Psalm 118:1, 18-19
The Gate’s Open!
Dr. Philip W. McLarty
As some of you know, I learned to fly back in high school. I’ve flown small planes, off and on, ever since. Not long after moving to Hope, Mike Dugger offered to let me to fly his airplane. I jumped at the chance. I went flying late one Sunday afternoon in October. The weather was perfect – cool, crisp, a slight breeze. I flew until almost dark. I landed, put the plane back in the hangar and got in my truck to go home.
Now, you need to know that the airport is enclosed by a security fence. There are two gates, one near the hangar; another, near the rotating beacon. I had come in through the gate by the rotating beacon, so, naturally, that’s the way I headed out. But when I got there, the gate was closed. To open it, you have to have a remote control, like a garage door opener. Of course, being new to town, I didn’t have one.
“No problem,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just go out through the other gate.” I drove around the hangar and, well, you guessed it, that gate was closed, too. I was locked in with no visible means of getting out. Or so it seemed.
Well, to make a long story short, I found a path winding through the FEMA trailers. I knew I was trespassing, but what else could I do? I drove straight to the guard shack and tried to convince the guards I wasn’t a terrorist. Thanks to Paul Henley, I now have an opener of my own. It won’t happen again.
But I’ll never forget the experience. It was helpless feeling being locked in, as it were. I would’ve felt just as helpless if I’d been locked out and needed to get in. And it gave me an insight I wanted to share with you this morning: When you’re locked in – or locked out, whichever the case may be – there’s no sweeter sound than for someone to say to you, “Come on in, friend, the gate’s open.”
I wanted to share that with you because, in a word, that’s the Good News of Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem as King of kings and Lord of lords, and he suffered and died so that the gates of the city – the gate of salvation – might be opened for you and me. In the words of the Psalm for today,
“Open to me the gates of righteousness.
I will enter into them” (Psalms 118:19).
Jesus is the gate through which all might enter into the glory of God’s eternal presence.
Gates played a significant role in the lives of ancient people. As civilization moved from primitive huts to more developed communities, cities were born. To protect a city from intruders, walls were built so that the only way to get in and get out was through a gate.
If you’ve ever traipsed over the ruins of ancient cities, you know that they all have this in common: They were surrounded by walls and protected by elaborate gates. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we read:
“So Yahweh our God delivered into our hand Og also,
the king of Bashan, and all his people:
and we struck him until none was left to him remaining.
We took all his cities at that time….
All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars”
Ancient city gates developed a life of their own. Their primary purpose, of course, was defense. When the gates were closed, attackers had a hard time getting in.
But in peaceful times, they were like open-air malls. They acted as funnels – all the traffic in and out of the city had to squeeze through these narrow passages. So, vendors would set up shop on either side of the street to hawk their wares to passers-by.
They also served as political arenas. The city gate was where men, mostly, met to gossip and pontificate and discuss the issues of the day. Proverbs 31 says that the good wife’s husband … “is respected in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” (Proverbs 31:23) In Psalm 69, the psalmist complains, “Those who sit in the gate talk about me.” (Ps. 69:12)
In 1998, I got to walk through the ruins of the city of Banyas in northern Israel. There, archeologists had uncovered a large marble throne near the front gate where the ruler of the city sat to issue decrees and settle disputes.
Of course, for every gate there was gatekeeper, whose job it was to open and close the gate and, when it was open, to monitor the flow of traffic and watch for troublemakers.
Gates played a significant role in the lives of ancient people. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how this lent expression to people of Israel and their relationship to God. For example, Psalm 100 says,
“Shout for joy to Yahweh, all you lands!
Serve Yahweh with gladness.
Come before his presence with singing….
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
into his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:1-2, 4).
It speaks of how, on dramatic occasions like Palm Sunday, God comes into our lives and touches us with his grace and love. As the psalmist writes,
“Lift up your heads, you gates!
Be lifted up, you everlasting doors,
and the King of glory will come in” (Psalm 24:7).
Jerusalem was a walled city, and it’s believed that, at the time of Christ, it had as many as nine gates. The ones you see today were built later over the ruins of those destroyed by the Babylonians and, later, the Romans.
To mention a few, there’s the Joppa Gate opening to the road to Joppa – modern day Tel Aviv – and the Damascus Gate leading to Damascus. There’s the Sheep Gate, where sheep were brought in for sacrifice, and the Dung Gate where the garbage was taken out.
Most likely, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through the East Gate, sometimes called the Golden Gate. It was a double gate and the only one facing the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives. Today, it’s sealed shut, but that’s another story. So, following his path from Bethphage to Bethany and into Jerusalem, it makes sense to think this is the point where he entered the holy city.
But what’s important for us is not the gate he came through, but what he did after he got there. For, once inside the city, Jesus went to the Temple and drove out the merchants and overturned the moneychangers’ tables. He said,
“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you have made it a den of robbers!” (Matthew 21:13)
He came back, day after day, to tell of the Kingdom of God. On Thursday evening, he met with his disciples in an upper room to celebrate Passover. It was to be his last supper with them. Afterward, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and there he was arrested and taken before Caiaphas, the high priest. The next day he stood before the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, who condemned him for blasphemy and sent him to be tried before Pilate.
Pilate saw it as a domestic dispute, an internal matter for the Jews to resolve, but, then, he was under a lot of pressure. So, he condemned Jesus of treason and sentenced him to be scourged and put to death on a cross.
In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ death was expedient, a simple way of ridding both church and state of a nuisance. But through the eyes of faith, Jesus’ death fulfilled God’s plan of salvation; for, in dying, he gave his life as an atonement for our sins. He died in order that we might live. In so doing, he established a new covenant – a new relationship with God – a relationship based not on judgment and sin and works of the Law, but on forgiveness and mercy and a life of grace and love.
In a word, he opened the gates of heaven for all who would come in. Talk about Good News! What better news could you ask for than this: The gate’s open!
The question is what if you don’t go in? What if, for whatever reason, you stay on the other side?
The other day in our Communicants’ Class we talked about how we understand salvation in the Reformed Faith. We talked candidly about what it means when someone asks you, “Are you saved?”
Bottom line, we believe that the starting point of salvation is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, if someone were to ask, “Are you saved?” the proper response is, “Yes, I am! I was saved at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon about two thousand years ago.” As Paul told the Ephesians,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
God’s grace was an accomplished fact long before any of us ever arrived on the scene. So, the question is not, “Are you saved?” rather, to what extent are you aware of the salvation won for you by Jesus Christ? And, along with that, how has what he’s done for you changed your life?
I’ve taught Confirmation Class for a long time now. And I’ve often wondered, as I watched 6th, 7th and 8th graders join the church, if they were truly making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, or if they were just going through the motions. Oh, they’d mumble, “Yes,” when asked the question, but what did it mean to them? That’s what I always wanted to know. I suspect some would tell you, if they were perfectly honest, they were doing this because that’s what was expected of them, or they were just going along with the others.
Whatever their explanation, the problem isn’t that they’re not saved, but that they don’t know it. They’ve never had a personal encounter with the living Christ, never experienced the fullness of his grace and love, never felt the power of his resurrection and the promise of eternal life.
For the most part, they’re Christians in name only. The gate of the kingdom is wide open to them, but they’re still standing on the other side. One of the old camp songs goes,
“I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.”
How would you describe your faith journey? Was there ever a moment in time in which you consciously and intentionally decided to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and honor him as the Lord and Savior of your life? If not, there’s no better time than today.
And if it seems like a distant memory – something you did a long time ago, and perhaps for dubious reasons – there’s no better time than now to rededicate your life to Christ. In the privacy of your own heart, offer a simple prayer like this: “Lord Jesus, I give myself to you. You are the Lord of my life. From now on I’m yours, wholly and completely. Use me accordingly to your will. Amen.”
It won’t change how God feels about you. God already loves you completely and unconditionally. But it will change how you feel about yourself. And in time, it’ll give you peace of mind and the assurance that, come what may, nothing can ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Well, it’s Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and I can’t think of anything more fitting to express the mood of the day than the words of this great, old Advent hymn:
“Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates;
Behold, the King of glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here!
“Redeemer, come, with us abide;
Our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in us reveal.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2007, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.