Fourth Sunday of Easter

by Crossings

John 10:22-30
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Analysis by Bruce T. Martin

10:22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So 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.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

DIAGNOSIS: Not on the Same Page

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Not Following Jesus
Jesus’ understanding of his messiahship, and with it his intimate relationship to God, was bound to be misunderstood (“the Jews” in v. 24 represent the general population), even by his closest friends (2:22). Jesus’ parables and riddles and metaphors only added to the mystery. The Jews can hardly be faulted, then, for asking Jesus to explain himself “plainly” (v. 24). Then again, their failure to see and to understand his “works” (v. 25) is prima facie evidence against them that they are not on the same page, as it were, as Jesus. They are confounded by his “testimony” (v. 25); they don’t “belong” (v. 26) to him; they don’t “follow” (v. 27) him. If indeed Jesus is “the King of the Jews” (19:19), “the good shepherd” (10:11), “the resurrection and the life” (11:25), the very “word” of God (1:14), then not following Jesus suggests that the people have an even greater problem.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : Not Hearing Jesus
But Jesus was plain enough about the root of the peoples’ failure to follow him: “I have told you, and you do not believe…. My sheep hear my voice” (vv. 25-27). They simply “do not believe” in Jesus. They do not “hear” his voice. They have no inkling what he is talking about; they don’t speak the same language; they don’t trust him; they don’t sing the same tune. When they listen to Jesus, they do not hear the voice of his Father. Again, they are not on the same page as Jesus.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : Perishing to God
The consequence of not hearing Jesus is deadly: they “do not belong to [his] sheep” (v. 26), and so will “perish” (v. 28) eternally. Epilogue: Why do they not belong to Jesus? And why do they therefore not believe in him? Why hasn’t the Father given them to the Son (v. 29)? [This question is about God’s mercy: Why is it given to some but not to others, even many others? It is very real and yet unanswerable, a secret of the divine Majesty. On this question, see Luther’s “On the Bondage of the Will.”]

PROGNOSIS: On the Same Page

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : Belonging to God
Out of this silence, a new creativity of God is set in motion. If Jesus, who was crucified as “King of the Jews” (19:19, for which “shepherd” is a metaphor) is raised from the dead, then everything is changed! Then those who belong to him are assured of “eternal life” with him (v. 28), and are heirs to all the promises of God. The mystery of Jesus’ messiahship is now clear: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11). He can bear the sins of others and survive its death-sentence because he belongs to the Father (v. 29). Of his messiahship, Jesus and his Father are “of one mind” or “single-minded” (v. 30; the Greek word en, “one,” is neuter rather than masculine, eliminating the sense of personal identity). Nonetheless, such a close association with YHWH is just as blasphemous to Jewish ears as a misunderstanding of another kingly title, “son of God.” Jewish and Greek thought-forms are hopelessly intertwined here as elsewhere in John’s Gospel). Despite the hint of blasphemy in Jesus’ relationship to his Father, we may say in our current vernacular that Jesus and his Father are, with respect to his mission in the world, “on the same page.” Belonging to Jesus’ sheep-fold, therefore, means exactly the same as belonging to God, which is very good news for us!

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) : Hearing Jesus
Only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did it begin to dawn on anyone that the impossible had indeed happened. Our sin against God is forgiven in Christ; we are beloved by the Father because of the Son’s love for us. We abide in the Son because he abides in the Father. We believe and trust in Jesus because he believes and trusts in his Father. We hear the voice of our good shepherd because we belong to his sheep, because the Father has given us into the hands of his beloved Son. In “hearing” Jesus, we are “on the same page” with Jesus as he is with the Father (see 17:20-24). Jesus himself grants us this hearing when he breathes his life into us, in the form of the Holying Spirit; and we in turn breathe his life and Spirit into others when they “hear” from us the forgiveness of sins (see 20:21-23).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : Following Jesus
If Jesus is indeed raised from the dead, and if we are indeed “on the same page” as Jesus, then everything is changed! Belonging to Jesus’ sheep-fold and hearing his voice, we will of course “follow” him (v. 27) in the way of love (see 15:12-19). We do not have to, but we will want to express our lives in the same way that Jesus expressed his life, not counting the cost. The sheep-fold does not consist of solitary sheep but of many; thus the cost of following Jesus is a cost to the whole church (see 21:15-19). Is it not blasphemous, even now, to follow Jesus? How high is too high a cost? What limit is there to love? In the new economy of God’s mercy, our works will testify to the One who sent us. And, should we be called to that ultimate witness, God will be glorified in us.


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