Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: John 10:22-30
Easter 4 – May 12, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
As I sat down to write this sermon the weather outside was rainy, cloudy, and rather cold. We’ve been having a lot of that kind of dreary weather this spring. But I mention the weather because this kind of rainy, cloudy, chilly weather can be rather typical of the weather in Jerusalem during the winter months, especially December and January. As a matter of fact the city of Jerusalem, which is at a higher elevation than much of the rest of Israel, has been known to get snow occasionally. When I visited Jerusalem a number of years ago in January the city received sixteen inches of snow on the day my tour group arrived.
In the opening verse of our text today John mentions that it was winter in Jerusalem. It had to be toward the end of our month of December, perhaps near December 25, because John says that the Feast of Dedication was going on. We know that Feast of Dedication better as Hanukkah. I doubt that Jerusalem was experiencing sixteen inches of snow that day, but it very likely was chilly and perhaps raining because John mentions that Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. This colonnade was a porch area around the temple that had a roof. So it would make sense that Jesus would have sought the protection of that roofed porch to get out of the rain and cold weather.
But John of course didn’t write this account to tell us about the weather. He wrote this account to tell us about Jesus’ encounter with some of his opponents. And in this exchange of words Jesus accuses these enemies of not being his followers, not being his sheep, because his real sheep listen to what he says.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday we consider
REAL SHEEP LISTEN TO JESUS’ VOICE
So John does write, “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” The Feast of Dedication was a festival that honored the rededication of the temple that had taken place about 200 years earlier. The Greeks, under the leadership of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had desecrated the temple with unclean sacrifices and demanded that the Jews discontinue the practice of their religion.
Faithful Jews under the leadership of the Maccabeus family, specifically Judas Maccabeus, led a revolt against the Greeks and recaptured the temple and restored sacrifices as prescribed by the Law of Moses. It is this rededication of the temple that the Festival of Hanukkah still honors each year in December.
And so as Jesus was walking in Solomon’s Colonnade a number of Jewish leaders stopped him, gathered around him, and asked him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They were asking Jesus to tell them once and for all if he was the Messiah promised for centuries across the pages of the Old Testament.
There’s a lot about their request to Jesus that indicates to us that they were not honestly asking this question. Their question “how long will you keep us in suspense?” seems to be an artificial attempt to express genuine interest in the possibility of Jesus’ messiahship. They had no such interest. They didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah and had no intention of believing that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah they were looking for. They were more likely trying to trap Jesus in his words, to get him to say that he was the Messiah, so they would have reason to arrest him and put him on trial for blasphemy, extreme disrespect for God.
They also said, “Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah.” “Tell us plainly!” If it were not so hypocritical and sad, we could almost laugh at these words. Tell us plainly! Jesus could not have been more plain, more clear, in his ministry that he was the Messiah. Jesus was actually approaching the end of his ministry. It was December. In April he would be crucified. He had been preaching and teaching and doing miracles for over two years. Jesus had not openly preached to the people that he was the Messiah, but his miracles themselves proved his deity, his divine nature and power, that he was the Messiah. In some real heated debates and words with Jewish leaders in Jerusalem Jesus made it clear he was the Son of God and Messiah, and his opponents knew very well what he claimed.
Jesus answered their deceitful question quite plainly: “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” In other words Jesus was saying, “I have told you that I’m the Messiah. I’ve told you a thousand times. I may have not said it in those exact words, but my miracles make it real clear that I am the Son of God. You just don’t believe that I am. And worse yet, you don’t want to believe that I’m the Messiah.
Would you have believed that Jesus was the Messiah if you had lived in Jerusalem? Maybe you would have been there to celebrate Hanukkah and you heard this conversation going on. What would you have thought about Jesus? It’s real easy for us to sit here 2000 years later and say, “Of course I would have believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Shame on these religious leaders for not believing, for not being Jesus’ sheep!”
But we have the advantage of the New Testament scriptures written down. We’ve been told exactly who Jesus is and what he did to be our Messiah and Savior. But if we had been there at the Feast of Dedication almost 2000 years ago we may have had our doubts too. We would have been honoring Judas Maccabeus for defeating the Greeks and rededicating the temple. Maybe we would now be looking for a new Judas Maccabeus, the ultimate Messiah and King, who would defeat the Romans and free Jerusalem once again from oppression by a foreign enemy.
Thank God we live when we do and that we have the Old and New Testaments in abundance. We know exactly who Jesus is. It’s all written down for us to see and read. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is our Savior. He died on a cross to take away the guilt of our sin. And in this Easter season we praise God that he rose again from the dead victorious over sin and death. And on this day we honor Jesus as our Good Shepherd.
So are you one of Jesus’ sheep? Jesus accused his opponents of not being his sheep. But I would imagine that all of you would say that you are one of Jesus’ sheep. So what makes you a sheep? You’d probably say that you believe in Jesus as your Savior, and you’d be correct. However, Jesus names one particular condition that makes you and me his sheep. He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
It’s one thing to say that you believe in Jesus. It’s something different to listen to his voice. To believe in Jesus means you believe that he is the Son of God, that he did die on a cross for your sins, and that he rose again. To listen to Jesus’ voice means to continue to listen to his word, to continue to believe his word, to follow Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and to continue to live according to his word each day.
There’s about six or seven billion people in our world today. Perhaps about two and a half billion of them consider themselves Christians or believers in Jesus. But the sad truth is that only a very small percentage of those two and half billion actually listen to Jesus’ voice, actually live and worship as faithful Christians. How many of the about 240 communicant members of this congregation listen to Jesus’ voice? On average only about 90 are here on Sunday morning to listen to Jesus’ voice.
More important, do you listen to Jesus’ voice? It’s easy to say you believe in Jesus. It’s quite another thing to faithfully listen to his voice. Listening to Jesus’ voice means wanting to listen to Jesus’ voice. Listening to Jesus’ voice means making the effort in Bible reading, Bible study, and worship to really listen to the words about Jesus and Jesus’ actual words. Listening to Jesus’ voice means having the desire and making the effort to live according to Jesus’ will and the will of God the Father. Listening to Jesus’ voice means wanting to support the preaching of Jesus’ words so that others can listen to his voice too.
One age-old tradition of Christian worship is that we stand for the reading of the gospel. Our bulletin says that we stand out of special reverence and respect for the words of Jesus. And that is so true, so appropriate. Why? Why is it so important and crucial that we listen to and have special reverence and respect for Jesus’ voice? Well, listen to Jesus’ voice because he gives us a really good reason to listen to his voice: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus’ words give us the forgiveness of sins, eternal salvation, and the eternal protection of a Good Shepherd. When we continually and faithfully listen to Jesus’ voice no one is going to snatch us out of his hand. No one is going to take away our eternal salvation. Jesus doesn’t make that promise to those who don’t continue to listen to his voice.
It’s also crucial that we listen to Jesus’ voice because Jesus’ voice is also the voice of God the Father. Jesus’ promise of eternal life and security in his hands is also God the Father’s promise of eternal life and security in his almighty hands. Jesus says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Jesus is confirming that he is the Son of God and the Messiah. He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is God. So Jesus’ voice is God’s voice. Jesus’ promise is God’s promise. Jesus’ power to protect us from our enemies and the threat of eternal condemnation is God’s power. That’s why we want to be real and faithful sheep who listen to Jesus’ voice. We are listening to God’s voice. We are listening to God himself.
When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” his enemies knew exactly what he was saying. “I am equal to the Father. I am equal to God. I am God. I AM.” Instead of listening to Jesus’ voice these men listened to the voice the devil. And they picked up stones to try to stone Jesus for blasphemy. What a shame! What a tragedy!
How much more you and I must make the effort to listen to Jesus’ voice. If we are his sheep we will listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd. Amen.