Safe in the Father’s hand

22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

John 10:22-30

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 12th May 2019 at Southwater Community Church, West Sussex. Scroll to the bottom for an audio recording.

Who is Jesus?

I wonder how long it is since you last grappled with that question.

Perhaps it’s something that you considered before you became a Christian, but haven’t explored since then.

Perhaps it’s a question that is never far from your thoughts, because people are always asking you who he is.

Was he really the Son of God? How can we know? Did he ever actually say he was the Son of God?

Today we’ll be pondering just who Jesus is. Having come to a conclusion on this important point, we’ll reflect on being obedient to him, before thinking about the rewards of our obedience.

So do turn to John 10:22-30 in your Bibles as we go through this passage together.

Who is Jesus?

So to our first point, who is Jesus?

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus finds himself accosted by the Jews. He was at the Temple for the Festival of Dedication, with many other Jewish people. When they see Jesus, John records that the Jews ask Jesus, “how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Maybe some of the questioners were sincere – they genuinely wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one of God, but wanted Jesus just to make it clear that this was indeed the case.

Perhaps some were trying to trick Jesus, putting him into a position where he could be charged with blasphemy and charged by a Jewish court, or charged with insurrection and brought before the Romans.

Maybe others were simply mocking him, laughing at the thought that this man from Nazareth could possibly be the Messiah.

These attitudes to Jesus have actually travelled across the generations. There are still some today who would like to put their faith in Jesus, if only they could see compelling evidence that he was the Son of God. There are people who still regard Jesus as nothing more than a first century troublemaker, a rabble rouser. Others find the notion that Jesus could be the Son of God simply laughable.

I’m sure that you have encountered people like this, perhaps in your workplace, perhaps amongst your friends, maybe even in your own family. People who cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus is anything more than a man. You might know people who seem entirely genuine in their desire to believe in Jesus Christ but, as yet, have yet to be convinced by his claims. I’m sure you know people who mock the notion that Jesus could possibly be the Son of God, and maybe mock you too for your faith.

It could very well be, of course, that at one time you found yourself in one of these categories, but found yourself somehow convinced that Jesus is the Son of God.

Perhaps you’re here today and you have yet to be convinced of Jesus’ divinity, but you genuinely want to believe that he is who he claimed.

Jesus’ response to the questioning of the Jews is interesting. In verse 25, we see he answers, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.”

Up to this point, Jesus has only revealed his true identity in conversation with individuals. He does so to a Samaritan woman that he encountered at a well, recorded in John 4. The woman says to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” To which Jesus responds, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.” He leaves the woman in no doubt at all that he is the Messiah.

Similarly, John records an incident in chapter 9 of his gospel, when Jesus meets a man born blind, to whom he gives sight. Jesus asked the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man replies, “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus replied, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Jesus was in no doubt about his identity, and was happy to share this with people one to one. So why was he so reluctant to share publicly that he was the Messiah?

This is probably due to the fact that the Jews at the time had an unrealistic expectation of their Messiah. They were waiting for a military figure who would lead them in victory against the Romans, liberate their land from their oppressors, and restore their nation’s greatness. They were looking for a Messiah of their own creation, and, as a consequence, had failed to recognise the true Messiah ordained by God.

The true Messiah would indeed liberate them, but Jesus planned to liberate all people from the burden of sin and death, rather than this discrete group of people at this particular time from the occupying forces. Jesus’ plan was earth shattering, and has ramifications throughout the whole of history. If he had been the Messiah that the first century Jews were looking for, he would barely be a footnote in the History books.

Although Jesus may not have publicly affirmed that he is the Messiah, he continues in verse 25 by saying, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.” Jesus is telling the Jews that the miracles he has performed all demonstrate that he is the Messiah. This, after all, is why he performed the miracles. Already in John’s Gospel Jesus has changed water into wine, healed an official’s son, healed a disabled man, fed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish, walked on water, and healed a man who had been born blind.

These works, Jesus tells the Jews, testify about him. These miracles demonstrate his true identity. They show that he is the Messiah.

Who else could perform the feats that he had performed? Jesus’ miracles went beyond healing, which in itself is remarkable. Jesus’ miracles involved the act of creation. He created enough food to feed 5,000 men – probably more like 15,000 plus people if you factor in women and children – from essentially nothing. He created sight where there previously was none in a man who had been born blind. Here’s someone who is not just fixing things, but making things anew. There surely is no-one other than the Messiah, the Son of God who could achieve this.

So why, then, have the Jews questioning Jesus not grasped the answer to their question – yes, of course Jesus is the Messiah. Come to that, why have those people we know not come to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah?

This leads into our next point.

Obedience to Jesus:

Our second point today is obedience to Jesus.

Jesus says in verses 25 to 27, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

This is the reason, then, why the Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. This is why, despite the clear testimony of his miracles, they are imploring him to tell them plainly if he is the Messiah. They do not believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep. Jesus’ sheep listen to his voice, they listen to what he is saying, and they follow him. They trust him to be their shepherd.

In our Old Testament reading this morning, Psalm 23, David, the Psalmist, gives us an insight into what it means to follow God the shepherd as a sheep. Sheep, David says, trust in their shepherd to provide everything they need to meet their needs. A sheep follows the lead of the shepherd. A sheep accepts guidance. A sheep fears no evil, even when walking through the darkest valley. A sheep knows the comfort of the shepherd during difficult times.

In short, sheep place their complete faith in their shepherd and trust that they will meet every need they might have.

The Jews fail to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah because they do not place their complete faith in Jesus. They hear his voice but they do not listen to what he says. Since they do not listen to Jesus, he does not know them, and they do not follow him.

Jesus’ words, therefore, are his second testimony. Just as his miracles point to the fact that he is the Messiah, so too do his words. Who else could have taught so coherently, so cogently, in such a challenging manner other than the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ?

John famously begins his gospel with a preface about the Word. His opening line is, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He continues, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us. We have seen the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John sees Jesus as the embodiment of the Word of God, the Word which he believes is God himself. John understands that when Jesus speaks, it is God who those listening to Jesus hear.

If only the Jews listening to Jesus took his words to heart, if they only stopped to think for one minute about the incredible utterances that Christ made, they would know for themselves that Jesus was the Messiah. There would be no need for them to complain about being kept in suspense. It wouldn’t be necessary for them to implore Jesus to tell them plainly if he was the Messiah, they would know and understand for themselves the divine nature of Jesus.

There’s quite a challenge here for all of us today. How much do we really listen to Jesus and his words? When we hear the Bible read to us, or when we read it ourselves in our quiet times, do we simply think, “that’s nice,” before promptly forgetting everything we’ve read and moving on with our lives? Or do we inwardly digest every sentence that Jesus said, reflecting that this is not just some Middle Eastern carpenter speaking, but God himself, the creator of the universe?

Are we challenged by Jesus’ words, or do we simply allow them to wash over us?

Are we obedient to our shepherd?

If we understand all that Jesus is saying, then we would follow him. We would make him the shepherd of our lives and trust in him as sheep trust in their shepherd, confident that he will supply our every need, guide us through life, and comfort us when times get difficult.

The Jews didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah because they were not his sheep. They were not obedient.

When we listen to Jesus and follow him, we become his sheep and accept him as our shepherd. Consequently it becomes clear to us that Jesus is not just an entertaining performer of miracles, or an exceptional teacher of morals. He is the Messiah. He is the one who has come, sent by his father to liberate humanity from the greatest oppressor of all, not the Romans, but sin which ultimately leads to death. That’s quite something.

The Reward for Obedience to Christ:

It’s this idea of Jesus, the Messiah, the liberator of humanity that I would like to pick up in my final point. In this passage in John chapter 10 Jesus outlines what the reward is for those who become his sheep.

First of all, as we’ve already seen, those who follow Jesus benefit from being known to him. Jesus knows us intimately, and, despite this, loves us, cares for us, provides for us and guides us. It’s so much more than this, though. If we look at verse 29, we see that Jesus has been given his sheep by the Father.

If we are one of Jesus’ sheep, then, not only are we known by Jesus, but we are known by God the Father. This all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe knows us all by name. He loves us so much that he gave us to his son.

Secondly, if we follow Jesus, he gives us eternal life. When we know Jesus we understand that there is more to our existence than just the here and now. We begin to understand that there is a reality beyond this earth. This changes our perspective on everything. Life for a Christian isn’t just about living for the moment, for seizing everything we can, for gathering all that we are able to. Life becomes about bigger issues, like placing our love for God before everything else, like loving our neighbour, whoever he or she may be, whether we like them or not. We strive to do all that God has required of us, namely to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, as Micah wrote. Ultimately, we understand that we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and will want to work hard to build this kingdom right here and right now, here in Southwater, in Sussex, in the UK and in the world.

Thirdly, we realise that Jesus promises us that we will never perish. If we make ourselves into Jesus’ sheep and trust entirely in him, following his lead in everything, then we can be confident that we will live with him and his eternal father in heaven after our bodily deaths.

For many, the prospect of an eternal existence with God in his perfect creation seems too good to be true. But we can be completely confident in this.

We can be confident of an eternal existence precisely because God sent Jesus to die for us, and, since Jesus loved his father perfectly, he was willing to go to the cross on our behalf. This was God’s plan right from the start. And God the Father and God the Son were in complete agreement over this. In verse 30, Jesus states, “I and the Father are one.” He and his Father are in one mind – humanity had messed up, God knew he could send his perfect son to take the punishment that should be ours, and Jesus was willing to accept this task out of love not just for us, but for his father too. We’ve seen how in verse 29, Jesus says that his Father his given his sheep to him. The Father gave Jesus his sheep, and Jesus accepted them, knowing that he would have to die in order to give his sheep life.

We can be confident of an eternal existence with God since Jesus was raised from the dead. What’s more, he was able to do this himself, since he had been given the authority from his Father. Just before our passage, in John 10:17-18, Jesus says, “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

If Jesus was not raised, then there would be no point in any of this. Yes, Jesus may have performed some incredible miracles, yes, he may have been an inspirational teacher, but if the story of Jesus ended on the cross, then there would be no hope for any of us. Yet precisely because Jesus was raised from the dead, we can be confident of being raised with Christ ourselves. We can be confident that if Jesus knows us as a shepherd knows his sheep, then, since he has received authority to raise from the dead by the father, we shall never perish.

There’s one final piece of reassurance lurking within his passage, and that is to be found in verses 28 and 29. Jesus says of his sheep, “no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Really, there’s a double reassurance here. If we follow Christ, then no one will snatch us from his hand, no one will stop us from being his sheep. But since we have been given by God the Father to Jesus to be his sheep, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand either. And God the Father is greater than all. We can be confident of our salvation. We can be confident of remaining a Christian until the very end.

Sometimes I wonder how my faith will stand up against the new generation of super atheists, the likes of Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman. Will they one day make a proclamation that resonates so much with me that I will renounce my faith? What if one day a scientific discovery rocks my understanding of God so greatly than I can’t continue to believe in the divine nature of Christ? What if a colleague or friend succeeds in convincing me that actually, there really is no God, and therefore Jesus cannot be his son? What if the Devil succeeds in convincing me that my faith is all meaningless?

The answer to this that Jesus himself gives is that this simply cannot happen. Provided I am genuinely one of his sheep, provided I listen to his voice and trust him as my shepherd, there is no-one, there is nothing, that can snatch me out of Jesus’ hand.

If I place myself in his hands, I am safe there.

If I accept him as my shepherd, then I can be at peace knowing that he is leading me into eternal life, and ultimately I will never perish.

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand.
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

How incredibly reassuring.

Jesus may not have made many public acclamations of his divinity. He may not have stood up in the synagogue and proclaimed himself to me the Messiah. He may not have stood in a Galilean market place and proclaimed himself to be the Son of God. But there is no doubting that this is who he was. He told individuals that he was the Messiah. His miracles demonstrate that he is the Son of God. His teaching could only be that of God himself. The Jews may not have recognised this, but this is because they refused to listen to him because they are not his sheep.

Do we trust in Jesus’ identity? Do we have confidence that he is the Son of God, one with the Father? If we do then we should be obedient to him. We should make ourselves as sheep before our Good Shepherd. What a reward we will receive if we trust in him. We will not only have a loving shepherd who we can trust to lead us through our lives, through highs and lows, meeting our needs at every turn. We will also be given eternal life, a new perspective that puts our current existence into a eternal perspective. And we can also be confident that we will never perish. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we will too.

And there’s nothing that can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand, because if we are in his hand, we are also in his Father’s hand.

And he is greater than all.

Amen.

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