both safety and peace and will be nourished in abundance. “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.”
The Pharisees’ minds were spinning. How could Jesus be right? To accept Jesus’ words would be to reject their understanding of the shadows.
What then do Jesus’ words mean for you and me? I want to focus on just two points. First, we recognize that Jesus came to move us from spiritual shadows of God. People see and sense God but mostly as though they were looking at shadows and trying to understand what and who cast those shadows. People fill in the gaps to make themselves comfortable and then they will worship the shadows as the truth. Jesus says, “Turn from the shadows, come into the light and look at me.” The Apostle Paul turned from the shadows and looked at Jesus. When Paul did so, he said, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15a). The Apostle John turned, saw Jesus and said, “He [Jesus] is full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “We have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life… 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1 & 4). The testimony of the entire New Testament is one in which people were moved to stop looking at the shadows and instead saw the reality of God in Jesus. Is your life lived looking at the shadows of God instead of the truth of God through Christ? If you are, then you are experiencing spiritual blindness. Turn and look at Jesus.
This brings us to our second point. When we have turned from the shadows, and look at Jesus, I mean really look at him, we realize that we are outside the kingdom of God. We may have thought otherwise and may have thought we were in good company, but we are outside the kingdom of God. When we look at Jesus, then we realize that the only means into the kingdom, the way into safety, salvation, is through him as the gate. And there is only one gate. That gate is Jesus.
One time when the apostle Paul and his companion Silas were imprisoned “without warning, a huge earthquake struck! The jailhouse tottered, every gate flew open, all the prisoners were loose. 27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he [the jailer] pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!” 29-31 The jailer got a torch [to shed light on the shadows] and ran inside. Badly shaken, he [the jailer] collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved?” (Acts 16:26-31 MSG). Paul and Silas said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved.” Most simply, do not avoid the gate but enter through the gate known as Jesus. Pass through and believe in him. Be comforted that through that gate is life, abundant today and eternal. Jesus is the reality that we seek. In him, there are no shadows.
Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” Turn to him then be saved and have life, and have it to the full. Amen and Amen.