Let us start this evening with a prayer. Lord we pray this evening that we would meditate upon and reflect upon and learn from our Lord Jesus and discover, again, more about His identity and about how we respond to Him as the Good Shepherd and the adorer of the sheep. We pray in His name. Amen.
We are continuing in our study of the Gospel of John and we are looking at chapter ten and we want to pick up from the theme here that we have seen in John’s Gospel a number of festivals, sermons and controversies, especially since chapter five, where you had the festival imagery of the Sabbath and then also at the Passover at the tabernacles, and now it is at Chanukah. This is the only New testament mention of this festival in the experience of the Jews, in the experience of Chanukah, which I will describe in just a moment, was related to the marvelous restoration of the temple and the festival of lights that is associated with it.
So, I will make a comment about that in just a moment but, really, I see this contrast that John is using, and he is using images of feasts and using images of festivals, and the contrast of what Jesus was doing and what the religious leaders were doing, to illustrate the identity of Christ. It is a way of revealing the identity of Jesus Christ. My own view of this, and there are some difficulties in the text, is chapter ten, verses 1 to 21 is either associated with the end of chapter nine or it is all a part of what takes place at Chanukah. My own belief, when it says, “at that time,” in verse 22, “the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem,” it is referring back to this because there is a unity of material, especially with the shepherd and sheep imagery.
At the same time we have this idea that there is a literary unity that really looks back to what took place in chapter nine. In any event, it all takes place around the month of December, as opposed to the autumn when the festival of tabernacles was taking place, in chapters seven through nine. Now it is a winter festival. The major idea I want to stress is that the coming of Christ once again divides the world because we see again that Jesus, in His coming, will divide people and He will divide them according to their response; whether they come to Him in belief or whether they choose to disbelieve Him and resist His word. If you go back to chapter three and verse 19, we see, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world and men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” Then if you look also to chapter nine verse five, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” So, there is this theme, this motif, of Jesus being the Light to which people must respond. We saw that also in chapter one, that “He is the Light and the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not comprehend it,” and there will be those who receive it and those who will reject that Light. It all has to do, then, with their own disposition as to whether they are willing to come to Him on His own terms.
We now have this theme of Him calling Himself ‘the Good Shepherd’ and that He is also calling Himself the ‘door’. When we look at these two great ‘I-am’ statements, we see Him as using this marvelous image of sheep and shepherds, which is a classic Hebrew idiom of leadership. It is an image in the Old Testament, really, of God, who shepherded Israel. It is a portrait of leadership and a portrait of the way God led His people. In Isaiah 40:9-11, for example, it says, “See, the sovereign Lord comes with power…and He tends His flock like a shepherd. In His arms He will gather the lambs and carries them in His bosom; He gently leads those who have young.” It is a beautiful image of intimacy, isn’t it? It is an image of the personal attention that God gives to His people. I find that to be very attractive. May I again say that it is rather unique? You only see this in the Judeo-Christian image of who God is. We do not see that elsewhere, God being One who cares for, and protects, and preserves, and pursues and, in fact, sacrifices for the good of His people. It is an image that is really unique to the Scriptures in this regard. Shepherding became a helpful image as well of spiritual and practical leadership and there were those who were good shepherds of the people of Israel, but there were also false shepherds who would come along.
In Ezekiel 34, which we will see in just a moment, really illustrates that very theme of false shepherds. Now, let’s go back for just a moment to the theme of the Festival of Dedication, and ‘dedication’ is what the word Chanukah really means. It means dedication. What is that referring to? It is referring to the dedication of the second temple. What had taken place, then, was when the temple was built, over time it was being used with fidelity but then the Greeks conquered, and since that time, in 332 BC, the influence of Alexander and his followers was Hellenistic. To Hellenize a culture meant to bring them under the influence of Greek culture and Greek ideas and Greek thought and really Rome, who effectively conquered Greece ultimately was a Hellenistic culture as well.
So, the Jews themselves were now struggling with their own identity because through this Hellenistic influence, which so pervaded that time, many Jews became Hellenistic Jews. There was a great contrast between those who succumbed to that and those which chose to be faithful to the tradition and the Scriptures and who refused to allow that image to take place. In fact, the Hasadeen were people who were in opposition to the Greeks and to that kind of culture.
There were false priests who even came in for a period of time that were not part of the Aaronic priesthood, Jason for example, and others mentioned in 2nd Maccabees, where false priests were not even part of the Aaronic tradition. What would eventually take place, then, was the Seleucids, and particularly Antiochus Epiphanes, one of the real nasty ones, whose coming was predicted in Daniel, was a man who was involved in the desecration of the temple in the period around 170 BC. It wasn’t until around 165 BC, under the Maccabean revolt, and under Judas Maccabaeus, they finally were able to reclaim the temple and to cleanse it and purify it and sanctify it and to rededicate it to God. Now, the tradition is this: Judas Maccabaeus had only one day’s supply of oil, which God made to burn for eight days. And so, what you have then is that the Chanukah Menorah has eight candles symbolizing those eight days. Whereas, the temple candelabra, the lamp stand, has seven candles.
The Chanukah Menorah celebrated those eight days and so you have a feast that relates to lights as well. Now, the theme that would take place, especially in regard to Chanukah, would be this idea of failed shepherds and false leaders and what have here is, how could they have allowed themselves to be so corrupted that they would lose their national identity and allow their temple to be desecrated? If you will turn with to Ezekiel chapter 34 for just a moment you will see one of the texts that was actually read during this time. In the winter festival associated with Chanukah, this is one of the passages they would read. In verses two through ten, "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.
Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and severity you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth and there was no one to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘As I live’, declares the Lord God, ‘surely because my flock has become a prey, My flock has become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock’. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep.
So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them’.” That is what they read during Chanukah. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Jesus should use the metaphor of Him being the good shepherd. This is not accidental. Again and again we see Jesus leveraging, and John emphasizing this, using the images of that time and the festivals and the feasts to really communicate the truth about His true identity and to reveal very progressively who He really is and in that progressive revelation, there would always be the response.
Some people would believe and others would reject.
So, you have this motif running throughout John’s Gospel. There is no accident about this. You see, a good shepherd would be involved with protecting the sheep and often the sheep would be near the desert and you don’t have to go very far east of Jerusalem and there you are in this desert area. In certain parts of the year a great deal of foliage would come up but in other times the sheep would have to be led through dangerous places and there were all kinds of predators and all kinds of dangers that would abound. There would be a lack of food and water, unless they had a shepherd to guide and protect them and carry them along.
As you know, being called sheep is not exactly a compliment in Scripture. You know this don’t you? They are really totally dependent creatures. They are cute little things but they really aren’t very bright. They constantly get themselves lost, they move away from the shepherd if they are not careful, they are vulnerable, they can’t defend themselves, they muddy-up their own water, and there is a wide variety of things that a shepherd has to do. In fact, it is no easy task to be a faithful shepherd. The shepherd had to do several things for the sheep. He not only had to feed them, he had to protect them and he also had to guide them.
These are wonderful images, really, of God and his relationship to us. He feeds us and protects us and guides us in our own journey on life. As a good sheep, you need to learn to listen and discern the voice of the shepherd. The best thing you can do is practice and learn to listen to the true voice, because there is leadership that really be treacherous and there is a false leadership that can move us down the wrong paths and there are predators who abound and there are false shepherds who would try, for example, to not go through the gate but climb over the wall. Typically, in those areas, they would have a small stone wall and it would be about waist high and then you put some thorny bushes on top of that. This was designed to protect the sheep from the predators. There would be one gate only to allow you to come and go and there would be a doorkeeper, because often you would have more than one flock.
So, the doorkeeper would either cover that up with brambles or the doorkeeper himself would actually be right there in the door to protect the sheep from these predators and false shepherds. What would happen would be that when the doorkeeper recognized the true shepherd, he would allow him through and the true shepherd would then call his flock. What they would often do, and you can still see it to this day, the shepherds would sometimes have a short flute and they would play the same little tune again and again. Their own sheep will raise up their heads and will follow that sound. The interesting thing here is that they are not driven, they follow the shepherd.
So, if you have several flocks in there, one shepherd will call and his own sheep will follow him and the others will remain. There is all this imagery here. Knowing the voice of that shepherd is very important. I want you to also notice the reciprocal imagery here. There is a tremendous personal devotion. A good shepherd would be devoted to the well being of his sheep. He doesn’t drive them along and the symbol that Jesus uses to describe it, for example in verse six, “This figure of Speech Jesus spoke to them,” this figure of speech of the shepherd to the sheep, and ‘paroimia’ is the word used here and it refers to a figure of speech usually applied, in the Synoptics, to the Kingdom of God, but in John’s Gospel, these figures of speech refer to the identity of Jesus. “Truly, truly,” starting now with verse one, “I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.”
So, immediately we have this idea here of a legitimate shepherd versus one who does not enter by the one door. “He who enters by the one door is a shepherd of the sheep,” because he would be recognized as such. “To him, the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” This is just as I described it to you before. This is exactly what you see, even now, in the ancient Near East. I have seen this happen before. I have seen flocks in abundance and sometimes you will see a shepherd there in the wilderness and he will call and his own sheep will follow. It is quite remarkable to see. They know him, he knows them, and he knows every one of them.
So, there is this mutual understanding between them. They follow him and the wiser sheep follow closer to him. Now the problem with sheep is that there are different sorts.
Some follow the shepherd. Others follow the sheep that are following the shepherd. They follow the followers and that is the dangerous thing. Others are on the perimeter and define what it means to be in that particular flock. Those are the ones who are not wise because they are the ones who can be picked off by predators. They can get lost and they can get downcast if they fall into a ditch and they can’t turn themselves over, in a matter of a few hours their abdomen will fill with gas and they will actually die, especially on a hot day.
So, when a shepherd realizes one of his sheep is missing, it is a dangerous situation and he will go to find him. Again, they are not very bright, and they get themselves on their back and they can not get up again. This is the imagery that we have, but I want you to notice the tremendous love and devotion and care that evolves in this. “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” This is the picture we see. “’A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers’. This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which he had been saying to them.” Now, He is going to amplify that in just a moment.
There is this imagery here and there is a portrait of one who is a shepherd in the doorway to the sheep. We see, in verse seven, when He says, “I am the door for the gate of the sheep,” He is now emphasizing something, something that is so narrow that only one person can go through and it is the door of prophesy. The more you discover about Old Testament prophesy, in the Messianic texts, the more specific you find it to be. In fact, when you really read the text concerning Messiah’s first advent, you discover a remarkable specificity about the thirty pieces of silver, piercing His hands and His feet, not a bone of Him will be broken and they will pierce His side and so forth.
There is enough imagery there, and Isaiah 53 is particularly explicit about this, where His grave would assigned to be with the robbers and then with a rich man in His death and all these things were remarkably and surprisingly fulfilled. Many of them fulfilled in one day. And so, we see a tremendous degree of specificity. We know that the Messiah had to come from the House of David, we know that He would be born in Bethlehem, and Micah 5:2 makes that very clear. The more you put together these prophesies, what do you discover? The door gets smaller and smaller and finally there is only one person who can fit through. He had to be born at the right time and at the right place and in the right household and all those other details as well.
So, I use the door of prophecy as a metaphor as well. As the ‘door’, then, He delivers us from bondage and leads us into freedom.
So, if we take a look at verse seven, when He says, “I am the door of the sheep, all who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” He may be referring to false Messiahs or false leaders that they have had before. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” I suspect He is referring a lot to the Pharisaical side of things because of the conflicts He has had, again and again, with the Pharisees who had, in their legalism, had elevated human tradition above the Law of God.
So, we have that constant conflict, that they are out to kill Him, and on more than one occasion.
So, He says, then, “I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.” There is this idea here of the abundance that this sheep will provide. It is an image of a flock of sheep in a very threatening environment, a threatening desert, and that they are vulnerable. These, though, are well-fed sheep; they go in and out and find pasture. They are well fed and well watered as long as they are with the true shepherd. And, I see the picture of Psalm 23, which so beautifully illustrates this. When we think about the idea that “The Lord is my shepherd,” all the needs of the sheep are provided in that Psalm and it is a very comforting Psalm, because even there, in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, I will not have to fear because He is going to take me through and that valley of the shadow of death is an image of How He will bring them through the canyons in order to being them to the high table.
There would be predators on the two sides, but if you followed hard on the shepherd you would be safe and He would carry you through to the right place and the right land and there you would be constantly taken care of and, really, He would give His life for the benefit of those whom He was protecting. There is intimacy. Psalm 18:20 also describes this gate. “This is the gate of the Lord, which the righteous may enter.” So, He is the gate, or the door, of the sheep, and so we see the wonderful picture here of the Good Shepherd and that word ‘good’, or ‘kalos’, refers to the quality of His character that is utterly trustworthy. He lays down His life for the sheep. And we see in verse 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Once again, in this image, He is speaking of having Zoë, or eternal life. It is the idea of the life that God offers here, and it is not the life we are all born with, He is offering not biological life that we are all born with, but Zoë, or spiritual life. He is saying that He is going to give them life, but also an “abundance,” a quality of life, and He is going to be the wellspring of life that flows in us and through us.
So, Christ now becomes our life. And so, He goes on to say, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” So, He is not only the door, but also the fourth ‘I-am’ statement shows that He is the good shepherd. He is the door of the sheep but He is also the good shepherd. This good shepherd does a variety of good things for us. Unlike the false shepherds who do not love the sheep, and exploit them and use them, like the shepherds we saw in Ezekiel 34, this good shepherd dies for the sheep.
So, if you look with me at verses 11 through 13, He “lays down His life for the sheep.” The word ‘for’ is important. ‘Huper’ is a word that appears 13 times in John’s Gospel and 11 of them refer or imply sacrificial death. ‘For’, ‘on behalf of’, He lays down His life. This is a very explicit description of that. He says, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep,” so He is saying He is the owner of the sheep, by virtue of the fact that He lay down His for them, but the one who is just hired, who is not committed to them, “Sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” In contrast, He is saying He will never be indifferent, He will care for My own. “I am the good shepherd and I know My own and My own know Me.” Now we have an extra dimension here. We have this idea of mutuality. Before, they recognized his voice. Now it says, “I know My own and My own know Me,” so there is a picture of tremendous intimacy’ a profound relationship that is reminiscent of Matthew chapter 11. This is one of my favorite texts of Scripture, Matthew 11, particularly verse 27, reveals something about this. When Jesus, having said that it is a good thing, and pleasing to God, that He conceals things from the wise and the intelligent and reveals them to infants, He then says, and this is a very profound verse, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
I’ll let you think about that verse, but the implications are nothing less than astounding. These are not the words just some ordinary teacher, or ordinary prophet, could make. These are not just the words of a humble carpenter from Nazareth. They are incredible in their implications. The implications are that He has been given divine authority and He is the One who reveals the Father. In addition to that, unless the Father reveals Him, no one will know the Son except the Father and so there is this mutuality. You are not going to recognize Me unless it has been granted that you recognize Me.
They are still culpable if they choose to reject Him because there is a choice that is being made. The Scriptures never eradicate or eliminate human responsibility. That is why, in verse 28, He gives this offer, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” So, He describes in Matthew the fact that He offers them rest and in this metaphor He describes the fact that He offers them guidance and provision and protection and care and intimacy. There is a portrait of that intimacy that He enjoyed with His Father and that He is offering to us. Jumping ahead for a minute, turn to John 17:21 and there we will see something of that; His prayer on our behalf is “That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they may also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” One of the deepest mysteries in all of Scripture is that Jesus is desiring that we will enjoy, somehow, the fellowship that is already being enjoyed among the persons of the Trinity. Just as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, but they are not each other, so Christ, the Son, is in us and we are in the Son, but we are not each other. There is that mystery, and so it is also, that the Father makes His dwelling in us, and so does the Spirit of God, as we see in John 16.
So, there is a deep and abiding and profound intimacy that we are invited to enjoy.
So, as I see it then, this intimacy is something that actually pervades the Scripture. You see it, for example, in the bridal mysticism of God, and the image of the Lord and His bride, the Lord and Israel, although Israel was an unfaithful bride, then you see it of Christ and the Church, His bride. By the way, when people say, about the DaVinci Code, what is wrong about Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene? Well, a lot. Among other things, it is quite contrary to very explicit teachings in the Scriptures. Turn with me to Ephesians chapter five to see this portrait of Christ’s intimacy. When he speaks about the idea, in verse 25, Paul describes “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her; having cleansed her by washing of the water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
The church is the bride of Christ. He is married, then, to the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, which is the body of true believers. It would be nonsense, and silly, to actually suppose that it therefore okay if He married a particular woman. Actually, it is quite heretical, among other things as well. Of course, it goes on to say He had these kids and then He just went off and died. But, this mystery is great, and I am speaking of Christ and the church, and then if you want to more about that, you turn to Revelation 19 and you see the wedding feast of the Lamb. That is His bride. Revelation 19 tells us about that wedding. His wedding is a unique one and He is now preparing a bride for Himself, and when she is spotless and perfect, that is when the wedding and the consummation is complete. Let’s move on, though, to the text using this imagery that He is expanding and contrasting Himself with a person who is not committed, but He is committed to us.
So, He says, “I am the good shepherd, I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” This intimacy is developed further in chapter 14 and especially in chapter 17. He has come for this very purpose. “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
We see very clearly that this is the first indication of what will become more obvious later in the Gospel, namely the opening of the Gospel not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. The Son of Man has come for the lost sheep only from the house of Israel, but then how does He end His earthly ministry? What is the commission He gives? Go to all of Israel? No, go to all the world. He tells them to make disciples in all the nations. And so, what we have then, as Paul develops in Romans 11, where he says the rejection of the people of Israel as a whole actually makes it possible, now, to show mercy to all. Paul also goes on, in Romans 11, to say that the hardening of Israel is only partial and temporary.
Partial, because there have always been faithful Messianic believers and temporary because the time will come when that darkness, that veil, will be removed and they will be able to see once again. The point here is that we see a profound portrait of how that which was formerly separate is now made one, and Ephesians two makes this very clear. Those who are far off, those who are alienated from the life of God are now brought near and enjoy the marvelous blessings of the new covenant, a covenant that was promised to the people of Israel in Jeremiah 31, and we now enjoy the blessing aspect of that covenant.
It is a covenant now offered to all people. By the way, I have had people, usually new-agers, who will say that these other sheep are references to extra-terrestrial beings. Talk about being exotic, there is no warrant for that silly idea at all. In any event, in verse 17, Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.” This is a very important thing that we must understand. First of all, Jesus stresses here, “I lay down My life,” and He will take it again. That is to say, Jesus is not a victim of human conspiracies. We must understand that this was something that was planned even before the foundation of the world. In verse 18, “No one has taken it away from Me.” This one of His strongest claims and you must remember it. “I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
Remember when they taunted Him on the Cross? What did they say to Him? Save yourself. Come down and then we will believe you. He says that He has all these legions of angels that I could call to my disposal but that He does not choose to do that, because it was not the nails that held Him to the Cross, it was love. That is what held Him to the Cross. He could have come down anytime. He elected not to do so. “Was it not for this purpose that the Son of Man came? So, the double meaning that John uses, that the Son of Man will be glorified when He is lifted up, is the imagery of being lifted up on the Cross, but also the imagery beyond that, of being ascended to the Father. It is a double meaning and thus it relates to His glory.
The Cross, really, is the preface to His glorification. It is the way, in fact, and we know, that before honor comes humility and so it always has been. And so, the way to glory is that we see the Cross precedes the Crown and as we look at our own lives, is it not true that all of us have a cross to bear? Who of hasn’t got some pain in our lives, or broken dreams, or shattered hopes? The fact is we all have a cross. If it is not one cause it will be another.
It may be in a significant relationship. It may be in regard to your health. It may be in regard to your finances, or to your career, or to the dreams that you had of what might have been and now you see it will never be so in this world. The sorrow of lost possibility, or of unrealized potential, and there are many kinds of sorrows in this world. My conviction is that if it is not of one sort it will simply be of another, because in this world we are not ready yet for the sinless and painless world of the next until we are made fully into the image of Christ. God uses the pain of this world to draw us to Himself and causes us to be surrendered to His will. Abandonment to divine providence is God’s vision for us. As we pursue Him, a book I recommend along this line is Larry Crabbe’s book called The Pressure is Off. I would like you to read that book, because there he draws the contrast between what he calls the old way and the new way. I am sorry to say that the old way is still very commonly practiced in Christendom. The old way is to approach God for any perceived blessings and benefits He may have to offer us.
We try and use God as the utility to a better life. The new way is the realization that there aren’t any promises of that sort and the reality is that God calls us to pursue a better hope, not a better life. What I mean by that is that we think we get to define what life ought to be and if we do our part He is obligated to do His part and we will be blessed in certain ways and then we get very, very angry with God or disappointed when He doesn’t deliver in the way we had in mind. We often come with good hopes, perhaps godly children, but you didn’t get them. You read several books that said if you raise kids this way, this is how they will turn out. Then you discovered it didn’t work that way. There is no assurance of that, and I am not saying you don’t follow certain Biblical principles, but there is no guarantee things will turn out your way. You don’t come to Jesus simply for better kids. You don’t come to Him to have a more successful business or great wealth. You don’t come to Him for physical well being.
You come to Him for Himself. Only that is the ‘new way’. If you go the old way the pressure is on. You have to perform and do your part and we are back to pharisaic legalism once again. And so, the absolute surrender to Him, for Himself and not for His benefits is the real issue because He wants to be wanted and He waits to be wanted. He is not some kind of cosmic bellhop to satisfy our wishes. There is more to Him that that. There is a transition and all the pain and suffering and shattered dreams will be used. God, I believe, will use shattered dreams as a means to cause us to die to good dreams so He can give us an appetite for the better.
As long as you are clinging on to a good thing you will not have an appetite for the better. Then there is the desert, with periods of aridity, where He seems not to be present and then when it is the right time you realize there is a better thing to be revealed to you and you discover that. There is a process of waiting and trusting and, yes, not fully understanding. The point that He is saying is this: in the life that he is offering us a quality of abundance that still exceeds anything that the world can know. Because we think we are abundant when we have position and possession and power and actually we ought to know better. Yet we succumb to the same delusions of the world and we find ourselves listening to the wrong voices.
So, we would do well to train ourselves to listen with an ear cocked to that voice. And not to any other that would cause us to be deceived by another and to find only a mirage.
So, Jesus, then, offers Himself and says He has the authority to lay it down and to take it back. In verse 19, “A division occurred again among the Jews,” and we see yet another ‘division’ image in John’s Gospel. And the reader, too, is forced to make a decision, which side do I come down on? Because one thing about Jesus, you can’t remain indifferent to Him. You will either come to Him or you will avoid Him, but to ignore Him is not an option. Continuing on, “Many were saying He is a demon and insane. Why do you listen to Him?” Well, we have heard that before. In chapter eight they thought He was a Samaritan and a demon possessed. In chapter seven they said He was demonized as well. The point here is that, “Others were saying, ‘These are not the sayings of one demon possessed. A demon can not open the eyes of the blind, can he’?” This is a connection back to the earlier miracle that would still be remembered only a few months later. It occurred in the same city, and He healed a man who was born blind.
So, I want to stress, before we go any further, that Jesus knows His sheep very well. He knows us through and through. He knows your name, He knows your nature, and He knows your needs. In fact, I want to tell you that He knows you better than you know yourself. You think you know what is best for you? Only the Good Shepherd knows what is best for you. He is committed, ultimately, to your highest good. Let’s continue on in our text, and in verse 22, we have this portrait of Jesus now having a conflict. After the reaction of the crowd there is a controversy that is going to intensify. In this controversy we have Jesus’ final disclosure of Himself to the people. In John, this is the final public disclosure of Himself. After this He is going to go away into the desert and He will not manifest Himself until the time comes, in the following Spring, when His hour now has come. Remember, the theme in John is that His time has not come, His hour has not come. In verse 22, then, “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him,” and it is almost like they circled around Him. They were longing to finally get a showdown, either tell us now directly or don’t. We want to know, who do you claim to be.
So, in verse 24, “The Jews gathered around Him and were saying to Him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly’. Jesus answered them, ‘I told you and you do not believe; the works I do in My Father’s name, these testify to me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” Remember that imagery that He uses again. He is saying, “If you are not of My sheep,” you will not understand this message. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” From the human standpoint, then, we become a sheep by believing. But, from the Divine standpoint, we believe because we are a sheep. You see how both are true? From a human point of view you have become a sheep because you believed. From the divine side of the same coin, you believe because you are one of His sheep. There is a mystery.
There is also another side to this: these are some of the most important passages in the New Testament concerning the security of the believer in Him. Continuing, “My Father, who has given them to Me,” and here you must understand that the follower of Jesus is actually a part of the gift that the Father has given to the Son. It is rather a wonderful idea, that you are part of the gift that the Father has given to the Son. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Try and snatch them from the Father by violence? Good luck. You will not achieve that; nothing can do so. He says, “I and the Father are one.” So, there is this profound security that they are in His grip. You are in His grip and the Father’s grip, and no force can snatch you away. It reminds me a good deal of Romans chapter eight. You remember that very well known text there, that no one can really separate us from the love of God? Paul says, “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.” Now, I believe that the rest of the Epistles also will confirm this, that there is a great deal of difference between those that ‘profess’ and those that ‘possess’. Those that possess Him, that know Him, those are people who can have that assurance, because there is a three-fold relationship to a sheep.
Number one: there is a loving relationship and it is a loving one because, after all, He died for His sheep and love demonstrates its veracity, not just by words, but by action as well. Number two: there is a living relationship and it is a living relationship because He cares for the sheep. There is this idea of intimacy. But, the third one is: there is a lasting relationship and this is not temporary, it transcends all the trials of this world, including the valley of the shadow of death and brings us to the other side. One of my favorite verses is in Colossians chapter three, where it says, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” There is a tremendous idea. There are two thoughts, which are very powerful. Christ is our life, and secondly, you have not been revealed until you reveal with Him in this context of great glory. Nothing can keep that from coming to pass. What God has begun, He will complete. And so, we see this beautiful picture of the completeness in our confidence in Him. Jesus goes on to say, “I and the Father are one,” in verse 30, which is about as plain an answer as you could give. They are one in essence and They are one in unity.
But, they are not each other. Remember that famous picture of the Trinity. It originated with Richard of St. Victor, who died around the year 1174 AD, and when he spoke about God and tried to describe the Trinity in this way, “The Father,” he said, “is God.” He also said, “It is equally true that the Son is God. Furthermore, it is equally so that the Holy Spirit is God.” But, he went to argue and to illustrate that the Father is not the Holy Spirit, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit. In that one diagram, Richard of St. Victor gave us a very, very explicit portrait of Trinitarian theology. They are not each other but they are all God.
Now, I don’t claim to understand it fully, but it is to say that there is a unity and diversity, that there is a community in the GodHead. It is this divine Trinity, this divine community, where they are all God but not each other, where we have this deep, unique portrait of how it is possible, therefore, for there to be an utter, absolute basis for unity and diversity, the One and the many, for love and being loved, and the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, for other-centeredness, for communication and for communion. All of those are the things we most treasure in life. Would you agree with me on that? Relationships are really what we most treasure. The ultimate foundation for relationships is the Trinitarian truth that we were created, also, in God’s image. And so, it is being in the Father and having the Father in us; in Christ and having Christ in us, and in the Spirit and having the Spirit in us.
Somehow, there is the idea, though, that we are not absorbed, in the Eastern vision, where we would be absorbed into the ‘All’. In the ‘All’ there is no ‘I-Thou’, there is just an ‘I-it’, and there is just an ‘It-It’. An ‘It-It’ really isn’t much of a relationship at all, if you really analyze it. Instead, there is a personhood and a personal reality that we are invited to enjoy. And so, He says, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked this up. They actually had a clearer theology than most liberal theologians have today, where they try to water down the claims of Christ and reduce His Deity to just claims that they say were put in His mouth by the early church writers and early church fathers. I will discuss that at a later time, when I discuss The DaVinci Code, although I have already discussed the issue of the reliability of the Bible. Now, in verse 31, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.” This is the third time they tried to do this. Again, His hour has not come and they are not going to be able to do it.
Again I stress; you are a mortal until the will of God is fulfilled in your life. You must understand that you have been given a certain amount of time by the Father in this world. Until that purpose is finished nothing can take you out. That, by the way, is why Jesus was never in a hurry. He knew He had been given just enough time to accomplish the Father’s will. And so have you. Now, “Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me’? The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God’.” Now, Jesus does something very interesting here. We know the big issue here is the root problem of unbelief.
What we have is a quote from Psalm 82:6. Let me read you Psalm 82, verses five to seven. “They do not know nor do they understand.” This is a critique, by the way, of Israel’s failure to respond to God. Jesus is using this Psalm, which reflects the reality that He Himself is experiencing. Now, “They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, ‘You are God, and all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless, you will die like men and fall like any one of the princes’.” What He is referring to, by the way, is this idea of ‘elohiym’, or you are all gods. It is the word that is used in Exodus 22:8-9, speaking of the judges. It says the judges would be ‘elohiym’.
Not that they were God per se, but that they were representatives of God and therefore if God called human judges ‘gods’, why should they stone Him for applying the same title to Himself. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater. He is saying, as well, that “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture can not be broken),” and Jesus, by the way, had a very high regard for Scripture. The Scripture can not be broken. “Do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world,” and by the way, that word, ‘hagiazo’, meaning sanctified, is very reminiscent of the word used of the sanctification of the temple in the feast of Dedication under Judas Maccabaeus when they cleansed it of the idols and the blood of pigs. They cleansed it and then sanctified it. It is no accident here that He is using that idea.
So, “Whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, you are blaspheming, because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” Here He just comes right out and says, “I am the Son of God.” This is the clearest communication of who He claims to be. “I am the Son of God.” He didn’t directly say it before, but now He does. It is what He has been implying all along. I want you to notice, by the way, the progressiveness of the revelation of Jesus. As He reveals this to them, and this is His last public declaration, He is saying whether you have a lot of light or a little light, the issue is going to be whether you respond to that light or reject that light. It always comes down to the central issue of whether we have a will to know Him or a will to reject Him.
And so, He goes on to say, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.” So, He refers to the works He has done and He refers to the fact that He has authority by virtue of the works. He has also talked about that in John chapter five. In verse 39 we see, “Therefore, they were seeking again to seize Him and He eluded their grasp.” Now, how He did that we don’t know. Again, the Gospel writers are masters of understatement. He hid Himself in one case, and in another He walked out of their midst. You don’t generally do that in a mob crowd. He did that, though, because He had authority and His time had not yet come.
You remember there is a great little scene in Ben Hur, where Ben Hur is being beaten and sent off to the galleys? Remember that? You recall that there is a scene where the Centurion lets them stop and drink, but the Centurion says, “Not that one.” Judah Ben Hur is being singled out for special abuse. And so, he is in despair as the Centurion says, He can’t have any water.” There is that moment when Jesus appears, and in the film you never see His face, but Jesus appears and you see Him coming and taking some water and offering it to Ben Hur and the Centurion is about to whip Him and he looks Him full in the face and he meekly backs down because there was that power He has that the world does not know. It is a good scene because it reveals that the powers and the princes of this world have nothing on the Prince of God Himself, of the One who is, in fact, the ruling One.
God’s power is the sort of power that the world does not understand. It is the same idea, as well, when you recall the garden in Gethsemane. Remember, and we are going to see this in John 18, they sent this large cohort of people to come and take Him away. Remember He asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus said, “Ego ami.” When He said ‘I-am’, they drew back and fell to the ground. That, again, is an understatement. They were pinned to the ground. He could literally have walked over those soldiers and gone His own way. But, He did not use that power because the Son of Man is to give up His life.
Another illustration is, “No one takes My life from Me, I lay it down of My own initiative.” It was not a martyrdom and He was not a victim. He came for this very purpose. “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve and to give His life, a ransom for many.” Finally, in the last three verses, “He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and He was staying there.” See what John is doing now? He is bringing us full-circle, right back to where it started, in chapter one. John was baptizing in the wilderness and he is bringing us back to that desert motif. He was keeping Himself out of the public eye.
This, then, was the last public visitation He gives and He reveals Himself as the Son of God to those who will receive it. Now He turns away from them and for these last few months, He spend that time nurturing and building into the lives of the handful of disciples that has been given to Him by His Father. “Many came to Him,” and I want you to notice something interesting, “Many came to Him.” In other words, now the people who respond to Him aren’t the people in the city of Jerusalem, those that were there for the religious feasts. Who are they? They are those who pay the price of going out into the desert to seek Him out. Those are ones who go now to seek Him. “They were saying, while John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true.”
So, we go back to this theme that John was a voice crying in the wilderness, the motif of John witness to Jesus. Though he did not perform a sign, all that he said was true. And so, it goes on to say, “Many believed in Him there.” Even there it continues. As we conclude, then, just a couple of final thoughts. We have to ask ourselves this question: what voices do we recognize? To whom do you and I go for shelter in this wilderness that we call a world? There are many spiritual predators and false shepherds have actually infiltrated John’s own churches. You recall that the one who writes this Gospel also had that very concern.
If we turn to 1st John chapter two and read verses 22 through 26, this is obvious. “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” He says, “These things I have written you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” There will be false teachers and there will be false shepherds. I am stunned by the Epistles, and how much of the material is dedicated to refuting false teachings. If you look especially in Galatians and Colossians and in 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Peter, many of these are dealing with the problem of false teachers. 2nd Corinthians does the same thing and a good bit of Judah is very specific about that as well.
So, we have this problem of false teachers and we have to ask ourselves, how do we respond to that? I want to say just three things as I conclude. There are three things we need to respond to, as we listen to this verse. First of all, understand the perilous environment of your life. Understand that you are not in a neutral environment and that spiritual predators surround you. The world is no friend of the Gospel. You get to choose the voice you listen to. You would do well to be very, very careful about what you expose yourself to and what you think and meditate upon because it really starts in the mind.
Then it manifests itself in action. We need to recognize at all times our desperate need for guidance. We need to be people who learn to listen to His voice and the way in which we do that is by developing a skill, number three, of telling the right voices from the wrong voices. I have had people who started reading a book and soon think, ‘there is something wrong with this book’. Even if you have no sophisticated theology, you can quickly discern that it is not the voice of the shepherd. It is good to become familiar with His voice and the way to do it is with the Scriptures and by hearing it taught and preached faithfully and in a context of community.
It is then able to protect us, and guide us, and nurture us, and lead us safely home. Let me close in a prayer. Father we thank You for the goodness of the Shepherd, that He is the doorway of the sheep and He is the gate. He is the One who lays down His life for us. We are owned by Him. May we hear His voice more and more distinctly. Give us the grace of discernment and holy desire and to respond with surrender and submission to Your loving and gracious overtures, so that we would become people who follow closely upon Him. May we find our life, find our pasturage, and find our nourishment in Him, so that He will lead us safely into the Father’s Kingdom. We pray in His name. Amen.