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. 

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