Jesus: The Gate
John 10:10 concludes with a wonderful promise from Jesus to us: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly!”
Who would not want to be the recipient of such a tremendous promise? But the question is: How do we get it?
A few verses earlier, Jesus speaks of a gate. Imagine, therefore, is a gate that leads to the abundance of life. But how are we to recognize this gate so that we can go through it? As we wander about looking for this gate, we come upon a richly decorated gate called “The Happiness Gate.” The writing on the gate tells us: “Spoil yourself;” “Have it your way;” “Get what you deserve;” “Get what you want;” “Look out for Number 1!” Surely this has got to be the way to the abundance of life, so we run through this gate enthusiastically. But as we travel down this path, all we seem to find are anxiousness, envy and disappointment. We never seem to find ourselves getting anywhere close to the abundance of life.
In the distance we notice a different gate. This gate is not so richly decorated. Indeed, the sign on this gate says that all who go through this gate are to live lives of obedience, service, humbleness and self-sacrifice. Jesus stands in the center of this gate, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9).
Interestingly, the Greeks had a word for “happiness” (eudaimonia), which never appears in the New Testament. It’s not that the Bible is against happiness. God is the inventor of joy and the source of all true joy, and Jesus declares that he came that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” But the New Testament writers saw no reason to write about a gate (“The Happiness Gate”) that will not lead us to the abundance of life. Rather than wasting time on the subject of happiness, Donald Hagner points out, “The Bible has another vocabulary, a more elevated one, for words such as ‘blessedness’ and ‘joy.’… [I]t designates as blessed the person who knows and fears God, who considers the poor, and does justice and righteousness. Blessedness is for the most part directed away from the self. Blessedness is the product of what God has done and our participation in that.” It is not “The Happiness Gate” that gets us to the abundance of life; it is through the gate that is Jesus that we come to the fullness of life.
Jill Carattini points out, “In the ancient walls of Jerusalem, there was a gate on the north of the city, by which animals were brought in from the countryside for sacrifice. It was called the Sheep Gate. Once inside the city and within the temple courts, there was only one door where the sheep went in, and no lamb ever came back out after entering the temple. They traveled in only one direction, and then there they were sacrificed for the sin of men and women. For first-century hearers of Jesus’ words about sheep, such knowledge added to the shock of his words: ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep…. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.’ In the temple filled with sheep on their way toward death, Jesus declared there was a way out: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’”
When we come into the gate that is Jesus, there is death. We surrender our lives to Jesus. But since Jesus took our death—because he became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for us—the surrender of our lives to Jesus turns out not to be death but the abundance of life.
William Barclay sums it up well: “There is no place for a policy of safety first in the Christian life. The one who seeks first ease and comfort and security and the fulfillment of personal ambition may well get all these things—but he will not be a happy man; for he was sent into this world to serve God and his fellowmen. A person can hoard life, if he wishes to do so. But that way he will lose all that makes life valuable to others and worth living for himself…. The way to true happiness is to spend life selflessly, for only thus will we find life, here and hereafter.”