Unbelief

John 10:22-42

One day the phone rang and the frantic voice of a harried mother said, “Sorry, I can’t talk now. Our pet mouse is loose in the kitchen and I have to catch him before the cat does.” She left the receiver dangling, and children’s screams and cat’s hissing and clangs and bangs filled the air for the next five minutes. Then she picked up the phone and heard a stranger’s voice say, “Excuse me lady. I know I have a wrong number. But I just had to find out, who got the mouse?” What she had said wasn’t eloquent, but it left the listener eager to hear more.

When I preached for an integrated congregation in Memphis, TN, I would often have black members come and tell me that my sermons were too short. They wanted longer sermons! I guess I just had it ingrained in me early on that I basically get a twenty minute attention span and then I’m preaching to wandering minds. So, because of that I don’t repeat myself very often in a sermon. The old three-fold rubric for a sermon was: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell you what you told them. I just assume people are listening the first time.

Well, when we read this passage in John 10, I might be wrong about that. 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.” (Jn 10:22-30)

One man was visiting with his stock broker and asked, “What makes the stock market go up and down?” The broker said, “Several factors – inflationary pressures, fiscal instability, political pressures, national imbalance...” The man stopped him and said, “If you don’t know, why don’t you just say so?”

The Jews gathered around Jesus and asked him the same question they had been asking him all along: “Who are you?” In this case they are more specific – “Are you the Messiah?”

And it’s interesting the way they phrase the question. Most English versions say, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” That’s a good enough translation, but what it literally says is “How long will you lift up our souls?” or “How long will you keep our hopes up?” Even though they questioned him, they secretly hoped he was who he claimed to be. Even though they opposed him, they hoped he proved them wrong. Hope is a funny thing. Our realistic, pragmatic side might fight against the very thing we long for most.

And Jesus tells them, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.”

He has told them again and again, but it isn’t the answer they want to hear. They want him to be just another itinerant preacher, a fascinating storyteller, a good man, but when he says, “I am the Messiah, sent from God” the circuits in their brains fry and they ask again, “Who do you think you are?”

The trouble isn’t that he has not told them, it’s just not what they want to hear.

In fact, Jesus says, “You aren’t really listening.”

I performed miracles but you couldn’t see them.

I spoke, but you didn’t listen because you aren’t one of my sheep and you don’t recognize my voice.

I give eternal life, but you still cling to death.

I want to spend a minute on something Jesus says here that can be quite perplexing: “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.”

It raises the question about the security of our salvation. In so many things in life we are insecure. And so we buy insurance, we diversify our portfolios, we buy warranties. We do everything we can to find security and peace of mind.

But when it comes to eternal life, a lot of us struggle – “Am I good enough, have I done enough? Will I really get into heaven? I don’t know.”

Jesus says, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.” Our eternal security is not based on our ability to hold on, but on the ability of Jesus to hold on. Our security is not based on our works or our perfection, but on the faithful promise of God. Jesus goes on: “My Father is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Paul writes in Colossians 3:3, “You have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” In Romans 8, he says, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”

Now, this does not preclude our willful rejection or careless neglect – in several places, NT writers say you can walk away from God and reject his salvation. But there is nothing and no one who is powerful enough to take your salvation away from you or you away from God.

And then he says, “I and the Father are one.”

If Jesus seemed vague before, he speaks with such clarity now that they cannot mistake or misunderstand what he is saying. What John had written in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God” is now proclaimed by Jesus: “I and the Father are one.”

He has gone too far and John writes, They picked up stones to stone him.

Not at all frightened or intimidated, Jesus stops them and asks for clarification. “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:32-33)

He wants them to hear themselves say it. They acknowledge that he has done miracles that could only have come from God. He wants them to realize they are not doing this out of a reasoned, objective observation of the facts, but out of an irrational, emotional reaction to what must be true – if they accept the miracles as from God.

There is a little bit of John’s irony here as well. Jesus is not at all a mere man who claims to be God, but God who made himself a mere man.

As lofty as his claims are, they are rooted in the truth of who he is and his mission. His works and his words are without question from God himself. He is not making himself anything, but in word and in works he is showing himself to be what he truly is – the Son of God sent from the Father.

Then Jesus confronts them with their own scriptures: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’ ? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10:34-38)

Jesus quotes a passage of scripture from Psalm 82:6 “I said, ‘You are “gods”, you are all sons of the Most High.’” In this scripture the Psalmist is recalling their own relationship with God – we are created in his image – we are, by creation and by birth, his sons and daughters – “gods” if you will. Not that we are divine, but that we are more than mere mortals. And Jesus makes his point – “You are wanting to stone me for the very words that your Holy Scriptures use, yet you deny me the right to use them as well.”

And then he takes them back to reason: “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10:37-38)

Look at the evidence, listen to the witnesses. If you do you will come to the inescapable conclusion that what I am claiming is true “The Father is in me, and I in the Father – I and the Father are one.”

Lots of people try to run scams and deceive people. Sooner or later they are exposed for their fraud. They are not what they appear to be. Jesus was exactly who he appeared to be. And time and time again the people were confronted with their own impressions and must deny their own judgment in order to come up with conclusions that fit their preconceived ideas. When Jesus says, “Believe the miracles,” he is saying believe your eyes, what do they lead you to conclude?

Jesus words fall on deaf ears. They have already decided that Jesus is too dangerous to live and they try to seize him, but Jesus slipped through the crowd and escaped their grasp. Not because he was afraid, but because it was not his time.

All this makes us ask why the Pharisees were so viciously and violently opposed to Jesus when every shred of evidence pointed toward the truth of his claims. Why did they pick up stones to stone him, why did they ultimately nail him to a cross? Not because of the evidence.

So what spawned and fed their unbelief? They were not acting out of a reasonable, rational examination of the evidence. That would have inevitably led them to accept that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be. Why then?

It came out of an emotional, visceral reaction to what they perceived as a threat to their position, their power and their prestige.

  • If Jesus was who he said he was then they were wrong, and that’s something the Pharisees would never have admitted.
  • If Jesus was who he said he was, all their years of holding the reigns of religious power were over because Jesus would be the rightful leader and shepherd of the people.
  • If Jesus was who he said he was, they really were the wicked shepherds who had abused and abandoned their flock and God was truly there to set things right and that terrified them.

Unbelief today comes from the same kind of reaction to Jesus. It’s rarely because someone has examined the scriptures and the facts and decided Jesus was a fraud. In fact, those who reject Jesus have rarely read the scriptures themselves, but react to their own imagined picture of who they think Jesus was.

Most people’s rejection of Jesus is from an emotional reaction to the consequences if Jesus really is who he says he is.

  • If Jesus is who he says he is, I would need to make him the Lord of my life and I would be surrendering control of my life to him. And very few people are willing to do that.
  • If Jesus is who he says he is, that means I would need to admit that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and most of us cling to the belief that we can save ourselves.
  • If Jesus is who he says he is, I will need to change the way I live and give up some of the things that I think I can’t live without.
  • If Jesus is who he says he is, my life will never be the same, and the truth is, I like my life the way it is and I don’t want anybody, even Jesus messing with it.

 Unbelief is a strange thing. It’s not always the atheist or the hedonist who openly and intentionally reject Jesus. Sometimes it lurks beneath the surface of the most religious people who sing the songs and pray the prayers and never miss church, but who keep Jesus at arm’s length for fear that he will want more from them than they are willing to give.