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The Gate to Life Acts 2:42-end; John 10:1-10

Introduction
My son and I were walking in the countryside this week enjoying the Spring sunshine and we were making our way through a field full of sheep and their lambs. Rob tried calling them but they didn’t respond. We imagined that they would respond to a familiar voice – to the shepherd or farmer whom we thought might come to check on his flocks once or twice a day. At one point Rob noticed a lamb stuck in a fence and we freed it. It ran off to its mother who had been waiting nearby looking helpless.

I am the Gate
There are a number of “I am” sayings in John’s gospel including “I am the light of the world”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the way, the truth and the life” and “I am the Good Shepherd”. In today’s reading Jesus describes himself as the door or the gate. Sometimes this is mistakenly put together with “I am the Good Shepherd” because they both use the image of sheep. However this is to miss the point of Jesus saying that he is the gate.

The raising and care of sheep in modern Britain is very different from that of biblical times. We are used to flocks being in large green fields with strong fences around them. There is plenty of grazing and no need for constant supervision. In Bible times the flock had to be kept in a fold (perhaps of stone or wood) overnight and then led out by the shepherd to find fresh grazing each day. The shepherd slept across the opening of the sheepfold so that no sheep escaped and no wild animal or thief came in without having to confront or avoid the shepherd. In that sense the shepherd literally was the door or gate that protected the sheep inside and then opened the way for them to go out and find grazing and water the next day.

Let us reflect a little further on this image of Jesus being the gate. Although Jesus may not have had in mind at the time how he would achieve it, we know that he would provide protection for his followers and abundant life for his flock. The protection he brought was against evil and the effects of sin. The life he was to lead his people into would be eternal life. Jesus did this, not just by coming to earth and carrying out his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing, but also in the end, through the cross. A gate and a cross are both made of the same material, wood. Just so, Jesus the gate of protection and the gateway to life is one and same.

Abundant Life
When Jesus first talked of the flock being cared for the disciples were puzzled. It seemed Jesus was talking in riddles. They did not understand exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke of those who did not come in by the gateway who were actually thieves. They did not realise what Jesus meant when he talked of the sheep recognising the voice of the shepherd. That is when Jesus responded by stressing his own role as the gate. Previously false Messiah’s had come along and tried to exploit the people of God. But the one who is the true Messiah sent from God, know the flock, protects them from harm and gives them access to abundant life.

What was this abundant life which the people of God were to enjoy? Well, that is where the reading from Acts comes in. This short passage gives us a snapshot of the life of the early Church. The first believers shared in four particular ways: they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (vs 42) These four basics of the shared life of the first Christians have remained fundamental to what it means to be one of Christ’s flock: teaching, fellowship, bread-breaking and prayers. These four things are the life-blood or the vital air that makes for abundant life in Christ. Without learning at the feet of the apostles there can be little true understanding of the life of Christ. Without sharing together in the family of Christ, there is no real membership of that flock. Without eating together, especially at the Lord’s Supper, there is no way in which spiritual life in Christ can be sustained. Without prayer there is no contact with the one who knows us, calls us by name and no recognition of the voice that calls us to live in him.

Challenging Life
Growing out of these four basics of life in Christ were other practical applications in the way that the early Church functioned. As we learn they were filled with awe or a sense of reverence; they experienced signs and wonders; they made sure everyone had what they needed in practical terms; and they experienced growth in numbers and goodwill among the people.

It can seem very challenging to us as we learn of what life was like for those first believers. It can make us feel that we’re a very long way from an ideal, or it can seem to totally alien that we wonder if we are in the same flock these thousands of years later! We are perhaps aware of the times when idealists have tried to recapture the special life of the first believers. Surely there should be miracles – signs and wonders! Surely we should hold a common purse – from each according to their means and to each according to their means! Surely more and more people should become Christians and the Church should be accepted and welcomed by the general public! Sadly, we are only too aware how far from this model we have come! We may be aware that experiments have been made through the Church’s history in say, expecting the miraculous in church life, or in holding a common purse where none is in need and those with plenty are generous.

I think it is important to realise two things: the first, (which I have hinted at already) is that although the first four characteristics of the Church’s life do not change (teaching, fellowship, bread-breaking and prayer), the practical application of that life may be secondary. The second is that because times change the situation in which the Church exists now is very different from then, so we cannot expect it to be an exact replica of the picture presented in Acts. Instead, we need to see what the principles of those things were, and then ask ourselves what the Church should be in our own day.

Practical Life
The four basics of Christian life are still very much present in the Church, even though they may have grown more formalised as the Church has developed. Learning from the Scriptures, belonging to a fellowship, celebrating the Lord’s Supper and praying, however they are carried out are fundamental. But the way in which the first Christians applied these in their life cannot be copied exactly. They shared things in common because they lived as family. With the worldwide growth of the Church this is not possible, although spiritually we are all heirs of the same heavenly Father. Indeed, experiments in communalism have been tried in the past, and some smaller communities within the church still practise a common purse. But being committed to welfare, to making sure that all have what they need and those who are blessed with much share something of their wealth is part of a Christian way of life.

Whilst the miraculous does happen from time to time, we cannot make miracles happen. However we are to be committed to wholeness in all its aspects – healing physically, mentally, emotionally and socially is important and the Church can work for that. We do not have a temple to spend a great deal of time in, but to be a people that carry round a sense of reverence is important. There is too little sense of the sacred in the life of our modern world. Finally, although we may not always think we’re growing in numbers and enjoying the goodwill of the public, that sense of being open to all is vital. We are to be ready and expectant to welcome new members; we may not always be popular, but we are there for the good of our society.

This is abundant life, the life to which Jesus is the gateway. As he put it: “whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith

 

   


 
 

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen


 

 



Acknowledgements