Warner Sallman (1898-1968), Christ at Heart’s Door, 1942
An unlocked and open door is very inviting. We once had some next door neighbors who never locked their doors, and they always had the coffee pot on. Our little town did not have a cafe, but our neighbors had a big table in the center of their kitchen, and someone was always sitting at it. Neighbors wandered in and out all day, and sometimes the owners weren’t even home. It was a very welcoming place, and I remember many friendly conversations there.
Another person I often visited did not have such a welcoming place. She was a widowed farm wife who had moved into an apartment in town. She was a nervous person anyway, and, her apartment was in a bad part of town so she had something to be nervous about. There had been some robberies in her building while she lived there. So her doors were never unlocked. I would set a time for a visit, and would always be there on time. When she came to the door, I could see the peephole darken as she made sure who it was. Then I heard the unlocking begin– first a chain, then the deadbolt, then the doorknob lock; and then the door would open a crack so she could make sure it was me, and then one more chain. I understood her fears, but it wasn’t a very welcoming way to begin a visit.
The Bible often uses the image of open and closed doors. “How does one get from this world and this life, into heaven?,” is a very important question; and the New Testament answer is simply, through the door. And where is this door? According to John 10:9 it is not a matter of ‘where’ but ‘who. Jesus himself says there, “I am the door, and if anyone enters by me he will be saved.”
Throughout this tenth chapter of John, Jesus is going back and forth between using sheep as an image for people, and, just talking about people. Some translations say ‘gate’ instead of door because that fits better with the image of sheep, but a door is what people usually use, and so I am using the RSV translation ‘door.’ Verses 26 and 27 make it clear what Jesus is talking about here when it says, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish and no one can take them out of my hand.” Jesus is talking about eternal life in heaven. And how does one get there? Through the door, he says. “I AM the door,”says in verse 9, and then Jesus adds, “whoever enters through me will be saved.”
This image of a door is used several times in the New Testament, and in several different ways. In John 10 Jesus says ‘I am the door.’ In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says he is standing at the door and knocking. The famous Sallman painting above is of Jesus doing just that, standing at a large wooden door and knocking, with his head slightly tilted as he listens for a reply. That painting is based on this verse, which in its entirety reads as follows: “Jesus said, ‘Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…’” In the very next chapter, Revelation four, we see again a door used as an image, and in yet another way. There begins John’s vision of heaven, and it begins with these words, “After this I looked, and before me was “a door standing open to heaven.” Then followed his 18 chapter vision of heaven and the end times on earth. Earlier, in Revelation 3 verse 8, Jesus says, “See, I have placed before you an open door that NO ONE can shut.” In Acts 14:27 there is a similar message in which Paul proclaims that “God has opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” These are different images, but they all present the same wonderful message. These verses say we can come to God anytime. The door is always open and we are always invited.
There is one more verse about ‘doors’ in the New Testament. This one does not give such a pleasant image as the other ones do. It is found in a parable of Jesus in Matthew 25, the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The wise ones brought enough lamp oil for the long wait, and the foolish ones did not. At the very beginning Jesus had announced it was a parable about the kingdom of heaven, and the point of it all was that we need to be prepared for when Jesus returns, or, when in death, we return to him. When the time comes in the parable, the foolish ones were not prepared, and verse 10 then says, “And the door was shut.” In verse 11 they plead, “Please open the door.” But in verse 12 there is this reply, “I tell you the truth, I do not know you,” and the door remained closed and locked and they did not get in. Therefore, said Jesus, “Keep watch, for you do not know the day or the hour.” In other words, the door is always open, yes, but don’t neglect it. Do not fail to enter it. Do not say NO to this wonderful invitation, because someday, the door will be closed. Jesus words in the Gospels go back and forth between welcome and warning. “Come on in,” he says, “Everyone is welcome. Everyone!” But Jesus also says, “Do not refuse this invitation.” (continued…)
John 10:9a — (Jesus said), “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved…”
Revelation 3:20 — (Jesus said), “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Revelation 4:1a — After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door!
Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life. –Erasmus