On a trip to South Dakota, time was spent at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Beyond being a beautiful ranch where a variety of wild horses live in a sanctuary environment, this was also once a homestead. If you ever have the chance to travel that way, I highly recommend making the stop. Make sure to take a moment to look at the remains of a fenced area where a few animals would have been kept by the settlers. A natural wall of rock stands along a portion, then a fence structure meets them, with space left for one opening. I would imagine that this type of arrangement is not unusual in many places still; using natural resources to make a safe holding area.
It probably didn’t look all that different in ancient Israel where sheep were gathered for the evening. The gate itself however wasn’t made of metal or wood, it was the stretched out body of the shepherd; it was here that the shepherd would rest, keeping the predators out and the sheep in. If either the former attempted to enter, or the latter to leave, the shepherd would know as they would have to pass over his body. With one gate, and that being the shepherd, suddenly the impact of the words in John 10:7 carry new weight.
Then Jesus said to them again, John 10:7
I imagine a sheep, suffering from a bout of insomnia and after not overcoming it by counting everyone else standing around in the pasture, decides an evening stroll would be just the thing to do. Moving over to the gate, the sheep sees the shepherd and not wanting to disturb him (or get caught), tries to quietly and stealthily step over the shepherd and out into the area of supposed freedom. No matter how the sheep tries, the shepherd is aware of its presence and moves to intercept. Finally, the sheep is discouraged and gives up, returning to the flock muttering the whole way there. “Always has to be in charge, never lets me do what I want. I just wanted a little walk!”
Suddenly, there are chaotic sounds and motions coming from the gate as the shepherd rises to block a wolf from entering to prey on the sheep. Where the wooly headed creature had just been grumbling, it is now tucked in with the others and loudly singing the praises of the shepherd. “I didn’t know there was a wolf out there! He is such a good protector, always looking out for us.”
I’ve been that kind of a sheep before. I get a little bored and see something beyond the boundaries of where I have been told to stay and am inclined to wander. It is as if there is something on the other side of the fence being dangled to grab my attention. I fidget my way over, knowing the entire while I’m not supposed to wander off. Then, I get annoyed when told again to stay where it is safe. Haven’t you ever rationalized it in your mind? If I can just do this small thing, then I will come back into the fold where the rest of the sheep are. Or sometimes I get turned around, my phone battery must be dead – thus no GPS, and I can go wandering out in what I think is the right direction. However, it really is leading me to places of dangerous drops and thorns.
Yet, the gate itself is the shepherd. And to enter or exit, I would have to pass over his body. It reminds me of how Jesus stretched out on a cross, allowing himself to pay for my sins, your sins. As the ultimate gate, he opened the way to eternal life, showed his love and continues to do so. One little verse in John and I am held awestruck with its meaning.