Living in the Gap
Contrasting himself with all who came before Him, Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14). He also said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7). With the phrase “I am the gate” (or “door,” in many translations), Jesus provides a beautiful picture of who He is, from which His followers can find inspiration to ask the question, “If Jesus is the door, then what sort of people ought we be?” First, let’s consider what it means to be “the door.”
Leading and protecting their sheep, shepherds would often choose to keep sheep in pasturelands overnight. Anticipating impending nightfall, shepherds scanned the horizon for defensible positions like caves or sides of rock formations. In more open terrain they could plan their grazing routes to be near one of the many man-made sheep pens which dotted the land. Some of these were substantial, made from stacked rocks. Others were more makeshift like scrub wood tied together with thorn branches. A common characteristic of any such open-to-the-sky enclosure was its door. Or better, a doorway, and a single one at that. It’s through this single opening that the sheep would enter and exit.
The weakest link in such an enclosed area might seem to be this gap designed for egress but, in the case of pastureland sheep pens, their openings were the strongest link because that’s where the shepherd would station himself. No iron reinforced gates were required because the man himself became the gate. The gap was his post. He made his bed for the night right there, causing his body to be the door. Nothing and no one would pass without encountering the shepherd. This figure of Jesus is most striking: The Good Shepherd, in repose there on the ground through the night serving as “the door,” guarding His flock from thieves and robbers, acting as bulwark against all approaching foes, persevering for the sake of all within. Jesus said, in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Here’s the question that hits me as I reflect on this figure of Jesus lying on the ground protecting His sheep in their pen: Since Jesus is the Good Shepherd who loves His flock by placing His life on the line and staying in the gap, then, as a follower of Jesus, what are my opportunities to do likewise? I’m reminded that Jesus said “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24). Certainly, no one can take Jesus’ place as the door because He alone is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Jesus leads His flock to lie down in lush pasture land, and to drink from calm waters (Psalm 23:2). He is the shepherd who purchased the Church of God with His own blood (Acts 20:28). But, as Jesus’ disciple, I am called to emulate His servant’s heart. That’s what all believers were created to do:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
As followers of Christ, we’re called to imitate Him (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21), and one way to do that is through proximity and time. Like the shepherd on duty who attunes his senses to his surroundings, a Christian’s life priorities should include seeking opportunities where she can seize the opportunity to place herself in the breach for the sake of those around her, thus emulating her Master. What are the gaps in other peoples’ lives into which God is leading us? Into whose lives can we invest our personal presence and care?
By rushing into the void to help others, might we arrest their attention as tangible evidence bearers reflecting the Holy Spirit’s work in the world? We are Christ’s body: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). As Jesus calls us to be His under shepherds in the gap, it will be His fruit that fills that gap. It’s our proximity that others will notice, but it’s God’s power that will move us.
Often the greatest need is for believers to publicly proclaim their reliance on Jesus and to invite others to consider Jesus the door, the One who took the form of a servant and became vulnerable (Philippians 2:7). When I hear Jesus say “I am the door,” I see Him bridging the wide, impassable, cosmic gap between death and eternal life with His own life. With His sacrifice for my sin He purchased the indescribable gift of my salvation (2 Corinthians 9:15). Because He is good, He is the door. Does my dependence on Him move me to tell others about the Chief Shepherd of my life? He restores my soul (Psalm 23:2), and He should be on display through my works and words.
Since Jesus is the door, what sort of people are we to be? How about a people who bask in the Good Shepherd’s astounding love for them and then, in response, reflect His love to the world with their lives?
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
1 John 3:16
God is calling us all to fix our eyes on the Good Shepherd, and then be like Him by living in the breach for others.
Into what gaps is God leading you?
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Jack Gross is a graduate of Advanced Leadership Training at Grace Polaris Church. He and his wife, Evon, came to Grace in the fall of 2008. Jack enjoys working with his hands and is employed by the facilities department at Worthington Christian Schools. He worked with the warehouse crew at Grace helping to build Living Christmas Tree sets. He has recently joined the nursing home ministry as a speaker at Friendship Village. He also enjoys the wonders of creation by tending his perennial garden. Jack and Evon have two teenage sons and have lived in Columbus all their lives.