By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 12, 2019
John 10:22–30 (ESV)
I and the Father Are One
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 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.” 25 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, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Whenever I read a passage of scripture, I find it fascinating. At times the fascination is something within the passage that I have not noticed before. At other times I am fascinated because God showed me something that either I have overlooked or those that taught me have overlooked for decades. Then there are the times I just sit and imagine the scene that is set there, and I just get caught up in it.
Today we meet Jesus in Jerusalem, this is before his trial and the days leading up to that. This is in the winter. The past few weeks during our Wednesday bible study we have been discussing a series called The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi, this series is by Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel. While listening and discussing this series we have engaged some things that we do not normally encounter, simply because we are not Jewish. Rabbi Sobel is a Messianic Jew, he grew up in a Jewish family and he knows the traditions and history behind the various travels of Jesus. In the first session we started with the birth of Christ, so there was a discussion over the actual day of Christmas. To be honest I am no closer to knowing the actual day Jesus was born than I was before, but in the course of that discussion Hanukah was mentioned.
While I was growing up, we did not discuss Hanukah, and when it was mentioned I was told its Jewish Christmas. For a while I accepted this and did not think anything about it, because as far as I knew it was not mentioned in scripture. Well it is mentioned, and today’s passage tells us that Jesus celebrated Hanukah, because it is a celebration and feast in remembrance to the rededication of the temple of God. The actual rededication of the temple is not mentioned in our bibles, but it can be found in first and second Maccabees, which is one of the books of the Apocrypha. The celebration is in remembrance of the miracle where the sacred oil that should have only lasted one day lasted long enough for the blessing of more oil. This is a simplified explanation, but the reason this is important was because after the rebuilding of the temple the Hellenistic overlords after the campaigns and death of Alexander the Great, wanted to force the Jewish people to submit. And they decided that to do this all Gods should be worshiped in the temple. They brought a swine into the temple and offered it as a sacrifice on the alter. This was called the abomination that causes desolation. This act rendered the temple unholy, so from that moment on the Jewish people whose faith revolved around the temple could not be assured of God’s favor. But some priests in saved some oil and were able to get that sanctified oil safely out of the temple so that it was not desecrated with the rest of the temple. This oil was to be used in the sacred lampstand, the menorah, which represented the eternal light of God present in that place. There was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning for the time required to rededicate and purify the temple, but the priest decided they would act in faith and proceed with the dedication, trusting that God would provide. God did provide, and this dedication of the temple inspired the nation to fight for their independence which they won.
Jesus celebrated this feast, the feast of dedication. He celebrated this feast at that very temple. I encourage you all to look into the celebration of Hanukah it is a beautiful celebration, one that lasts eight days. I encourage this because there is something of value to it. The light burned for the necessary time because God provided. In the darkest days, when hope was nearly extinguished the light remained.
Light is a powerful symbol. In most traditions of faith there is a place for light and fire. Even our own tradition which strips away most meaning from physical symbols, uses the mysterious term inner light. Light represented the presence of God, it represents knowledge and wisdom, that we are not alone. In our world of electric lights, we do not quite grasp the fear of the dark that many in the ancient world had. We do not understand because it is rarely dark now. We have night lights in the rooms of children so they can see the path to their parents’ room. We can yell at Alexia or Google and our smart light fixtures will turn on and if we are tech savvy, we can program music and our thermostat to adjust along with it. But in those ancient days the only light that they would have would come from a small oil lamp. That single flicker of light in the darkness, is enough to calm a startled heart. Light is powerful.
Jesus is at the temple celebrating the feast of dedication. He is walking among the people that winter day, looking at the temple, which is larger than an NFL Football Stadium, walking around in the complex that can surrounds it. And we are told he is walking in the colonnade of Solomon. The temple itself was built to the exact dimensions recorded in scripture, but when Herod renovated the complex, he extended the court of the gentiles to the west. The eastern wall where Solomon’s porch was located remained in the same position that the eastern wall had always been. Jesus walked along this area. This covered area that was originally built for the king to enter the temple grounds without facing the elements. Some believe that this portion of the temple complex was the only remaining remnant of the original temple. When the temple was rebuilt and remodeled, they surrounded the entire complex with these covered walkways, and within these porches or colonnades the various teachers would teach. I do not know if there is any special significance to this colonnade, but we do know that it became the place of meeting for the early church prior to the destruction of the temple.
Jesus is walking to the temple during the feast of dedication, he is walking in the Colonnade of Solomon the king of Israel known for his great wisdom. He is walking the pathway the kings of Israel would have walked into the temple, and he is walking among the Jewish teachers and those wishing to gain God’s holy wisdom. The image this first couple of verses has is astounding. He is walking and those around begin to ask questions. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ tell us plainly.” They say. I want us to just sit with this image in our mind. The Jerusalem temple complex is probably the greatest religious complex ever built by mankind. The greatest scholars gather in these colonnades every day to teach those that want to learn, daily. And on that day, a day dedicated to celebrating the temple Jesus is asked of these things, while he walk through the porch the kings once walked.
“Are you the one?” they ask, “will you just tell us plainly.” Jesus responds, “I told you and you didn’t believe, I showed you and you did not believe.” Imagine hearing this. Did they miss something? Jesus then goes on, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”
These people are not common people out in the Galilean countryside, they are the ones at the temple. These are the devoted faithful members of society. These are the religious elites, and Jesus looks at them and said you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. Jesus is telling them straight up that if he is the messiah, they are walking the wrong path. If he is the Christ, then they are following the wrong shepherd. If he is the one, they claim to be looking for then they are looking in the wrong place, because his teaching and his lifestyle should show them exactly what they need to know. His sheep know his voice.
As I considered this passage this week, I thought a great deal about Hanukah and the significance of that celebration. I thought about the temple and the words that Jesus spoke, and I thought about my mom, because it is Mother’s Day. And then I thought why on earth did the lectionary put a Hanukah passage during Mother’s Day. I thought maybe I would teach on one of the other passages, but the Acts passage in the lectionary is about a lady dying and I really did not want to talk about that either. But I got to thinking the relationships we celebrate this day. I know that for some of us our relationship with our mother may have been stained. I know that for many of us our mothers are no longer with us. For some of us we had wonderful mothers and they live far away. I know some of us have not been blessed to be mothers, and others might like some time off from that blessing. But there is a unique relationship the feminine aspect of humanity brings to us that should be celebrated. One that often resembles a flickering light at night.
Jesus told them that his sheep hear his voice, that he knows them, and they follow. There is a security in that voice, a peace. Just last evening Albert tripped while playing and scrapped his arm along some bricks. He came running into the house looking for only one person, mom. He sat with mom and cried. There are those people we go to when we are hurting, when we are scared, or do not know what to do next. They are safe and provide reassurance like no one else can. That first person is often mom. I am a lucky one, because my mom was and is that safe place. I know I can tell my mom anything and she will listen and encourage. Now that I am an adult, she does not always have advice to give because my course in life is different than the course my parents took, but she listens, and she encourages. And I know she wishes her son would let her listen more, but I just do not talk much. My mom is encouraging to me because she points me back to Christ.
Twenty years ago, I was a scared kid with a secret. I sat in my bed not knowing what to do, I thought I had brought shame upon my family. I came to my mom confessing that I had gotten my girlfriend pregnant. That day was the hardest day of my life, but I could not sleep until I told my mom. My mom’s reaction that day has more to do with why I am standing here than anything else. She did not yell, she did not scream, she did not belittle or condemn me at that moment. She looked in my eyes and she saw the fear and she cried with me and gave me a hug. She loved me even though I felt as if I should be rejected. She brought me in she made sure I knew that I was loved before she did anything else. She showed me Christ. She provided a place of comfort, security, and acceptance no different than when my wife held Albert while he was hurting last night. My mother empowered me to move forward, she encouraged me to stand strong and to face the challenge set before me. Were there cross words, absolutely, but all were deserved and spoken in a context of acceptance.
Jesus said to those around him that day that they do not believe because they are not among his sheep. Do you recognize just how heavy those words are? Here they are sitting in the colonnade of Solomon on the eastern wall of the temple during a feast celebrating God’s miracle and Jesus is telling them they do not believe because they are not among his sheep. They are unable to see the hand of God when Jesus heals, even when they are celebrating a feast to remember God’s hand providing. They were unable to hear the voice of God even when they were listening to his teaching. They were unable to see or hear the truth because they were not among the sheep. Which leads to a question who where they among?
Looking at this passage we can determine that having the proper belief does not determine salvation. Participation in religious activities also does not determine our place with God. It is hearing his voice, knowing him, and following. I say this as someone that loves religion. I am someone that loves theology. I love knowing and deepening my knowledge. Yet this means nothing if I do not listen, know the voice, and follow.
Jesus is saying, like he says so often, that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is right here all around you if we would turn, repent, or change directions. This was the message he preached throughout his ministry; it is the message that John preached in the Jordan. It is the same message that the prophets of old spoke, and it is the same message that has been spoken by Moses and was given to the Fathers of Israel. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This very prayer said by every person that day and many today is crying out to Israel to listen to the voice of God, and to follow. This is the eternal light celebrated in Hanukah, to trust in the one that can make something out of nothing and bless it. And what does God say to Israel? “’Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I love religion, I love theology, I love spiritual disciplines that can direct people into a more satisfying spiritual life. All of that is just empty if I do not listen, hear, know, and follow him. I could stand here and debate why my faith is true, but if I do not live it out what value does it have. I know many people that had all the right answers, but when I got to know them, I stopped listening because everything they said was empty. When I was in college, I even tried to distance myself from religion wanting instead to be a man of science. I still love science. But that rejection of God and embracing the ways of the world had consequences. That day I confessed to my mom; I saw the truth. “Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That day I saw acceptance and encouragement. I saw someone willing to live out everything they professed. Someone loved even when I failed to meet the expectation.
Jesus walked in the colonnade of Solomon, that winter day, going to celebrate the feast of dedication. The light of the world, when to celebrate the light that persisted. Israel faced darkness at that time, and God provided the light they needed to accomplish the task set before them. We have enough darkness. We have enough people hurting, we have enough rejection, and injustice. We can see the darkness, but what about the light? That day Jesus told Israel that he and the Father were one, of the same substance, equal, they wanted to kill him for that, and they eventually did. But the light persisted.
Do people see the light when they are among us, or do they see shadow? Hear O Israel, listen and know, obey and follow. Are we among the sheep or somewhere else? Hear O Israel. The Lord is my shepherd. We have enough darkness step back and let the light shine. We have enough fear step back and let the shepherd lead. Turn and repent. Love God embrace the holy spirit and live the love of Christ with others. I am here today because someone I was around did just that, are we willing to do the same?