In my former political dabbling and involvements – an activity that was at once interesting and fulfilling along with equal parts of irritating and frustrating – I came across the political intriguer (the clandestine, secretively-plotting personality type). These folks were maddening to those of us attempting to operate a successful political organization. They sure looked and acted like they were running for a particular office, but they would, for whatever current reasons or circumstance, not actually declare themselves to be candidates. Many times, we hoped the folks acting this way were not delusional in thinking they were viable office-holders.
This is essentially what is happening as we continue today in John 10:22ff…
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.”
This is now two months after the previous events recorded in yesterday’s passage. The Festival of Dedication is what we today would know as the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. It celebrated the defeat of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC under the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabeus – where the Temple was purified after the Syrian leader Antiochus offered a pig on the altar in his effort at mandated multiculturalism! So this was a celebration where Jewish nationalistic fervor ran high.
It is now December, and Jesus is in the long colonnade on the east side of the Temple where he is literally surrounded in hostile fashion by Jewish leadership personnel who demand him to plainly declare or not if he is a candidate for the open position of Jewish Messiah. He had been acting like it and talking like it, though clearly these questioners do not believe him to be a viable fulfillment of this expectation. Truth be told – these guys were not interested in “messiahs” who riled up the people, thus riling the Romans, thus threatening their own long-term incumbent and cushy positions of authority and influence (and likely opulence as well).
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. 30 I and the Father are one.”
The response of Jesus is to essentially say, “I don’t have to declare this in the terms you seek, because my actions speak sufficiently that I am from God.” He further restates that their problem with not believing is that they are not his sheep – they were not equipped with spiritual hearts to receive the revealed truth that was standing, talking, and acting before their very eyes. And again, the sheep illustration of hearing and following is referenced, along with the permanent and unassailably secure position every sheep of Jesus’ flock has – for all eternity. And he concludes his answer with the one, over-the-top zinger, “I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
A humorous part of this narrative is lost in English – as the literal translation of “picked up” actually means “to carry.” So these guys didn’t just flip out at that moment and say, “Oh boy, now you’ve messed up, let me look around here for some rocks to throw.” No, they were “packin’ heat” (300 caliber rocks) when they cornered him. Jesus knows that it is his words that anger them, but he point to his miraculous works to ask why they’re doing this …
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
We previously in this series talked about the passage from the Scriptures that was used to justify stoning anyone who claimed to be equal with God. And the answer of Jesus is a bit convoluted and difficult to understand … read it first …
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.
Jesus makes an argument based upon a single word used in Psalm 82 – so understand that this passage is a strong statement by Jesus on the authority of Scripture down to the very words used (not just the concepts or ideas) because he builds his argument on a single word. It was the word “elohim” – which mean “gods” – and was applied in that Psalm to human beings who served in the role of judges. So, if the authoritative word of God used the term for “gods” to refer to humans, what basis for stoning could they find in him when he declared he was one in nature with God and sent from the Father on a mission? He further tells them to look beyond words to the works that had been done, and to believe and understand.
But the entire argument blows over their heads, leaving them shaking their thick domes like the Aflac duck trying understand Yogi Berra in that famous commercial series. And Jesus is again able through some non-described miraculous means to escape their grasp.
40 Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, 41 and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” 42 And in that place many believed in Jesus.
Jesus withdraws to the region of Perea on the east of the Jordan – where John had baptized earlier. The Jewish leadership had no clout or legal reach into this area under different political authority. And here, quite a few people do indeed believe in Him.
In all of this, God is working on his own perfect timetable. And it is good for us to remember that as well. And we should never conclude that open-spaced delays are indicative that God is not doing anything. He is at work – all the time.