Three Gates to Spiritual Life

A sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, May 30, 2010

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)

The Scriptures frequently use the imagery of a “door” or “gate” to represent the way that our lives pass from one state to another. Most often, it has to do with the passage from this world to the next, and carries with it the suggestion that some ways are better than others. Today we will look at three places in the New Testament where the Lord speaks about “doors” or “gates” to see how the three different usages combine to give a more complete idea.

I.                    I am the gate of the sheep. (JOH 10:1-10)

A.                  As presented in the first lesson, we are to picture a simple walled enclosure where the sheep are kept safe at night as a representative of heaven.

1.                  The concept of the life after death is presented in very simple ways:

a)                  Outside the sheepfold is dangerous, inside it is safety and peace.

b)                  Even though the world is dark and full of danger, the walls provide protection for those sheep who have obeyed the shepherd and gone in through the gate.

c)                  The shepherd “keeps” the gate. The sheep are allowed in, the bad and dangerous creatures are kept out.

B.                  The lesson carried in the internal sense is also simple and clear:

1.                  In the Word, a “door” represents “truth and good.” It is evident then that the meaning is that entrance to heaven is by means of the truth and good provided to us by the Shepherd. We draw the rules of life from the Word, and we do our best to live according to those rules, and in so doing we are passing through the door from the world of nature into the Lord’s eternal kingdom.[1]

C.                  Equally clear is what happens to those who try to find some other way to guide their life: 

1.                  A “thief” denotes the evil of merit; for he who takes away from the Lord what is His, and claims it for himself, is called a “thief.” As this evil closes the way and prevents good and truth from the Lord from flowing in, it is said “to murder” and “to Destroy.” [2]

D.                 There are lots of other places in the Word where this simple truth, that the only way to heaven is to follow the rules set out by the Lord in the Word, is presented.

1.                  Cain murdering Abel – faith alone instead of the life of charity.

2.                  Tower of Babel – brick and slime to take the place of stone and mortar.

3.                  Saul, unable to wait for Samuel, prepares a sacrifice himself.

4.                  The rich young ruler who asked the Lord how to gain spiritual life, and was sad to hear the answer because he didn’t want to change his way of life, and so on.

II.                  (Mat 7:13-14) “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. {14} “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.[3]

A.                  The context of this teaching is that the disciples had been listening to the Lord giving His sermon on the Mount, telling them many things about salvation and how to live the life that leads to heaven. They, like us, were curious about whether this was something that would be possible for the average person to achieve. The wanted to know if it was really hard to get to heaven, or if lots of people would be able to do it.

1.                  In his answer to them, the Lord does seem to be saying that it is very hard to get into heaven, because there are “few” who find the “narrow gate.”

B.                  We’ve already established that the “gate” in this lesson means truths and goods from the Lord. So, we need to ask ourselves what makes the gate narrow and difficult in this story, when it seemed so simple and easy to find in the story about the sheepfold and the gentle shepherd.

1.                  The sheep have no problem getting through the gate, because they represent people who are in innocence, people who are ready to follow the Lord in simplicity and love.

2.                  The people have trouble getting through the gate because they are not innocent. They are carrying a bunch of spiritual “baggage” with them.

a)                  Many subway systems throughout the world have automated ticket gates. If all you have is a briefcase or newspaper in your hand, the gates pose no problem at all. On the other hand, if you are using the subway to get to the airport with some luggage, getting through that same gate takes on a whole new meaning.

b)                  Or imagine an ancient fortified city such as Jerusalem. Many of the entrances were deliberately kept narrow so that they would be easier to defend against an enemy. That would make it very difficult for a heavily loaded merchant on his way to the market to get through.

(1)               Is this where we get the “camel through the eye of the needle” passage?

c)                  It’s not the gate that’s the problem – it’s all the extra stuff – loves of self and the world, and all the false ideas that support them – that we are carrying around with us. If we can just put those burdens down, the narrow gate works just fine!

(1)               It’s only an appearance that the Lord is making things difficult – we blaming the gate when the problem is our own.

III.                Holy city new Jerusalem. (REV 21)

A.                  A later, more developed view. The sheepfold has become a city, the single gate becomes 12.

1.                  A great and high wall, but three gates on each side.

a)                  A single gate represents the truths and goods in an individual’s mind that prepares them for heaven. “Twelve gates” represent all the goods and truths of the church.

b)                  That they are on each side of the Holy City represents that people of every spiritual region are welcome in the Lord’s eternal kingdom.

2.                  Each gate an individual pearl

a)                  The “pearly gates” of song and story.

(1)               The knowledge and acknowledgement that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One God of heaven and earth.

(i)                 The gates will not be shut at all by day – and it is never night there.

(ii)               The gates will bring the glory and honour of the nations into the Holy City.

(2)               Yet another way to speak to the openness of the Lord’s kingdom. Everyone, from every nation, is welcome provided that they have the two essentials of the church:

(i)                 Love to the Lord.

(ii)               The life of charity towards the neighbour.

(a)               But no one who is not written in the Lamb’s book of Life can enter.

IV.                As we reflect on the course of our lives and the decisions we make it can be helpful to reflect on the many teachings that the Lord has given in the Word to encourage us to do the work of self-examination and repentance, to show us that it is not as difficult as it might sometimes seem. In these three selections from Scripture, we are being led from generals to particulars.

1.                  Sheepfold:  The simple basic idea that the Lord is our gentle shepherd and if we, in simple innocence, follow His lead, the gate will be opened and we can dwell in safety in the heavenly sheepfold.

2.                  The teaching about the “narrow gate” develops the idea by adding the teaching that the difficulties we face getting through the gate are not of the Lord’s making. We need to look at the burdens we are carrying with the purpose of setting them down. Most of the things we worry about are things we won’t need in the other life anyway. We shouldn’t worry so much about things. The Lord will provide the things that we really need if we ask Him to give them to us.

3.                  The Holy City takes us to the next step by telling us what the burdens are that we need to put down:

a)                  Anything that defiles.

b)                  Anything that causes an abomination.

c)                  Anything that is a lie.

d)                 In other words, false ideas arising from the loves of self and the world, and the deeds that result from them; all the things that we should be searching for in our hearts and minds as we prepare ourselves for eternal life.

But the promise, the Covenant, underlies it all, and we should also remember these words of the Lord as we do the work of self-examination, repentance, and reformation, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (JOH 10:9) Amen.


 

First Lesson:  JOH 10:1-10

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. {2} “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. {3} “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. {4} “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. {5} “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” {6} Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. {7} Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. {8} “All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. {9} “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. {10} “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Second Lesson:  Rev. 21:9-13, 21-27

{9} Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” {10} And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, {11} having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. {12} Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: {13} three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

{21} The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. {22} But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. {23} The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. {24} And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it. {25} Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). {26} And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it. {27} But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Third Lesson:  HH 534.

The way that leads to heaven, and the way that leads to hell were once represented to me. There was a broad way tending towards the left or the north, and many spirits were seen going in it; but at a distance a quite large stone was seen where the broad way came to an end. From that stone two ways there branched off, one to the left and one in the opposite direction to the right. The way that went to the left was narrow or restricted, leading through the west to the south, and thus into the light of heaven; the way that went to the right was broad and spacious, leading obliquely downwards towards hell. All at first seemed to be going the same way until they came to the large stone at the place where two ways met. When they reached that point they were separated; the good turned to the left and entered the restricted way that led to heaven; while the evil, not seeing the stone at the fork of the ways, fell upon it and were hurt; and when they rose up they ran on in the broad way to the right which went towards hell. [2] What all these things signified was afterwards explained to me: namely, that by the first way which was broad, wherein many both good and evil went together and talked with each other as friends, because there was no visible difference between them, were represented those who in externals live alike honestly and justly, and between whom seemingly there is no difference. By the stone where the two ways met or at the corner, upon which the evil fell and from which they then ran along the way leading to hell, was represented the Divine Truth, which is rejected by those who look towards hell; and in the highest sense by this stone was signified the Lord’s Divine Human. But those who at the same time acknowledged the Truth and the Divine of the Lord were borne along the way that led to heaven. From these things again it was clear that in externals the evil lead the same kind of life as the good, or go the same way, that is, one as readily as the other; and yet that those who from the heart acknowledge the Divine, especially those within the Church who acknowledge the Divine of the Lord, are led to heaven; while those who do not are borne to hell.

 




[1]See AC 2356:2

[2]AC 5135:12

[3]Cf. LUK 13:24