Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Shepherd's Voice

[Below you'll find the live stream video of both the 8:45 AM Traditional and 11:00 AM Modern worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, as well as the text of the prepared message for the day. God bless you.]

John 10:22-30
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Gospel lesson, John 10:22-30, doesn’t tell us, as we might expect, about one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Instead, it takes us back to a point in Jesus’ ministry before His death and resurrection. But it deserves to be considered in this Easter season because it assures us that Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just a victory for Jesus, but also a victory for us!

Let’s set the scene. The place is Solomon’s Colonnade, an open-sided, roofed porch on the east side of the temple, a sensible place to gather to get relief from the elements in this season, and a spot where rabbis often met with their students. The time is that eight-day period during the Jewish month of Chislev, roughly corresponding to our modern month of December, when Jews celebrated the Festival of Dedication. Also known as the Festival of Lights. Also called Hanukkah.

Hanukkah commemorates an event that took place in 164 BC. At that time, a Jewish army led by warrior kings known as the Maccabeans, defeated and expelled the occupying forces of the Seleucid Empire from both Jerusalem and the temple. The Seleucid conquerors had desecrated the temple, erecting altars to their own gods there. With the retaking of Jerusalem, the temple was rededicated to God. Jews, often the victims of invasion and prejudice, have celebrated their people’s military victory at Hanukkah ever since.

We read in verse 24: “The Jews who were there gathered around [Jesus], saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense?’” Actually, John doesn’t say that Jesus’ fellow Jews gathered around Him, but ἐκύκλωσαν (ekuklosan), they encircled, surrounded, besieged Jesus. They were like accusers zeroing in on Jesus. And their question of Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense?,” is a common Greek idiomatic phrase, used even today, that means, “How long are you going to keep annoying us?”

They’re annoyed by Jesus because they want Jesus to reveal whether He is the Messiah (the Christ) promised by God. The Messiah, the Old Testament taught, was to be a descendant of David anointed by God to bring salvation and peace into the world. These Jews had their own ideas about what this Messiah should do and be. Again in first-century Judea, as had happened in the second-century BC, God’s people found themselves under the thumb of foreign conquerors, this time the Romans. This group wants Jesus to be a Messiah modeled after the Maccabean warrior kings, a Messiah who would lead an army to dispatch the Romans from their homeland. So, Jesus’ fellow Jews tell Jesus, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It’s easy to understand how Jesus’ fellow Jews feel, isn’t it? Aren’t there times when we, despite knowing that we have been baptized into Christ and saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, we’ve wondered whether God is there? Or, when we look at our own failure to love God and neighbor and wonder whether Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners was for everyone else, but not us? Have we ever bargained with Jesus, offering Him our undying loyalty if He will only give us some earthly blessing, if He’ll spare us the suffering that is the common lot of fallen humanity and that’s even more common among Christians in a world that hates God? But the God we know in Jesus Christ doesn’t make deals. And He wants to bless us not just with the temporary removal of pain or inconvenience in this life! Jesus came into our lives to give us so much more than that.

To His fellow Jews’ demand for a plain declaration of His messiahship, Jesus says: “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. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[b]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

What in the world is Jesus talking about?

First of all, Jesus says that He already has declared openly that He is the Messiah. The Gospel of John is built around seven signs performed by Jesus, all pointing to Him as the Messiah and as God-in-the-flesh. At this point in John’s narration of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has performed six of those signs: turning water into wine at Cana, healing a royal officer’s son, healing a paralyzed man at the pool of Siloam, feeding 5000 with a few fish and scraps of bread, walking on water, and healing a man born blind. The old saying tells us that action speaks louder than words. And these signs of Jesus should have screamed His identity as God’s Messiah. They should have told all who witnessed them or heard about them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God, even if he wasn’t the Messiah people wanted Him to be. And if all of that weren’t enough, Jesus had already said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) So, Jesus says, “I have told you plainly that I am the Messiah.”

But then, Jesus says, there’s a simple reason why this group of inquisitors doesn’t know that He’s the Messiah: “ do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…” The reason you can’t see that I’m the Messiah, Jesus tells His questioners, is that I’m not saying what you want to hear.

Let’s be honest. Jesus doesn’t always say what we want to hear either. “Take up your cross–that is, admit that you’re a sinner deserving of death and eternal condemnation–and follow Me,” Jesus says elsewhere. (Luke 9:23) “​​In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” He says elsewhere. (John 16:33) I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have any trouble in my life! But at Jesus’ transfiguration, God the Father made it clear that whether we like everything Jesus says or calls us to do or not, we need to listen to Him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

But, of course, there’s a very good reason to heed Jesus and follow where He leads us. As He tells us today, He gives to those who listen to Him, who believe in Him, something that all the kings and conquering armies, all the wealth and power, all the fame and popularity, all the things of this world cannot give us: eternal life with God. And while we may decide to walk away from God, neither God the Father or God the Son Jesus will ever walk away from us. We may sin, but God will welcome us when we repent “seventy times seventy times.” We may endure pain, adversity, or hardship or be tempted, but God will not let us go: “ one will snatch them out of my hand,” Jesus says, and “no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…” (John 10:28-29) The Good Shepherd has spoken–from the cross and the empty tomb–and still speaks–from the Word and from the water, the bread, and the wine. His voice calls to us now not to settle for the things this dying world can offer us, but to hear Him and to follow Him alone to eternal life with God. Amen