The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 10:22 “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one. 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone Him.’ 32 Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ 33 The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.’” (NASB)
Today is the Fourth Sunday in Easter and the Fourth Sunday is also Good Shepherd Sunday. The three-year lectionary always selects a reading from the Good Shepherd chapter of the Gospel of John, chapter 10.
In the first year, what’s called “Series A” we learn something about who the Good Shepherd is. He is the door to the sheepfold. He is the only way into heaven and eternal safety.
In the second year, “Series B” we learn what the Good Shepherd does for His sheep. The hireling runs away when the wolf comes. But the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
In today’s reading, “Series C,” we learn what it means for us to know the Good Shepherd and what Good Shepherd does. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. In other words, the Good Shepherd and the sheep have a relationship, which is built on what the Shepherd does for the sheep and on trusting the voice of the Good Shepherd.
This morning our Gospel lesson begins by telling us that it was winter and Hanukkah. Hanukkah commemorates a revolt, a small war that took place from 167-160 BC between the Jews of Jerusalem and Seleucids. After Alexander the Great died, the Greek Empire was divided between three general. Seleucid I Nicator was one of those generals.
About 200 years earlier before the birth of Christ, a evil Seleucid king by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes had set up pagan altars in the temple and brutally oppressed the Jewish people. A Jew by the name of Judas Maccabaeus led a makeshift army against the Seleucids and eventually defeated them. Jerusalem was freed from Greek rule. The Jews held a great celebration in which they cleansed the temple and rededicated it to the Lord God.
For about a 100 years the Jews were lived as a free nation. The Maccabean Revolt became a holiday for Judea and was named the “Feast of Dedication,” as in the dedication of the temple to the Lord God. We know the holiday as Hanukkah.
In 63 BC the Romans conquered Jerusalem and subjugated it to Roman rule. By the time we get to the earthly ministry of Jesus and the events recorded in John 10, the Romans had ruled over Jerusalem for about 90 years.
As the word about Jesus spread, many began to wonder if Jesus was going to be another political deliverer. Most longed for a political messiah. They wanted freedom and wondered if Jesus the Nazarene would be the one who would restore the freedom to Jerusalem.
The ruling class saw Jesus as a threat to their own power, even though that power was granted to them by the Romans. They understood that Jesus’s doctrine was a threat to their entire religious system. So no matter where Jesus went, there was a lot of interest in Him and a lot of spying going on.
Jesus had performed miracles, even His enemies could not deny this. Jesus certainly had the power to work His will and a growing number of followers who would take orders. But it was also true that He lacked the political zeal of a Judas Maccabaeus. In fact, He seemed disinterested in the political situation and that confused people.
Then as “Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”
To their way of thinking, if Jesus were the Christ then He would be the next and greater Maccabaeus. But if they had listened to what Jesus had been teaching and watching what He had been doing, they would have not only known that Jesus was the Christ and what kind of Christ He was.
Jesus tries again to set them straight. “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”
When Jesus said these things to the Jewish authorities, He was telling them that they were not part of His flock. That is a lesson we ought to pay attention to. There is no such thing as a sheep in Christ’s flock who does not know His voice or who does not listen to His voice. Sheep hear and listen to the Shepherd’s voice. If they are not Christ’s sheep, then they don’t hear and don’t listen. In the language of John chapter 20, hearing and listening equal “believing.”
Something is terribly wrong when a person claims to be a Christian, while at the same time ignoring or rejecting what Jesus actually teaches and does in the Bible. Where there is listening and hearing the Word of God, there lives true Christian faith. Jesus’s questioners demonstrate none of these qualities.
“I told you, and you did not believe,” Jesus tells them. He offers up as evidence the works He does and ties them to His heavenly Father. “The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.”
Many of the Jews in Jesus’s day wanted a revolution– Judas was one of those. That folks is what an awful lot of people want today. They want a socialist/communist revolution wherein “might makes right,” “the ends justify the means,” and they get to live their lives among the ruling elite lording their authority over commoners.
They think they hold the moral and religious high ground, even though they know nothing of God’s Word and do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. They are the woke and they will not be denied their revolution.
But the Jesus who is the Son of God in flesh, whose words are clear and true brings with Him something infinitely better than a moral, political, and economic evolution. He creates a new creature and is bringing with Him a new heaven and a new earth.
Let there be no mistake. The Son of God, the Christ/the Messiah came into this world to win a victory. He came into the world to deal His enemy a death blow. It wasn’t a battle over Judea, or Jerusalem, or the temple, or its stones. Rather, it was a battle for the lives of people, the sheep who make up His Kingdom. It was a war over you and the whole Christian church on earth.
In this war, instead of prevailing over His enemy with violence, Jesus allows violence to overtake Him. His body would be desecrated and hung on a cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He endured death itself. God’s Temple was destroyed, but He three days later He raised as proof of the sufficiency of His sacrifice and of His power.
“ If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” It’s not that Jesus hadn’t told them plainly. He had in His words, teachings, and deeds. It’s that they were looking for a different messiah. They want another warrior like Judas Maccabaeus.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t call Himself a warrior. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. The Savior stands before them, speaking His life giving Word, but they refuse to believe in Him. Therefore they cannot hear. They don’t want to be His sheep. Like our fellow citizens, they don’t want to and can’t listen to His Words. They know better.
Tragically many who call themselves Christians don’t like the real Jesus either. Most clerics these days are little more than peddlers of depravity and idolatry. Even so called conservative churches get it wrong. They turn their congregations in theaters to entertain. They turn their congregations into therapy and support groups. They turn their property and programs into exercises for “do gooder,” where the things they do and the time they spend working on and at the church is more of a display of their virtue than a service to the Lord and neighbor.
In Acts 20 as St. Paul was about to leave Ephesus he told the pastors there to 28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.” Never in the history of our country and the Western Church has this warning been so ignored and so accurate.
Having told His questioners that they weren’t sheep He told them, 30 “‘I and the Father are one.’ 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ 33 The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.’”
Jesus did only good, but they only saw one alleged sin– blasphemy and this alleged sin was an outrageous statement to them. It use to be hard to imagine people becoming this enraged over a statement, but then think of the church fights you all have been privy to see in your life time. It’s not just the wokesters out there who run around with their hair on fire. It is sometimes us in here.
But you have been made sheep. Through the water and the Word, Jesus Christ has made you to be one in His flock. He has forgiven your sins. He has brought you into this sheepfold to be feed and taught. He told Peter three times after His resurrection, “Feed my Sheep.” “Shepherd My sheep.” “Tend My sheep.”
1 Peter 1:9-10 “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
The devil, the world, and old sinful nature will have their revolutions. They can’t but revolt against the person, work, and words of the Christ. But every revolution will fail to achieve its utopia.
Christ Jesus on the other hand brings something so much better than a temporal revolution. Christ’s kingdom, His flock, His holy nation, His royal priesthood of which you belong lasts forever. The Good Shepherd has brought you to Himself and no one will be able to snatch you from His hand– not even all the revolutions of this world.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen