Dear radio friends,
Today we are going to consider an event that took place during the earthly ministry of Christ. It was an open and hostile confrontation of Christ by the Jewish leaders.
We read of this event in John 10:24-31. “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”
Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were more open in their hostility toward Jesus than were the people in Galilee. The people in Galilee simply turned away and no longer followed after Jesus. They did not believe on Him, so they left Him. But in Jerusalem, the Jews were out to kill Him.
When Jesus was in Jerusalem several months earlier, they had, in their anger, tried to stone Him. The Feast of Dedication was a feast that Judas Maccabeus had proclaimed after reclaiming and cleansing the Temple after the ruination of it by Antiochus Epiphanes. The feast lasted eight days. And it was during one of these days that Jesus, once again, had a confrontation with the leaders of the Jews. We are told in verse 24, “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Now, we must appreciate what was happening here. The last time, Jesus had slipped out of their grasp. He had disappeared somehow, and they were unable to stone Him as they had tried. This time, the Jews were determined that this would not happen. They surrounded Him—that is, they cut off all means of escape. And they cut off Jesus from all possible contact with any of the people that might still be sympathetic to His teachings. The Jews, that is, the Jewish leaders, and the Temple guards surrounded Jesus. He stood alone in the middle of them. It is then that they put the demand before Him one more time: How long do you make us doubt? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.
The anger of the Jewish leaders was crackling in this demand. Their question charged Jesus with an attempt to delude them. They made the charge that Jesus was not being fair with them, but was evading the main question, Are you the Messiah? Tell us. Why is it that you leave us in doubt as to who you are. Tell us plainly, with openness, if you are the Messiah that has been promised to the nation of Israel these many years. And, right here and now! Are you the Christ? Are you the Messiah?
Now, of course, these men asked this question not because they were truly confused on this matter and needed to have it straight in their minds. It was not as if they were sincerely seeking to understand Christ in order that they might, perhaps, believe on Him. They wanted a reason to kill Him. If He told them outright that He was the Messiah, they would accuse Him of blasphemy, and then the stones would fly again.
So the Jews stood around Jesus in order to kill Him in an instant. They surrounded Him in order that He might not get away. And they waited for His answer.
Jesus gave it to them very plainly. We read in verse 25: “Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” Jesus is telling them here exactly what they asked. He is not sidestepping the question. He is right to the point: “I told you. I have already identified Myself to you. You act as if you are still confused and wondering. You act as if I have been trying to be clever and avoid coming out and saying that I am the Christ. But I told you that I am He. Why do I now get this question thrown back at Me again?”
It is obvious, too, from Scripture, that Christ had told them this before. Already in the early part of His ministry, after healing the lame man by the pool of Bethesda, He told the Jews of Himself, and already then He plainly pointed it out. A little later on, in His discourse in John 8, the whole chapter centered in the fact that He was the Messiah, and that as the Messiah He was the Son of God.
So, plainly, Christ had come out with the claim that He was the Christ. It was exactly this that had prompted the Jews repeatedly to take His life. The truth had been told. Besides, Christ also calls attention, in this passage here inJohn 10, to the miracles He had performed. “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me” (v. 25). Who but the Messiah had the power to heal the sick, and cast out devils, or feed 5,000 people at one time, or command the winds and the waves to obey Him, or to raise people from the dead to life again? All of these works testified of the fact that Jesus was the divine Son of God, who had been sent by God into this world as the promised Messiah.
It was obvious. If there is any confusion, it was caused only by the Jewish leaders’ own unbelief. They saw. They heard. The proof was irrefutable. Jesus was the Christ. But their own unbelief stood in the way of accepting the fact that this Jesus was the Savior who was come into the world. So Jesus tells them very plainly, “I told you,” which in essence means, “Yes, I am the Christ.”
But again, Jesus reminds the Jews of a couple of fundamental truths concerning the Messiah that they refused to acknowledge or believe. The Jews believed that the Messiah was going to be a man, a mere man, howbeit a great man, a man who would establish the rule of the Jews. They were not looking for a Messiah who was God Himself come into the flesh. Neither were they looking for anything more than an earthly deliverance from their enemies. They were not looking for this Messiah to come in order to save them from their sins. Of course. The work-righteousness of the Pharisees did not allow for this conception of the Messiah. They did not need to be saved from sin. They had the law of Moses, and they kept those laws. Besides, they could trace their lineage back to Abraham. They were good Jews, born unto salvation by means of their earthly ties to Abraham. They did not need the Christ to deliver from sin. They needed a Messiah who could establish them as an earthly kingdom once again in this world, a kingdom that would rule over all the other kingdoms of the earth.
So it is, in this passage, that Christ reveals unto these Jews the purpose for the coming of the Messiah. Notice in verse 27 and in the first part of 28: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life.” Christ tells these men who surrounded Him now, that He was come into this world as the Messiah to give eternal life. He was not interested in an earthly kingdom. He was not interested in restoring an earthly kingdom to the Jews. His function, as the Messiah, was eternal in its purpose. Jesus came to give His people a life that far transcends the earthly. He had come to give eternal life, life in an eternal kingdom.
The Jews should have thought upon their own sin and the consequences due them. Unbelief, however, does not do that. Only faith does.
Today, dear listeners, we look upon ourselves, and we ask ourselves the question: What kind of Christ do we seek? One who will make us feel good about ourselves? One who will come and establish some kind of an earthly kingdom? Or one who comes to save us from sin?
You realize that sin is a horrible matter. Sin makes us guilty before God, for by it we offend God’s most high majesty. And God, in His justice, will not allow sin to go unpunished. He punishes it temporally, but He also punishes it eternally. The sentence that He hands down is that of death. The whole human race, having fallen in Adam, is guilty of sin and therefore must receive the death penalty on account of sin. And that death penalty is eternal death.
How is it that we can escape this death? Certainly not by means of our keeping of laws and traditions. Certainly not by performing good works in order to merit our righteousness before God. The one and only way to escape eternal death is to have someone make payment for our sin, to take away that guilt. And that is the purpose or the function of the Messiah. By His death, by suffering the wrath of God against our sin, He paid the price for our sin. And in that way, Christ satisfied God’s justice, taking away the cause of death. Christ now gives to His people life, life in the presence of God, eternal life. That was why He came into this world.
But it is exactly that that the Jews did not want. They saw no need for such salvation. In fact, when Christ now again, as in the past, reminds them of this, they became vehemently angry with Him. That is why we asked the question, What do we expect of our Christ? What kind of a Christ do we want? If it is one who comes to save sinners from their sins, then we will believe on this Jesus. If it is not, then we will become vehemently angry when we are told that that is the kind of Savior we need.
But this also would imply the truth that Christ is divine. That truth concerning Christ rubbed the Jews raw. They did not like that. Christ made the same claim again to them in this discourse (v. 30), “I and my Father are one.” This truth of Christ lay at the very heart of everything that Christ was now telling these men; it lay at the very heart of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To men, to all men, the Messiah must be divine. He must be the Son of God. A mere man could not perform the work of the Messiah or of the Christ. As the anointed of God, Christ must bear the burden of God’s wrath. And no mere man can do that. God’s wrath is eternal in nature; so must also be the payment of sin. The Messiah had to be the Son of God. So Christ says, “My Father and I are one.” And notice in this passage how Christ calls God His Father repeatedly. He is the natural-born Son of God.
But that bothered the Jews so. Why? Because they did not want a Messiah who was divine. They wanted simply a great man who could accomplish a man’s work. And so, when Jesus told them that He was divine, they felt that Jesus was haughty and proud, and therefore a blasphemer, taking on a title that no man deserves to take on himself. Unbelief does not understand Christ. It turns a hardened heart to Him and to who He really is. Therefore the Jews stubbornly rejected Christ.
This rejection did not take place until first Christ revealed to them the most blessed of all truths—the work of preservation. We read of this beautiful truth in verses 27-29: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
These words have become the source of greatest joy and comfort in the lives of God’s people. We are Christ’s sheep. He is the good Shepherd who cares for His flock of sheep. We are the sheep who belong to His pasture and His sheepfold. Christ said earlier in this chapter that He lays down His life for these sheep. He lays that life down in order that He might give to them eternal life. These sheep, Jesus informs us in verse 29, have been given to Him of His Father.
Now all of this is very telling. This teaches us that Christ’s flock is made up of a predetermined number of sheep—a number chosen by God and specifically given by Him to Christ. It is not as if Christ does not know who His sheep are. He does. He knows every one of them by name. They are exactly those people whom God had given to Him from eternity, who were chosen by God unto eternal life. That is why their salvation is so sure. That is why they are preserved. They belong to God from eternity. He has chosen each one of His sheep—each one of His people—in Christ in His eternal plan for all things. Before time began, before the foundations of the earth were laid, God chose for Himself a certain people in Christ. And their end is eternal life. These God, in turn, gave to Christ. And Christ went to the death of the cross for these sheep. He died for them. And, in having died for them, He gives to them, and to them only, eternal life.
These sheep believe on Christ. They know the voice of their good Shepherd. They hear Him. They love Him. They follow after Him. And that is faith. It is knowing Christ, trusting that He alone can give eternal life, and, therefore, coming to Him and following Him.
But, again, this faith is not something that every person has innately in himself, something that he must exercise before becoming one of Christ’s sheep. On the contrary, only those who are chosen by God in eternity, irresistibly drawn by the Spirit to Jesus Christ, are those who as a result believe. These have faith.
Christ emphasizes this truth when, in verse 26, He says: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” There you have it. There is the truth, the truth of God’s Word. They were not of His sheep. Now, notice, He did not say there, “Because you don’t believe, you’re not of my sheep.” He says, “You do not believe because you are not one of my sheep.” Unbelief is that which stumbles over Christ, the Messiah; it stumbles over the cross; it stumbles over the need for salvation from sin. And those who stumble are indeed those whom God has appointed to stumble (I Pet. 2:7, 8). Even that is not left up for grabs, you realize. Those chosen by God from eternity are His sheep. And these will exhibit faith. They will follow Jesus Christ. But others God has appointed in eternity to stumble at the cross of Jesus Christ. These men are not Christ’s sheep. They were not given to Him from eternity. And, therefore, they do not believe. They cannot believe.
It is for that reason that these Jewish leaders took on this threatening stance before Jesus when He said that. Their hearts were hardened. They knew that Christ had plainly told them already that He was the Messiah. They simply did not want that. And it was for that reason that they picked up stones and were going to stone Jesus to death. Again, as before, three times now, they tried in their anger to kill Jesus. So sharp and bitter was that anger toward Him. Because He was in fact the Christ. They wanted blood. Christ was despised and rejected of these men. The threat of Christ being killed was real. Everyone knew it.
But those who are chosen by God from eternity, He now also irresistibly draws to Christ. They hear Christ, the good Shepherd, through the preaching. The Spirit works in their hearts. When they hear that call to faith and repentance, they repent of their sins and are drawn unto Jesus Christ unto salvation. Because God chose them, they believe. And Christ gives to these sheep alone eternal life.
That, then, is the most amazing truth of all. No one is able to pluck these sheep out of the hand of Jesus Christ. And no one is able to pluck these sheep out of God’s hand. Those whom Christ saves, those for whom Christ died, will never perish. Every person for whom Christ died is saved. Every person for whom Christ died believes. And every person for whom Christ died will be preserved unto eternal life. No doubt about it. God has chosen His people from eternity. He has viewed them in Christ. And since these saints belong to the sheepfold of Christ, no man, no devil, no circumstance of life will be able to pluck any of them from God’s hand. Because Christ is God, and no one can pluck them from God’s hand.
That is the blessed truth of the preservation of the saints. You know, the preservation of the saints is not merely a matter of theological dispute that is carried on with those who believe that a person can fall away from faith. We are not interested in carrying on that debate right now. This is a truth that is vital to the comfort and joy of the child of God. If I thought for a moment that I could be a child of God today and then, a week from now, not be; if I thought that this was all up to me, I would despair. I truly would. In fact, I would give up, because I know I would fail. I know my heart well enough. I see so much sin in me. I am a sheep. A sheep loves to wander and stray from the sheepfold. And that is exactly what I would do if it were left up to me. I know myself well enough. I see nothing in me to brag about spiritually. If left on my own, I would walk straight into sin and never turn back.
But God, through Christ, in His grace preserves me. He holds me in His mighty hand. And even though I stumble around in my weakness, He holds on to me and He will not suffer my foot to be moved.
I need to know that. I look at my heart and, oh, how I need to know that God will not let me go. I may lose, for a time, the assurance of the faith, but I will not ever lose faith, that work of God whereby He has inseparably bound me to Jesus Christ as one. Faith is a gift of God. God gives it and God preserves it in His people. We shall never perish. No man is able to remove us from the hand of the God who has saved us.
Our reaction, therefore, to Christ the Messiah, who has come to save from sin and to give to us eternal life, is this: Thanks be to God. We thank Him for removing our unbelief. We thank Him for making us to know Christ.
May God give to us, those chosen from eternity, saved in the blood of Christ, may God give to us steadfastness in the faith, that we might ever, as Christ’s sheep, follow Him.
Let us pray together.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee that we are chosen by Thee, saved in the blood of Christ, and, therefore, held in Thy almighty hand, so that nobody will be able to pluck us out of Thy hand. What great assurance we receive, and need every day of our lives. Wilt Thou continue to guide us now by Thy Word, that we might receive assurance from that Word, and that we might go forth as Thy sheep. Hear our prayer, Father. For Jesus’ sake we pray these things, Amen.