Reading: John 10:22-33
Further Conflict Over Jesus’ Claims
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication[a] at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[b]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.
The past few weeks have brought some lovely spells of sunshine and warm weather. It’s a sign of things to come. The winter is definitely past, although the rain over the past few days reminds us that we definitely do not live in the Med.
John today in our reading begins with a description of the weather. He tells us, ‘It was winter”
Now we have always got to be careful when we read John’s accounts, as his writings are known to be full of imagery. So when John says it’s winter, he actually means more than just the climate outside.
He is describing a season of life, a season of our faith. John is providing a diagnosis of the internal condition of the heart, the faith, of those who have gathered for the Feast of Dedication.
Now the Feast of Dedication may not be familiar but if I was to say its other name – Hanukkah then that will be more familiar. Hanukkah happens around the same time as we celebrate Christmas, and it celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem and the temple from the Syrian king, Antiochus around 200 BC. This king had destroyed the temple. He built an altar to Zeus and sacrificed pigs on the temple altar. So Hanukkah celebrates the day that Israel regained control of the temple and reconsecrated it to the one true God, the God of Israel.
For nearly two hundred years the Jews had gathered each year. The problem was that whilst they celebrated their liberation, their focus was more on the temple practices rather than a relationship with God. They failed to give themselves back to God, which is why John’s description of it being winter is very apt. They stand frozen in the past. Their hardened hearts cannot hear Jesus’ words, they don’t understand his works, or recognize who he is. It doesn’t matter if they consider the miracles that Jesus has done around them – they still don’t get it, which is why they ask him the question – “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly”.
Now this might just seem like a history lesson that we can read and think nothing more of, but it’s a problem that all of us encounter. This is the human problem in relationship with God. Far too often we consecrate, we set aside and give the exterior temples of our lives to God but keep our hearts for ourselves. We practice the religion that we are familiar with, and yet never seem to enter into that more intimate relationship that God wants us to have with him through Jesus Christ. Even though the crowd see the work of Jesus, he tells them “I’ve explained all this to you, but you do not believe”.
You see the danger with religious practice is that it is in danger of covering over the reality of our hearts. And that’s what’s behind my request for all of you to complete the RESET sheet. Some people think that what it’s about is to get more volunteers, but it’s not. It’s actually to understand what are the issues of your heart and how I as a pastor can help. The questions I pose are this – what are the big issues you are facing, what giftings has God given you to bless others, have you a desire to go deeper into God’s Word, have you a desire to explore faith further. You see we can read the Book of Common Prayer from cover to cover, we can sing the songs, we can be in this place week after week, but we can still be freezing cold in our desire to draw close to the heart of God.
Some people fear that if we consecrate our hearts it would change how we see, hear, know, believe, and live. But as long as we fail to consecrate ourselves, our life and heart, all that we are and all that we have, we will stand there saying, “Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah or are you just another foreigner that needs to be thrown out of our temple?”
Jesus’ response is always the same. “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Some people think that Christianity is very exclusive. You’ve got to follow a particular pattern or lifestyle or behaviour. But Jesus has never excluded anyone. We do that to ourselves. Everyone has a choice to make. It’s not about following a denomination or a particular Church leader that matters, it’s about choosing to follow Jesus every day.
The Jews call out to Jesus – “Tell us plainly”. Those are the words of a frozen people. It is winter in our hearts. It is winter in our seeing and hearing. It is winter in our believing and knowing “Tell us plainly” reveals that these people have become too comfortable in their religion and practice, too comfortable in consecrating the temple and celebrating that rather than drawing closer to the Lord.
The danger of a comfortable faith is that we can be snatched from Jesus’ hands. It means that when something unexpected happens in life, we don’t have as Hebrews 6:19 describes “this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” – that whatever the world throws at us we know and trust in the Saviour who died for each one of us, and does not want any of his little ones to perish (Matthew 18:14).
As we consider our lives resetting and refocusing on a life where Jesus is at the centre, it will definitely mean a re-examination of all the things that we make as practice and draw ever closer to Jesus who reminds us with these words – love the Lord your God with all your heart, love your neighbour, and your enemy; do not worry about your life or tomorrow; turn the other cheek; do not judge, sell your possessions and give to the poor; take up your cross; show mercy like the Good Samaritan; forgive seventy times seven; be a servant and wash each others’ feet; follow me. Whilst it’s a difficult path to choose, it is one that Jesus assures us for those who hear his voice, who follow him, results in eternal life. There can be no greater gift.
Let’s just take a moment as we close to consider whether we are drawing closer to Jesus in this season, or have we allowed the period of COVID or other aspects of life to make us cold to the things of God. Are there doubts in your mind today? Well know today that Jesus offers eternal life, he has you in the palm of his hand, he loves you, and nothing will snatch you out of his hand as verse 28 states. Let’s take a moment to reflect on where we are in our walk with Jesus for this new season in our church. Ask God to show you those areas where he wants to bring you out of the winter. So come Holy Spirit and reveal to us the condition of our hearts for you. We rededicate ourselves in our worship, our adoration, our devotion to you today. We pray Holy Spirit for your enabling and equipping for each one here.
I’d encourage you that I’m primarily here to help you in that journey towards a greater intimacy with Jesus. I’d encourage you to call me if it allows me to come and pray with you as you seek to move deeper with him.