4th Sunday in Easter

4th S. Easter 4.22 John 10:22-30

This might be one of the most crucial passages in one of the most important books of the Holy Scriptures. Jesus tells us how faith in him happens, to whom it happens, what are the results of that faith, and—like sprinkles on your ice cream cone, tells us plainly, exactly who he is. All in six short verses!

Context is so important though, so; here it is for this Gospel: Jesus has just healed the man born blind, by putting mud in his eyes and telling him “Whoa! How can you see anything with all that mud in your eyes? Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam (which was near the Temple in Jerusalem); see if that helps” (see what he did there? 😉 This sparks a controversy, as the Jewish elite refuse to believe the miracle, and excommunicate the man born blind for saying good things about Jesus. Jesus finds him, and when the man formerly identified as blind confesses faith in Jesus, the Master says: “I came so the blind would see and those who see may become blind” and the Pharisees complain about the implication they are blind (and dense 😉

Jesus then launches into the Good Shepherd discourse, on how the sheep know and follow the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. This starts another row and many accuse Jesus of being insane or demon-possessed, but others go: “These are not the words of one who is demon-possessed. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

The next verse is our first one: “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem,” so the “time” is immediately after the events just described. Jesus is walking in the temple, in Solomon’s Porch and some of the Jews (who’ve been disputing with him as described above) gather and and demand he tell them plainly whether or not he is the Christ.

Jesus says “I told you, and you do not believe.” It’s important to notice that this whole discussion of who Jesus is and how one would know and believe in him is not out of the blue or initiated by Jesus in an act of self-publicity or missional outreach. No. It all starts because of a deed done out of pity for a man born blind and the stubborn hostility of Israel’s elite toward the mercy and goodness of the Messiah—refusing to see or believe what’s right in front of their face. Sure glad stuff like that never happens today!

But it does result in a marvelously compressed statement of how one believes, what are the results of such belief, and who exactly Jesus is—a statement which, I think, confounds the general outlook of most who identify as Christians today, so worth looking at carefully.

From having read a little bit about it and worked in the field awhile, I have the impression most modern “Christians” think that faith comes from a careful investigation of the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth—an investigation that will finally pass judgment on the probable accuracy of the biblical accounts about Jesus, as to whether the things it’s claimed he said and did are plausible and even scientifically possible…

If a favorable judgment on the plausibility of the biblical narrative is passed, then one could be said to “believe in Jesus” and to the extent one conforms their thoughts and actions to these historical facts and truth claims, one could be said to be, to some degree, “Christian”.

And this view, while quite popular—especially among “conservative” or “Evangelical” types, is almost completely wrong. It’s certainly contrary to the plain description of faith given by our Lord Jesus. Which is why I said, at the outset, that these six verses are some of the most important in all the Holy Scriptures, especially for modern people who have quite different ideas of faith and the identity of Jesus Christ than he himself presents.

These Jews, who’ve been arguing with Jesus since chapter 8, accost him with “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”—which is a very passive-aggressive move—as if their lack of faith is Jesus’ fault for not reaching out to them effectively and earnestly enough. If you’ve known me very long, you’ll know that I think the modern church too often bends the knee to this passive-aggression of atheists and goes around like Sally Field trying to get everyone to like us, as if the world’s lack of faith is the church’s fault for not being “missional enough”.

Jesus will have none of such nonsense! When they accuse him of not telling them plainly and convincingly enough that he is the Christ, he shoots back: “I told you and my works showed you who I am, but you do not believe because you are not of my sheep! My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.”

Unbelief’s your own damn fault—and no one else’s. It’s certainly not Jesus’ fault, nor his Church’s!

When Jesus preached his first sermon in his hometown synagogue, everyone marveled that these were powerful words such as they’d never heard before, not even from the prophets—the Word of the Maker Himself! But they refused to believe what was incredibly beautiful, true, and good because it involved admitting they were blind, sinful, and incredibly dense. It would mean admitting God himself had grown up and walked and talked and lived among them—but, for nearly 30 years, they wouldn’t recognize him, because they were so blind and caught up in their own selfish stuff.

When Jesus opened his mouth, you knew right away: this is the Voice of God! When he healed the blind man, everyone knew this was a miracle only God Himself could do. They were left with no doubt as to the authenticity of this divine work. But they refused to believe! Because it involved admitting they—not this poor beggar they’d scorned and kicked to the curb time and again—were the blind sinners(!). It was too humiliating; and they were too envious…

Faith is voice recognition! You hear the Voice of Jesus and recognize: this is the Father’s Voice who made us! This is Yahweh—God Himself! It is not an intellectual process. It is not a process of moral renewal (only at the end of which faith is possible). No! A hundred times, NO! The unborn John the Baptist heard God’s voice echoing in Jesus’ mother’s (I bet Jesus had his mother’s eyes too 😉 and believed and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

His Voice in Holy Scriptures sounds clear and plain—to his sheep! See, only his sheep know him. How do you get to be a sheep? Well, Jesus says the Father gave us to Jesus to be his sheep and he our Shepherd. It’s pure grace, a total gift, nothing you’ve done or been or thought or said.

You can shout at goats all you want, but you’re just wasting your breath. They have the Word (and, deep down, they know) but they don’t want to be sheep, don’t want to be led, don’t want to follow. They want to be god themselves, and blame the Master for their lack of faith and deity.

But the sheep who will simply hear and receive what is given, who just can’t help following this most Lovely Voice, find eternal life as a result. Because sin is simply plugging your ears, refusing to hear that Voice calling from the Garden, Cross, Empty Tomb—calling you to come, eat + live! Hey; you know it’s true, so… Rejoice! For Christ is Risen…

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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