When Jesus said, “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures,” he was undoubtedly speaking about a sheep-fold. These were stone or branch enclosures where a shepherd would bring his sheep to bed down for the night. It represented safety and security, not just because the enclosure kept wolves at bay but because the shepherd would remain nearby through the night. Jesus was drawing a stark contrast between himself and the religious leaders of his day, who he described as ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers’. When we enter a relationship with Christ we find safety and security. We can “come and go freely” not only because the sheep-fold exists but because the Shepherd is present with us.
Jesus’ words also suggest a deeper meaning. When the Jewish people returned from captivity in Babylon their first task was to rebuild the walls surrounding Jerusalem. They began this work by rebuilding the “Sheep Gate,” called thus because it was the gate through which the priests brought the sheep to be sacrificed in the Temple. The rebuilding of the Sheep Gate was led by the High Priest, Eliashib. (Nehemiah 3: 1-2)
The Sheep Gate is a picture of our salvation in Christ. The sacrificial lambs of Old Testament time shed their blood as a covering for sin, and now Christ has shed his blood as atonement for our sin. (Romans 3:25) The Sheep Gate was built by the High Priest, and now Christ is our High Priest. (Hebrews 8) It’s also no coincidence that the High Priest’s name – Eliashib – means, “God restores,” and that this High Priest was restoring the gate that led to the altar of forgiveness, and that gate was a picture of Christ, who restores us to a right relationship with God. All of this represents Jesus who is the way in which we enter into the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus is the “Sheep’s Gate.”
The 3rd chapter of Nehemiah describes the re-building of Jerusalem’s walls and that chapter begins and ends with the Sheep Gate, just as everything about our relationship with God always returns to Jesus. In 1517 the Sultan Suleiman, as the result of a dream, renamed this gate “The Lion’s Gate,” unknowingly foretelling the time when Jesus will return not as the Lamb That Was Slain, but as the Lion of Judah. (Rev. 5: 5)
What’s the point of all this? Well… God is working in multiple dimensions at once. Always has been, always will be. And if he can weave this amount of detail together over centuries of history then he can handle the details of my life right now. We serve a God who is not surprised by what is happening to us today, and won’t be surprised by what happens tomorrow. And seeing God’s hand in history like this makes me realize that, truly, “…all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Whatever you’re worried about today… God has got it covered. Your situation may not turn out the way you hope, but – if you’re willing – God will use it for a greater good.
Sometimes, receiving and answer to our prayers is not so much a matter of faith but rather of trusting God when the fulfillment of His promise seems to be delayed. We must realize that we won’t immediately receive everything we are ask for. The Scriptures tell us, “The testing of [our] faith produces patience. (James 1:3) This statement indicates that while we are exercising our faith, a period of time may pass. That doesn’t mean that we are supposed to stay sick or defeated until Christ returns. Rather, it tells us that we must persevere in order to obtain our promises and miracles form God.
What should we do when the promise doesn’t manifest immediately? We should ask the Holy Spirit to give us discernment regarding which type of faith to exercise in a given situation and moment – either “now” faith that receives the manifestation immediately, or faith that perseveres until God is ready to release the miracle for us to receive. We should also wait faithfully and confidently for the manifestation of the promise.
“Allow me to share a word of advice from the Bible that is useful in protecting the heart: Be careful about what, and whom, you listen to. (See, for example, Philippians 4:8; Ephesians 4:29) Don’t accept words of doubt or fear; don’t receive – or join in with – other people’s murmuring and complaining. As you guard the gate of your heart grant admittance only to words that build and edify your faith, that bring you peace and joy, and that encourage truth, holiness, and a desire to seek God in a deeper way. “Listen” closely to God’s Word as you read and study the Scriptures. Your heart needs to be guarded in peace.”
In the creation story, the first thing God said was, “Let there be light.” This light immediately separates day from night. Yet if we read on in the first chapter of Genesis we learn the sun was not created until day four. How could we have light in the world – dividing day from night – before the sun was created? There are various theories and ideas about this. Some ancient rabbis believed that the ‘light’ of Genesis 1:3 was the Messiah and that this shows God – from the beginning of creation – understood that the Messiah was to come to God’s people. (The Apostle Paul shared this belief – see 2 Corinthians 4:6)This is part of what Jesus was referring to when he said, “I am the Light of the world.”
Jesus made this extraordinary statement in the Women’s Court of the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles. In this courtyard were four huge bowls filled with oil, from which four smaller bowls of oil were suspended. These were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles at sundown, and worshippers danced for joy in their light. These blazing lamps represented the ‘fire by night’ that led the Israelites through the wilderness. Jesus was probably standing in the light of these great lamps when he said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”
John’s Gospel begins with an account of John the Baptist and the Gospel writer says this: “God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Where was John baptizing? In the Jordan River – the dividing line between the wilderness the Israelites wandered in and the Promised Land they were to call their home and it was to this very river that the “pillar of fire” led them. When he says, “I am the light of the world” Jesus is hearkening back to thousands of years of Jewish history while indicating that he is still the one to lead us to our ‘promised land’ today.
In John 6, Jesus feeds a crowd of more than 5,000 using a five loaves of bread and a two fish. The next day, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds appear once more, looking for more bread. To their request Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”
Jesus then goes on to describe himself as the “…living bread that came down from heaven,” referencing the manna God provided to the Israelites in the wilderness. The people looking for bread are seeing only the physical, material world and want only a physical, material benefit from Jesus. Instead, Jesus offers them something entirely different – eternal life. Jesus is saying that what we really hunger and thirst for is not food or drink, but life. We must, of course, eat food and drink water, and these will keep us alive. But Jesus is offering us a reason to live, a purpose to life, offering us the energy and vitality to live life to its fullest. That reason and purpose to life is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and the energy and vitality of a life lived to its fullest comes from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Our western, rational minds want to believe that this physical world is all we have. Jesus sees things differently. ”But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food,” Jesus says. “Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.” The only way this statement can make sense is if Jesus has the ability to give us eternal life, and if that eternal life is a life worth pursuing. Jesus knew exactly who he was and exactly what he had to offer the world. Do you?
For Further Reflection:
- Exodus 16
- John 6
- Deuteronomy 8:3
- 1 Corinthians 2:14
- Matthew 6:11
- Matthew 4:4
- 2 Corinthians 10:14-17
By the time we reach the 8th chapter of John’s Gospel, the opposition to Jesus from the religious leaders of the day is coming to a head. Jesus has a lengthy discussion with the people in the Temple courtyards, and this discussion is concerned entirely with Jesus’ identity. Is he a prophet, like the prophets of old? Is he a miracle worker, empowered by God – or a miracle worker empowered by the devil? Is he the long-awaited rescuer of Israel, sent by God?
Jesus takes their questions beyond his questioner’s wildest imaginings. As the climax to this discussion Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The full significance of this statement is lost to our modern, western minds. The Jewish people believed that they were descendants of their great father, Abraham. Moses received the law and gave birth to the nation of Israel, but it was Abraham who received the promise of God that, one day, a great people would arise from his lineage. That is, Moses created the nation of Israel, but Abraham gave it a reason for being. Abraham received the promise of God, and the Israelites then inherited that promise. They were to be the people of One True God, and no other.
By saying, “Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus is placing himself as someone greater than Abraham; someone who is has lived since the beginning of time. He is telling us that he exists in eternity, existing simultaneously in the time before Abraham and in this present moment. And he is echoing back to the experience of Moses at the burning bush, where God tells Moses that his name is “I Am That I Am.” The religious leaders picked up stones with which to kill Jesus, not because those leaders didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but because they did. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he was telling his listeners, and telling us, that he is God.
For Further Reflection:
- Exodus 3
- Genesis 15:1-6
- Romans 4:1-3
- Romans 4:20-25
- John 1:1-2
- John 17:4-5
- John 17:24
- John 10:30
Part 1 of this series is here
How is a person’s character formed? Is a person born with their character intact, waiting for life to uncover it? Is a person’s character shaped and molded by life? Or is it a combination of the two? What about a person’s identity? How is that formed?
Our self-identity is made of the things we believe about ourselves. If we’re to be honest, we all believe that we are flawed to some extent. We are wounded people, we are all broken in some place, we are all carrying hurts and failings. We have all done things we regret, and we have all hurt others with our words and actions (the old-fashioned way of saying this is to say that we have all sinned)
This is why accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour is such a profound act. When we do so, we are no longer broken, flawed, sinful individuals. We become, instead, children of God, dearly loved and made whole in God’s sight. The moment we understand and accept this fact as being true our identity changes. The problem, however, is that many of us continue to live with our old identity. We continue to identify ourselves as “a sinner, saved by grace,” instead of a “a child of God, enjoying his grace”. No, none of us are perfect. But when Christ is our Saviour, our acts of sin are the result of us acting out of character. When we intentionally wound the heart of God, others or ourselves, we do so because we have forgotten who we really are.
Jesus knew exactly who he was, and there was absolutely no doubt in his mind as to his true identity. He was absolutely secure in his relationship with God, and absolutely certain he was deeply loved by God. This is what makes the “I Am” statements of Jesus so profound and so powerful – they give us a glimpse into what Jesus believed about himself. And these statements give us the assurance and the power to see our identity and our character change into the perfect and beautiful likeness of Christ.
Advent is the time of year when Christians anticipate Christmas in a month long process called ‘Advent’. We look forward to to being with family, opening presents and eating the big dinner, but during Advent we also try to put ourselves in the shoes of the ancient Israelites. We imagine what it was like to wait, all those thousands of years, for the Messiah to come. We feel, more than we know, the longing of waiting for salvation to come. The Jewish people were waiting for someone to free them from the oppression of the Roman empire. In this we see a picture of longing to be free from our own guilt, sorrow, suffering and pain.
This is such a dark time of the year. Those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder become depressed at this time of year due to the absence of daylight. The suffering is real. All of us who live in Canada may find ourselves longing for the light during December and January. But right in the middle of this dark and difficult time is the Winter Solstice. On that day we have the least amount of daylight of any day on the calendar. The good news is that the days start getting longer the next day. The light comes, life comes, hope returns.
It’s popular to bash Christmas as being the corruption of a pagan holiday – the Winter Solstice. Truth is, the Christian celebration of Christmas and the pagan celebration of Solstice share a lot of spiritual elements. Darkness being displaced by light. Life, light, hope. But despite how much these two celebrations have in common, they are not the same. In Christmas, we have the eternal light of God entering the world in the form of a child. In Christmas, we have God reaching out to us, entering into our world, entering into our pain and suffering, bringing light, life and hope. The baby Jesus is called God’s gift because with Jesus came God’s love and his offer of a loving relationship. I love you, God said, and I want to be with you.
The essential difference between Solstice and Christmas is that with Christmas comes the offer of love. Christmas is not a corruption of Solstice, but a completion of it. In Jesus is the promise of Solstice made complete.
i have not praised you
in the rumpled sheets,
the sleepy eyes,
the tousled hair.
i have not praised you in smoothness of yogurt,
the ripe, red roundness of strawberries,
the solemn breakfast coffee.
i have not praised you the lost blanket, doll, tiny metal truck,
the forgotten lunch, the left-behind school book.
i have not praised you in the mound of laundry.
in the sink full of dishes.
in the swish of the toilet brush.
i have not praised you in the car,
in the traffic,
in the bank,
in the parking lot,
in the chance encounter
i have not praised you in the tattered white lines
at the edge of the soccer pitch,
in the child’s skinned knee,
in the noise and haste of McDonald’s,
in the arguing children in the back seat.
perhaps one day, Lord,
if you’re really patient,
and i have not praised you Lord
in the fine china we save, and never use.
in the vase that sits empty, hidden in a cupboard,
in the music silent in its case,
in the cologne wilting in the bottle,
in forsaken after dinner walks,
in forgotten good-night kisses.
i have not praised you as I should, Lord
but perhaps one day,
if you’re really patient,