``The Door With No Handle''
Early in my childhood, I was deeply impressed by the picture of Jesus standing before a door, knocking. On one occasion, I recall noticing a strange detail—the door had no handle on the outside. There was something so haunting, so wistful, about the face of Jesus standing outside a closed door, knocking, that left a deep imprint on my childish mind. Only years later did I come to understand the poignant symbolism that lay behind the picture. This idea is the subject for the last of our six major stained-glass windows on the north and south sides of the sanctuary. Located in the northeast panel, this window is the most somber of the six. The colors are more subdued than in all of the other windows—Jesus standing before a dark brown wooden door, on a gray stone threshold, and wearing a pale blue robe with a scarlet cloak. A vine twists upward on the left side of the door and there is an absence of light in the window, as if the scene were taking place at dusk. The most striking feature of the window is that the door has no handle on the outside. If it is to be opened, it must be opened from within.
What a wonderfully sad concept of Jesus—standing at the door knocking, softly yet persistently, seeking entrance. The basis for the picture is Revelation 3:20: ``Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.'' In the book Christ And The Fine Arts, someone has written about this picture: ``The picture portrays the moment when human destiny hangs in the balance, when Divine Love patiently waits upon human reluctance. Here is the perpetual issue between heaven and earth—choice. Here is the continual challenge of Christ to men. Here we see the ever-present appeal of love to lethargy. It is a call to decision in stained-glass.'' As beautiful as this window is, its somber message can never be escaped. God, in all His love and persistence, will never cross the line of human freedom. Jesus the Savior stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, waiting for our response. Not even God's great love will force open the heart's door. Ultimately, the decision to open the heart to Christ, or to leave it shut tightly against him, rests with the individual. Such a reality is both wonderful and fearful—wonderful in that God has granted us such a choice; fearful in that so much of our destiny hangs on that choice. Thus, in this beautiful yet somber scene, we are faced with the eternal choice between opening our hearts to Christ or allowing the door to remain shut for all time. An unknown poet has stated in penetrating words:
O Jesus, Thou art standing
Outside the fast-closed door;
In lowly patience waiting
To pass the threshold o'er:
Shame on us, Christian brethren,
His name and sign we bear,
Oh, shame, thrice shame upon us
To keep him standing there.
Three distinct truths stand out clearly in this moving sermon in stained-glass:
Notice first that the door is closed. Jesus does stand before closed doors when he knocks at our hearts. That door has been closed by sin. The door before which Jesus stands is heavy, barred and difficult to open. Sin has been the first quality in our lives that has closed the door of our hearts to Jesus. We can see sin operating in even the smallest and dearest children. The rather humorous story is told of a little girl who pushed her brother down on the ground, called him a few choice bad names, and then spit on him. Her father was appalled that his little angel could be capable of such violence. He said, ``Sweetheart, I can't believe you did that. The devil must have made you do it!'' The little girl thought for a moment, then looked up with a resolute set to her mouth and said, ``The devil may have made me push him down and call him names but I thought of spitting on him all by myself!'' How easily the sin of pride creeps into our minds. How small, how insignificant, how appealing sin appears when first it attracts our attention; but how devastating is the harvest we reap when once we yield to it.
``Who's there,'' I cried,
``A little lonely sin.''
``Enter,'' I said,
And all hell was in.
We often learn too late just what we have let into our lives when we open the door of our hearts to sin and close it to Christ.
Selfishness has also closed the door of our hearts to Jesus. Selfishness is not a new vice but we, in the twentieth century, have given it a new definition. The generation just coming to adulthood has, appropriately and unfortunately, come to be known as the Me Generation. Little thought is given to anyone or anything in terms other than ``What can I get out of it?'' When self is on the throne of our lives, there is no room for anyone else, including Christ himself. Such selfishness leaves Christ outside the door as it adopts the philosophy, ``I am out for Number One and everyone else can look out for themselves.'' Decades ago, a terrible fire broke out in the Iroquois Theater in Chicago. Panic ensued and many were trampled beneath the feet of those scrambling to get outside. A young woman was among the survivors. On her way home, she was so shaken that a young man stopped her and asked what was wrong. She poured out her story of tragedy and near-death. As she came to the end, she shook her head in disbelief and said, ``What bothers me most is that I didn't help a single person.'' The man replied, ``You mustn't blame yourself for that. You were under so much pressure that you couldn't think of anything but getting out.'' The young woman looked at him sadly and said, ``But I didn't even try to save anyone.'' Selfishness turns our thoughts inward and shuts the door against Jesus.
Satisfaction has also closed the door of our hearts to Jesus. A careful complacency has settled down around most of us as we enter the decade of the nineties. We want only to be comfortable and undisturbed by anyone or anything, and that includes Christ. What we want most out of church today is to find comfort and security for a little while, and to be entertained in the process. We don't want anything to be said or done to disturb our sense of well-being. The voices of nuclear doom and annihilation have so often been sounded that we simply tune them out. An old toll-gate keeper in the south of England had tended his gate for many years. One stormy night, he closed his gate early in anticipation that no one would be out in such weather. Soon he fell into a deep sleep. Along about midnight, a weary horseman rode up to the toll-gate. Rain and wind lashed at his cloak as he jumped down from his horse and rushed over to the gate keeper's door. Banging loudly on the door, he called out, ``Gate! Gate!'' From within he heard a voice answer, ``I'm coming.'' He waited in the rain for several minutes and then he called out again, ``Gate! Gate!''. Once again the voice came from inside, ``I'm coming.'' Still no one came to open the gate. For a third time, the weary traveler called out and got the same answer. Finally he opened the door, stuck his head inside and said loudly, ``Is anyone home?'' A sleepy gate keeper rubbed his eyes and said, ``Oh, I didn't know anybody had come.'' The traveler told him that he had called and received an answer three times. The gate keeper merely laughed and said, ``Through the years I have heard the calls and knocks so many times that I say in my sleep, `I'm coming' and never even wake up.'' How like so many of us!. We have become almost anesthetized by hearing Christ knock on the door to our hearts that we never think to open that door.
If you look carefully at this stained-glass window, you will notice that there is no handle or latch on the outside of the door. Few elements of the picture strike a truer or more ominous note than this. The door to the human heart can be opened only from within; God will never force it open from the outside.
The door must be opened willingly. God cannot, and will not, use coercion to gain entrance into our hearts. Paul, using the example of giving, provides us with an excellent illustration of God's desire for willing and voluntary acceptance of His will. He writes:
``Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'' 2 Corinthians 9:7
God desires us to open the door to our hearts willingly and cheerfully, and He will not force us to do otherwise. If you are to open the door to Christ, you must open it willingly or not at all.
Then, the door will never be forced open by God. How easy life would be if we could depend upon God to force us to make the right decisions in life. One of the most difficult phases of growing up is that of learning to make our own decisions. As teenagers, we so desire the freedom to make decisions until we are faced with the tremendous difficulty of those decisions. We learn then what it means to be an adult and to take responsibility for our own lives. God has chosen to treat us as adults, as responsible beings; thus we must decide eternally, for ourselves, whether or not we open the door to our hearts and allow Jesus to come in.
See finally that Jesus stands knocking patiently and persistently. He is standing outside the door—waiting, hoping to get in. There is no more poignant or meaningful portrait of God anywhere than that of Jesus standing outside the door of our hearts. Hear again his plea in Revelation 3:20:
``Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.''
What love it takes to stand outside; what patience, not to batter the door down by His mighty power. Yet Jesus stands outside, knocking and issuing an invitation to life and intimacy with him.
Jesus knocks patiently because he loves. This moving scene in stained-glass relates to us the truth that God is patient with us simply because He loves us. Peter, writing to a group of Christians impatient for the Second Coming, wisely said:
``The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.'' 2 Peter 3:9
Look carefully at the face of Jesus in the stained-glass—no impatience, no hurry, no exasperation, no annoyance there, only patience. How easy it is to remain behind a closed door and keep both God and our fellow man out but, oh, how much we miss in the process.
Jesus knocks persistently because he hurts. We have never yet fully understood the pain Jesus feels because of our sinful resistance. Luke draws back the curtain momentarily on Jesus' hurt over rejection when he records his reaction as he looked out over Jerusalem with its teeming throngs:
``As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.....'' Luke 19:41.
Again, we may see just a hint of that pain when we look at Jesus' agony on the cross as he gave up his very life for each of us. It was for us that he suffered and died. We have heard the story so often that we forget just how much he gave up so that we might live. Former NFL player Jerry Anderson lost his life in saving two small boys from drowning in Tennessee. An article in the May 28, 1989 issue of a Murfreesboro newspaper gave the following account:
``Former NFL football player Jerry Anderson died Saturday after pulling two young boys out of a rain-swollen river about 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Witnesses said Anderson saw two boys, thought to be 11 or 12 years old, attempting to cross a dam spanning the river. One or both boys fell into the water. According to officer Bill Todd, `Mr. Anderson jumped into the water and managed to get the little boys out, but witnesses said he went under two or three times and about the fourth time, he didn't come back up.'''
Could we have anything but praise for such a man as Jerry Anderson and for the sacrifice he made for two unknown boys? Imagine the reception he would have received from the parents of those boys had he come knocking at their door. Would they have kept him outside, knocking, in the cold? Indeed not! They would have welcomed him into their home joyously and graciously. Yet the terrible poignancy of Jesus standing at the door is that one who suffered the agonies of death for us now waits outside a closed door for us to open and invite him to enter.
The message of this lovely stained-glass window ends with both a plea and an invitation. Each Sunday we sit beneath this beautiful portrayal of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. Do you ever think that the door on which Jesus is knocking might be the door to your heart? Remember, Jesus will never force you to open up to him but, oh, what you will be missing if you refuse. Look at that window for a moment, ask yourself if Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, and make your decision right now to open that door and let him in.
There's a stranger at the door.
Let him in.
He has been there oft before.
Let him in.
Let Him in ere He is gone,
Let Him in, the Holy One.
Jesus Christ, the Father's Son,
Let Him in.
Harold L. McDonald
April 14, 1991
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