17 April 2016
Acts 9 Revelation 7.9-17 John 10.22-30
‘Who is Jesus?’
Canon David Stranack
‘So 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.’’ (John10.24)
The great question on the lips of so many people who met Jesus was ‘who are you?’
It is a question that has since been put by countless numbers of people down the ages.
And for many of his fellow Jews the question was not so much ‘Who are you?’ but rather, perhaps, the more threatening version: ‘Who do you think you are?’
The leaders of the nation and the scribes and the Pharisees could not begin to think of Jesus as the long-hoped-for Messiah. One can almost hear them saying ‘He can’t be the Messiah; he’s not one of us.’ He was not a member of the powerful Jewish elite.
Far from belonging to their group, he was openly criticizing them for their failures in the eyes of God and for their self interest at the expense of others.
Moses and the prophets had told them that the Messiah would come, but they could not recognize him. He was different from what they had imagined and rather than admitting that they were wrong, they assumed Jesus was not the Messiah.
They believed that the Messiah would be a political king who would get rid of the Roman occupiers and set up an earthly national kingdom as in the good-old-days of King David.
But Christ’s Kingdom was not of this world, Christ’s Kingdom is not territorial, is not a national Kingdom but a spiritual realm for all peoples. We belong to Christ’s kingdom not because of our nationality or the dictates of rulers or social culture but we belong to his spiritual kingdom through our personal response and personal commitment and faith, and that is in response to his love and commitment to us.
Those nations and religions, or cults like Isis Daesh who think that people must be forced to follow a certain belief, are promoting their own culture but not a faith. Faith is about what an individual person believes. Just as you cannot force someone to love so also you cannot force someone believe. It has to be a personal commitment freely entered into.
The Jews could not understand the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim.
His concept of Messiah was as a humble servant, and, as described by the Prophet Isaiah, a Suffering Servant, one who was ready to serve God’s truth and love whatever the cost.
Jesus often remarked on the blindness of his opponents. They would ask him who he was but because their minds were closed they would not accept the answer he gave.
They could not recognize him as the Messiah. Instead they claimed that he was guilty of blasphemy or that he was mad.
In today’s gospel from St John (10. 25-27) Jesus said, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’
There was a similar problem at the start of his ministry at Nazareth when all they could see before them was Jesus a local carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph.
How could someone who had grown up with them, whom they knew so well, how could he be God’s Messiah? And yet he was. It was the nature of this Messiah to become one of the people, to identify with them and share the challenges, the problems and even the temptations that other ordinary people had to face.
But for those who were not prejudiced and those who had no hidden agenda of their own, their eyes were open, and, as his sheep, they heard and recognized his voice and responded. They followed him.
As Christians we believe that Jesus is both fully human and also fully divine.
He is fully human in that he was born of Mary and subject to the feelings of pain, and to emotions and temptations like any human being. And he is fully divine because he was God’s Son, of the same substance as the Father.
At the beginning of Genesis we are told that mankind was created in the image of God. In other words mankind was endowed with a spirit by which we are able to be in communication with our creator. But with Jesus his was not just a spirit but the spirit of God himself so that he is both fully human and fully divine.
He therefore knows the mind of God and the spirit of God is alive in him so that he could say to his disciples, ‘if you have seen me you have seen the Father, and again ‘The Father and I are one.’ (John 10.30)
It is by knowing Jesus that we come to know the true nature of God. Millions of Christians all over the world and down the ages have accepted Jesus and experience a living relationship with him. And even after 2000 years his challenge is still as strong as ever.
When C. S. Lewis looked at the evidence he summed it up like this: ‘We are faced then with a frightening alternative. The man we are talking about was (and is) just what he said or else a lunatic or something worse.
Now it seems to me obvious that he was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God. God has landed on this enemy occupied world in human form.’
Many people today do not want to recognize Jesus as divine. If they did, they would then perhaps feel obliged to accept his way and his challenge. And yet to accept Christ for who he is, does not place a burden upon us as they seem to suppose, but rather lifts many burdens from us and lifts up our hearts and spirits to new and everlasting hope.
And to know Jesus and accept him as Saviour is to accept that he is a good shepherd to us. John 10.27 ‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’
Again he says in John 7.v9 ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.’
So the Good Shepherd leads us into good pastures, good ways, protects us from straying into dangerous pastures, indeed he leads us away from temptation and when we have gone astray he can bring us home again rejoicing.
But just as the sheep get to know the voice of their shepherd so also the Good Shepherd can only be there for us individually if we learn to know his voice, if we learn to recognize his ways and that is why the reading of the Holy Gospels is so important for every Christian.
It is through those writings that we come to know Jesus Christ, and then of course through him we come to know God himself.
God communicates with us in many ways. Sometimes ideas come into our minds. Some people claim to have experienced hearing voices. Sometimes we are moved by what another person says or by what we read or experience. But it is so very important that we consider any message or idea that we receive in the light of what we know about Jesus.
If we know Jesus from the Gospels then we can discern far more clearly whether such a message is from God or not.
St John in his first letter chapter 4 warns us in this way. ‘1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.’
So it is about learning to know his voice just as sheep learn to know the voice of their shepherd and so put their trust in him that he will lead them to good pastures.
In verse 27 of today’s Gospel Jesus says: ‘27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’
But our Lord’s Shepherding of us is not for this life only, for he then he goes on to make a promise: ‘28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.’
His loving care for us is both for this life and also for the life to come. And this is emphasized again in our second reading which was from the book of Revelation 7. In this we are given John’s vision of the glory of heaven.
Verses 16,17 say, ‘They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
So many people have found great reassurance in these words for they remind us that our loving Jesus is there for us not only in this life but in the life to come. Through faith we are assured of his loving presence for always.
And this is the very important message for us to hold on to, that God stands alongside his own people, and his own people are those who, in spite of mistakes and errors in their daily lives, are still reaching out for him and listening to his voice expressed in the words and life of Jesus.
God is also reaching out in compassion and love to all those many Christians who are being persecuted, abused or cruelly treated because of their stand for God’s way of justice, love and truth.
The death and resurrection of Jesus reminds us that the struggle for justice and truth will be won but at a great cost and often Christians have in the past and many in the world today are caught up in that struggle and that cost.
But Jesus by his death and resurrection has proved that God’s victory is assured. Sin and death may seem to succeed for a while but they will never have the last say. In the end the victory is Christ’s and that is proved by his resurrection.
The more we can know Jesus and know his voice through his teachings then the more we will recognize Jesus as our Saviour who, as our Good Shepherd, ‘lays down his life for his sheep’. (John 10.11)
And it is as we follow our good Shepherd that we increasingly become his people of joy and hope, of love and grace. We are then truly his resurrection people.
Thanks be to God.