The Second Sunday After Easter April 6, 2008
206(1-2), 209, 426, 206(7-10)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? 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, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
Dear Friends in Christ, Beloved of God:
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles which took place in the fall of the year, He had a highly charged discussion with the Jewish leaders about His identity. Out of this confrontation has arisen one of the most beloved titles for our Savior: the Good Shepherd. It is one of many times that a valuable discourse of Jesus has come, not out of a congenial chat with followers sitting at His feet, but from a tense debate He had with hypocrites who were looking for an excuse to discredit Him and condemn Him.
It was two months later that Jesus appeared again in the Temple for the feast of Dedication. Immediately, He was surrounded by the same hostile group of Jewish movers and shakers. They had come with a demand. They wanted Him to declare Himself plainly. It was time for Him to stop beating around the bush. If He thought He was the Christ then let Him be clear about it, and let the people decide what they would.
Jesus’ response caught them off-guard: “I told you.” [v.25] Jesus had never hidden the fact that He was the Christ—He had presented it in the clearest possible terms. If they didn’t recognize that He was Clearly the Christ it was because they kept shrinking Him down to size in their own minds.
As we mediate on God’s Word today we will learn that I. By His works He is clearly sent from God, II. By His nature He is clearly the shepherd of God’s people, and III. By His power He is clearly the Son of God.
“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.” [v.25] By Jesus’ works we can clearly see that Jesus is sent from God. Had the religious leaders all somehow overlooked the mighty miracles that Jesus did? Not according to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had come to Jesus two years earlier. He had come, inquiring, not just for himself but also for others saying “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him” (John 3.2).
The miracles that Jesus did were signs giving testimony to the fact that God, the Father in Heaven, had sent Him. What were the things that Jesus had done? Changing water into wine, cleansing a man’s leprosy with a word, feeding thousands from a handful of loaves, to name just a few. This was not like the sleight of hand practiced by professional magicians. These were true miracles, truly the power of God suspending the laws and principles of matter and nature. Nicodemus was absolutely right in determining that Jesus was working by the hand of God.
By this time Jesus was encountering opposition by the same groups that had earlier shown interest in Him. When He drove out a demon from one man, the Pharisees explained it away with a diabolical twist: “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). It seems that any explanation was more plausible than the truth, for those who were becoming Jesus’ enemies.
That same spirit is with us today among those who would try to question the genuineness of the miracles that our Lord did. How can anyone think that they are finding the true Christ by blacking out of the Bible everything supernatural that He did? And yet some do exactly that. Many pastors today have been taught that way.
By His works Jesus demonstrates that He is clearly the Christ. Those miracles did more than ease people’s suffering and liberate them from disease. They testified that Jesus had come from God to carry out a mission. On one occasion when Jesus called attention to His works as indicators of His mission, He also indicated that they have an end, an objective: “The works which the Father has given Me to finish…bear witness of me, that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36).
The miracles Jesus did pointed to something larger than themselves. They showed that the Kingdom of God, the age of the Christ, had come to Israel. When John the Baptist was beginning to wonder whether Jesus was the One they had been hoping for, Jesus pointed to works He had been doing that had been prophesied long before as hallmarks of the coming of the Messiah: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22).
“How long will you keep us in doubt,” [v.24] the Jews demanded of Jesus. “How could you seriously have any doubt!” Jesus could have responded. His works were and are clear testimony that He was sent from God.
As if the witness of His works weren’t enough, Jesus went on to highlight the nature of His mission—the very character of His work—as further testimony that He was clearly the Christ. By His Nature He is clearly the shepherd of God’s people.
Jesus had traveled frequently through various parts of Israel. This was the land God had given as a refuge for His chosen nation. Here they could carry out their lives to His glory; they could worship Him as the true God. It separated them from the heathen nations which worshiped gods that originated from a corrupt human imagination. The Lord had given them a priesthood to guide them in worship. He gave them laws that promoted peace and security in the land as well as ceremonial statutes that carried with them the promise that He would deliver His people from their sins.
But as Jesus traveled through the land and gazed out over the crowds that gladly came so far to hear Him or have Him touch a son or daughter, or heal a mother or husband, Jesus could think only one thing: These people are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Spiritually, they were malnourished, burdened and harassed by the enemies of truth and faith. They were frustrated and anxious, their minds burdened with guilt or set on earthly things.
God had sent Jesus “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He was the Good Shepherd, working to care for God’s flock in precisely the manner of the Shepherd in David’s psalm (cf. Psalm 23). So He sent out the call: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
You see, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus takes full responsibility for us and by faith we respond in a marvelously comfortable and secure way: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life.” [v.27]
The voice of the Good Shepherd is the Word of God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of God reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus and then calling us to live in this marvelous fellowship with Him. In Him we find the forgiveness of sins and the imperishable hope of eternal life. Like sheep who know their master’s voice, the New Man in us perks up his ears and joyfully heeds the call of the Lord to come, and obey, and rest in Him, and follow Him even through the darkest hours.
By contrast, there are those shepherds about whom Jesus warns. They are false teaching “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) who pervert the doctrine of Christ. They are hirelings who are only there while the going is easy but abandon the flock if it seems risky to preach the truth, or they are strangers who only come to fleece the flock of Christ. Some of these characterizations struck pretty close to home for Jesus’ adversaries and they knew it.
Only Jesus who came in perfect truth, who took our burdens and guilt upon His own shoulders, and laid down His life for the Sheep, only He has the nature of one who is fit to be Shepherd over God’s Sheep. Those who could not see this in Jesus were too busy trying to fleece the flock themselves.
But the final clear testimony that Jesus is the Christ—the six little words that drove the perverse hearts of His adversaries into a rage of self-righteous indignation—was this remark: “I and the Father are one.” [v.30] When that phrase is seen in its proper context, it demonstrates that by Jesus’ power—the power that He claimed—He is clearly the Son of God.
Jesus had been talking about Himself as the shepherd of the Lord’s flock. He emphasized that those to whom He gives eternal life (something only God is qualified to do), were absolutely, eternally safe: “they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” [v.28]
The warfare is on. Satan lurks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. We do well to keep in mind every day that our salvation through Christ is something very real. It cost Jesus His whole life, body and soul. This was the work the Father sent Him to finish. The urgency of that work was that we, the people of the world, were lost in sin. Condemned before God by sin’s guilt we were also enslaved under Satan and his evil sway. By taking away sin, Christ liberates those who have been enslaved so that they may live for Him and live as sheep in the Good Shepherd’s fold.
Jesus is a mighty shepherd from whose hand nothing in Heaven or Hell or in between is able to tear us away. The Father in heaven, who is all powerful, has given into Jesus’ keeping the care of these beloved sheep. As powerful and careful as the Father is, so powerful and jealous is the Son for the welfare of the sheep.
The Jews recognized instantly what Jesus was saying. It was clear that Jesus considered Himself equal with God. They found stones and were ready to stone Jesus for blasphemy (cf. John 10:31). They could clearly understand, but they clearly did not believe.
Jesus is Christ—the chosen of God. He has shown that to us in His works, in His nature, and in His divine power. May God gather us to His Son by faith, give us ears to hear His voice, and cause us to see clearly what some have been so unwilling to see. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.