3rd Sunday of Easter April 30, 2017
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
457, 428, 338, 50
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 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.”
“You’re in good hands with Allstate.” Allstate insurance adopted this slogan in 1950 and has used it ever since. As advertising slogans go, “in good hands” is a memorable one. It suggests strength, support, stability, skill, guidance, protection, and above all, personal involvement. We use our hands to touch. Touch is personal and comforting, as we all know from countless handshakes, gentle caresses, and sympathetic pats-on-the-back.
Imagine the many circumstances in which you would welcome such words as “you’re in good hands.” When dropping the children off for their first day of school, we’re glad to hear, “Oh, don’t worry. Your children are in good hands.” When considering major surgery: “Don’t worry. Doctor Jones is a skilled surgeon and has performed this same procedure successfully countless times. You’re in good hands. Relax.” When stepping onto a commercial airliner, investing hard-earned retirement funds, purchasing a house, or following a military commander onto a battlefield, who would not welcome the knowledge that, “You’re in good hands?”
If so, you should also welcome this knowledge: There are no better hands, no more powerful hands, and no more comforting hands than the hands which Jesus mentioned twice in today’s text, namely, the hands of God. Jesus said in verse 22: “no one can snatch them out of My hand;” and in verse 23: “no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
Frankly, after televised beheadings, turmoil in the Middle East, a revived Cold War with Russia, school shootings, natural disasters, economic distress, joblessness, and record foreclosure rates, the threat of Ebola, and whatever next week’s headlines will be, along with the personal challenges each of us may be facing today, you and I can use such comforting assurances, can’t we? In fact, we crave such assurances. And God gives them in His Word. We are in good hands. We are in good hands because we are in God’s hands, and there is no better or safer place to be. This is the comforting message of John 10:22-30.
The events of today’s text occurred during the “Feast of Dedication” (v.22), also known as Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. During this feast, Jesus walked about Solomon’s Colonnade, a beautiful, covered court of the temple complex, featuring one-hundred-and-sixty-two columns or pillars that were one hundred feet high. “The Jews gathered around Him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” (v.24) Jesus replied in verses 25-27, “I did tell you, but you did not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice.”
These words lead to the first comforting assurance of today’s text: You are safe in God’s hands because God has laid His hands on you, that is, God has chosen you and taken hold of you as His very own. When I was ordained into the public ministry in 1978, Pastor Elton Hallauer laid his hands on me as part of the ordination service. This was not to instill me with mystical powers, but to signal me as one set apart by the Holy Spirit for the work of the public ministry. This laying on of hands has been a continuous practice since the age of the apostles.
In a far greater sense, God has placed His hands on you in order to make you one of His own. He chose you, you did not choose Him. This theme is prevalent throughout the Scriptures. Jesus Himself said in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Think of this great biblical truth. In eternity, God reached forward through time to lay His hands on you, that is, He choose you as one of His own. In time, He brought you to faith in Christ through His Word. God did not choose you because He foresaw that you would one day believe in Jesus. God chose you, which is why you believe in Jesus. From first to last, your salvation is due entirely to Him. The very fact that you do believe in Jesus as your Savior is proof that God laid His hands on you and called you to be His own. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
“My sheep listen to my voice,” Jesus said. Conversely, despite all the times Jesus proclaimed that he was the Christ and all the miracles Jesus performed that testified to His true identity, the unbelieving Jews did not listen to Jesus or recognize Him as their Savior because they did not accept His Word. They did not accept His Word because they were not His sheep.
Let this great truth of today’s text comfort you amid this crazed, chaotic world. Were I to ask you right now if you believed in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you would say “Yes.” Yet, understand that you can only say this because you belong to Jesus and because the Holy Spirit has empowered you to do so. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And in Romans 8:9, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
Your belief in Jesus is the result of God choosing and calling you; the result of God laying His hands on you. You are in His hands. In a selfish, egotistical world in which we so often go unwanted, unnoticed, unappreciated, and unfulfilled by others—what joy, fulfillment, and purpose we find in this reality: “I am in God’s hands because God laid His hands on me. In pure grace, God chose me to be His very own.”
A second great assurance of today’s text is this: When you are in God’s hands, God is always leading you. Jesus said in verse 27, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” I can think of no greater, more reassuring reality for our personal lives and troubling daily headlines than the reality: “Jesus is always leading me. My hand is in the hand of Jesus.” How does the old song go by Loretta Lynn? “Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the waters. Put your hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the sea.”
Can you remember holding your parents’ hand as a child? Can you remember clasping your own child’s hand—teaching him to walk, leading her across busy streets, holding on to him in crowded airports, or helping her up when she fell? How do those memories make you feel? Aren’t they filled with feelings of love, support, protection and gratitude?
When I worked at the Jean O’Dell Learning Center, part of my responsibility was to take the seven students in my classroom one by one to their assigned buses. Those with special physical or mental challenges I always led by the hand to ensure that they wouldn’t fall, get lost, stray into traffic, or board the wrong bus. One young woman named Amber, mentally disabled because she was shaken as an infant, always kissed my hand when we reached her bus. This was her way of saying “Thanks” and “I trust you.”
One day we will be able to kiss the Savior’s hand in the same way and for the same reasons of gratitude and trust. Even today we can kiss His hand through faith. In this single sentence of Jesus, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me,” is an expression of a deep, abiding relationship and trust, of a divine leading and confident following, of a walking hand in hand with the Savior, as He leads us. Or, in the unforgettable, poetic words of Psalm 23, He leads us from birth to death, through peaks and valleys, ups and downs, good times and bad, until we “dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
Jesus leads us as the One who knows us. He knows us as individuals. He knows our true needs. As Jesus said in the text, “I know them.” The Greek word used “GINOSKO” is not simply a head knowledge, but a complete personal knowledge; a knowledge of deep, personal experience. I’m reminded of Psalm 139: “O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD.”
Is there anyone among us who has not cried out in a moment of anger or frustration or despair, “Oh, isn’t there anyone who truly understands me? Isn’t there anyone who knows the real me? Isn’t there anyone who can see what’s on the inside, not just on the outside?” Yes, there is One. His name is Jesus Christ.
Whatever problems you may be facing today—financial problems, marital problems, health problems, work problems, car problems, spiritual problems—follow Jesus. Trust Jesus. Listen to Jesus in His Word in the certain knowledge that He is leading you by the hand, and that He will never let go.
This is the third great assurance of today’s text: We are eternally safe in God’s hands. This lesson is so important for us to remember that Jesus taught it twice in consecutive verses. Verse 22: “no one can snatch them out of My hand;” and in verse 23: “no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
When I was a boy, I used to play a game with my dad in which he would clench his fist tightly and I would try to open it. Oh, I would use one hand, then two hands. Then I would try to wiggle my fingers between his fingers, targeting his big thumb or little finger, looking for any indication of weakness; all while grunting and giggling and using my legs to gain leverage. But nothing worked. He was too strong.
The same hands too strong for me to open were also the hands strong enough to go on providing for me and protecting me. Like the time I was two years old, unable to swim, and raced off a dock into the blue water of Lake Howard. My dad dove in after me, Sunday suit, tie, shoes, and all. I can still remember him pulling me out of the water with his strong hands.
With those two strong hands of his, my dad disciplined me when I did wrong and hugged me when I did right. I was blessed to have him. For in him I had a brief glimpse of what it means to have a ‘Father’ in heaven.
Is there anything more encouraging or heartening than the knowledge that ‘nothing can snatch you out of God’s almighty hand?’ Nothing can interfere with His love and purposes for your life or the inheritance that He has freely given you or the eternal life waiting for you. Nothing can come between you and God. Not terrorist bombings or destructive weather. Not petty dictators making nuclear threats. Not your own self-inflicted folly. Not even death itself. Nothing can change God glorious plan for your life because you are in God’s hands; and as Jesus said, “no one can snatch them out of My hand;” and “no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” That’s a promise from the Good-Hands-God.
Listen to more of what your God says. Psalm 20:6, “Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He answers him from His holy heaven with the saving power of His right hand.” Psalm 136:12, “With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, His love endures forever.” Isaiah 49:14-16, “But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will never forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.”
There is no better commentary on being safe in God’s hands than Romans 8, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Yet, perhaps the best summary I can give about being in God’s hands is this one: The hands that claimed us, saved us, lead us, bless us, protect us, and control all things—all governments, and all circumstances in the universe—those same two hands forevermore bear the marks of the cross. And that is all we need to know, isn’t it? That is really all we need to know. 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.