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Two Kinds of Incapable


John 10:22-31
June 21, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 15:00 in the audio file.



I am still surprised, and sometimes disturbed, when I read or watch people who seem to consistently misread, misunderstand, and misrepresent the facts/data before them. The last few months have surfaced many problems and just as many stories to explain them.

We must remember that there will always be at least two narratives, two angles, and two kinds of incapable. One type of person is incapable of seeing the light, the other type of person is incapable of seeing without the light. Some will see evidence that demands a verdict, others will see verdicts that deny the evidence. If it is true with what is clear, of course it is true with what is confusing or complex.

John 10:22-31 provides a perfect case study on the antithesis between the two narratives.

The Setting

We’re almost at the end of three years of Jesus’ public traveling, preaching, miracle working, and confronting.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)

This answers the where and the when. The “where” was the temple, in particular the colonnade of Solomon which was a row of columns supporting a roof, located on the east side of the temple overlooking the Kidron Valley. It would have provided a bit of shelter during bad weather. (We read about the same location in Acts 3:11 and 5:12 when the apostles preached there.)

The “when” was the Feast of Dedication. The “Feast of Dedication” was not established by the OT. It is connected with an inter-testamental event, namely that in 167 BC Antiochus Epiphanes ransacked Jerusalem and polluted the temple. During this time it was a capital offense to possess a copy of the law or to circumcise a son. Within a few years the Jews grew strong enough to revolt and under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus they recaptured the temple on 25 Kislev (December) 164 BC.

The people celebrated the rededication of the temple for eight days, and it was decreed that a similar eight day feast of dedication was to be held every year. This is Hanukkah. It was also called the Feast of Lights because of the lighting of lamps not only in the temple but in individual homes.

This is probably two months after verse 21, since the events from 7:1-10:21 took place around the Feast of Booths at the end of October. This is the last time we see Jesus in Jerusalem before His return for Passover in the spring when He will be killed.

It is ironic that the very Feast the Jews were celebrating was part of their story. They were awaiting the fulfillment of temple worship, the Messiah, but they missed the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the feast. Their story involved national and political deliverance so that life would be better. God’s story was of deliverance from sin so to eternal life as a gift for His Son. Their story was close, but they misunderstood God’s story.

The Question

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.” (John 10:24)

I think the so is an interesting way to begin the verse. It’s a “therefore.” Because Jesus was walking in the temple the Jews gathered around Him. The idea of gathered is that they circled around Him, they cornered Him. It’s like they see their opportunity, because there is no mention of any crowds. For that matter, even the disciples aren’t mentioned though it’s likely they were near. Now the Jews can have it out with Him without a friendly multitude to protect Him.

And they demand an answer from Him. We get the idea that they were ready to take immediate, decisive, and hostile action against Jesus depending on His answer (especially since in verse 31 they take up stones to stone Him).

The Answer

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, but you do not believe because you are not part of my sheep. (John 10:25-26)

For all the building of suspense Jesus says, “I already told you.” They came looking for a fight and Jesus says they should know better. And notice Jesus’ explanation of their unbelief in verse 26. It’s not “You are not part of my sheep because you don’t believe.” It’s the exact opposite cause and effect. You do not believe because you are not part of My sheep.

I think this is actually the point of this paragraph. There is more to it, but the primary significance is that Jesus is explaining why some don’t believe the story. Recognizing who Jesus is is not something available to all, but only to the sheep.

Then in verses 27-30 Jesus contrasts those who are not His sheep with those who are.

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. (John 10:27-29)

Jesus’ identity is self-authenticating when the sheep hear His voice. They have no doubt about who He is. This is a great picture, and more of it is detailed at the beginning of the chapter. But the idea is probably of a pen owned by a few families, some distance from their houses. These families would share the cost of the pen and the duties of watching the sheep by putting their different flocks together. The picture is of the shepherd coming to the pen and knowing his sheep and his sheep knowing him. They have a relationship. More than that, the sheep are His before He calls.

And the story of the Good Shepherd and His sheep includes eternal security. Of course, the very idea of eternal life means that it must be secure; eternal life does not end. But the key to security is not our hold of Christ but His hold of us.

The fact of their security is made in verse 28, no one will snatch them out of my hand. The certainty of their security is described in verse 29, no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

The sheep did nothing to earn their eternal life, nor can they do something to lose it. The certainty of the sheep’s salvation is entirely dependent on something outside of themselves, or rather Someone. Jesus does not fail in His eternal mission. His assignment was to save (and preserve) all those given to Him by the Father.

I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)

The mission of the Son is part of the plan of the Father.

And, don’t forget the response of the Jews in verses 31-39, as they picked up stones to stone Him. They didn’t like His story.

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. (John 10:31)

Calvinism as a Nickname for the Good Story

Let me make four observations about the relationship between the Shepherd and His Sheep.

First, the sheep are chosen by the Father for the Shepherd. The Father chose them, elected them. John 10:29, “My Father who has given them to me.” This is an arranged marriage between the Son and His bride, the church.

Second, the sheep are delivered by the death of the Shepherd. John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Verse 15, “I lay my life down for the sheep.” His sacrifice was specific. It was not for someone else’s sheep or for the goats or the thieves. Jesus agreed to His part of the covenant on behalf of those chosen by the Father for Him.

Third, the sheep are drawn by the Spirit to follow the Shepherd. True, the Spirit isn’t mentioned specifically in John 10, but look at the phrase, “My sheep hear My voice.” How is that possible? Look back at John 6:37: “All that the Father gives to me will come to me.” Then look in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” We know from the rest of the NT that the Father sends the Spirit to do His drawing. Perhaps Jesus doesn’t mention the Spirit yet because the Spirit hadn’t come yet. But this is the promise of the New Covenant, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey My rules” (Ezekiel 36:27). The third person of the Trinity has a crucial role as well.

Fourth, the sheep are kept by the power of the Shepherd. Of course this is in perfect union with the Father, and for that matter, it is practically worked out through the Spirit.

Now if we could add one more observation at the beginning you may recognize a pattern. Perhaps if we added something like: the sheep are totally depraved without the Shepherd. Do you see the pattern? It’s the Five Points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. This is the story; this is the gospel, and Calvinism is just a nickname. But the emphasis is on God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, saving sinners for God’s glory.

Some people suggest that even if this is all true, it’s not really that beneficial. But Jesus didn’t think it was unhelpful. In fact, Jesus taught this to unbelievers, and hostile unbelievers at that.

God promises eternal life to His elect. He brings His elect to faith through knowledge of the truth. And He brings knowledge of truth through the preaching of His Word. The good story is not just good information, the good story itself is effective to save people.

Conclusion

To anyone telling a story about the world without Jesus at the center: the gospel of John was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name. Of course, we know that if you do believe that is because you have been chosen by the Father in eternity past not because you are valuable, but because His Son is valuable. And if you believe, you can know that the Son laid down His life for yours and the Spirit effectually called you to this eternal life in the gospel. You can be saved, but your salvation is part of something much bigger than you.

And, believers, remember that we will have contact with many who see Jesus and see His ministry and His miracles and His teaching in Scripture who will not believe. But this is no surprise to God, nor should it be to us. The reason for their unbelief is either because God hasn’t called them yet or because are not one of His sheep. Of course, we don’t know what He knows so we just keep proclaiming the gospel anyway. But His sheep know Him, they know His voice, and they follow Him.

The eternal and infinite love of the Father for the Son is not one of many good stories. It is the only story, whether people embrace it or not, and it is the only good story, good in it’s provision of eternal life for us and glorious as it reveals the infinite love of the Trinity. Our responsibility is to announce to our culture with the only life giving story of the Gospel as a framework for all existence.

Don’t be surprised when what seems so clear to you is not so clear to those who refuse to hear Christ.

This is His amazing story. We’re to be busy proclaiming this story while waiting for the next chapter, “Come, Lord Jesus!”


Charge

Armed with the true narrative, you will engage those who hate you because of it. Do you want to be effective in getting the message across? One way is not to be afraid. Opponents lose their minds when they can’t get in your mind. Remember, no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand. So live in your salvation.

Benediction:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. (Philippians 1:27–29, ESV)