Today we will begin our study in John 10:22 because it marks a new turn of events in Jesus’ life. John writes, “Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem.” You probably don’t recognize the name, “Festival of Dedication,” but most all of you have heard of Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights. The Festival of Dedication and Hanukkah are one and the same. When John identifies the events we’ll take a look at as happening during the Festival of Dedication he is showing us that there is a gap of about two months between what we’ve just studied, which happened during the Feast of Tabernacles, and what we are going to study this morning, which happened during the Festival of Dedication or Hanukkah.
What was the significance of the Festival of Dedication? I’m so glad you asked. The Festival of Dedication continues to be celebrated up to our own day. It is a celebration that lasts for eight days each year beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month Chislev (December.) In 2014 it was celebrated December 16-24 and in 2015 it will be celebrated December 6-14. The Festival of Dedication is not one of the feasts prescribed in the Old Testament. It finds its origin during the intertestamental times, during the events that took place between Malachi and Matthew. The feast celebrates the Israelites’ victory over the Seleucid King Antiochus IV who ruled from 175-164 B.C. Antiochus gave himself the name, “Epiphanes,” which means, “the visible god.” He believed he was the Greek god Zeus. He hated the Jews and their religion and wanted nothing more than to eliminate them from the face of the planet. He overtook Jerusalem in 169 B.C. and defiled the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and by pouring pig’s blood on the Holy Torah Scrolls. He set up an altar to Zeus, prohibited temple worship, wouldn’t allow the Israelites to practice circumcision, sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery, had all of the copies of Scripture that could be found destroyed, and tortured the Jewish people to try to get them to renounce their faith. This led to the Maccabean revolt, one of the most heroic feats in history.
The Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes and his army was led by a priest named Mattathias and his five sons: John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah. After the death of Mattathias, Judah took over and proved to be a genius military leader. For three years the Jews engaged in guerilla warfare to try and reclaim Jerusalem and the temple. Finally, on the 25th of Chislev in 164 B.C. they overtook the temple, rededicated it, and established the Festival of Dedication. There is a book in the Apocrypha, those books of the Catholic Bible that fall between Malachi and Matthew called 2nd Maccabees that tells the story of the heroic acts of the Maccabees.
The reason for an eight day celebration is tied to the story of what happened when the Maccabees overtook the temple and found it defiled. Antiochus Epiphanes and his men had turned it into a pagan sanctuary. When the Maccabees entered the temple the first thing they did was to make a make-shift menorah as the original gold menorah had been melted down. Only one vial of pure lamp oil with the special seal was found in the temple. That vial was used to light the menorah and miraculously it stayed lit for eight days while fresh oil was being pressed for use in the temple. The miracle of the candles staying lit isn’t found in 2 Maccabees, but in the Talmud where we read,
…and when the royal Hasmonean House gained the upper hand and vanquished them [the Greeks], [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one flask of oil…with the Kohen Gadol’s [High Priest] seal, and it contained only [enough oil] to burn for one day. A miracle occurred and it burned for eight days. (Talmud, Shabbat 21b)
This is the background of the setting of our Scripture for this morning found in John 10:22-29. Let’s take a look at our Scripture and we’ll see what we can learn.
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:22-29 NIV)
I find it really interesting that during the great, joyous celebration of the reigniting of the light of freedom, the Festival of Dedication, the Jewish leaders surrounded Jesus and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Some Bible teachers have suggested that what is really meant here is, “How long will you keep annoying us?” That’s not bad when you consider the context of the verse. They were not in suspense; they weren’t sitting on the edge of their seat or standing on their tiptoes to find out if what they had heard was true, they were aggravated, agitated by Jesus’ mere presence.
Throughout Jesus’ three year ministry He taught everyone who would listen. He didn’t tone down His teaching because of who He spotted in the crowd. Let me show you a couple of examples of what I’m talking about. First, turn to John 5:16-18 and let’s listen in on Jesus’ statement made to the Jewish leaders.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18 NIV)
It could not be stated more clearly. They weren’t trying to kill Jesus because He broke the Sabbath, but because He was “making himself equal with God.” Turn with me to John 8:56-59 and listen in on another conversation Jesus had with the Jewish leaders. Jesus said,
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:56-59 NIV)
The Jewish leaders knew full well what Jesus was claiming, He was claiming to be eternal…He was claiming to be God. We know that they knew what Jesus was saying because they picked up stones to try and kill Jesus. Have you ever noticed how many times they wanted to kill Jesus? Jesus drove them out of their minds!
I want to show you one final example of how openly Jesus taught by sharing Jesus’ own words with you. Jesus was on trial for His life before the high priest in John 18:19-20. Read along with me.
19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. (John 18:19-20 NIV)
He couldn’t have spoken more plainly, but the truth of the matter is that they didn’t want to hear what Jesus was saying because He was a threat to their power and places of authority in society. They had no time to consider His claims because they were too busy looking out for their own interests. I’ve been thinking about that this week. Why do we resist Jesus’ claims of absolute ownership of our lives? Isn’t it for the same reasons? We don’t want to lose control of our own lives. We want to call the shots, we want to chart our own course, we want to determine our own destiny and the thought that Jesus might interfere with our plans means that we just can’t totally surrender our hearts and lives to Him.
The most fundamental problem of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day is found in John 10:25-26. We talked last week about “predestination, election, and the Sovereign plan of God in the salvation of people.” Jesus used the religious leaders to demonstrate what we talked about last week.
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. (John 10:25-26 NIV)
Jesus spoke to them over and over again, but they did not believe. Jesus performed miracle after miracle for them to see, but they did not believe. Then, in verse 26, Jesus said, “…you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus chose these words instead of “You are not my sheep because you don’t believe?” I do want to remind you once again that the Bible teaches that God is totally Sovereign, He is absolutely in control, and we are totally responsible for the choices we make. James Montgomery Boice wrote, in his commentary on this passage,
It is true that we cannot choose God unless he first chooses us, doing a miracle in our hearts by which we understand these things and respond to him. But we are, nevertheless, responsible for the things we do choose and for the way in which we handle his revelation. What about Christ’s words? What about his works? You cannot escape them. If they are true—and what possible reason do you have to doubt them save that someone has told you at one time or another that the Bible is not true, that it is only a collection of stories, and that without evidence—if they are true, then wisdom and simple honesty demand that you drop all lesser loyalties and follow Jesus. This is what he wants. He said, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (v. 27) So, listen! Really listen! And follow Jesus! (Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John, Volume 2. pg. 775-776.)
We are lost sheep, but the Shepherd has led you here this very morning to hear His voice. Are you listening? Will you follow Him? I’m going to give you an opportunity to do that in just a few minutes, but first I want to share with you the benefits of being one of the Shepherd’s sheep. I want to spend the rest of our time together this morning taking a look at the provision of the Shepherd for His sheep. Look at verses 27-29 with me.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29 NIV)
Jesus was repeating Himself when He said, “My sheep listen listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We’ve read this already in two other places in this chapter, in John 10:3-4; 14.
I do need to point out one thing to you about the verbs, “listen” and “follow,” that Jesus used to describe His sheep. They are both in the present tense. It’s not simply that the sheep listened and followed Jesus at the time they surrendered their lives to Him. They continue to listen and follow Him each and every moment of every day of their lives. After all, He is their Shepherd.
I want you to notice the provision of the Shepherd for His sheep. We can find three incredibly important truths concerning the Shepherd’s provision in verse 28 where Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Jesus Gives His Sheep Eternal Life
The first of the Shepherd’s provision for His sheep is eternal life. That is a profound statement when you consider that some of the most brilliant people of our time believe that once you die…you die. Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist who taught at Cambridge University for many years. He’s considered the greatest scientific mind of our time. Dr. Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrigs disease, when he was 21 years old. Doctors said he wouldn’t live to see his 25th birthday, but Dr. Hawking is now 73 years old. He was interviewed by The Guardian before one of his lectures and this is what he had to say about life and death.
I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. (Ian Sample. Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven: It’s a fairy story.’ The Guardian. 15 May 2011)
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, all brilliant men with Ph.D’s, lots of books to their credit, and hardcore atheists who not only believe there is no afterlife, but are evangelists trying to convince you and me to join their flock.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died. He had been in the grave for four days when Jesus arrived at Bethany. Martha was upset that Jesus hadn’t been there to heal Lazarus before he died. Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23) Martha knew that Lazarus would rise again at the resurrection on the last day. Jesus said,
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV)
The Shepherd gives His sheep eternal life. We need to realize that “eternal life” is a gift. It is not something you and I have earned, it’s not something we work to maintain, it is a gift. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV)
Jesus’ Sheep Shall Never Perish
The second provision of the Shepherd for His sheep is that they will “never perish.” In the Greek New Testament this phrase is emphatic and literally reads, “They shall by no means ever perish.” Isn’t it good to know that regardless of what happens in your life, if you belong to the Good Shepherd, you will never perish. Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City once said, “If it were possible for us to lose our salvation, then we most certainly would, every single one of us.”
I can’t stress this truth enough. “…Your life is hidden in Christ.” (Colossians 3:3) In the years I’ve been a pastor I’ve known many people who’ve lost all kinds of things. I’ve known folks who have lost their jobs, their marriages, I’ve known people who have lost a child, their home, their life savings, and I’ve known people who have lost their minds and their life, but if God’s Word is true, and I know that it is, you and I can’t lose what we’ve gained in Christ.
Jesus’ Sheep are Secure in the Hands of the Father and the Good Shepherd
That leads me to the final provision of the Shepherd for His sheep. In verse 28, Jesus said, “…no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28 NIV) If that were not enough, in the very next verse, Jesus said,
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:29 NIV)
Can you close your eyes and get a visual of what we’ve just learned? You, as a precious sheep of the Good Shepherd, are secure in His hands. It would be enough for us if we were secure in our Savior’s nail scarred hands would it not? Don’t you remember what He said in John 6:39? Let me refresh your memory.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. (John 6:39 NIV)
It is the Father’s will that Jesus lose none of those the Father has given Him. There’s not a power in the Universe that can pry you from those nail scarred hands my friend. He’s more than enough, but Jesus tells us that we are also secure in His Father’s hands. Those who talk about losing our salvation speak as if we can maintain our salvation. Our very life, each and every breath, every fiber of our being is a gift from our Father’s hands. You can’t lose what you didn’t earn.
We are so use to projecting what we’ve experienced in our human relationships onto our relationship with God. We have an anthropocentric worldview, an understanding that places people as the paradigm and pattern when what we desperately need is a theocentric worldview, an understanding that sees everything through the lens of God’s character and ways. He is not like us. In Isaiah 49:15-16 we read,
15 “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 not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. (Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV)
Can a mom ever turn away from her precious little child? Sentimentality would lead you to say, “No way!” but reality forces us to say, “Absolutely!” Do you see from this passage how God is so very different from us? If you belong to Jesus it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter what you are currently doing, it doesn’t matter how desperately you will fail to live the life He has called you to live in the future–God won’t turn away from His own; He has “engraved you on the palms on His hands.” Some people are shuddering right now as they listened to me say, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you are doing, or how you will fail in the future.” They think I’m suggesting that the grace of God is to be taken advantage of; that we can live however we want to live because we have a get-out-of-jail-free card. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that God’s grace is greater than all of our sin and the more you come to understand God’s indescribable grace and mercy the more you will despise and want to turn away from your own sin. Tim Keller put it this way.
Nobody who understands the grace of God would ever take sin lightly. The more you deal with the free grace of God, the more you work it into your heart. The more you understand this, the more you understand that your salvation has nothing to do with your behavior. The more that will change your behavior, the more radically it will change your behavior. (Tim Keller)
The old doctrine of the security of the believer is such a comfort to God’s people who recognize that their security has nothing to do with their performance, but it has everything to do with their Father’s eternal grip of grace. The more I learn, the more intimately familiar I become with my Father’s love for me, the more I want to serve Him with every fiber of my being.
How about you? Those who have never surrendered your life to Jesus, I know you hear the Shepherd calling your name this morning. He wouldn’t have brought you here this morning for any other reason. Are you listening? Do you recognize His voice? He has a love for you that will never let you go, never ever let you go? Won’t you open the door of your heart and let Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 16, 2015