Sermon: The Velvet Tight Grip of Jesus
Scripture: John 10:22-30
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: May 12, 201
Once upon a time, a fierce Greek commander become known as Alexander the Great who eventually became ruler of a territory that extended from Greece, South into Egypt and spread East through Palestine, Mesopotamia and into India. When he died at the age of 32 some three hundred years before Jesus was born, four his is leading generals divvied-up his conquered lands into four sections: Egypt, Greece, what we call the Middle East today, and India. The general who took command of the areas of Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran was Seleucus who founded what is known as the Seleucid Empire.
In 174 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes became the brutal king in this family lineage of monarchs in the area and is the one who set up a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem that caused the great Jewish revolt by the Jewish family known as the Maccabees. In 164, the Jews retook control of the Holy City Jerusalem, immediately went to the Temple and destroyed the statue of Zeus. The Jews began a rebuilding program for the Temple and removed stone by stone all the building materials used for the alter in the Temple and replaced them with fresh hewn stones that were not defiled by the presence of the Greek god. The Jewish people celebrated for eight nights in a row a dedication ceremony for the new alter and refurbished and purified Temple. This is called the Feast of Dedication, or as we perhaps know it better, the Festival of Hanukkah. Palestine was fully liberated in the 140’s and now for the first time in several hundred years the Jews began to operate as an independent nation for some 80 years until the time they invited the Roman mercenaries in to come and help establish peace in a growing world of turmoil.
Why say all this? Because it helps us better understand the Story in John today. Stories do not and are not recorded in a vacuum. Authors of stories choose and weigh all the words he or she uses. In good writing, there are no wasted words and John’s description in John 10.22 and following are a good example of this. Up to this point in the John’s gospel, a Jesus has healed a blind man on the Sabbath which has raised the ire of the religious officials. We find Jesus in a conversation with various Jewish folks who are upset with his work on the Sabbath and Jesus begins to talk about being the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus goes on to describe what a good shepherd is and what the good shepherd does. If you were a Jewish religious leader of the day, you would be fully aware that Jesus was holding Ezekiel 34 in his mind which is a diatribe against the false shepherds of Israel, i.e. the corrupt religious officials of the system. We pick up in verse 22. Listen to the words of the Lord and make special notice of how John places Jesus in a very particular context.
22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ 25Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.’
Let’s make sure we get the full image. It’s December and the Jews are celebrating the Festival of Hanukkah which is a celebration of victory and redemption from the hands of the oppressors. It is a time when the Jews remembered how God swept out the corrupt Seleucid leaders and replaced them with a period of peace and stability as a bona fide independent nation for the first time in centuries. In many ways, it’s their Fourth of July!
John the author has placed Jesus teaching in Solomon’s Portico adjacent to the Temple. This is the place where the former kings of Judah and Israel would hold court and make judgements for the people, kings like Solomon of old.
Furthermore, Jesus is comparing how the current religious system is defiling the purpose of God; the Temple needs a new cleansing and dedication. It has replaced God’s Law of Grace with the Law of Compliance to rules. The people are looking for the new Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule as Judas Maccabeus liberated the Jews from the Seleucids some 150 years earlier. They press Jesus, “So, are you the Messiah? Are you the new Judas Maccabeus who will lead us to victory and liberation from Roman rule and tyranny?”
This is one of those times in history where people were excelling in missing the point of what was going on around them. They were looking for temporal salvation from the Romans. Jesus was offering salvation that had eternal consequences. The people wanted a warrior leader. Jesus was offering them something more profound: The Good Shepherd who intimately knows his little flock. The people were looking for a human being to be Messiah, Liberator for them and their country. Jesus is declaring that God himself is leading the people from Solomon’s portico and his leading is like the faithful shepherd who knows the needs of the flock.
It is helpful to remember that sheep are not the brightest bulbs in the box. They have poor eyesight. They’re not too bright and have a herd mentality that they’ll go following other sheep blindly. They’re dirty and smelly. But, they have good hearing. They listen out for the shepherd’s voice to lead them in the direction they are to travel. They may not see the shepherd well but they know the tone and tenor of his or her voice. They will follow that voice for nourishment, for safety and shelter, and for the care of their daily needs.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd is reminding the people that when they hear his voice, they are hearing the voice of God. He is saying that as the Good Shepherd, he will watch out for all those who respond to his voice. He will protect them with a velvet hand of love. Jesus the Good Shepherd promises that no one, no thing, no circumstance or situation, can pluck them away from the protection, care, and love of God.
Beloved, are you able to hear the words of liberation and celebration from the mouth of Jesus the Good Shepherd? What continues to hold you through worry, doubt, addiction or despair, preventing you from entering into a new eternal life this moment? Jesus reminds us in verse 28 that eternal life is a present reality and that those who hear the Shepherd’s voice will experience a peace and quality of life right this moment they have not yet experienced and neither shall they not be snatched away from the Presence of God the Father. Our Lord calls us from the courts of the King and bids us follow him into new life, Easter life, because he is risen…and he knows us by name! Let’s come to the Table to be fed by the strong velvet hands of the Good Shepherd! Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
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