Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
14 August 2016 / Ordinary Time
Our sermon text for today is John 10:22-42.
As you know we are walking with Jesus through the Gospel of John. We just spent several weeks with him at the temple celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles where we learned that Jesus is the Light of the world and the Lord and Giver of the water of life. Last week we learned that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. This week will continue with the motif of the Shepherd and his Sheep.
The most important thing we will do today is tackle the question that nags everyone who professes to be a Christian. The nagging question gets asked in different ways but what it all boils down to is: “Can I lose my salvation?”
Before we answer that question, we need to deal with some other things in this story.
So, if you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and listen to God’s Holy Word and to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said 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 that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there. (ESV)
The word of the Lord.
May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, the wise king who became a foolish putz because of his pagan wives.)
As a member of the Jewish community, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights. It was not a biblical holiday, but a national-cultural holiday, like our 4th of July. It commemorated the Jewish revolution against the Greeks who had taken over their land, cities, and temple.
The revolt was led by the brothers Maccabees. They were devout men who rose up and led valiant Jews against the Greeks.
With God’s help, they fought valiantly and drove the Greeks away from the temple and out of Jerusalem.
The story is recorded in the historical (apocryphal) Book of 1st Maccabees. There we read that the Greeks :
When Judas Maccabees saw that their army was strong, he prayed, saying, ‘Blessed are you, O Saviour of Israel, who crushed the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of your servant David, and gave the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan son of Saul, and of the man who carried his armour. Hem in this army by the hand of your people Israel, and let them be ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. Fill them with cowardice; melt the boldness of their strength; let them tremble in their destruction. Strike them down with the sword of those who love you, and let all who know your name praise you with hymns.’
Then both sides attacked, and there fell of the army of Lysias five thousand men; they fell in action. When Lysias saw the rout of his troops and observed the boldness that inspired those of Judas, and how ready they were either to live or to die nobly, he withdrew.
Then Judas and his brothers said, ‘See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned…Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary… Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken. Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month … in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt-offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt-offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving-offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
So, the Feast of Dedication was their version of our Independence Day; a national holiday that celebrated light overcoming darkness.
All that happened about 180 years before Jesus passed through Solomon’s porch. It is against that backdrop that this story takes place.
In this story, Jesus appears as the true and better Judas Macabbees who has come to revolt against the darkness, to drive out idolaters, to overcome enemies, to deliver his people, and rededicate the true and better temple to God.
All this is lost on the zealous patriots who have gathered for the feast.
Which explains why a group of hostile Jewish leaders encircled and confronted him. They were disturbed by Jesus’ exclusive truth-claims to be the Christ, the Son of God – which means the Divine King.
So they said to him, “How long will you keep our soul/life in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
The works Jesus did were the works of the Good Shepherd. According to Ezekiel 34, God promised that
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, 22 ESV)
Jesus is the true and better shepherd – the true and better David who rules as king over his people.
These are all things Jesus did.
When he called Nicodemus to life; when he gave living water to the Samaritan woman; when he healed the nobleman’s son; when he healed the lame man; when he fed the crowds bread and fish; when he gave the blind man new eyes; and when he drove out the money-changers from the temple. And he will do it again when he calls Peter back into the sheepfold from the lake.
Jesus is the true and better prophet, priest, and king.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd-King, and that is why he says:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. I and the Father are one.”
This is good news!
Jesus is claiming to do for his people what no other king was able to do. No other king could keep the people in the garden, in the promise land, or in the temple. All other kings failed, and God’s people were often driven out of the garden, destroyed in the wilderness, carried away into exile.
But Jesus is claiming to be the Good Shepherd, and that under the protection of his rod and staff that will never ever happen again.
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. So in response to Jesus’ promise of eternal security, they threaten to give him death.
I have experienced this sort of thing to a lesser degree in my ministry. When I preached with great zeal and passion that sheep could lose their salvation, the message was received with shouts of amen. But then by God’s grace I learned the truth and repented and started preaching that the Shepherd could not lose any sheep, the message was often rejected with “yeah, buts.”
As I said earlier, we will tackle this question today, but first we need to deal some other things in the text.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
In self-defense, Jesus responded to their death-threat by appealing to the poetic truth of Holy Scriptures. (Notice that he quotes a psalm yet calls it the Law.)
Psalm 82 is a Psalm of Asaph. It reads:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
[Note: This is what the gods — prophets, priest, and kings of Israel — were supposed to do.]
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations! (Psalm 82 ESV)
The gods mentioned here refer to the prophets, priests, and kings; they were sons of the Most High God, the shadow-types of Jesus, the Son of God Most High.
The theological case Jesus put together from the psalm is complex.
He reasoned that since God had called some human beings gods because they had received the word of God, then a man who received the word of God could be a god, especially if such a man were the Word of God made flesh.
Therefore, Jesus concluded, making exclusive truth claims about one’s relationship to God does not constitute blasphemy unless the claims are false.
But his claims were true.
Jesus is the true and better prophet, priest, and king – the true and better God, the word made flesh for the life of the world.
To drive home the point, Jesus reminded his accusers that Scripture cannot be broken. So he doubles down and stands firm on Gods Holy Word.
Jesus declared that God was his Father and that he was the Son of God. He demonstrated that truth by performing many miracles, signs, and wonders in the name of Father God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
He offered the signs and wonders as hard evidence that his truth-claims were true.
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
This is a heaven or hell matter.
Apparently, the professional theologians understood Psalm 82 differently than Jesus did. They were neither persuaded by his words nor impressed by his works. Instead, they attempted to arrest and kill him.
Jesus explains that the reason you do not believe is because you are not among my sheep.
Jesus makes it clear that not every one is a sheep. Some people are goats and wolves in sheep-skin costumes. Goats and wolves who drift away and stray off will never return. Their rejection of the Shepherd is not a sign that they were saved, and then lost their salvation. Rather, it is proof that they were not purchased with the blood and thus never saved as sheep.
How can we know if we are sheep or goats?
Sheep are saved by grace through faith. They listen to the voice of the Shepherd. They hear his voice and listen to his words. They trust the Shepherd, because faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Sheep hear the voice of God through the scriptures and they obey his words.
Goats do not hear the Shepherd’s voice. They hear the sound of words, but the Shepherd’s language is unclear to them. The reason they do not believe is because they are not Jesus’ sheep.
Jesus escaped from their hands. I love the fact that Jesus resisted arrest.
I want you to notice the stark contrast between the hands of the Shepherd and the hands of the Pharisees/legalists.
The gospel says, “no one will snatch the sheep out of Jesus’ hand.” Legalism says, “he escaped from their hands.”
This brings us to the nagging question on our everyone’s mind – Can I lose my salvation?
A truer and better question is: Can Christ lose a Christian? Can the Shepherd lose any sheep?
The Good Shepherd promises that they shall never perish. He gives them eternal life and will not take it away from them.
The sheep of Christ are safe and secure in the hands of the Shepherd and in the hands of the Father. They are double-protected from devil and they are eternally secure. No one can snatch them out of the hands of God. Jesus promises that he will lose none of the sheep the Father gives him (GoJ 6:37-39), and the Father will lose none of the sheep which Jesus ransomed and redeemed with his own blood. Triune God will not, indeed cannot, dis-grace the blood of Jesus by losing forever, driving away, or casting aside any of the blood-ransomed sheep entrusted to his care.
While it may seem to good to be true, the promise is trustworthy, and backed up by the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
We all stumble and stray in many ways. Occasionally, a sheep might drift away from the flock, fall from grace into tradition or trends, or get tangled up in trespasses and sins. It is possible for sheep to lose any number of things, but they cannot lose salvation because salvation belongs to our God. He grants eternal life to those he loves. So, while a sheep might temporarily lose sight of the Shepherd, the Shepherd will never lose sight of his sheep. Those who drift away and stray off will always be rescued and restored by the Shepherd’s rod and staff. Sooner or later, the Shepherd will seek and find them. Not one of his sheep will perish.
If our salvation depended upon our power and effort to remain saved, none of us would be saved. But since it depends upon God’s promises and power, none of us will ever perish. Our redemption is guaranteed by the life and blood of Jesus the Shepherd-lamb.
He leads his flock beside still waters, restores their soul, grants them green pasture, anoints them with oil, and comforts them with his rod and staff, truth and grace.
The Shepherd protects his sheep from dangers, toils, and snares. He perseveres with them even in the valley of the shadow of death. The sheep fear no evil because the Shepherd is with them. Ultimately, the flock of the Shepherd shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In a nutshell, Jesus declared that the Shepherd will not lose any of his sheep for any reason. He will lose none of all the Father has given him. Christ cannot and will not lose a Christian entrusted to his love and care.
Finally, Jesus went away from Jerusalem and the temple and crossed over the Jordan again to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. (Like Ezekiel among the exiles, Jesus crossed the river in order to minister to God’s people on the margins.)
And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.”
And many believed in him there. (ESV)