The Only Gate
On the Church Year calendar this is known as "Good Shepherd Sunday." The Gospel this year, however, isn't about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, but Jesus, the Gate. In Bible class we just finished looking at the prayer service held in Yankee Stadium in the wake of September 11. In this prayer service, Christian clergymen, including one Missouri Synod Lutheran, prayed with non-Christian clergymen from the religions of Judaism, Islam, Hindu, and Sikh. You might think that the Prayer for America was about supporting America, patriotism, and rallying around the flag, but it was really about Jesus being the Gate.
Jesus says in our text He is the Gate. Actually, He says He's the only Gate. The Greek construction is emphatic and can rightly be translated, "I and none other am the Gate." Jesus first said these words to the Pharisees, His disciples, and to a man born blind that He had just healed. Jesus had revealed Himself to be the Gate to this man. The man believed in Him and the Pharisees promptly excommunicated the healed man.
The Pharisees, the official church of Jesus' day, did not believe Jesus was the only Gate; they didn't believe Him to be a gate at all. No, In John 5 they said He was a blasphemer because He made Himself equal to God. In John 7 the Jewish leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because He said that He was the Water of life. In John 8, the Pharisees said Jesus had a demon because He said He who heard Him was hearing God. In the face of such unbelief, such hatred, Jesus told them He's the only Gate. The only way to be saved was through Him.
There was a time when most Americans accepted that. This was the time when courthouse lawns put out manger scenes, public schools had Christmas programs, and the time off from school in spring was called Easter break because it was based on when Easter fell. Today, most Americans would say that Jesus is a Gate but not the Gate. It is considered narrow-minded, intolerant, unloving, and un-American to believe that Jesus is the only Gate.
What do you think? Is Jesus the only Gate or is He just one among many others? That's the issue in the Yankee Stadium Prayer Service. The issue isn't whether you love America. Millions of Christians believing Jesus was the only Gate have loved America enough to risk their lives to defend her. Nor is the issue religious freedom. In America you're politically free to worship dirt if you want to. Thousands of Christians have died on the battlefield to defend that political right. Religious freedom is a cherished political right. No President, no court, no police department dare infringe on the political right to have any religion you want.
The issue for Christians: Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, and every other Christian denomination is not love for America or religious freedom, but is Jesus the only Gate or are there other gates to God? The Christian confession of faith is that there are no other Gates other than Jesus. Peter says in Acts 4, "There is no other name under heaven given among man whereby we must be saved." Jesus says in John 14, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me." All Christians agree that while Americans have the political right to worship and believe in any gate they want to- Allah, 'jehovah, Vishnu, Brahma - the God of the Bible forbids believing in, worshiping, or praying to any other Gate other than Jesus because no other gate leads to salvation.
There is only one gate to salvation, Jesus. This is true no matter how many believe otherwise. In America we are use to deciding things by counting votes. When it was determined that Bush got more votes than Gore in Florida, that settled it; Bush was the next President. When light rail was proposed in Austin, the side with 51% of the votes won. Ads regularly appeal to numbers: JD Power and Associates says this car is number one in its survey. Car and Driver ranks this truck best new one. Four out of five dentists choose Trident.
Friends, if we count votes or heads to decide divine truth, we'll certainly err. There were 900 prophets who said Baal was God and only one Elijah who said the Lord was God. 2 spies believed God's promise to give them Canaan; 10 didn't. 5 billion don't believe Jesus is the only Gate; 1 billion Christians believe He is. The true faith has always been in the minority in the world. Therefore, we must repent of judging truth by counting numbers.
Jesus is the only Gate to heaven no matter how many or how sincerely others believe in other gates. Watch the video of Prayer for America. The Rabbis pray just as sincere as the Christians. The Muslim Immans are even more sincere. The Sikh praying in an intense voice seems the most sincere of all. But friends, sincerity is no test of truth. You can sincerely believe with all your heart that drinking poison won't hurt you, and it still will. You can sincerely believe that a door into an empty elevator shaft will take you upstairs, but when you pass through that door your sincerity will not prevent you from dropping like a stone and splattering like an egg.
Dear friends we must repent of judging divine truth by numbers, by sincerity, and by religious devotion. You have friends or acquaintances who are of the Muslim, Jewish, or some other nonchristian faith. You are awed at thier religoius devotion and good works. Your Jewish friend is more at peace in his faith than you are in yours. That Muslim person who takes out his prayer rug and prays in public, shames you for feeling funny about saying your table prayer in public. That non-christian person you know does many more works of charity than you or any other Christian you know.
But friends, Christians have never claimed that their lives or works were superior to non-christians. What we've claimed is that our doctrine is, our Jesus is. Good works, religous piety is not what Christians believe gets them to heaven. Only Jesus, only the Gate. A billion good works, bold religious piety, a thousand prayers even to the true God can never save anyone. Only Jesus can.
Jesus is the only Gate that leads to salvatioin. He is the only Mediator between God and mankind. No one else was sent into the world to redeem sinners. On no one else did God the Father heap the sins of the world. No one else carried away the sins of the world. No one else went to the cross the guilt of all men bearing. No one else bore all the pangs of hell, all the wrath of God, all the torture of man and devil. The blood of no one else was shed to pay for the sins of the world. The Blood of no one else can cover the sins of the world.
As pious, as holy, as sincere, and as popular as all those other religons of the world are, not a one of them knows of the free fogiveness of sins. Not a one of them promises life, let alone abundant life, as a free gift. In the Name of Jesus, Christians procliam that sins have been paid for, the wrath of God has been appeased, and that life, eternal life is freely given. Jesus is the Gate to everlasting life for all no matter what their sins have been, no matter how poor their works, no matter how feeble their faith in Him be. Christianty puts before people a God who is not angry for the sake of Jesus. All other religons put before people a god who is not angry IF...
Dear Friends, how would you live if you knew you would live forever? I mean when your heart stops beating, your lungs stop breathing, and your brain waves stop waving, you wouldn't die. Your eyes wouldn't close into blackness but open to light and life. How would you live if you knew you couldn't go to hell? Though you like Paul were the chief of sinners, though you like Paul had to confess that you were nothing but a wretched man, though you like David had to confess that your sins were ever before you, how would you live if you couldn't go to hell. How would you live day to day if you knew that you weren't at the mercy of the devil? Though he prowled around this earth seeking someone to devour, he couldn't devour you. Though he endlessly chased you through this life, he couldn't catch you. Though like Job he could bring all sorts of evil into your life, still you would be delivered from evil?
That's abundant life in Jesus. This is what He speicfically says that He came to give you. He came bearing your sins so you don't have to feel perpetually guilty. He came dying your death so that you don 't have to fear yours. He came crushing the head of the devil, so that all he can do is flip and flop at your feet like a a fataly wounded snake.
This past Sunday evening I was at a divine service where hymn 315 was sung as the Communion hymn. As a pastor, I never before was able to sing all 15 verses. I was amazed at how clearly the free and certain Gospel of Jesus was proclaimed in that hymn. We sing there such amazing things as, "Thy heart is filled with fervent yearning/ That sinners [not holy people] may salvation see." And, "Weary am I and heavy laden,/ With sin my soul is sore opprest;/ Receive me graciuosly and gladden/ My heart, for I am now Thy guest." "Who can condemn me now? For surely/ The Lord is nigh, who justifies,/ No hell I fear, and thus securely/ With Jesus I to heaven rise."
What clear, what certain, what complete salvation is proclaimed to us in Jesus' Name. What rest, what abundance, what salvation is given to all who go through Jesus, the only Gateway to everlasting life here and now and hereafter in eternity. Salvation is given to you by Jesus in your Baptism washing away your sins; you don't need to win it by keeping the Sabbath day as Judasim teaches. Absolution sends your confessed sins away freely for Jesus' sake; you don't need to merit it by doing good as Isalm teaches. And what other religion teaches that their god gives them his holy body and blood for everlasting life? Allah has no body to give. The god of Judaism has no body and blood to give. Neither Muhammed or Brhama ever rose from the dead to give their followers anything at all.
Friends, our Jesus is the only Gate, and by Baptism, Absolution, and Communion He has brought us into salvation and life. He has brought us where no other god, no other religion could bring us. How can we give the impression that Jesus is only one Gate among many others? How can we stand pointing to our Gate along side those pointing to others as if their gates were not empty elevator shafts leading straight to hell?
What I am speaking about is a basic Christian principle that no Christian at one time would've denied. Jesus is the only Gate to heaven, the only Way to heaven, the only Truth, and the only Life; therefore, all other gates lead to hell, to lies, and to death. This means we support America by paying our taxes, praying for her in our divine services, and defending her with our lives if need be, but we support our fellow Americans by unambigously and without apology pointing to Jesus as the only Gate. We don't help them by allowing the possibility of another gate or by not delcaring other gates to be false. Unless you think it's helpful when someone allows you to keep going in the wrong direction? If we don't think that should be done in regard to this life, how can we possibly think it should be done in regard to the next? Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter IV (4-21-02), John 10:1-10