Jesus said, 'I am the gate of the sheepfold.'

I am the Gate
Wed, 6th September, 2023, 13:30 - 14:00
Service Type

Jesus said, ‘I am the gate.’

It’s a very rustic, English-looking, gate that Lee has drawn: a wooden gate in a dry stone wall. It’s the kind of gate you can imagine a Jane Austen heroine passing through, doing her charitable duty, on her way to deliver calf’s foot jelly and potted preserves to the poor of the parish. Perhaps it isn’t used so much as it used to be: the grass is growing rather long on this side of it. It made me think of Pilgrim’s Progress:


Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder wicket-gate? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining light? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto: so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do. So I saw in my dream that the man began to run.


I am not sure that I am proud of being English. What’s the point, after all, of being proud of something which you did nothing to achieve or, supposing it to be worth having, to deserve? But I am proud to call John Bunyan brother; and if there is an Englishness that I love, it is his. Stubborn, brave, honest, humble; a tinker and a singer; some time, probably, a soldier; a writer, a pastor and a man of prayer. Imprisoned for his stubborn faith, celebrated for his passionate writing, a faithful, unsilenced - and unsilenceable - preacher; truly a man of God in Christ. Bunyan is my kind of Englishman.


Christ is the gate. At the beginning of the journey, he is the way in. This gate made me think that my own way in may indeed have been very English: that I am a Christian because I was an English choirboy, trained in an English grammar school choir, who came to faith singing in the chapel of an Oxford College and became a minister in the Church of England. It’s a very English route. I am pretty sure that Bunyan - who was, after all, imprisoned for his refusal to be an Anglican - would have thought that most of it was tosh.


But however we found our way in - however we might describe the historical accidents of the way we came to the faith in which we stand - if we are part of Christ’s flock, then somehow or other we came in through Christ himself, because he is the gate of the sheepfold.


The gate of a sheepfold in the Palestine of Jesus’s time was very different from what it might be in ours. The shepherd made himself the gate, by lying down across the access to the fold. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep: the thief or wild animal who wants to ravage the flock, has to get past the shepherd first. Christ, the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us at Calvary. You cannot get into the fold some other way: you must accept the undeserved benefit of that sacrifice. From the wicket gate, Bunyan’s pilgrim will travel up the hill towards the cross and there, in my favourite moment in all of Pilgrim’s Progress, he is set free from the burden of his sin:


He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre…Just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart, "He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death."


Only if we have come to the foot of the cross, and left there our sins and sinfulness, and all the burden of the guilt which comes with them - a burden that we cannot carry on our own - only if we have done that, can we set out upon the Way of Christ at all.


Jesus is the way in. Jesus is the Gate.