26 September 2010 : John 10 : 22-42

I must be honest and say that I toyed with the thought of skipping over this passage we read this morning, on the grounds that we had already dealt with much of what’s in it. But the Lord thought otherwise, because there is fresh bread here for us. Let’s begin by noting where we find Jesus in these verses – in the temple, celebrating one of the key festivals of the Jewish people. So what, you might ask?

So far as the leaders of the Temple were concerned, Jesus was bad news, a rebel, a thorn in the flesh, a dangerous and subversive character who threatened to rock the very foundation of the Jewish religion. Yet from the Biblical picture of Jesus, he is in fact a devout, loyal and conscientious Jew. He shows respect and honour to the very people who, as we will see in these verses, are out to get Him. And that’s food for thought.

Let me put it like this. I am not a great fan of the General Assembly, because I happen to think that having 1,000 people cooped up in a stuffy hall, churning through a stuffy tome of reports, complete with obscure counter-motions and amendments, is not a good way to transact the business of the Kingdom, especially after half the commissioners have enjoyed a liquid lunch in Deacon Brodie’s or some similar establishment.

But at least I wouldn’t expect it to be a dangerous occasion, even if I disagreed serially and volubly with every decision taken. I wouldn’t expect the Moderator and Principal Clerk to ambush me in Hunter Square, stab me with a poisoned umbrella and hang me upside-down from the North Bridge. But, for Jesus, turning up at the temple to worship was, in effect, putting his neck on the line. He did not allow the hostility and nastiness of others toward Him to become an excuse for Him not joining in the worship of God.

He did not let their vendetta against Him become an occasion for a bad attitude toward them. He sat under their authority. He paid His tithes. He respected the office of the High Priest, even though the personalities occupying that office were a bit dodgy to say the least. And I find that very challenging – not just in the church, where in recent years I think we’ve made an unfortunate and unwise practice of fence-sitting in the vain hope of avoiding causing offence to people, but in the wider world.

What does the attitude of Jesus toward properly constituted authority have to say to us when few of our political leaders now are men or women of faith in Christ, and indeed a growing number are very definitely anti-Christ in their thinking? How do we hold the very thin line between respecting our leaders because they are our leaders, whilst still expressing clearly and uncompromisingly our Biblical values on a wide range of issues, such as, for example, the Scriptural teaching that God’s gift of marriage is for one man and one woman, not any other combination, biologically or arithmetically.

Jesus is, I believe, calling His church to recover the spirit of Daniel, of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, a prophetic spirit that is prepared to speak God’s truth in love, that will remain respectful and polite, whilst standing totally and uncompromisingly on what God’s Word says, not what the world says.

Jesus is calling us to stand up and be counted for the truth that will set the people free – however unpopular that may make us, whatever nasty stories the media may run about us, whatever turkey names we may get called. Listen. The devil, the father of lies and deception, isn’t about to lie down meekly and let us walk over him. When the church steps up to the plate and tells the inconvenient truth of the Word that the selfish world doesn’t want people to hear, it will get dirty. Are we strong enough to say – bring it on?

All right, let’s move on. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire the cheek of the Pharisees with their plaintive bleat : How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Now, just what part of John 4.26, John 5.17-23, John 6.32-59 or John 8 – and that’s only in this gospel – were they too thick to understand? By what He said, and by what He did, Jesus had made it abundantly plain who He was.

And if there was even a hint in this question of a genuine desire for enlightenment, we might be able to cut these guys some slack, but that wasn’t it. Their motive is plain for all to see at vs. 31-33. They were just looking for a religious excuse to bump Him off. In a different age, you could picture this as a sting operation, with the Pharisees wired up to record an incriminating statement from Jesus on tape or something. Sad, really.

It wasn’t a lack of information that kept them from recognising Jesus for who He truly was, it was a lack of integrity. Here was their problem. If Jesus truly was the Son of God, as He claimed, as His ministry testified, everything these guys stood for would fall apart like flatpack furniture. Everything they believed in, everything they lived for, everything that conferred upon them status, power and authority, would be ripped away

Make no mistake, that is still the main reason why people don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the World. It’s nothing whatever to do with science, history, philosophy, or any other pseudo-intellectual drivel that gets spewed out by those who profess loud and long to be unbelievers. Atheists are atheists by choice. End of.

They do not want to believe, because they are at least smart enough to recognise that to profess faith in Jesus will turn their comfortable, respectable lives upside down. Things they do now, whether it’s overdoing the booze, cheating on their wives, bucket-mouth language, fiddling the tax return, exploiting and ill-treating work colleagues, they know fine that following Christ would mean big changes in these areas.

And, truth to tell, they don’t really want to change. They’ve reached a point of denial in their minds where they’ve come to terms with all that sort of crazy behaviour, in spite of the sin-consciousness that every human being has. As Paul points out in Romans 1.19, in rather more elegant terms than I’ll paraphrase here, even the biggest unbeliever isn’t so stupid and insensitive that he doesn’t have some realisation of right and wrong.

The tragedy is, of course, that the unbeliever is actually digging his own grave with that mindset of denial. They’d rather eat raw unfilleted sardines – yes, we’re just back from Portugal – than admit it, but trying to maintain the bluff blasé pretence of not caring, whilst internally suppressing a barrowload of guilt, is trashing their lives.

Please believe me, I don’t wish to be gratuitously offensive, but refusal to believe in Jesus is actually stupid. It cuts off the one and only avenue of hope, the one and only way out of the mess of sin and guilt. The ironic thing is that Jesus has very little to say about acts of bad behaviour. You don’t find that much teaching from Jesus against the proverbial sex, drugs and rock & roll. For Jesus, the primary sin is not believing in Him

Have faith in Him, let His grace overflow our lives, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation to God and to others, let His love fill our hearts, and in due time His Spirit within us will renew our minds according to the Word, and when our way of thinking changes, our feelings will change, our choices will change, our actions will change, our habits will change, our character will change. There is a neat balance to mission.

Yes, as I’ve already said, we need to be quite clear what actions are right and wrong, and not be afraid to say so. But, on the other side of the coin, people are not going to be brought into the Kingdom by focusing on their outward actions. These things flow out of their inner heart, and it’s the heart that needs to change. The surgery God’s people are called to carry out on society is not amputation of bad habits, but a heart transplant, and in time, by the grace of Jesus Christ in the born-again heart, the bad habits will be resolved. As Joyce Meyer says, we need to catch the fish before we start cleaning them!

And the bait is grace –a fresh start, a clean sheet, and the promise that once someone truly gives his life to Jesus, that is it. Jesus says in vs.28-30 : I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. 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. Aren’t you glad that, the minute you say YES to Jesus, and really mean it, an everlasting covenant relationship is in place?

I wonder if we fully grasp how radically that covenant relationship changes our lives? It’s very interesting to see here how Jesus winds up the Pharisees by reminding them what the scripture says, in Psalm 82.6, that God called men “gods”. A New Testament believer truly does enjoy, in a very real sense, equality with Jesus. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness. We have been lifted from darkness to light, from death to life, from frustration and hopelessness to mountain-moving authority and raising-from-the-dead power. And none of it because of anything we have done, it’s all by grace.

When the church, the body of Christ, the people commissioned to carry on the ministry of Jesus, in the authority of the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus – everyone say : that’s us! – when we wake up and smell the salvation coffee, knowing who and whose and what we are in Jesus, the devil will have a nervous breakdown.

If we are true believers, we are united with Christ. He is the head of the church, and we are, as Paul writes in Ephesians 1.23 : His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all [for in that body lives the full measure of Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere with Himself]. You are part of Jesus. Without you, Jesus is incomplete. But when we are united with Him, we can do all things through Christ who is in us, to His glory, and to the good of those around us.