Well done for making it through to Friday. It’s been lovely to share these podcasts with you over the last 5 days, and I am excited to hear Liam continue our journey through John next week.
Today’s Bible passage is John 10: 1-21. It’s a well known section of Scripture about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. Slightly unusually, the work of shepherds has been in the news this week, as Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart both mentioned sheep farmers in the televised debate between Tory leadership hopefuls that was held on Tuesday evening. I’m not keen to make the podcast political, so rather than focus on the character of the shepherd, I’d actually like us to look today at another person who is mentioned in these verses; and that’s the gatekeeper.
Verses 2 and 3 say, “The One who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.”
In other translations the gatekeeper is also referred to as ‘the watchman.’ In the Bible this job was essentially 2 roles in one.
As Christians, we are perhaps used to knowing that we are sheep, and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. As disciples of Jesus, we accept that he lay down his life for us and therefore we choose to follow his voice along the paths that he leads us.
However, the truth that we need to learn from today’s passage is that we are also gatekeepers and watchmen too.
But what exactly do these jobs entail?
In the Old Testament gatekeepers were trusted officials with great responsibility. The two roles that we normally read about are gatekeepers for a city and gatekeepers for the Temple. In either position, they had to be both alert and prepared. Temple gatekeepers were also given the job of ensuring that nothing unholy entered God’s house and they were also in charge of protecting the temple treasures.
In Isaiah 62 we read, “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent……..Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples.”
In John 10, Jesus doesn’t just say that he is the Good Shepherd. He also says that he is the Gate. It is through him that people get to experience abundant life. So today, as gatekeepers, we are not protecting treasures or sheep; but people. In this role we are to always be alert, always look for opportunities to open up about our faith. As we do this we are preparing the way for people to meet with Jesus, to go through the gate and enter a relationship with Him.
The watchman part of the role is quite simple really – watchmen sound a warning about possible attack. In the Old Testament it involved sounding a trumpet. Today, brass instruments are not involved, but it would mean speaking up and speaking out when you see people drifting away or being caught by the father of lies.
Being a watchman means helping people to listen to the voice of Jesus in the Bible and through prayer, and sounding out a warning when you see the thieves and robbers of the world trying to take people away from the better life that God intended for them.
Now we know a bit about gatekeepers and watchmen, how can we apply this to our own lives?
Firstly, we need to know the sheep that we are the gatekeepers and the watchmen for. You may be familiar with the saying ‘We are all sheep from the front, but shepherds from behind.’ Who are the non-Christians in our lives that are looking to us to lead them to Jesus? Ask God to show you today who the people are that you are being called to be a gatekeeper for.
Secondly, in our role as gatekeepers are we prepared and ready to take every opportunity to be that person who opens the gate for someone else, so that they can meet Jesus and hear his voice? Whether you are at work, at home, in the shops, at the park; ask God to give you boldness today and in the coming weeks to speak to others about your faith in Jesus, and to invite people to church or on the Alpha course, or both.
Thirdly, where do we need to be a watchman, or who are we meant to be the watchmen for? The passage that we read earlier from Isaiah said, “Build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples.” Where do we need to build people up? Are their people or places where we need to help clear stones or boulders that have become stumbling blocks to faith? Where do we need to raise a signal, or sound the alarm, as we see an attack from the enemy? It might be that you are a watchman for the people in your cell or cluster. It could be your children or family. Or it might be a situation in your workplace which is unhealthy, and you need to speak out about it.
Whether it is helping people to understand and apply the Bible more to their everyday lives, so that they are protected against the work of the enemy; or a situation that you see, where the Devil is trying to snatch people away from following God, and undermine their faith – ask the Holy Spirit to give you the confidence to speak out. The role of the watchman is just as important as the gatekeeper, as it is all about protecting the people of God. Let us not take this role lightly, or desert our post and assume someone else will take up this responsibility.
In the Bible gatekeepers and watchmen were expected to be alert and prepared, and they were entrusted with the security not only of the house of God, but of whole cities. These roles were so important, that they were considered to be sacred.
Today, let us fulfil our spiritual duty to be gatekeepers and watchmen for the Kingdom of God. In prayer, let’s protect the walls from any attack from the enemy, and with boldness let us speak out a warning when we see the father of lies trying to draw people away. And let us always be ready to open the gates for people to meet the Good Shepherd, so that they can hear his voice speak freedom and truth into their lives.
Heavenly Father, teach us more about what it means to be gatekeepers and watchmen in your kingdom. May we take every opportunity to open the gate for others to meet with you, and stay alert to attacks from the enemy. Amen.
READING: John 10:1-21 (NRSV)
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “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. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”