Four years ago, I sat on the lawn at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia. My husband and I had traveled more than ten hours in a hot church van with about eight teenagers all excited about Atlanta Fest, and the festival was amazing! This story, however, didn’t begin on our trip; it begins on that lawn.
Lecrae, a sensational hip-hop artist, was speaking on the side stage. I forget the band that was scheduled for the main stage that day, but I remember expecting our teens to be divided–half wanting to listen to Lecrae speak and the other half gathering for the concert at the main stage. ( Again, I don’t remember who was scheduled to play, but I remember it was a reputable band.) To my amazement, all of our teenagers opted to listen to Lecrae rather than the main stage band. Figuring that other groups’ teenagers may choose similarly, my husband and I suggested that we head over to the side stage a few minutes early.
We arrived fifteen minutes early to find the large pavilion full of people. Adults lined the benches of picnic tables, and teenagers and children sat in groups on the concrete. A brick wall overlooking the pavilion was draped with legs, visitors sitting atop the wall, longing for a better look. The hillside behind the wall was covered too; observers sat on blankets and wore visors, squinting to see the stage inside the pavilion. Our group found a spot on the lawn beneath a gum ball tree. As we waited for Lecrae to make his long-awaited entrance, the kids visited among themselves, groaning and complaining about the hot Georgia sun, the mosquitoes, the ants crawling up and down their legs, and our uncomfortable seats. Then, Lecrae took the stage and read this scripture:
I’d heard this scripture before, as I assume many of you have. Inwardly, I groaned too, half-way expecting a cookie-cutter sermon, copied and pasted from the many I’d already heard–and under such conditions! Yet, after reading the scripture, our speaker began to speak about sheep. Sheep are dumb animals. They are utterly helpless, defenseless, and completely clueless. What’s worse is they stink! He went into great detail describing all the negative qualities of sheep, then he concluded: but this is what Christ compares us to. And Christ is the gate.
That makes almost no sense, I thought. How can a person be a gate?
Our speaker, then, went on to explain the analogy that Christ was making. You see, many of these analogies were audience or culture specific. In this time, many shepherds either made their home on the countryside, or they were just that: sheep-herders (i.e. they moved sheep from one place to another.) Either way, these shepherds didn’t have the resources to prepare a proper pen for their sheep. So often, they would place large rocks in a semi-circle against a cliff or hill side. Then, they would guide their sheep into this make-shift pen and lie themselves down across the entryway. In this way, the shepherd became the gate. Any creature wishing to do the sheep harm would have to cross him to reach his precious sheep. This is how Christ is the gate, and this is how much he loves us. He came down from glory to lie down on the ground and sleep with his precious, stinky sheep.
As Lecrae finished his story, all were silent. There was no more whining or complaining about the heat. I barely even noticed the ants migrating over the top of my foot. A hush fell over the crowd. I believe it is because we had drawn near to The Gate.