Monday, February 24, 2014

The Deity of Christ (John 10:30-42)

Recently, the educational website held an essay contest in which writers were required to submit an essay on the theme of what it means to be a great teacher. The catch was that each essay could only contain six words. The grand prize winner received an iPad and $500 to contribute to educational charities for this entry: “I remember her fifty years later.” The trend of the six-word essay is catching on, and we are seeing more and more contests and promotions challenging participants to state something profound in a mere half-dozen words. What could you say about anything that really mattered in just six words? Well, don’t think it can’t be done. Here in our text, Jesus uses six words (whether in our English versions or in the original Greek) to disclose one of the most profound truths ever uttered in the history of human communication. The six words that He speaks in verse 30 are some of the most clear and direct that He ever spoke concerning His nature and identity. He said, “I and the Father are one.” Those six words essentially set forth the most central, the most unique, and the most controversial claims of Jesus Christ and the Christian Church. These are the words that are the core of our faith and practice. They are what sets Christianity apart from every religious and philosophical tradition in the history of the world. They are the words that have evoked animosity against Jesus and His followers since the first century of the Common Era. Here Jesus states in no uncertain terms His own deity – that He is God in human flesh.

So, in our time and from our text today, I want us to consider the claim to deity that Jesus makes, the confirmation He provides, and the confrontation that Jesus sets before us concerning His deity.

I. We must consider Jesus’ claim to deity (vv 30-31, 33b, 34-36)

Misunderstandings are hard to avoid in communication. Oftentimes, what is said is not exactly what is heard; what is heard is not exactly what was said. Communication experts tell us that the responsibility is on the person speaking to make sure that his or her meaning is expressed clearly to the hearer, and if there is a misunderstanding, it is the speaker’s fault. So, apply that to Jesus here in our text. There are many people who think we have radically misunderstood what He says when He says “I and the Father are one.” They think that Jesus was not claiming to be God, and in fact they say He never did. This line of thinking was popularized a decade ago in Dan Brown’s monumental bestseller The DaVinci Code. Well, if those critics are correct, then untold millions of people over the last 2,000 years have grossly misunderstood Jesus, which indicates that He must have been a very poor communicator. It would be hard to make a case for that position, when even those who do not believe in Him herald Him as one of humanity’s greatest teachers.

In order to see what Jesus meant when He said, “I and the Father are one,” we need to look at how the original audience understood these six words. Verse 31 says, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.” When Jesus asked why they were seeking to stone Him, they said plainly, “ … for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (v33b). They clearly perceived Jesus to be saying that He is God in this claim. That, to them, was tantamount to the capital offense of blasphemy, punishable by execution in the form of stoning under the Jewish law. Leviticus 24:16 had commanded it: “The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him.” Now, the verdict was to be determined by an official legal proceeding, and the sentence carried out as a judicial act. It was not to be carried out by a vigilante mob. But in Jesus’ day, the Roman government had the final say on matters of capital punishment, and the Romans could not be relied on to carry out the wishes of the Jewish populace on a religious matter. Thus, “mob justice,” though not permitted by Scripture or by Rome, was perhaps a more expedient means to the desired end. They were prepared to stone Jesus then and there upon hearing Him say, “I and the Father are one.”

Now, we must not rush past a very important word in these verses. That word is again. This was not the first time they had tried to kill Him on the spot. In John 5:18, we read, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” In John 8, after Jesus had spoken at length about His unique relationship with the Father, He said these remarkable words: “Before Abraham was born, I am.” This was an explicit claim to eternal pre-existence, a quality that God alone could possess. The response there was the same: “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him.” You see, in all three instances when Jesus’ life was threatened by a vigilante lynch-mob, it was immediately following a very explicit claim that He had made concerning His own deity. And notice, in none of these accounts (including this one here in Chapter 10) did Jesus ever say, “Wait a second, hold on. You misunderstood Me. That is not at all what I meant. Let Me have a do-over and try to explain what I mean more clearly.” He said what He meant, and they heard Him correctly. He was very clearly claiming to be God.

Not only does Jesus not deny that this was His intended meaning, He goes on to clarify that this is exactly what He meant. He does so in a bit of an unusual way – a way that may not be appreciated by most of us, and which most of us (myself included!) would find very confusing. Let’s start by pointing out the parts of His argument that are easy to understand. Of greatest importance is that we recognize that Jesus points to Scripture (in this case, the Hebrew Bible, which we call the Old Testament) to defend His claim. This is instructive for us. We must point to Scripture to defend our Christian beliefs and practices, otherwise we have no basis for them at all. Article I of our confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, condenses the biblical teaching on the authority of Scripture by saying that the Bible “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”[1] Jesus demonstrates His own high view of the Scriptures as He says in verse 35, “the Scripture cannot be broken.” In other words, it is infallible, inerrant, completely authoritative, and cannot be rejected, denied, or manipulated. If the Scriptures can be shown to negate His claims, then there is no merit in them whatsoever. If, however, the Scriptures validate His claims, then the claims must be given a fair consideration. So, Jesus shows us the importance of backing up the claims of our faith by pointing to God’s inspired, inerrant Word.  

Secondly, notice that He says in verse 34, “Has it not been written in your Law ….” Now, here, when He says “your Law,” His point is not that there is some difference between their Scriptures and His own. He is emphasizing that the Scriptures He is using to defend His claims are the same Scriptures which they themselves treasure. That much is easy to understand. And here is where the water gets a little murky for us, because what He says about the teachings of Scripture here, I confess, is one of the hardest texts in John’s Gospel, and refers to one of the hardest texts in the book of Psalms, if not the entire Old Testament. He is pointing to Psalm 82:6, which says, “I said, you are gods.” Don’t think that going to seminary and learning Greek or Hebrew helps make sense of this. It doesn’t. In Greek, Jesus’ words are “I said, you are gods,” and it reads the same way in the Greek Old Testament and the original Hebrew Old Testament. The problem is obvious. God is calling someone else “gods.” What is going on here?

As we look at Psalm 82, the context of the entire Psalm is God’s rebuke of Israel’s corrupt judges. God is announcing that He will judge the unjust judges of the nation who have shown favoritism to the wicked and deprived the weak and the poor of justice. He says in verses 6 and 7 of the Psalm, from which Jesus quotes here, “I said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the princes.” In other words, God says to these wicked judges that in spite of the fact that God Himself has called them gods and the sons of God, they will stand before Him in judgment because they are not immune to death or condemnation because of their high position.” That much is clear. What is unclear to us is, when and why did God ever call them “gods” (elohim in the Hebrew language)? The answer to this is found in the Law codes found in the book of Exodus. For example, in Exodus 22:9, we read in our English Bibles that breaches of trust are to be brought before the “judges,” and he whom the “judges” condemn shall pay double to his neighbor. In the Hebrew text, the word that is translated as judges in our English Bibles is the Hebrew word elohim, which has within its wide range of meaning, “God,” or “gods.” So, when God says in Psalm 82 that He has called the judges “gods” (elohim), He is referring to passages like Exodus 22:9 in which that precise Hebrew term is used to refer to the judges.

So much for the question of when God said this. Now, why did God use this term to refer to judges? We must acknowledge that any time we ask the question why God does or says one thing and not another, unless Scripture provides a clear answer, we are merely speculating. But speculations are not always completely without value, and sometimes are based on sound reasoning. Here, it seems to be that God refers to the judges of Israel as elohim because they are commissioned by Him to act on His behalf in the carrying out of divine justice. At that time in Israel’s history, the judges were in a unique sense God’s human representatives who were to declare His word and mete out justice on His behalf. It was not that they were divine in and of themselves, but that their “office” and “responsibility” was a divine one, done under God’s commission and for His holy purposes.

Now, so much for the when and why God used the term elohim to refer to human judges; how does this fit into Jesus’ claim to deity? Watch how His argument takes shape here in John 10:35-36. He says, “If he (it should be “He,” referring to God) called them gods, to whom the word of God came ….” Remember, to whom did that word in Psalm 82 come? Wicked, unjust, corrupt human judges. If God can call them gods (elohim), who received that word of condemnation, and the Scripture cannot be broken, then “do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said ‘I am the Son of God.’” Jesus’ point is that if God Himself can call crooked judges by a divine name, and it not be blasphemy, how much more does a divine title belong to Him, who is not a corrupt judge, but rather the One who has been sanctified and sent into to the world by the Father? This is not proof that Jesus’ claim to be God is true; it is just proof that it is not blasphemous for Him to make the claim He is making, that He and the Father are one.

Of course in all of this entire exchange there is one overarching irony. The Jewish critics of Jesus assert that He, “being a man,” is making Himself “out to be God.” On the one hand, they are correct in that He very much is asserting Himself to be God. On the other hand, they are incorrect. He is not “making Himself out” to be anything. He is what He is; He is not a pretender. And if His claim is true, then He is not “a man” but something very much more than a man. He is not a man making Himself out to be God; He is rather God making Himself a man. He is the God who John says in Chapter 1 “became flesh and dwelt among us.” He is the God who, according to Paul in Philippians 2, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:7-8). This was His claim. He and the Father are one. He claimed to be God and even those who heard Him say it knew exactly that this was what He meant. But He doesn’t simply claim it. He confirms it.

II. We must consider Jesus’ confirmation of deity (vv 32, 37-38)

Everyone who is a parent, or everyone who ever had parents (did I leave anyone out?) has probably heard or said at some point that great parental trump card in negotiations with children. When children persist in asking, “Why? Why? Why?,” surely every parent has reached the limit of patience and blurted out “Because I said so.” But, as children we understood, and as parents we are ashamed to admit, that “Because I said so,” is a poor defense for a position. When Jesus was questioned about why people should believe His claims about Himself and His mission in the world, Jesus never said, “Because I said so.” And He doesn’t do it here.

Notice what Jesus says as soon as the stones are picked up. He says, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” Jesus knows that they are attempting to stone Him because of His claim. But His statement here suggests that His works ought to have added sufficient credibility to His claim. After all, think about the location of His works: they were public; He “showed” them works. Think about the number of His works: “many” works. Think about the kind of works He did: “good” works. Think about the nature of His works: they were divine in origin and power; they were “from the Father.” Nothing Jesus did violated anything we know of the nature of God, but rather manifested that divine nature and supernatural power. What more could they have asked for to substantiate His claims? He had shown them many good works from the Father.

Consider the kinds of works that Jesus did. Taking John’s Gospel alone, the writer tells us that Jesus did so many miracles that, if they were all written down, the whole world couldn’t contain the books (21:25). John chose seven of them (not counting the greatest of all – His own resurrection from the dead!) to record for the purpose of proving that Jesus was the Christ, the divine Son of God (20:31). Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-11); He healed the nobleman’s terminally ill son (4:46-54); He healed the chronic paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18); He multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a multitude many thousands (6:5-14); He walked on the water in the Sea of Galilee (6:16-24); He healed a man who was born blind (9:1-7); and in Chapter 11, He will raise Lazarus from the dead (11:1-45). John wrote about these, and omitted many other good works from the Father that Jesus had shown the people, because he believed that even this handful of miracles was sufficient evidence to confirm Jesus’ claim to deity. The charge against Him voiced by the critics does not undermine Jesus’ credibility; rather it undermines their own. After all, as Carson writes, “Is there not something incongruous about religion that objects to the healing of long-term paralytics and the curing of someone born blind?”[2] Rather than rejoicing, for instance, when He healed the nobleman’s son, these religious leaders of Israel instead took exception to Jesus performing the miracle on the Sabbath! Instead of rejoicing that a man born blind had regained His sight by the power of God, they launched an investigation that resulted in them kicking that man out of their religious community!

Why should they believe anything Jesus has said about Himself? Well, if all we have are words, then even Jesus says that they have good reason to doubt. He even invites their unbelief and rejection in verse 37. He says, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me.” It is as simple as that. He welcomes their unbelief, if He hasn’t confirmed His claims by publicly showing them many good works from the Father. But He goes further, saying that the same logic applies to the converse: “But if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works” (v38). In other words, “Even though you do not believe the things I say, how can you argue with the things I have done?” When He says, “Believe the works,” He does not mean that belief in vague supernatural realities like the existence of a divine being or the occurrence of unexplainable phenomena is sufficient to make us right before God. When He says, “Believe the works,” He is saying “believe the truth that the works are confirming about who I am.” The miracles do not point to themselves. They point to and authenticate Jesus as the divine Son of God, God in the flesh. That is why He says, “Believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” Believe what the works are showing you: that I and the Father are one; that I am indeed God in the flesh. Perhaps you say, “I cannot understand it, so how can I believe?” Jesus is saying that the evidence for belief is there – what He has done confirms what He said about Himself. You don’t understand in order to believe; you can believe it, so that you grow into knowledge and understanding of it. As Anselm wrote nearly a thousand years ago, “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that unless I believe, I shall not understand.”[3] We come to Jesus by faith, and we grow in that faith so that it becomes both confidence and comprehension of who Jesus is, what He says, and what He did.

Now, the direct claim to deity that Jesus makes in just six words, and the definitive confirmation of His deity He demonstrates in His works, confronts us in a profound and unavoidable way.

III. We must consider the confrontation of Jesus’ deity (v39-42)

Yogi Berra was once giving directions to his home to Joe Garagiola, and he told him, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That’s better advice than it sounds. At a fork in the road, you have to do something, otherwise you just stand there and do nothing. But when it comes to Jesus, the option to just stand there and do nothing is not available to us. When we are confronted by the divine claims of Jesus, we come to life’s ultimate fork in the road, and we have to take it. We have to make a decision: We will believe Him, or we will not. And in our text, we find examples of both.

Notice first that the crowd around Jesus there at the temple did not believe in Him. They heard the claim, they heard the defense of the claim, and they had seen the confirming miracles that substantiated the claim. But, when it was all said and done, they did not believe. Verse 39 says that they were “seeking again to seize Him.” They were undeterred in their unbelief, in spite of the reasoning and the evidence Jesus has provided to them. Their hatred for Him is unflinching, and they once more seek to put Him to death. They did not succeed, this time. Jesus “eluded their grasp.” It doesn’t say how, but we know why. It was not His time to die. That time would come, and they would succeed in crucifying the Lord of glory. Of course, their unbelief did not deter Him from His divine mission. Even in putting Him to death, they were merely carrying out the Father’s predetermined plan for Jesus. He came to die – to die for the sins of humanity, that He might bear our sin and its penalty in full on our behalf, and conquer it through His resurrection from the dead, so that we might be saved. They thought that their unbelief in Him gave them the upper hand, but it never does. Your unbelief in Jesus does not make Him go away. It does not deter Him from doing what He came to do. It does not silence Him. It merely compounds your guilt before Him, for in turning away from Him, you turn away from the only offer of eternal life that there is. Tragically, multitudes have come to the fork in the road and made the wrong turn. They have chosen the path that leads to destruction.

Others on the other hand, have chosen the alternate way – the way of faith. Like those out beyond the Jordan described in verses 40-42, they have come to believe in Jesus and accept Him as the Lord of glory and the Savior of the world. Notice the maturity of their faith: they said, “John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true,” and they believed in Him. They did not need confirming evidence. They heard the testimony of John the Baptist, and that testimony pointed them directly to Jesus Christ. John had told them that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. And they had come to believe in Him. And many of you have come to believe in Him as well. You have heard His claim; you have read about His confirming works, and you have placed your faith in Him and have been saved. Now that you believe, you have embarked on a life of growth – you are perpetually gaining knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done for you as you grow in grace.

But there are only those two options. He says He is God, and His miracles validate the claim. You either believe that or you do not. There really isn’t any other alternative. When you consider Jesus, you are confronted by an eternally important fork in the road. You don’t have a choice but to take it. Which path you choose is the most important decision you could ever make.

[1] “I. Scriptures” in The Baptist Faith and Message: 2000. Accessed online at 2000.asp. Accessed February 20, 2014.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 396.
[3] Anselm, Proslogion (Notre Dame; University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 115.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Our Security in Christ (John 10:27-30)

The other day, I saw this ad online for a new product that someone is developing. They’re these little tiles that you can attach to things – your car keys, your purse, your wallet, your luggage, really anything at all. Then, when you lose those things, you pull up an app on your smart-phone, and it locates the object for you. Brilliant! You could potentially never lose anything again. I am assuming that the developer has already thought about one very obvious design flaw … if the whole thing hinges on your ability to use your smart-phone to find the missing item, what happens if you lose your smart phone?  Seems to me that the whole enterprise is down the tubes at that point. If you lose your smart phone, I suppose you could lose everything and never find any of it again. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something in your life that you knew for certain you could never lose? Well, if you know Jesus, then you do.

You’ve probably wondered it before: “Is there any way that I can lose my salvation?” Is there a sin I could commit that would make me not be a Christian anymore? Is there something I might think, or say, or do, or NOT do, that would make Jesus not love me? What if I wake up in the morning and find that I no longer believe in Him? What if I decide that being a Christian is just not for me? Maybe you never had those thoughts before, because maybe soon after you became a believer in Jesus, someone shared with you that favorite phrase among Baptists, “Once saved, always saved.” Or maybe you’ve been told by some Christians that you can never lose your salvation, while others have told you that you can, and you are just confused about it. Well, there is no need to be confused. The Word of God addresses the matter plainly in many very clear passages throughout the New Testament. But nowhere is it more clearly spelled out than in these verses we have read today.

There are at least four very strong assurances here in this passage that should give us confidence in our security in Christ. We find, as we consider these promises, that our security in Him is not based on anything in us or anything we do or do not do, but rather our security in Him is based entirely on Him. If we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, then there is no way we can ever lose that salvation. We are eternally secure in Jesus, not because of our ability to hold on to Him, but because of His faithfulness, His promise, and His power to hold on to us. According to this passage, for us to be able to lose our salvation, Jesus would have to do four things He simply cannot do. Let’s look at them and see what those things are.

I. Jesus cannot “unknow” what He knows. (v27)

Have you ever “unknown” something? It happens to us. We have good reason to declare with some degree of certainty that we know a thing to be true. But later, we might find new information that leads us to conclude that the thing we knew before is not true, so we don’t say we know it anymore. I suppose our minds are always busy coming to know some things, knowing some other things, and unknowing some others. But that is because our knowledge is imperfect. We “know” to the degree that we “learn” through information that we receive. But God’s knowledge is not like ours. He doesn’t “learn” anything. The old saying is, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to Him?” He knows all things with perfect certainty at all times. He doesn’t have misinformation, because He does not depend on information to know things. He just knows them. The theological term for this is omniscience. As one theologian writes, “God sees all things at a glance, as it were. He does not learn. He was never ignorant, and He can never come to know more. … He does not reason in the sense of taking time to pass from one idea to another. That is to say, there is no succession of ideas in God’s mind. He does not first know one item and then come to know another of which He was previously ignorant. All ideas are always in His mind.”[1] So, unlike us, for God it is impossible that He could ever unknow something. And that is important for us for two reasons here as we look at the question of the security of our salvation.

First, it is important because Jesus says in verse 30, “I and the Father are one.” This is one of the most direct claims to deity that Jesus makes in all the Gospels. Here we see with some measure of clarity the underlying realities of the mystery of the Trinity. Though distinct from one another as Father and Son, there is a oneness of nature and substance between God the Father and God the Son (and indeed God the Holy Spirit, though He is not mentioned here). Thus, we are not “tri-theists” who worship three God, but “Trinitarians” who worship the one and only true God, who exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As one God, these three persons share all the divine attributes equally, so what is true of God (generally) is true of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If God is omniscient, then the Son, Jesus Christ, is omniscient, because He and the Father are one. Jesus cannot unknow something because He always knows all things perfectly.

This is important for us here, because of what it is that He says He knows in verse 27. He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them.” He knows those who are truly His sheep. This is the same truth that Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:19: “The Lord knows those who are His.” It is not just that He knows you. Since He is omniscient, He knows everyone. Rather, it is what He knows about you. And He says that He knows that you are His. He cannot unknow that. It is an impossibility. So, if you are His, and He knows that you His, you can never “not be” His, for then there would be a flaw or a fault in the knowledge of God, and that is something that simply cannot be. Perfect knowledge is inherent in His nature. You are secure in Christ on the basis of His perfect knowledge that you belong to Him. He cannot “unknow” something that He knows.

II. Jesus cannot “ungive” what He gives. (vv28-28)

Almost 20 years ago, I was shopping for a very special Christmas gift for Donia – an engagement ring. The guy at the jewelry shop showed me some very nice rings, and then he gave me a bit of unsolicited advice. He said, “I would caution you against giving her the ring for Christmas, because if she says no to your proposal, or later breaks off the relationship, you are going to want that ring back, and you won’t be able to get it back because it was a Christmas gift. We all know, you can’t take back a gift once you give it.” Well, I didn’t take his advice, and I gave it to her as a Christmas gift anyway. Thankfully, she said yes, and has decided to put up with me for all these years. And I have never wanted to take my gift back.

To take one’s gift back would imply that one made a mistake in so giving it, and now seeks to make that wrong right. But, when it comes to the gifts that God gives, He never makes a mistake and never changes His mind, so there is never a need to “ungive” the gift. Now, there are two ways that this affects our security in salvation. In verse 29, Jesus says that those who belong to Him have been given to Him by His Father. If you have trusted in Christ for salvation, it is not a matter of you giving something (your heart, your faith, your life) to Him. Rather, it is a matter of God the Father giving you to Jesus. Now, there are some people who walk around arrogantly as if they were God’s gift to the earth. No, that is not what we are talking about. You are God’s gift to Jesus. That ought not make you arrogant; it ought to humble you greatly. It was not for any reason in you – nothing that you are, or have done, or can do – but rather for reasons of His own grace and glory, out of the whole of humanity, He chose you to be His gift of love to His Son. We often speak of the Father’s love for you as the reason why He gave His Son for you (John 3:16), but this verse is teaching us that out of His love for the Son, He gave you to Him. He cannot change His mind about that. He did not make a mistake when He did it. So, He will not – He cannot – “ungive” this gift to the Son.

But notice also that Jesus says He has given a gift as well. In verse 28, He says concerning those who are His sheep, “I give eternal life to them.” If you are His, He has given you a gift. That gift is “eternal life” – a life that will go on in His presence forever in heaven. It is the quality of life that Jesus will speak of in the next Chapter when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” It is a life that death itself cannot terminate. You have been given this by Jesus Christ. You have not earned it. You did not deserve it. We are all sinners, deserving only condemnation from a holy God. Romans 6:23 expresses it well: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As we come to know Him as Lord, He gives to us this gift because He has received in Himself the wages that were due for our sin. Our security in Christ is not dependent on what we have given or can give to Him. It is entirely dependent on God’s gift to us. The Father has given us to the Son, the Lord Jesus, and Jesus has given us eternal life. And because He cannot change His mind or make a mistake, He will not – He cannot – “ungive” this gift.

III. Jesus cannot “unpromise” what He promises. (v28b)

In James 5:12, which paraphrases Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:36, we read, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” This is, among other things, a call to a life of honest integrity. People swear, they promise, they vow and make oaths because on the whole, we have developed a distrust of one another. When a person says, “yes,” or “no,” that is not good enough for some of us, because we aren’t sure that they are telling the truth. We’ve been lied to before. So we want some assurance of truthfulness. Swear, promise, vow, make an oath, say something to make me take your yes and your no seriously. Of course, promises get broken all the time. People lie. So, even a promise does not carry much weight to those who have been scorned or who are especially skeptical.

But when God makes a promise, there is no need for skepticism or doubt. In Numbers 23:19 we read, “God is not a man, that He should lie.” He is not like we are. He is unable to speak anything but truth. Therefore, when He makes a promise, it is one that can be believed with assurance. He will keep that promise. And the Lord Jesus, who is one with the Father, says here in verse 28 concerning those who are His, “they will never perish.” That is a promise. In the Greek text, it is emphatically stated in a way that we might translate, “They will never, ever perish.”[2] To perish, biblically speaking, would be to spend eternity separated from Christ under the just judgment and wrath of God in hell. This is what our sins deserve. But Christ endured our condemnation on our behalf as He died on the cross. The most horrific element of that torture was the severing of the eternal fellowship that God the Son had known and enjoyed with God the Father from eternity. He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as be bore our sins and the full measure of their penalty. Because He endured this for our sake, we can be saved. Our sins have been paid for in full by His blood, and by His resurrection from the dead, He has conquered sin and death and hell for us. So, as John 3:16 wonderfully promises, “God so loved the loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And Jesus has given us that eternal life, and promised us that we will never, ever perish.

He is not a man that He should lie. In fact, in John 14:6, Jesus says of Himself, “I am … the truth.”  Paul speaks of eternal life as something “which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2). In Hebrews, the writer says that because God desired to show us the “unchangeableness of His purpose,” He guaranteed His promise “with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things (His promise and His oath) in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” (Heb 6:17-20). So, if a person who has trusted in Christ could eventually and ultimately perish, it would mean that Christ has lied to us in saying we can never perish, and He cannot lie. Otherwise, it would mean that He has “unpromised” His promise, and that He will not do. Our security in Christ is not based on our promise to always believe in Him. Our security is rooted in His promise that we shall never, ever perish.

IV. Jesus cannot “unhold” what He holds. (vv28-29)

Charles Swindoll tells the story about a few friends that had gone mountain climbing. After they climbed a while, one of the friends fell a good ways down and landed far below on a ledge. The friends yelled down to him, “Are you OK?” In a considerable amount of pain, he grunted back in agony, “I’m alive, but I think I broke both arms.” They said, “Do you think you can hold a rope if we try to pull you up?” He said, “I will try.” So they lowered the rope, felt a tug on the end, and started pulling their friend up to them. After they had raised him about half way, one of them remembered that their friend said he had broken both arms. So he yelled down, “Hey, if both your arms are broken, how are you holding on?” The line went slack as the answer came back, “With my teeeeeeeeeeeth.”[3]

Maybe you have had times in your life when you felt like you were doing all you could to hang on, even if by the skin of your teeth. Well, the best news we could ever hear is that when it comes to our relationship with God, it does not depend on our ability to hold onto Him, but rather His ability to hold onto us. And we are held with a double grip that can never be broken. Jesus says in verse 28 that no one will snatch the one who belongs to Him out of His hand. Then He says that we are also firmly held by the hand of the Father, who “is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (v29).

To “snatch” in this sense is to sieze by force. Jesus is saying that there is no way that anyone or anything is strong enough or powerful to forcibly remove you from His strong hand or the omnipotent hand of the Father. Now, He doesn’t say that they won’t try. The spiritual enemy of our souls, the devil, is like a roaring lion prowling about seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He will see to it that we are persistently tempted to sin at every turn, and often he will succeed. He will inspire hatred against the Lord and His people, and it will be carried out in acts of intimidation and violence. And then, there is the reality that life in this fallen world is never easy. Hardships arise because of the effects of sin on the world. We will face suffering, loss, tragedy, and grief in this life. But the good news is that none of this is able to sever us from the hand of God in Christ. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying to us in Romans 8 with these marvelous words:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (NASB)

When he says “angels,” that includes the devil himself, who is a fallen angel. He cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. When he says “principalities,” it could include the entire demonic host, or it could mean hostile governing authorities. They cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. They may threaten or afflict us with persecution or sword. These cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We will face tribulation and distress in this fallen world, but it cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rather, the Word of God promises us that “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” It is not our own strength that gives us victory. It is the eternally strong bond of the love of God in Christ Jesus, and there is no created thing that can separate you from Him if you are one of His own. He is holding you firmly in His grasp. You are held by the Father and the Son. Your security in Christ is not found in your ability to hold onto Him. It would be a sad state of affairs if it were. But rather, your security in Christ is found in His faithfulness to hold onto you, and He has promised that He will, and He will never let you go. He cannot “unhold” what He has promised to hold.

So, we have this fourfold assurance here in this text. Jesus cannot “unknow” what He knows. He knows if you are His sheep. He cannot “ungive” what He has given. He has given you eternal life, and the Father has given you to Christ. He cannot “unpromise” what He has promised, and He has promised that you will never perish. He cannot “unhold” what He holds, and He has promised that nothing can take you out of His hand or the hand of His Father. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are secure in Christ, and nothing will ever change that. All of this is true for the one whom Jesus calls “My sheep.” These are they who have heard His voice calling them to faith in Him, and have followed Him by faith. If that is not true of you, it can be today. If you have come to Him and followed Him as your Lord and Savior, you can rest in Him. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), and you are held secure in Him for all eternity.

[1] Gordon H. Clark, “Knowledge.” Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology (ed. E. F. Harrison, G. W. Bromiley, C. F. Henry; Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2000), 315.
[2] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 311.
[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Standing Out (Portland: Multnomah, 1979), 50. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is Jesus the Christ? (John 10:17-27)


This past Tuesday night, an estimated 5 million people worldwide tuned in to the live video stream of a debate about the compatibility of biblical creationism with modern science between Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) and Ken Ham (the founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum). At one point, both participants were asked what, if anything, would convince either man to change his mind. Nye responded that if there were one piece of evidence that supported the biblical view of creation, he would change his mind immediately. Never mind that Ham had already presented numerous evidences to support his own view, what Bill Nye demonstrated throughout the debate was that his intellectual commitment to an entirely naturalistic and anti-supernatural worldview would not allow him to even consider a shred of evidence to the contrary. It is not the there is no evidence; there is plenty. The issue is how much evidence is “enough,” and is a person willing to believe that other interpretations of the evidence are valid? When it comes to creation and evolution, we are all looking at the same evidence. The problem is that our worldviews inevitably form presuppositions in our minds that affect how we interpret the evidence. Nye, and many other secular, naturalistic evolutionists are unwilling to consider that other interpretations of the evidence may be valid.

We see the same thing when it comes to belief in God in general. As most of you know, before I was a Christian, I was an atheist. My primary argument was that if God did exist, there ought to be more evidence of His existence all around us. If He wanted us to believe in Him, it seemed to me that He wasn’t trying very hard. Philosophers call this line of reasoning the “Hiddenness of God” argument. Yet, Christians can point to many evidences for God’s existence, and they often did with me. The problem was not lack of evidence, but lack of willingness on my part to consider the evidence. So, we should not be surprised with the attitudes of some when it comes to believing that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of humanity). There are those who sound intellectually pious as they say, “There just isn’t enough evidence to convince me that He is.” We even find some here in our text today. In verse 24, they are asking Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Like those here in the text, we know many today who would attempt to say that Jesus Himself is the one to blame for the lack of belief in Him. It’s His fault they don’t believe because He hasn’t provided enough evidence to convince them.

Well, is that true? Do we have sufficient evidence to believe on Jesus Christ? According to the Apostle John, we do. In John 20:31, he says that of all the things that Jesus said and did, these things (the things recorded in this Gospel) have been written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” According to John, what we have in this Gospel is sufficient evidence to warrant such a belief in Jesus as the Christ. But of course, for those who were alive and present during the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, there was more evidence than this available to them. In John 20:30, the Apostle writes that there were “many other signs” which Jesus also performed which are not written in this book. In John 21:25, he says that if they were all written down in detail, “the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” So, it was not that there was a lack of evidence. Their unbelief, and that of many today, is rather the result of a willful refusal to recognize and consider the evidence and thereby to yield to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Let’s set the stage for this dispute that we read about in our text today. In John 9, Jesus healed a man who was born blind, something that was acknowledged as an impossibility apart from a miraculous work of God (cf. John 9:24-33). This occurred just after the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.[1] Seemingly immediately after this miracle took place, Jesus began to speak about Himself as “the Good Shepherd” and “the door of the sheep.” He identified Himself as the One who lays down His life for the sheep and who has the divine authority to do so and to take it up again (10:1-18). Upon hearing these words, there was a division among the crowd of Jews around Him (10:19). Some were saying (10:20) that He was a demon-possessed lunatic. Others were saying that it was impossible for Him to be a demon-possessed lunatic, for a demon-possessed lunatic could not say the things that Jesus was saying, nor could he open the eyes of a man born blind (v21). You see what they are saying? There is evidence in His words and in His works that would affirm that His claims need to be taken seriously rather than dismissed without consideration.

Now, the scene changes in 10:22. It is no longer the time of the Feast of Tabernacles; now it is the time of the Feast of Dedication, perhaps six to eight weeks later. This feast is also known as the Festival of Lights or, more popularly, Hanukkah. As He walked along in the Portico of Solomon, undoubtedly to escape the harsh, cold winds and rain of the Judean winter, He was encircled by a throng of Jews who asked Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” The question and demand that they made of Jesus is echoing today in the words of so many others. We need to look at it to understand what the unbelievers around us are really saying. But, as we respond to them, we also need to consider how Jesus responded. The response He gave is the same response that we need to give to those we interact with today.

I. Many unbelievers are asking the right question, but sometimes for the wrong reason.

For 25 years, Larry King was regarded as one of the best interviewers in the television industry. He had a knack for always asking the right questions and getting real answers. Larry King was once asked, if he could choose any person in history to interview, whom would he choose? He said he would like to interview Jesus Christ, and he would ask him just one question: “Are You indeed virgin born?” King said, “The answer to that question would explain history for me.”[2] Well, indeed, anytime someone asks a question that drives down to the point of who Jesus really, they are asking “the right question.” And that is what the group surrounding Jesus were doing. They were asking, “Are you really the Christ?” That is always the right question to ask. It is the most significant question anyone could ever ask. This is the question that many of us are faced with on a regular basis. It may not be asked directly; it is often hidden under the veil of other statements or questions being put forth. And we need to take that question seriously; we need to recognize the importance and significance of the question. That question has eternal implications. It could mean the difference between heaven and hell for someone. Never despise the one who asks a question about the identity of Jesus. We should commend them for seeking out the most important truth in all the universe.

But, we also need to be aware that some are asking the right question for the wrong reasons. Such was the case here with these in the text. Consider what they had seen and heard already. Did they need more information to make a decision about Jesus? They had heard Him speak openly on many occasions. They had seen Him perform amazing miracles. Untold multitudes of people have come to faith in Jesus without nearly as much evidence as they had already received. So, why were they asking? They weren’t seeking the truth, they were setting a trap. The evil intentions of the hearts of the Jewish leaders had already been made evident. Jesus was a threat to their power over the people because He challenged the religious system, so as all four Gospels point out clearly, they intended to find a way to have Him killed. If they could get Him to say in no uncertain terms that He had come to be the Christ, the Messiah, they would have what they were looking for. You have to understand, in that day, there were many ideas floating around about who or what the Messiah might be when He came. For most, He was viewed as the heroic leader of a great insurrection, who would lead the people into military conquest over the powers of the Roman Empire. If they could get Jesus to admit that this is who He claimed to be, they knew that the Empire would destroy Him quickly to squelch any uprising before it ever started.  

Some who come to us today with their questions, even when they are asking the right questions, are doing so for similar wrong reasons. Some, even many perhaps, are not honest seekers for truth. Rather, they are trying to start an argument. They want an opportunity to advance their own ideas, which they are already convinced are superior to yours. Or, they want to get you to say something that they can use to trip you up and use as a supposed proof that you are wrong. Or, perhaps they want to expose some hypocrisy in you as a means of discrediting the claims of Jesus. Or, they might have many other hidden motives for asking what appears to be the right question. Now, I want to be clear that there are some people who are genuinely seeking truth, and for the sake of those, the Bible says that we must always be ready to give a reason for the hope within us to whoever asks. But we must not be so naïve to think that every person who asks us a question about Jesus is genuinely interested in finding truth. Some, like those in our text here in John 10, are asking the right questions, but for the wrong reasons.

So, how do we answer their questions? Let’s look at how Jesus answered these and learn from Him.

II. Jesus provides the best answer, even if it is not the answer that some are seeking.

I spent a year as a grader in Seminary, and several years as a college professor. During those experiences, some of the funniest things I have ever read have been the answers students sometimes write on exams when they do not know the answer. I’ve been sent even funnier ones by friends over the years, like this one from a history exam: The question is, “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?” One student answered, “At the bottom.” Well, what do we say to that? It’s not the wrong answer, but certainly it is not the answer that the teacher was looking for.

Well, when Jesus answered those who asked Him to tell them plainly if He is the Christ, He gave them the right answer, and indeed the best answer, even though it was not the answer that they were seeking. He said, “I told you, and you do not believe.” Now, you can search through your Bibles and look for the place where Jesus said plainly, “I am the Christ,” and you won’t find many statements that are this clear. He spoke this clearly to His disciples in private, and to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4. But He had not said it so directly in public to the broader Jewish audience. Why not? Well, most importantly, for the reason already mentioned: He wanted to avoid the popular misconceptions about the Messiah. But, even though He had rarely said so plainly, “I am the Christ, the Messiah,” what He had said was plain enough.

For three years, He had been making bold and direct claims about His own identity, His divine nature, and His mission of salvation. After all, He had said plainly that the entire Old Testament spoke of Him and His coming. He had clearly indicated that He was the unique and only mediator between God and man. John’s Gospel records for us seven distinct “I am” statements in which Jesus applies to Himself the divine name of God and uses metaphoric phrases to describe His nature and His mission. He said, “I am the Bread of Life,” indicating that He alone could satisfy the longings of humanity. He said, “I am the Light of the World,” meaning that He is the sole ultimate revelation of God. He said, “I am the Door of the sheep,” by which He had told them that He alone could provide access to God. He had said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” indicating that He, and no other, could lead His people out of the peril of sin and away from the wolves, the thieves, the robbers, and the hirelings who represented the false religious leaders of Israel. Anyone with ears to hear could recognize that Jesus had clearly identified Himself as Christ and Messiah through these and many other expressions. And don’t think for a moment that they didn’t get it. They did, and that is why they were so intent on killing Him. The problem was not that He hadn’t said it; the problem was that they hadn’t believed Him.

But then Jesus says that His words are not all they have to go on. He has also provided them with ample evidence of His identity through His works. He says, “The works I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe.” Any lunatic can walk around making false claims about Himself, but Jesus backed up His claims by performing miraculous signs and wonders. Not only does John record for us seven unique “I am” sayings, he also records seven distinct miracles that Jesus performed openly to indicate who He is. He turned water into wine, prompting His disciples to believe in Him. He healed the nobleman’s son, proving His power to overcome sin and sickness. He healed a lame man, demonstrating that He is able to do for humanity what we cannot do for ourselves. He fed a multitude of thousands by miraculously multiplying just five loaves of bread and two fish, demonstrating that He has the ability to provide and sustain us. He walked on the water in the Sea of Galilee, proving His power over nature. He healed a man born blind, something that no one in history had been able to do. And in the next chapter (John 11), He will even raise a man from the dead, proving His authority over life and death and foreshadowing His own resurrection. But He did even more than what has been recorded for us in this Gospel. The other three Gospels record more miracles, and John says that if all of them were written in detail, you would need a library larger than the world to contain the books.

You ask for proof that He is the Christ? How much more proof do you need? Jesus answers the crowd here by saying that His words and His works ought to be sufficient evidence for them to know that He is the Christ. It is not lack of evidence on His part, but lack of faith on their part. They do not believe. The same is true of many we encounter today. They say, rather arrogantly and pompously, “We need more evidence! We need convincing proof.” How do we respond? We follow the example of Jesus. Point to His words. Point to His works. These things testify plainly of who He is, and answer the question. He is the Christ. If others do not believe in Him, it is not His fault. If we point them to His words and His works, it is not our fault either. Our confidence is not in the convincing power of our arguments, but in the converting power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus: what He said; what He did. People ask me almost every day, “What can I tell my lost friend to make them believe in Jesus?” I say, “Tell them what He said and what He did.” I don’t know if it will make them believe, but that is how Jesus did it, and we are fools to believe that we can do it any better. It may not be the answer they are looking for, but it is the best answer, if for no other reason than it is the answer that Jesus gave.

This brings us then to the final point, the ultimate reality that underlies the disbelief of so many.

III. Jesus identifies the root cause of unbelief, and the remedy for it.

Here is a guaranteed reality about the condition of humanity: lost people will act and speak like lost people. There should really be no surprise about that at all. Sometimes we act surprised, even offended, but this is the wrong reaction. Lost people act like lost people. You can’t pass laws to change that. You can’t shout your way beyond it. And even if you could, it would only mask the real problem of their lostness. In fact, the biggest cultural crisis we are facing today in America comes from a two-fold tragedy. One is that we have been led to expect lost people to act like saved people because of the lingering influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview on our society. The other is that we increasingly see people who claim to be saved acting like lost people. So, we accept the presence of hypocrisy and carnality in our own ranks, and decry moral degradation in the broader culture, when the opposite should be true. Christians complain that there are no plaques of the ten commandments in the courthouse, but we do not display them in our homes or churches. Christians complain that there is no prayer in school, and do not show up for prayer meetings in our churches. You see the problem.

Jesus puts His finger on the pulse of the problem here in verse 26. He says, “You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.” Now, at first glance, it may appear that He is saying the same thing twice. To not believe is to not be one of His sheep; and to not be one of His sheep is to not believe. But He says that there is a causal connection here. Their failure to believe is caused by the fact that they do not belong to Him. Here we are wading into to the choppy waters of divine sovereignty in salvation. It is God who saves. As sinners who are, according to God’s word, dead in our trespasses and sins, we cannot believe until God moves upon our hearts in regenerating power giving us new life. For those who do not believe, He has not, at least not yet, done that. If He had, they would believe. Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). Scripture teaches very plainly that God is sovereign in salvation. Does that mean that you are a Calvinist or a Predestinarian? No, it just means you believe the Bible. But nowhere does Scripture teach that human beings are not morally responsible for their own sin, or can somehow be excused from their sins, including the sin of unbelief, because of something that God did or did not do. The same Bible that teaches us that God is singularly responsible for the saving of a soul also teaches us that every human being is morally accountable to God for our wrongdoings. God has not, or at least not yet, drawn them, but they were already guilty before Him because of their sin. Jesus said in John 3:18 that the who does not believe is “condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

It is not our job to identify the elect and the non-elect of the world. That responsibility belongs to God and God alone. We are not told who the elect are, and who the non-elect are. We are told that God saves the elect through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and we are told that He calls them out to Himself through the preaching of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. And we are commanded to proclaim that Good News to everyone. The Church of Jesus Christ has been commissioned to make known to every nation on earth that Jesus has died for the sins of humanity, He has borne the wrath of God in our place as our substitute, and He has conquered sin and death through His resurrection. Therefore, all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus can be saved. So, what is the problem? People are lost. How then can they be saved? Through the Holy Spirit working in their hearts as the Good News of Jesus is proclaimed. So Jesus says that they do not believe because they are not of His sheep, but then He says in verse 27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” So, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared, people hear, as it were, the voice of Jesus Christ Himself beckoning them to come to Him, to believe upon Him, and to be saved. Everyone who hears that message has the same opportunity to believe or reject Him. So if a person is lost today, and they hear the Gospel message and believe it, and trust in Jesus and follow Him, they will be saved. And Jesus already knows who those are who will believe. In fact, He has chosen them to believe, because apart from God’s sovereign choosing of us, none of us would ever believe because we are dead in sin. But we must make the choice to believe and follow. So, if a person is wondering, “Am I among those chosen? Am I part of the elect sheep of God’s fold?”, the answer is, “What do you do with the Good News of Jesus?” If you believe it, then you are. If you do not believe it, then it may be that you are not, or it may be that you are, and as of yet, God has not yet imparted life to you to believe. But what you must not do is walk away from the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe, you must keep seeking, keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking on the door. Jesus has promised that he who seeks will find, to the one who asks it will be given, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened. As long as there is breath left in you, there is hope, if you will only believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the solution. Hear the voice of Christ, and follow Him by faith. To anyone standing in that crowd, the offer was openly extended. To anyone seated in this room today, it is extended still. To any you encounter, the offer goes forth as you tell them what Jesus has said and what Jesus has done. He will save you. The God who cannot lie has promised to do so.

So, maybe today you are asking the right questions: Who is Jesus? Is He the Christ? Is He the Savior who can rescue me from my sin and reconcile me to God? Those are all the right questions to ask. Why are you asking? Are you genuinely seeking truth? Are you open-minded enough to let His words and His works have their full weight in your heart and mind? You say, “I need more evidence!” Jesus says, “You have My words. You have heard about My works. That evidence is more than sufficient.” So what shall you say to Him? Will you blame Him for not proving Himself more clearly? Is it not enough for you that He became a man, said what He said, did what He did, and then died in your place to bear your sins on the cross, and rose from the dead? Will you blame Him for not drawing your, or choosing you, or electing you? He has offered you life, and said that you may turn to Jesus and believe – how is that His fault if you do not? Perhaps today, the questions you have been asking have been answered for you in the person of Jesus Christ; what you are seeking in life has been found in Him; the door upon which you have been knocking has been opened to you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. This is the promise of God’s Word.

If you know Him, and live for Him, you will get questions. How will you answer? Point to Jesus’ words and Jesus’ works. That is what He did. You won’t improve on that. Share that message of who Jesus is, what He said, and what He did, with everyone. You say, “What if they don’t believe?” Well, many won’t. But some will. You don’t know who will or who won’t but Jesus does. And He has promised that He knows those who will, even if you don’t. Our great encouragement in sharing His Good News is that He will keep that promise. Our part is to go and tell. His part is to save. You do your part, and He will never fail to do His part.

[1] The events from John 7 through 10:19 all occur during and immediately after the Feast of Tabernacles.
[2] Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville: Word, 2000), 38. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-21)


Phillip Keller grew up around shepherds in East Africa and later became a shepherd himself. More importantly he was a Christian. Later in life, Keller was able to reflect on life-lessons he learned as a shepherd and how those things helped him understand many truths in the Bible. He is perhaps most well known for two books: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, and A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd and His Sheep. In the latter, Keller writes,

Reflecting back over my own years as a sheepman I recall clearly those happy, contented times when I literally reveled in the well-being of my sheep. Visitors would often remark how contented and flourishing my flock appeared. But only I knew how much work, effort, tireless attention, and never-ending diligence had been expended on my part for this to be possible. My sheep had literally been the recipients of my life. It had been shared with them abundantly and unstintingly. Nothing was ever held back. All that I possessed was in truth poured out unremittingly in order that together we should prosper. The strength of my young body, the keen enthusiasm of my spirit, the energy of my mind, the alertness of my emotions, the thrust and drive of my disposition were all directed to the well-being of my flock. [1]

Keller had learned from experience that being a good shepherd required nothing less than the investment of one’s whole life. The Lord Jesus also knows this. In our text today, He speaks of Himself as “the Good Shepherd.” Surely, among shepherds, there are good ones and bad ones. But Jesus speaks of Himself here as unique among them all. He is the Good Shepherd. Where others are “good,” He is more excellent still. He is alone in His class as the ultimate Shepherd. Jesus used the Greek word kalos. It can mean, of course, good as opposed to “bad,” but it means far more than this. It carries the sense of being excellent, noble, praise-worthy, and beautiful. When He says that He is the Good Shepherd, Jesus intends to say that there is really no other like Him. He is the most excellent, the most noble, the most praise-worthy of them all. There is a beauty on display in His care for His sheep that can be seen nowhere else but in Him.

There is a singular characteristic of Jesus that marks Him out as the superlative shepherd. Five times in these verses He speaks of His laying down of His own life for the sheep. It is this which distinguishes Him from all other shepherds. Other shepherds who are good at their job invest their whole lives in the sheep, but the Lord Jesus goes above and beyond them all. He gives up His life entirely for the benefit of the sheep. He speaks in the present tense, not the future tense. At that very moment, He was laying down His life for them. His entire earthly life was a sacrifice for His sheep. As one New Testament scholar writes, “The incarnation in its entirety was an act of unbelievable condescension. The eternal Son laid down His life by becoming a man and living among us.”[2] The infinite and eternal Son of God laid down His life in coming to us as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. He laid down His life all day, every day, over the course of three years of public ministry, pouring Himself out for the benefit of others. But then of course, yes, there came that fateful day in which He laid down His life ultimately and supremely for His sheep on Calvary’s cross.

Often we are tempted to view the cross of Jesus Christ as a great tragedy. It can appear to us as an accident of divine and human history, as if God lost track of what was going on, things got out of hand, and the Son of God ended up dead because of the evil hatred of mankind. That would be a mistake to view it that way. Jesus did not view His own cross that way, and neither must we. Jesus tells us how we should view the cross here in verses 17-18. He said that the entire episode flows out of the love of the Father. “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.” He did not earn the Father’s love by doing this. He is eternally the supreme object of the Father’s love. But it was a demonstration of the Father’s love for Him and His love for the Father that He gave Himself up so freely in life and in death. The Father loves Him because He is unconditionally committed to whatsoever the Father wills for Him.

He also tells us that the entire episode of the cross was within His own sovereign control. We think that Pilate, or Herod Antipas, or Judas Iscariot, or mobs of people crying “Crucify,” or Roman soldiers, took Jesus’ life away from Him. He says here in verse 17, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” He was the one who was in control of His circumstances leading up to and including His death on the cross. He said, “I have authority to lay it down.” No one else has the authority to lay down his own life. You don’t decide when you breathe your final breath. Jesus did. He had authority over His own life and death. But He also says that He has the authority to take up His own life again. In fact, He says that He lays it down “so that” He may take it again. He chose to die, and He did it in order that He might rise again.

Jesus laid down His life and He took it up again in glorious resurrection. But why would He do such a thing? He did it because He is the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Notice, He does it for the sheep. It is on their behalf, for their benefit. Jesus laid down His life to save us. How does His death save us? It is because He dies for our sins to reconcile us to God. The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa 53:5-6). In Romans 5, Paul said it this way, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8). He laid down His life for the sheep, and that is why He is the Good Shepherd.

Now, we have seen why He is called “the Good Shepherd.” It is because He laid down His life for the sheep, to rescue the sheep, that the sheep might be freed of their sins and be washed clean and reconciled to God through Him. But the great mystery of the ages is why would Jesus do this for the likes of us? Well, I suppose it will take eternity to fully untangle that mystery, but here in this passage, Jesus tells us three reasons why the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

I. The Good Shepherd lays down His life because of His intimate love for the sheep (vv12-13)

In the ancient Near-East, if you saw a man with a flock of sheep, he might be one of two kinds of men. Some of those out among the sheep were proper shepherds, men who owned the sheep, loved the sheep, and cared for the sheep. They belonged to him. Before David became King of Israel, he was a shepherd, and he was an example of just such a shepherd. He cared for the flock of his father Jesse as if they were his own. He spoke of some of his exploits as a shepherd as he sought to persuade Saul to allow him to go out and fight Goliath. He said, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear” (1 Sam 17:34-36). David was willing to risk his life to protect the sheep because he loved them and cared for them. Not all those who tended sheep were like this though. Some were mere hirelings. For them, watching the sheep was just a job. As long as things were easy, and the money was good, they would show up every day and work their shift. When quitting time came, they went home for the night and never gave a passing thought to those sheep. They were not in it for the sake of the sheep, but for themselves. So, when tending the flock put them at risk, say, when a wolf came to attack the flock, the hireling would turn tail and run to spare his own skin. A hireling can always find another job. A shepherd only has one flock, and he devotes himself at all times to the well-being of the flock.

Jesus said that He was the Good Shepherd; He was not like the hired hand. He said that the hired hand was “not concerned about the sheep.” Jesus was teaching something to the people about their own religious leaders. These guys, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the chief priests and the elders, styled themselves as spiritual shepherds of the people. But Jesus was trying to point out to them that they were nothing more than hired hands. They were just collecting a paycheck. They didn’t care about the sheep – the people of Israel. If they were in danger, you couldn’t count on these people to protect them. In fact, they were in danger! A wolf was devouring them! That wolf was sin. But the religious leaders were not helping the people find the love and forgiveness of God. They were capitalizing off of the guilt and fear of the people, bringing in a lot of money for themselves and their corrupt system by breaking the backs of the poor.

Jesus said that He was different than those hired hands of that religious system. He wasn’t a hireling, He was a shepherd. He was the Good Shepherd. They were not concerned about the sheep; He loved the sheep intimately. He loved the sheep even when they were the most unlovely. He loved the sheep even when they did not want to be loved by Him. He loved the sheep even when the sheep hated Him. They led Him to a cross, and in intimate love for the sheep, He laid down His life upon it to rescue them from the devouring wolf of sin. He said it Himself in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” But His love was even greater than this; He laid down His life for His enemies. Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That’s how much He loves you. The wolf that seeks to devour us is sin, and Jesus did not run away when we were in its grasp. He destroyed the wolf of sin for us by His death and resurrection. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because, in intimate love, He laid down His life for you.

II. The Good Shepherd lays down His life because of His infinite knowledge of the sheep (vv14-15)

In our day of social media, we are prone to measure someone’s success, importance, influence by how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers that they have. There is even an online gauge called “Klout” that gives you a score of how influential you are and allows you to compare yourself to others. So, maybe you have a couple hundred or a couple of thousand Facebook friends, a big following on Twitter, and a high Klout score. How many of those people do you “know”? You might say, “Oh, I know them all!” Really? Pick one at random and tell me, what color are their eyes? What are they most afraid of in life? Who do they turn to when everything in their life gets shaken? What is their greatest need for prayer right now? Do we know that? Do we really know all those people at all? No, we do not, and neither do they know us. That’s disappointing, isn’t it? There is something within us that longs to know others and to be known by them. But here on this earth, here and now, the number of people we really know will be a very small number. For many of us, it will be zero. To know someone in the way we genuinely desire would be to know them infinitely – inside and out. But people don’t let others know them that well. We are always concerned about some aspect or area of our lives that, if known by someone else, would change the way they feel about us. We are guarded. We don’t let people know us that well; and they don’t let us know them that well either.

Well, this will either come as a great comfort to you, or else it will be a great terror to you, and most likely it will be a little bit of both: there is One who knows you infinitely. He knows you inside and out. He knows every thought you ever thought; every word you ever spoke; every deed you ever did or didn’t do, and the reason you did or didn’t do it. He knows your hopes, your fears, your joys and your hurts. There is absolutely nothing about you that He does not know. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know my own.” He even says that His knowledge of us is as complete and perfect as the knowledge that God the Father has of God the Son, and vice-versa. Now, if that terrifies you, you need to be reminded of the first truth we spoke of here: “He loves you intimately.” That’s where the comfort is found. He knows us more infinitely than any other; and He loves us more intimately than any other. Let me put it another way: He knows everything there is to be known about you, but He loves you anyway. So much so, that He lays down His life for you and wants to be your Good Shepherd. That is something that is not true of any other person in the universe. Only Jesus.

He lays down His life for you precisely because He knows you and because He loves you. Because He knows you infinitely, He knows that your greatest need is for a Savior to rescue from your sins. Because He loves you intimately, He was willing to be that Savior for you, knowing that it would cost Him death. And because He was willing to do that for you, He offers you this gift in return. He says that not only does He know His sheep, but they know Him. Because of what Jesus has done for us in laying down His life on the cross, we can truly know Him, and in Him and through Him we know God. He is the complete revelation of God, and it is only as we come to know Him that we can rightly understand all that God has revealed of Himself in Scripture and in nature. This is the great miracle of mercy and redemption. We, who were once cut off from the knowledge of God, groping about in darkness, blind in our sin, are invited through the blood of the cross to know God in Christ. We can truly know the one who knows us infinitely. As we continue to grow in our relationship with Him through His Word, we grow in our knowledge of Him, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:18 – “Grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We grow in that knowledge more and more until the day when we see Him face to face. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). You desire more deeply than anything else to know and to be known. In Jesus, and in Him alone, is that desire ultimately satisfied.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. He did it for you, because of His intimate love for you and His intimate knowledge of you. And then finally, notice …

III. The Good Shepherd lays down His life because of His ultimate purpose for the sheep (v16)

One of the mistakes we often make when we read the Bible is thinking that in the Old Testament, God only cared about Jews, and in the New Testament He changed His affection to Gentiles. That is simply not true. God’s plan for humanity from eternity past was for there to be one body of passionate worshipers from every tribe and nation of earth. Israel was God’s chosen nation, but they were chosen for a purpose: to be a light shining for God before the Gentiles. They were to be His missionary people in the world. And in the Old Testament, we find many Gentiles coming to know and worship God. But over time, Israel began to be so inwardly focused that they ceased being that shining light of the nations. They began to despise the Gentiles. They came to believe that God was only concerned for them. But God did not give up on them. Even in the New Testament, we do not see God exclusively dealing with Gentiles. The first followers of Jesus were all Jews. In fact, it created quite an uproar in the church when Gentiles began to follow Christ (see Acts 10 & 15). And throughout the book of Acts, we see the missionary strategy of going to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles. God was always a missionary God, calling out a missionary people to gather for Himself from the four corners of the earth a multilingual, multiethnic throng of passionate worshipers. It is His ultimate purpose that all nations would know Him and glorify His name.

Jesus says here that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, and in so doing, He is accomplishing that ultimate purpose of the Father. He did not come to save Israel alone. In the capital city of Israel, not far from the Temple, the centerpoint of Jewish religion, surrounded by Jewish leaders, Jesus makes a scandalously bold statement. He says, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold.” He has sheep who are not of the fold of Israel. He has Roman sheep, Greek sheep, Indian sheep, European sheep, African sheep, American sheep, and Asian sheep. And He does not leave those sheep stranded out there groping their way in their own best efforts to find God. No, He said, “I must bring them also.” It is a divine imperative. His work is not finished until He brings them in. And He brings them in by way of Himself. They hear His voice calling out to them. He calls out to them as the Gospel goes forth into all the world, and they come to Him and are saved. He must bring them in, and He will bring them in. This is our great encouragement in missions and evangelism. “I must bring them also.” That means He will do it. We go and tell. He calls and draws and saves. It is His ultimate purpose for His sheep.

He does not gather the nations to Himself and leave them separated from one another. His ultimate purpose is that they all will become one flock with one shepherd. He is that shepherd. The Church of Jesus Christ is that flock. He must bring them in, and He will. This is His ultimate purpose for His sheep – from every tribe and nation, that there might be one flock and one shepherd. We are seeing it happen. Look around you. See people here in this very room who look different than you, whose heart language is different from your own. We have been brought together as one flock with one shepherd. But look elsewhere also. Look around the world. God’s truth is marching on. New people groups are engaged with the gospel, and His praise is being sounded perhaps this very hour in a language that has never uttered His name before! When missionary researcher Patrick Johnstone was asked in 1979 about the most difficult places in the world to reach with the Gospel, he identified Mongolia and Albania. Today, there are more than 40,000 disciples of Jesus in Mongolia, and there is a vibrant, growing indigenous church in Albania. In 1980, there were 70,000 missionaries serving around the world, mostly from the United States and Western Europe. Today, there are a quarter-million missionaries serving around the world from 200 different countries, including South Korea, Brazil, India, Philippines, China, and Nigeria. Some of us remember a time when the top missionary-sending countries were among the top missionary-receiving countries. When we look at the number of missionaries sent per million church members, the leading countries are Palestine, Ireland, Malta, Samoa, and South Korea. And the country that received the most missionaries in 2010? It was the United States of America.[3] Jesus is doing it. He is bringing in His sheep from other folds and forming for Himself one flock with one shepherd.

But He is not finished yet. The end is more clearly in sight than it has ever been. And God is raising up a generation of young Christians who want nothing more than for their lives to be invested in this ultimate purpose of God. This summer, a handful of these young people you see in our church every Sunday will go to places like West Africa, South Africa, East Asia, South Asia, to be the voice of Christ calling out to those sheep in other folds. Through them, He will bring them in. He must! In Luke 24:47, Jesus said that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations. It is happening. And it will be completed. John gives us a glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelation, and he says that will be those from every tribe and nation there – one flock engaged in the eternal business of worshiping Him alone who is worthy – the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Forever our song shall be, “Worthy are You … for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). It will happen. Jesus has promised it. He must bring them. They will hear. They will come. They will be one flock gathered together by the Good Shepherd Jesus.

He has intimate love for you. He has infinite knowledge of you. He has an ultimate purpose for you. That purpose is that you would know Him even as He knows you, that you would rest in His love for you, and that the ultimate purpose of your life will be the same as His own. We are a missionary people because our God is a missionary God, and our Savior is a missionary Savior. Do you know Him? Do you know His love? Are you living out His ultimate purpose? He laid down His life for you to be your Good Shepherd. Hear Him calling out to you, bringing you into His flock, along with others from every nation of the earth, and sending you out for Him in this ultimate purpose. Is there another Shepherd so good, so worthy, so beautiful? There is not. Only Jesus. If He is not your shepherd, He can be today. If He is, walk with Him as He brings His ultimate purpose to pass in the world.

[1] Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd and His Sheep (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 108-9.
[2] Robert H. Mounce, “John,” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 502-503.
[3] These statistics were reported by John Piper in “God is Finishing His Mission Now,” online at Accessed January 30, 2014.