Jesus

The Gospel of John – The Father and The Son

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Our journey through the Gospel of John continues a few months later where Jesus is cornered at The Feast of Dedication (Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah), in an noticeable threat, by the same religious leaders He has been castigating for years. In this passage of scripture, Christ lays claim to “The Father and the Son” are one. He echoes the metaphors of sheep and shepherd He employed after giving sight to a blind man. Jesus points out that His teachings and miracles are all consistent with predictions of the Messiah, but these men refuse to accept Him. This culminates in another attempt on Jesus’ life, which He avoids. This is the last time Jesus will publicly teach prior to His crucifixion.

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The Father and The Son, Christ, Father, God

I and the Father Are One – John 10:22-42

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

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Conflict with Religious Leaders

The general theme of this passage is very much the same as what Jesus discussed earlier in chapter 10. The conversation here is directly inspired by the conflict Jesus created by healing a man born blind (John 9). The hostility of Jesus’ religious critics is becoming more overt and more aggressive. In the verses that follow, they will corner Jesus in a blatantly threatening way, once again attempting to stone Him. This naked violence is one reason Jesus, prior to His arrest, ceased His public preaching and began to focus on preparing the Twelve for what was to come. This encounter marks the last time Jesus will debate these religious leaders prior to His crucifixion.

The colonnade of Solomon is a portico: a roofed outdoor hallway lined with columns. This is on the east side of the temple. The walkway itself was elevated from the surrounding land, and partly walled in. That arrangement is important to the story, given the way Jesus is approached by His critics. Because of the layout, a person walking along this portico had the temple on one side, and either a solid wall or a sheer drop on the other.

According to verse 24, Jesus is “surrounded” by religious leaders. The Greek term used is ekyklōsan, literally translates “to surround, encircle, or encompass.” It’s a term often used to describe the act of siege. In other words, hostile religious leaders are about to “corner” Jesus as He walks in the temple.

This is the ancient equivalent of a crowd of schoolyard bullies surrounding a victim, pushing them against the wall in a hallway.

This time though, the Religious Leaders came prepared – these men brought rocks, in advance, and with murderous intent. In this incident, Jesus is not simply being challenged. He’s being threatened.

The challenge laid out to Jesus here, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” must be read in the context that these leaders had already made up their minds – they wanted to Jesus. It is almost a dare for Jesus to repeat His prior claims. So Jesus obliges.

In my Father’s name

A recurring theme in Jesus’ conversations with His critics is that they are being unyielding. Jesus’ life and teachings align perfectly with the Scriptures these men know all too well—but they refuse to accept Him. An intent to disbelieve, not a lack of knowledge, is their problem. Others have seen Jesus’ miracles, and have properly interpreted them as signs that He is divinely empowered. The men who threaten Him now, however, have proven they’re opposed to God by crediting Jesus’ miracles to Satan (Mark 3:22).

Jesus will continue to answer in verse 26 by reiterating the first of His three shepherding-related analogies from this chapter. This puts His answer in plain terms: I already told you who I was, but you’re not going to listen.

Jesus reiterates a point he made for these men a few months prior: they don’t hear His voice because they are not His “sheep” (John 10:1–6). Like sheep, which only recognise the voice of their particular master, these men are practically deaf to the voice of God.

Jesus’ voice is God’s voice (John 10:30); if you don’t hear the voice of God, it means you’re not part of His “flock.”

Jesus makes this statement under dire circumstances. His critics have trapped Him in a corner of the temple and in typical fashion, Jesus not only responds with brave truth, He continues, as shown in the following verses 28-29, culminating in a statement that seems almost deliberately intended to enrage His critics.

All the evidence and reason in the world won’t make the slightest difference to someone committed to disbelief.

The Good Shepherd

Jesus expands on the metaphors He used earlier in this chapter. Jesus explained that those who are His are like sheep—they only respond to the voice of their own shepherd. How a person reacts to Jesus proves whether they are, or are not, part of His flock. Jesus also claims to be like the single opening in a sheep pen: “the door” which was the only means of finding rescue from danger – Salvation. He also proclaimed Himself the “Good Shepherd,” contrasts with selfish leaders like those He speaks with, and spoke of His willingness to die for the sake of those who are His (John 10:10–14). Rather than simply repeat His claims, Jesus is expounding on them.

This statement is a crucial part of our understanding of the Gospel. Jesus has already made it clear that there are only two categories of people, spiritually speaking: those who are “in,” and those who are “out.” These two groups are separated by Jesus Christ, who is “the door.” Those who belong to Christ are safe from being taken away, as a wolf might grab a sheep in the wild.

Those who are part of Jesus’ flock cannot be taken away.

I and the Father are One

Here, faced with a hostile crowd, in tight quarters, with men armed for violence, Jesus connects those dots without the slightest hint of subtlety: “I and the Father are one.” Part of the meaning of this statement is lost in translation from Greek to English. Jesus uses the neutered form of the Greek word for “one” here, implying that they are “unity.” Rather than saying that Jesus and God are the same person, Jesus is claiming that He and God are unified as one, a partial explanation of the Trinity.

Unsurprisingly, this tips the mob’s anger over the top, and they start another attempt to assassinate Jesus.

Prepared for stoning

The next verse says they “picked up stones,” the implication is not that they reached down, at that precise moment, to find rocks. This encounter is well inside the temple grounds, and nowhere near easy access to the surrounding terrain. Stones suitable for an attack like this were not simply laying around the temple within reach. In other words, these men brought the rocks with them when they first surrounded Jesus. The Greek grammar involved here is not specific about “when” the act happened, only that it happened. In short, John is saying these men “had picked up” stones, anticipating violence. Jesus has given them all they need to justify following through on their threats.

As has happened in the past, however, Jesus will put His attackers in an awkward spot by forcing them to justify their actions. Then, without much explanation at all, He will manage to escape this seemingly impossible situation.

I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?

Jesus question here is meant for effect: Jesus has already pointed out that His miracles should convince onlookers that He has divine approval (John 5:36; 10:25). Despite this, these men still object, since the signs didn’t agree with their preferred theology (John 10:33).

“Preferred theology” is largely responsible for how distorted the true Gospel message become

Though the men claim Jesus is blaspheming, and is a liar, Jesus challenges them to explain the miracles that He’s done. The mob ignores the real point of the question and simply state the obvious: a charge of blasphemy. Jesus’ response is to challenge whether they ought to be interpreting His words as blasphemy in the first place. What comes next is Jesus using ancient debate techniques—turning the tables on these masters of Old Testament law.

Lovers of Old Testament Law

The real point of Jesus’ question is that He has performed miracles—why, then, do these men insist that He’s wicked? Or blaspheming? Shouldn’t they be recognising His authority, instead? The mob responds by ignoring—or missing—the point Jesus makes. Instead, they give the shallowest view of what Jesus said: that He’s a human being insulting God by claiming to be His equal. Jesus responda with a brilliant use of their own tactics. Religious leaders of that day would often debate Scripture in much the same way as modern politicians: with an emphasis on technicalities, obscure details, and other confusing points. Jesus turns that upside down, using it as a way to further condemn their rejection of His gospel.

Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are ‘gods”?”. Jesus engages in an abbreviated form of debate used by the Religious leaders to prove that, even by their own standards, they’re being hypocrites. Jesus cites Psalm 82:6. A reference to the Old Testament grounds His claim in something these men claim to take seriously: the Word of God. Jesus will compare the words of the Old Testament to the claim these men now claim is blasphemous. It’s important to note that Jesus isn’t making a blanket defense of all claims related to God. Rather, He’ll once again point to all of the ways in which He fulfills the role of Messiah.

Jesus’ point is not that humans are divine, but that those who are divinely enabled to perform the will of God are, in a poetic form, referred to as “gods” in Scripture. As this retort continues, Jesus will point out that He has been proven by powerful evidence. His claim to truth is much stronger than that of anyone else. His works—His miracles—should be absolute proof that He is sent by God. As such, charges of blasphemy against Jesus in this case fall short.

Jesus also makes a point of rejecting the suggestion that the Word of God can be “broken.” By this, Jesus means that the verses He quoted could not be dismissed as an error. They could not be written off as a mistake—this is the doctrine of inerrancy, which says that Scripture is perfectly accurate in everything it intends to say. Jesus, in this moment, not only implies inerrancy, He grounds His argument in it.

Jesus adds more fuel to the fire by making a statement His critics are sure to despise: claiming co-unity with God the Father.

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 0 comments

God doesn’t always make sense

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Food For Thought

Warning! This post may not be exactly what you’re looking for. If you looking to make perfect sense of the tough situations you’ve faced or are currently facing, this is not the post for you. If you’re looking for a “three-easy-steps” guide to make your situation go away, sorry, look somewhere else. Instead, this post will remind you of stories in the Bible of people who faced extreme tragedy, heartwrenching pain, and heavy disappointment. I will try demonstrate how people, somehow, found comfort in the midst of pain, and I will look to find God’s perfect place, plan or timing in these stories. I believe these stories are the word of God and are equipped with all the power they need to work in us.

What is the one thing you want when you feel like God doesn’t make sense? Comfort, right? You want to feel comforted by anyone, anything, especially God. The history of the word “comfort” shows the ever-changing way I see God’s work in our pain. The word is made from two Latin word parts, com-, which loosely means “together with,” and fortis, which means “strong or strength.” Later, the Latin word confortare came to mean, “to strengthen much.” Eventually, an Old French word, conforter, adds words like “solace” and “help” to the definition. In the 14th century, another French word, conforten, is defined as, “to cheer up, console.” Finally, by the 17th century, the English version of the word implies the sense of physical ease that we understand today. (Definitions from Oxford Languages).

When I think of comfort, I think of fluffy pillows, duck-down duvets, a hug from wife, an encouraging word from a friend or colleagues and a “at-a-boy” from my father. I even think about that pair of shows I wear again and again or a hairstyle you always stick too . In about a millennia, this word went from meaning, “together-strength,” to meaning “pain-barrier.” It changed from understanding God’s comfort as His company, to understanding it as His intervention. When something terrible happens and I don’t see God intervene, I wonder whether He’s really there at all. But, I’m not alone. Before the “comfort” word morphed, King David experienced many times when God seemed inattentive. Read his letters to God and try to keep pace with his seemingly varying take on God’s place in his struggle.

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Take a Pause: Think about the last time you questioned God’s existence. How were you looking to experience His company?

Notice how in Psalm 13, King David is questioning and doubting God’s presence. He asks if God has forgotten him. See how sorrowful he is feeling? I’ve been there too many times to count or mention!

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

God’s word is 100% true. We can and must accept it as such. It may be a difficult read sometimes because there are many stories of war, famine, lamentations, doubt and so on – but remember, His Word, His plan, is always for your own good. We accept His as His Word and not anyone else’s.

Psalm 103

Of David.

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul

Now look at Psalm 103. What a turn around! If you ever read a Psalm or sang a song in praise and worship of the goodness, dominion, power, companionship and comfort God brings – this is one prime example!

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Is God my Savior?

Today, it’s 13° outside – a family of five in the middle of township is without power, has no running water and is struggling just to keep warm or prepare a meal. Been South Africa, that same family most likely only has one income earner, so the little they have has to go a long way. They’ll be lucky to get a slice of bread or two each for the day. 1000s of people, families in South Africa are sleeping in the street with a cardboard box to keep them warm, if they lucky. Today, a family in Europe will tragically lose a child to an unexpected disease. In the next 24 hours, in other impoverished regions of the world, thousands of children are expected to die due to a lack of food, clean water, no food and diseases.

Then, by now, you would know how the pandemic, COVID-19, has brought the world to a standstill. People are scared of catching it, locked up in their homes, unsure about vaccines and living in fear of a disease.

Maybe today, but almost definitely this year, natural disasters will strike and suddenly kill thousands.

Coming back to South Africa, over the last week, the country has been brought to its knees by riots, looting and untimely deaths as a result.

If God’s existence was determined by His prevention of our world’s pain, then He’d be gone with the next strong wind that blew across the earth.

I’m not the first one to let difficulty cause me to doubt whether or not God is who He says He is. John The Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, is famous for preaching about the coming of Jesus and proclaiming that he wasn’t even worthy of lacing up Jesus’ dirty sandals. Later, John ended up wrongly imprisoned after spending his whole life for God. In fact, he was put in prison for preaching God’s truth. John had moments where he had second thoughts when from prison he wrote to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” John wanted to be sure that Jesus was truly the Savior that he’d made him out to be. But maybe John was also wondering if Jesus would be the one to come to his prison cell and break him out?

Then, Jesus, who basically called John the Baptist the greatest human to ever live, responded by pointing to some of the miracles He had done, and finished with, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” It’s as if Jesus said, “Look, John, I’m the Savior, but don’t blow your blessing by getting ticked off at me for not saving you from prison.”

In short, Jesus thought John was a stellar servant of God. Jesus essentially said, “Yes, I am the Savior, and I do saving works.” Then, He didn’t save John from prison, or from getting his head chopped off. What can we take away from this story? Whether or not God diverts your struggle does not determine whether or not He is God. And, proof of how God feels about you might not be happening to you today, but it happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago, on the cross.

Pray: Thank Jesus for what He did on the cross, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how He feels about you.

Dangerous Theology

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – CS Lewis

I think about the worst situation I have been through and survived to tell the tale. There are some very painful lessons and truths I’ve learned but I realise now that God was doing what was best for me. It hurt coming to this realisation!

Remember earlier what I spoke about the word “comfort” as “together-strength.” If God’s comfort is found in His strong company, then a difficult situation can be something we face with the powerful and loving comfort of God’s presence. It can be very hard to see it this way, but the situation itself could at times be God’s strength for us. Read that last sentence again until it hits you.

James 1:1-18

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Trials and Temptations

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

The dangerous and bad theology comes in to the picture if I was to describe every trial and difficulty I face as something God is intending to use to make me grow or learn something. It’s equally dangerous theology to assume that God never puts me through any struggles to strengthen me. The knowledge that His strength is with me, and that I can come out stronger, holds in it the power to separate me from my need to know, “God, how could you let this happen?” It’s okay when God doesn’t make sense. It should be enough to know He’s Immanuel, God With Us, and He has the power to turn what’s hard for me into what’s good for me. In the passage above, notice how much emphasis is placed on perseverance! Enough said.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Matthew 1:23

Celebrate: Think about all the struggles you’ve faced. Look back and remember how they’ve built your character, perseverance, and faith. Find a way to thank God for it all.

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Be Ready To Listen

Has this happened to you before. You in the middle of the road with no petrol in your car. The warning light was flashing, I could almost hear the engine praying for more petrol and I know the fuel consumption is not great but I continued to push through and see how far. The issue was obvious, but I tried to live with it. Holding down the accelerater a little less, just don’t overrev and you’ll be fine. What first was inconveniently noticeable becomes conveniently a problem, the dreaded moment happened, I found myself at the mercy of a nearby petrol station to bring me a few litres of petrol in a water can. My car raised its voice to get my attention and I ignored it.

There’s a Bible story like this. Eli was a good man who gave his life to serve our God. He was a high priest and judge over Israel – the middle-man between God and His people. Eli was God’s listener and God’s voice to communicate any vision, law, or prophecy the people needed to hear. He also oversaw the temple which made people able to submit their offerings and requests to God. A woman named Hannah—who was painfully unable to bear children—made the trek to Eli’s temple each year to plead for a child. Despite God’s lack of cooperation, she remained faithful. One year she told God that if He gave her a son, she’d give him back to serve the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:1 NLT says In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. … Despite God’s direct words being rare, in the second chapter of 1 Samuel, a man of God came to Eli with a flashing “petrol light” from God. Eli’s sons were sinning against God and His people by robbing the temple offerings and seducing women at the temple gates. Eli knew, but just scolded his sons and allowed them to remain in their temple roles. His car was chugging along, but he just added some more laid off the accelerator a little.

Meanwhile, Hannah miraculously gave birth, weaned her son Samuel, and brought him back to Eli’s temple to serve God just as she promised. If Hannah had a car, she’d have probably fill up with petrol even before the meter reached half way.

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
1 Samuel 1:27

As Eli’s temple helper, Samuel heard a voice call his name three times one night. Despite his role as God’s listener, it took Eli three times of Samuel coming to him before he realised the voice might be coming from God. Finally, Eli seemingly remembered something he had once learned. Next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”’ God spoke to Samuel the fourth time. Sadly, the message he received was doom for Eli’s family.

By the time Eli remembered how to hear, he was in the middle of the road, hazard lights on, walking annoying to a petrol station to find help. Eli’s career was to listen to God. With Jesus as our High Priest, God’s Word as our guide, and the Holy Spirit as our helper, we no longer need an intermediary. We are both Hannah and Eli. We get to hear from God directly and follow Him devotedly. But, when God doesn’t make sense and seems uncooperative, are we like Hannah who remained faithful, or like Eli who became a selective listeners?

Pause: Take pay attention! Open up your ears, speak directly to God, and make sure you’re a servant who’s ready to listen.

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In Good Company

There is a difference between people like Eli from earlier, who experience pain because they haven’t been listening, and people like the Apostle Paul, who experience pain despite their devotion and steady requests to God. However, while the people may be different, the pain feels the same. It hurts and leaves us asking, “Why, God?”

Have you ever grabbed a rose assuming the thorns had been removed? The result is a needles poke into your fingers followed by a bone-throbbing reminder of your mistake. Yet, the thorn Paul describes in our reading today from 2 Corinthians chapter 12 is different. Paul describes a thorn that remains in his flesh.

…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul wants the Corinthians to know about his thorn because the thorn causes him to rely on God, and he hopes the Church of Corinth will rely on God, too. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. If Paul stopped there, this concept would be a little easier. We could envision a God who swoops in and picks us up when we’re too weak to go on or get out of bed.

It gets a little trickier. These verses suggest that Paul’s thorn—which he also describes as a messenger of Satan—was not a seldom occurrence of weakness but rather a steady companion. Harder still, Paul explains this thorn was given to him as a strategy to poke a hole in his ego. Suffering so that God’s work could not be claimed as Paul’s work. Paul calls his perpetual pain a gift that reveals God’s true comfort for man. In other words, pain reveals God’s “together-strength” that transforms our failure into His perfection.

When God seemed inattentive to Paul’s pain, he could have assumed God was either absent or abusive. Instead, he recognised that pain put him in good company.

What are some thorns you need to see for their roses? How does your pain provide you opportunities to partner with God in ways you couldn’t if He took it away?

Who else received thorns as a strategy to unveil God’s perfect strength for our persistent weakness? Jesus.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3‭-‬5

Pray: God, I’ve been asking You to remove this trial. Today, I ask You to reveal Your power in my trial. Will You show me how Your strength can be seen through my weakness? Is there someone I can extend your powerful comfort to? Jesus, would You let me feel Your company today?

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When, Jesus?

If you’ve lived at least a couple of decades, you’ve most likely experienced death. No matter who I have lost or how I felt losing them, death is arguably the most difficult thing I have faced. Maybe it’s the seeming finality of death that is so hard. In comparison, every other pain I experience seems treatable, preventable, repairable, or at least tolerable.

For many followers of Christ, the moment I realised a loved one is really gone is when I experience our deepest doubts of God. Streaming thoughts turn into silent prayers, “God, how could You let this happen?”and, “You even listening?”, “Do you care?”, “Are you even there at all?” Basically, we accuse God of being either an imposing fake or an absent bystander.

Read: John 11

When close friends and followers of Jesus—Mary and Martha—told him their brother Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus did not come. Even though He was only a day’s walk away, Jesus let Lazarus die, then let Mary and Martha grieve alone before finally coming. When He did arrive, Lazarus was already decaying in a sealed grave. Mary stayed home, and Martha let Jesus know that He was late. Then, Jesus called for Mary, who came weeping. Jesus’ responses to Mary and Martha are some of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible. When Martha told Jesus he could have kept Lazarus from death, Jesus responded, “… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die … ” Then, when Mary wept, Jesus wept.

Jesus’ tears paint a picture of a God who hurts when we hurt, but also a God who hurts because we hurt. He is not the origin of death and separation. Sin is. He is the very one who looked death in the eye and conquered it for us. He understands, better than we, the true effects of death in the world and life He created for us. So, just because He doesn’t stop pain from happening to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt Him too.

If you finish the story, you know Jesus wept right before he brought Lazarus back to life. He also knows that for whoever believes in Him—including people we love—death is not permanent, and life with Him is eternal. Does it still hurt when people die? Yes. Does God hurt with us? Yes.

Pause: When you lost a loved one, how did you characterise God? Fake, bystander, late, hurting with you, something else? How does knowing, “Jesus wept,” change your experience?

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The Same Jesus

The same Jesus who called Lazarus back from the grave is calling me to abundant life. I may be lonely; He is with me always. I may be anxious; He cares for me. I may be tired; He is my rest. I may be lost; He is my way. I may be angry; He is love. I may be broken; He was wounded to heal me. I may be addicted; He is freedom. I may be in darkness; He is a great light. I may be dying; He is the resurrection and the life.

When God seems inattentive, uncooperative, and late, these are the moments when I get to decide what I really believe about Him. Do I believe the Bible stories I read? Even when I decide to believe the Bible is true, I may still sometimes feel like God doesn’t make sense. Yet, I can be sure the same Jesus still hears my cries, shares my pain, and saves my lives. He is my “together-strength.”

Pray: Jesus, thank You for calling me out of the grave. I choose to trust You to care deeply about what I’m facing, and I want You to face it with me. Thank You for taking on my shortcomings and my pain when You experienced brutal death and separation from God on the cross. Let’s do this!

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in Devotional, 1 comment

The Gospel of John – The Good Shepherd

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Jesus’ references here to a good shepherd and shepherding are pointed barbs at these hypocritical, self-serving figures. In this section, Jesus actually creates three separate metaphors; these are not meant to be understood as a single analogy. The first comes in verses 1 through 6, the second in verses 7 through 9, and the third in verses 10 through 18. In doing so, Jesus explains how He differs from the corrupt leaders He confronts. He also delivers His third and fourth ”I am” statements, out of seven in this gospel.

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The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

1“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

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Follow the series on John here

Enter through the narrow gate

The story continues from healing the blind man

Jesus continues without pause from the end of His conversation with the Pharisees who disputed His healing of the man born blind in chapter 9. Here, again, Jesus uses the “Amen, amen” construction. This uses a word that has come from Aramaic is almost unchanged in many other languages. It is an expression of agreement or hopefulness when used at the end of a statement. When used at the beginning of a sentence, it implies that the speaker is presenting first-hand, absolute truth.

This is the first of three related-but-separate analogies Jesus will make using the concept of shepherding.

1. Thief and a robber

Jesus begins the first metaphor by stating that someone who climbs the wall of a sheep enclosure “is a thief and a robber.” In that era, multiple flocks of sheep would be housed in a single walled-in enclosure. The sides were high enough to prevent sheep from getting out, and wild animals from getting in. This structure would have a single opening—and this was the only intended place for the sheep to come in or out. Anyone attempting to get into the pen without using the single door was, by definition, up to no good, a thief or a robber.

In the verses that follow, Jesus will continue to explain that only the legitimate shepherd can come in and out, and only that shepherd is approved by the gatekeeper. This teaching also relies on the unique way sheep naturally learn to respond only to the voice of “their” shepherd, and not to others.

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The flock know the shepherd voice

As mentioned earlier the sheep pens of that era were constructed with relatively high walls and a single door. Individual shepherds were known by their flocks purely by voice. To get a particular shepherd’s flock out, all that shepherd needed to do was call. In response, his sheep—and only His sheep—would come out.

Because these pens were built in this way, there was no legitimate reason for anyone else to enter the pens. The single door was where approved shepherds would be allowed to come in and out, and where their flocks would enter and leave. The only reason someone would enter the pen by climbing the wall is so they could harm or steal sheep.

Jesus continues in the next verses to explain that He, and He alone, is the “approved” shepherd, and those sheep which are His recognise Him by His voice. Strangers and thieves won’t be recognised by the sheep.

Listen for the voice of Jesus and respond with “Here I am, Good Shepherd” and follow Him.

At this point, Jesus is not speaking about heaven. His analogy has a well-defined purpose, not directly related to salvation or attaining eternal life. Those who are His, as it pertains to everlasting life, cannot be stolen in the way a robber in this particular analogy would do. Rather, this symbol is about how and why certain people respond to the message of the gospel, and others do not.

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2. The gatekeeper or “the door of the sheep”

The gatekeeper was not merely minding the opening. There were often no physical barriers across that opening, since a gatekeeper was always on duty. To rest, or even to sleep, the gatekeeper would literally lay across the gap. This will be used in Jesus’ second metaphor, where He claims to be “the door of the sheep.”

The gatekeeper of the pen would ensure that only approved shepherds—those who had claim on a flock inside—could get in or out. Anyone trying to climb over the walls was, by definition, up to no good. Those allowed in by the gatekeeper were legitimately allowed to be there.

Multiple flocks would be kept in a single pen. As mentioned earlier, to get a particular flock out, all the shepherd had to do was call. The sheep, having been raised and cared for by that single person, would respond. Members of other flocks would not come in response to that voice.

Jesus uses this analogy in response to the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who stubbornly refuse to recognise His miracles and His message. In plain terms, these men don’t listen to His voice because they are not “His” flock. They are, as Jesus pointed out in other discussions, subjects of Satan (John 8:42–47).

These me did not listen to Jesus because they were not “His.” Those who belong to God recognise the voice of God. But, like sheep from a foreign flock, those who belong to the Devil don’t respond when called by Christ.

Jesus continues this analogy with two more analogies that flesh out the idea that Jesus is the one and only means of salvation, and that those who are part of God’s kingdom will recognise no other voice except Him.

Those who don’t listen to Jesus voice are, in plain terms, “owned” by someone else. As Jesus pointed out in prior conversations, such people actually belong to Satan (John 8:42–47).

This is the first of three separate analogies Jesus uses that involve shepherding. As the following paragraphs show, the men to whom He speaks—the same religious leaders who criticised His healing of a man born blind (John 9)—will predictably fail to get the point.

What’s the point?

Of course, as those not inclined to listen to Jesus in the first place, these men fail to grasp the point being made. Instead, as seen in later, they will try to write Him off as a babbling maniac.

Jesus has just finished comparing His ministry to the voice of a shepherd. 

3. I am the good shepherd

Now Jesus makes the third of seven “I am” statements found in the gospel of John. In these remarks, Jesus evokes the words spoken to Moses by God in Exodus 3:14. Jews of that era knew exactly what such claims implied—when Jesus used those words in reference to Abraham earlier, they interpreted it as blasphemy and tried to kill Him (John 8:58–59).

Here, Jesus makes a separate metaphor, which is only partly related to the one just completed. Since the doorkeeper would typically lay across the opening to rest or sleep. In that way, the gatekeeper very literally became “the door” of the sheep pen.

Here, Jesus is implying that He, and He alone, is the means by which God intends people to come to God. His comment in the next passage, in particular, is meant to state that the prior religious leaders of the people were not the “true” leaders God intended. This concept also echoes, at least subtly, the single door God placed on the ark built by Noah—the one and only doorway through which mankind was saved from the wrath of God (Genesis 6:16).

Legitimate authority in Jesus

Jesus continues to explain that, like the door—the gatekeeper—He is the one and only legitimate authority for the sheep. The religious leaders who have controlled Israel to that point are like those trying to sneak into the sheep pen, or calling to sheep which are not theirs. They are, spiritually, thieves and robbers.

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This analogy brings several layers of meaning. First and foremost, it is only through the door that the sheep can “be saved.” This uses a Greek term, sōthēsetai, which implies something being kept safe, healed, or rescued from destruction. This is very dramatic terminology for literal sheep, though the pen was their best protection from wild animals. Jesus’ statement, then, is unusually direct in its spiritual implications. Jesus is that door, and the only door, an idea often repeated in the New Testament (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Closely related to this, the door—Jesus, in this case—is what separates all sheep into two basic groups. Sheep are either “in” or “out”; they are “saved” or “unsaved.” There are no other categories, and no other options. This, also, supports the New Testament’s consistent teaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only means by which any person can be eternally saved.

Narrow is the gate to Heaven

Also, some interpreters see this as a reference to Jesus leading people out of Judaism and into its intended fulfillment, Christianity.

Everlasting life and spiritual abundance

Jesus begins His third and most detailed analogy. He has already compared the hypocritical, tradition-bound religious leaders to thieves. The purpose of a thief, so far as the flock is concerned, is only to wreak havoc; the robber causes mayhem for his own selfish gain. In the same way, ungodly people who claim to be spiritual cause suffering in others for the sake of their pride and greed (Titus 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:5).

In contrast, Jesus seeks to not just preserve life for the sheep, but to provide it. In the prior analogy, Jesus claimed that as the one and only door, He was the means by which a person could “be saved.” That Greek term, sōthēsetai, suggests rescue, protection, and healing. Here, Jesus deepens that claim by saying that His purpose is not only tied to life, but to an abundant life.

That “abundant” life means something more meaningful than material wealth and prosperity (Colossians 3:2–3; Matthew 6:25–32). It begins with salvation from an eternity of suffering the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23). An abundant life is, first and foremost, eternal life. The abundant life means gaining a heavenly perspective, leading to a growing trust and knowledge of God. It means blossoming into a life full of the fruit of the spirit. While false teachers and false religions offer shallow, temporary relief.

Only Jesus brings truly everlasting life and spiritual abundance.

Humility and sacrifice

A main point of this third analogy is that Jesus is the “good shepherd,” in contrast to those who have selfish interests at heart. Jesus comes to offer life, and does so with humility and self-sacrifice. Prior statements compared some religious leaders to thieves and robbers, who purposefully take advantage of the flock for their own gain.

Here, Jesus refers to those who serve the flock, in a sense, but who are not motivated by love and self-sacrifice. A hired shepherd, for instance, is inclined to run away when the sheep are under severe threat. That hired hand is only interested in the sheep so long as he benefits; when serving the sheep means personal risk, he abandons them.

This describes those who purposefully take advantage of others using spiritual deception.

But it also applies to those who “passively” take advantage, by claiming spiritual authority or privilege without the service or sacrifice that position entails.

Eternal life

This statement is also important for its connection to a famous statement made later in this chapter. Jesus will claim that the life He offers is eternal, secure, and absolute: “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The verb used here, is harpazei. Later one He uses this exact same root word, differing only in tense: harpasei. As the one and only “good shepherd,” Jesus will never allow any of “His” sheep to be taken from Him. Period.

Jesus is willing to lay down His life for the sake of “His” sheep.

It is important for believers to recognise Jesus’ voice and follow only Him. He is “the door,” like the single narrow gap in the ancient sheep pen. All people—like all sheep—were either “in” or “out” of this door, and only those “in Christ” can be saved.

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Jesus also reiterates a point made in His first analogy related to shepherding (John 10:1–6). Ancient shepherds spent considerable time with their flocks, from the moment of a lamb’s birth. As such, sheep were acutely tuned to the voice of their shepherd, and only theirs. Sheep would instinctively ignore—or even flee from—the voice of a stranger. Jesus’ sheep, on the other hand, know His voice and respond to it. And, as a “good shepherd,” He knows every detail about those for whom He cares.

Jesus compares that closeness a shepherd has with his sheep and His intimacy with the relationship between God the Son and God the Father. This echoes other statements in the New Testament which imply that salvation through Jesus Christ brings us into an intimate family relationship with God (1 John 3:1; Romans 8:16–17).

Controversial comments from Jesus

The comments Jesus makes controversial to Jesus’ audience. Jesus is claiming to be the sole legitimate means of salvation for mankind (John 10:1–13), and even indicating that He will bring “other sheep,” meaning Gentiles, into this intimate relationship with God (John 10:14–16). Those remarks, in and of themselves, would have been tough for His critics to digest.

Jesus again refers to His impending death. This is a point over which even His own disciples argued (Mark 8:31–33). Jesus has already implied that He is willing to die for the sake of His spiritual “sheep,” as “the Good Shepherd” described earlier (John 10:10–14). This statement goes further and indicates that God the Father has special affection for Jesus specifically because He is laying down His life for the sake of these people. This is echoed in other New Testament Scriptures (Philippians 2:9; Ephesians 1:19–21; Hebrews 2:9).

Jesus reiterates that this is not a matter of theory: He will truly die. However, Jesus also predicts that He will resurrect from that death based on authority given Him by God.

It’s not shocking, then, to see many who were listening to Jesus’ words dismiss Him as a raving lunatic. He claims to be the sole example of a “good shepherd,” with special favor from God, who will soon rise from the dead. Others, of course, point out that Jesus’ miraculous signs make it very awkward to believe He’s insane or demonically possessed.

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Here, Jesus clarifies: this is exactly what He’s saying.

Command from the Father

John 10:18: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.'”

The context of these remarks is important: Jesus is still debating with religious critics who are angry over His recent miracle (John 9). There, Jesus gave sight to a man born blind, which sparked debates that did not end well for the local religious leaders.

Now, Jesus continues to explain His role as “the Good Shepherd,” which includes His willingness to die for the sake of His sheep. That sacrificial love, Jesus says, is a reason He has special favor with God the Father (John 10:17; Philippians 2:9). It’s possible, in some sense, that those listening might have assumed Jesus prior statement was just an assumption. In other words, that Jesus was “willing” to die, not that He “would die.” Talk of Christ’s death is something Jesus’ closest followers often struggled to accept.

As He continues, Jesus makes it clear that His role as “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:10–14) and “the Door” (John 10:7–9) not only includes an actual death, it also includes resurrection. That death is entirely voluntary—it is not something into which Jesus is being coerced (Matthew 26:53). And it will result in a resurrection, based on divine power and authority (John 2:19–21). In this relatively brief statement, Jesus claims to have power over life and death—even His own—as granted to Him by God. He predicts His own death and revival.

The grand nature of those ideas may be a reason that—at least here—the crowd doesn’t seem to react with accusations of blasphemy, as they do in other passages (John 5:18). In simple terms, what Jesus says is so outlandish that it suggests two other possibilities. The audience seems torn between Jesus being possessed—the ancients’ reference to insanity—and being a miraculously-verified messenger (John 10:19–21).

Division amongst the Jews

Many of Jesus’ words were divisive (John 7:43; 9:16). To some extent, His entire existence drives separation between human beings (Matthew 10:34–36; Psalm 53:1; Acts 25:19). Jesus even claimed to be “the Door” and the sole means of salvation (John 10:7–9); that implies a division of people into one of only two categories, saved and unsaved.

The specific words referred to here are Jesus’ comments about being killed and raised from death (John 10:15–18). This conversation happens immediately after Jesus has given sight to a man born blind (John 9). That sparked a debate where Jesus laid out three shepherding-related analogies to explain His ministry (John 10:1–14). The miracle leads some to believe Jesus is a legitimate messenger of God (John 10:21), others to suggest He’s a nutcase (John 10:20).

As always, how a person responds to Christ has everything to do with their own spiritual state (John 10:1–5). Those who want to follow God will respond accordingly (John 7:17). Those who don’t will find a way to resist, no matter what (John 5:39–40). Miracles and truthful teaching ought to lead people to accept Him (John 3:1–2), but a hard heart can always make excuses (Matthew 12:31; Luke 11:15).

This passage does not say how the rest of this encounter plays out; the last verses only show the two main views of the crowd. After that, the narrative will leap ahead several months.

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Insanity or God’s work

To some in the audience, this claim is bizarre enough that they think Jesus is crazy. This isn’t the first time people have suggested that He is mentally ill. At one point, His own family tried to bring Him home, thinking He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). His critics sometimes accused Him of insanity—considered a form of demonic possession in that era—in order to discredit Him (John 8:48–52).

Others, however, point to Jesus’ miracles and other signs to suggest He’s telling the truth (John 3:1–2). The supernatural signs, especially, make it hard to accept the idea that Jesus is a raving lunatic (John 9:16).

There are two main positions of the crowd; no particular resolution is given. After recording the basic response of the audience, John’s gospel skips ahead several months to a different incident.

In contrast, those miracles are the main point referenced by the other major faction in the crowd.

They, like others before, rightly recognise that these are “signs” meant to give divine approval to Jesus’ message!


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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 3 comments