Hear My Voice
GOD, did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? GOD, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have now? GOD, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that okay? GOD, what does it mean you are a Jealous God? I thought you had everything. GOD, thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. These are questions that children have asked God. They are funny and to look into a child’s mind is always entertaining. But we all have asked God questions at one time or another during our life.
In today’s text we receive another story of people asking Jesus something. There seems to be a tread that we can follow in these questions or better yet in the people who are asking these questions. You can place the people into three different categories: sincerity, entrapment or mistaken assumptions. As one looks at the people who sit there and ask Jesus questions, they fit into these three different categories.
In the third chapter of John we receive a story of a Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the night to ask him questions. Nicodemus asks Jesus how someone can be born again. He asks this question out of sincerity. He honestly is looking for the answers. He knew that Jesus was a teacher who came from God and wanted to know more, so Jesus answered him with care and compassion. Jesus lead him down a gentle path full of love and grace. The answer given befuddled Nicodemus, there was not a huge light that came on that shows us that he understood what Jesus meant by being born again. But the point is that Nicodemus’ heart was sincere in the asking.
That is not the case for some of the other Pharisees in the Jesus’ life. You don’t have to look too far to see that they try to entrap Jesus in order to bring charges against him. Take Matthew’s recount in chapter 22, this is a text many of you are familiar with. In this story the Pharisees use one of their disciples to go and ask Jesus if they should pay taxes or not. Verse 18 it states, But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Jesus doesn’t answer them in the same tone as he does Nicodemus. Here you can tell that he is a little shorter with his answer, a little more poignant, and you can sense the tension.
Then you have the mistaken assumption questions. People ask Jesus questions but frame it in the wrong context or make assumptions about Jesus that they shouldn’t, and we all know what kind of trouble you can get into if you assume things. This is the type of tone that today’s question comes in. The people asking Jesus a question are not sincere and they are not looking to entrap him, well not quite yet. Within this question they assume a lot and are mistaken in their assumptions.
First of all who is asking the question? John tells us that the Jews gathered around him. Something that we have to remember is that the author of John’s gospel does not mean the whole Jewish race. Traditionally when you see the phrase “the Jews” in the Gospel of John it is in reference to the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The picture we receive now is one of the religious leaders cornering Jesus while he was in the temple. The first verse of this section tells us why Jesus is in the temple. It states that it was the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Remembrance. It was a winter Feast and since it was probably a little chilly Jesus found shelter in the south end of the second temple area called Solomon’s Colonnade or porch.
What happened was the religious leaders may have gotten caught up in all the celebrating. The Feast of Remembrance is a time when they would look back at their history and see their forefather’s victories over huge threats. This might have got the religious leaders blood going and they wanted to have history repeat itself by getting rid of their biggest threat, Jesus. In order to do so they needed to get some things strait, they needed more information. They cornered him in the temple and asked him, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.
The thing is with Jesus is that he can see into our hearts, he knows our souls; therefore he knew why they were asking him what they did. One of the commentaries I read restated the question as this, Jesus, do fit into our criteria of what the messiah looks like? When they asked this they were demanding that Jesus answer them on their terms. They wanted the Son of God to tell them a yes or no answer if he was the Messiah. Since Jesus saw into their hearts though he knew the reason why they were asking was not a yes or no answer, it was much more complicated than that. Jesus always gives the answers that the people really need, which may not be what they were looking for. The main point we need to know is that the religious leaders were trying to push Jesus into a box. We do this a lot with God. We expect God to be the God we want and desire.
I have stumbled on a blog called Letters from Leavers. This site is dedicated to the rants of people who are fed up with the church. They are so tired of God, ministers, and church people in their lives that they want to leave organized religion all together. As I have read through some of these posts I am convinced that many of these people suffer from the same thing that these religious leaders did, trying to fit God into their own little box they created.
Listen to one of these letters. I have had enough. I am leaving for good this time. I have always grown up in the church, going to Sunday School, and attending worship. Recently I went through a tragedy and neither God nor the church was there for me. I prayed to God but God did not answer. I reached out for help and all I got was a cold shoulder. I am fed up with this so called God. I always thought God was there to protect you. God is there make sure bad things don’t happen to the people that believe in him. That was not the case though and so I am out. God is dead to me. And then the letter goes on to rant about the church and the people in it.
Is it God’s fault that bad things were happening to this person? No, we live in a fallen world and Jesus never made the promise that nothing bad would ever happen to us, that is a huge misconception about God.
This person and so many more on this site all seem to be asking Jesus questions like, are you the God that will do things my way? Are you the God who will shed riches upon me if I follow you? Are you the God who will let nothing wrong ever happen to me again? When Jesus hears these questions his answer is, Am I the Christ YOU are expecting, definitely not.
But why not? Why cannot God be the God that we design? The easiest answer is because we are not the designer, we are the designed, we are the created, we are the children who cannot create the Father. Add on top of that, that we are humans, fallen creatures who have a limited ability to fathom the awesomeness of God. God is the only one who can tell us what God is like and he does in the second half of this text.
In this part we receive wave after wave after wave of grace from our Lord and Savior. It shows us that although the Pharisees expected one thing out of Jesus, Jesus offers them grace, care, and love for his sheep. Once again in the tenth chapter of John we get a picture of Jesus as a Shepherd and we are his lambs. This is a common theme in John’s gospel and throughout the Bible. That is the picture we receive from God. Jesus, or God, is a shepherd and we are his sheep.
What do you picture when you think of sheep. For me I get the picture of the only place that I have seen a ton of sheep, England. As Alycia and I lived over in England for a year we saw a lot of sheep in a lot of different areas. The town we lived in was right next to the Moors, a barren and unlivable place for humans, but a great place for sheep to roam free. As we would drive around these moors we would always have to be on the lookout for sheep in the road. With all the grass that is in the moors, some very intelligent sheep would find the grass nearest to the fast moving machines known as cars to be the tastiest. Inevitably we would see that one of these fast moving machines would collide with one of this not so intelligent creatures and the loser would always be the sheep.
It got me thinking about this image of sheep and shepherd that we get so much of in the Bible. I looked at this dead sheep on the road and I would think to myself, I don’t know if I want to be God’s sheep. I know like a sheep I will be sheared tonight but I hope I don’t smell as bad as they do. I hope I have a little more intelligence, no much but a little bit more than they do. I hope that I don’t just follow God because I don’t know any better. All of a sudden this analogy was not working for in my 21st century mind. The truth is it might not work in many of your minds too because of your experience with these animals.
As I looked back on this analogy I came to a realization. I am doing it again. I am making it about me.
I am making it about us, instead of making it about God and learning something about God within this illustration. What do we learn about God as the shepherd instead of us as sheep. Verse 27 says, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. In the text it states that Jesus is the kind of shepherd that knows each one of his sheep. He loves his sheep so much that he gets to know them personally. God is a God that is personal and wants to have that personal relationship with you. It also states that if we are Jesus’ sheep then we know his voice. We know when Jesus is calling us. That tells us that Jesus is talking to us. This means that our shepherd is active in our lives and cares so much about us, that he wants to talk to us, call out to us.
What is it though that the shepherd offers his sheep? Eternal life. Verse 28 states I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. Jesus is the type of shepherd that offers such an amazing gift to his followers. He is so loving, so generous that he wants his sheep to be with him forever. He offers us a gift that no one else can give us. He gives us eternity, a piece of eternity that no one can take away. We worship one loving God.
Can you see the waves of grace now? Can you see the loving care, compassion, and joy that Christ offers to his sheep? Even though the idea of being a smelly creature like sheep may be a little outdated, we can understand the care that Jesus offers. We can understand a little bit better who our shepherd is. In this text God is telling us who God is and I don’t know about you all but I like what I see.
God is telling his followers that we do not have to worry about eternity. We can loss the fear of the future. All we have to do is follow the shepherd. If we do then we will have eternal life. The thing is though many of us don’t truly believe that in our hearts. We have been tricked before in life. We know that people fail to live up their promises. We have been hurt, lied to, and our hearts have been ripped out and stomped on. What makes us trust God then?
We can trust God because God has never let us down. God promised to never flood the world again and sends the rainbows to remind us of that, and God has lived up to that promise. God promised that when the time was right he would makes things right again between us and him. He would send his Son to die our death in order that we may have eternal life. Jesus came to defeat death by rising again on the third day. We are in the Easter season, a time when we joyfully proclaim that God did exactly what God said he would do. God has always lived up to his promises. There has never, in this history of the world, been a time when God has messed up or failed to do what was promised.
This must mean that if verse 30 is true. If Jesus and the Father are one, if they and the Holy Spirit make up the 3 in 1 God that we worship and they have never failed in the past, then we can rest assured that they will never fail in the future. All of God’s energy, strength and love was put into the sacrifice that was made on the cross. God did not fail and God never fails us. This means that the promise of an eternal life with God must be true. This means that the Good Shepherd never leaves our side and is always with us through our life.
We see this in the 23rd Psalm, the second most memorized section of the Bible. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, your shepherd’s crook they comfort me. God’s grace keeps washing over us.
It is alright to ask God questions, that is how we understand who God is. Asking God to be our image of God will always create a God who fails in some way. This means that we need to have God tell us who God is. Once we do so we need to rest assured that God will live up to his promises. Jesus, in this text promises to give his sheep eternal life. No matter who tries to take that away from us they cannot because it is God’s grace to give out not ours. It is our job to accept that grace. It is our job to hear that voice of hope and love; that voice of salvation and simply say thank you. Then live a life knowing that Jesus is there with us all along the way. Live knowing that you are wrapped up in the hands of God no matter what happens. That is the voice that calls to each of us. That is God we worship here today.