Sermon for Sunday April 17th, 2016, the Third Sunday after Easter
The Lessons: Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
Text: John 10:22-30
Theme: The eternal security of the believer
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I used to borrow the church hall key from my mother, who was the President of the Ladies’ Guild, ride my bicycle to the church hall, and practice my piano playing there. I had recently taught myself to read music, but I was almost overwhelmed by the complexity of the four-part harmony of the hymns in the hymnal our church used, which was “Hymns Ancient & Modern Standard.” The very first hymn I practiced was Jane E. Leeson’s hymn, “Loving shepherd of thy sheep” set to the tune Buckland. The first verse of the hymn is as follows:
Loving Shepherd of Thy sheep,
Keep Thy lamb, in safety keep;
Nothing can Thy power withstand,
None can pluck me from Thy hand.
I probably chose this hymn, because its harmony looked a little easier than some of the other hymns, and because the words, based as they are on John 10:27-29, convey a sense of the Christian’s security in Christ. As a young person then, I treasured the love of God for the Church expressed in these lines.
THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL SECURITY
Do the words of this hymn and Jesus’ words in John 10:27-28 teach that it is impossible to lose one’s salvation? Proponents of the doctrine of eternal security use these verses to support their belief that it is impossible for a Christian to do anything which might cost him his eternal salvation. This passage does not really address the question of what a Christian might do to lose his salvation. There are other passages, such as 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 2 and 4, that warn Christians not to persist in unbelief or disobedience, and so imperil their salvation. Let us pay attention to the real meaning of the Lord Jesus Christ’s words in our Gospel lesson today.
THE CONTEXT OF JESUS’ WORDS IN JOHN 10:22-30
It was the Feast of the Dedication, today called Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, during which Jesus spoke these words to the Jews. This Jewish Festival was not instituted in the time of Moses, but dates back to the Maccabean Revolt in the intertestamental period, when Judas Maccabeus and his soldiers won a victory against the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who had profaned the Jewish Temple. The Temple was rededicated to God and the Festival of Dedication instituted and kept for eight days (1 Maccabees 4). According to rabbinic tradition, this Festival rested on a miracle. When the Jews entered Jerusalem after Judas’s victory over the Seleucids, they found only one small, sealed jug of olive oil that had not been contaminated by the Seleucids. This was used to light the menorah in the temple, and would have given enough light only for one day; yet, miraculously, it lasted for eight days. Therefore the Festival of Hanukkah lasts eight days.
LIGHT AND LIFE FOR ETERNITY IN CHRIST
Now the rededication of the Temple symbolizes the rededication of Israel to God, and the renewal of their light and life as they worship God. The Jews were asking Jesus an important question, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). Jesus affirms that he is the Christ, but also reproaches them for not believing that he is. The works that he did testify to the fact that he is the Christ. The life that Jesus has and gives to all who believe in him is the light of the world (John 1:4), the light that lasts forever.
Now the reason for the Jews’ unbelief, Jesus goes on to say, is that they do not belong to his sheep. Now sheep were a symbol of Israel, and shepherds a symbol of their rulers. The true ruler of Israel has come, and they have refused to believe in him. How, then, are those to be distinguished who belong to the sheepfold of the Lord Jesus Christ?
According to John 10:27, those who belong to his sheep hear His voice, are known by Him, and follow Him. These three characteristics are absent from those who claim to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but then, thinking they are eternally secure because of their belief, deliberately live sinful lives. The true Israel of God (which includes Jewish and non-Jewish people) are those who hear, listen to, and obey, the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, who have also by faith come into a relationship with God and are known and acknowledged by God as his children. They also follow the Lord Jesus Christ wherever he leads them.
What does the Lord give to those who hear his voice, are known by him and follow him? It is to these that the Lord Jesus gives eternal life; these shall never perish, that is, die the second death; these no-one shall ever snatch from Jesus’ safe-keeping (v. 28), for in truth these believers belong to God the Father, since Jesus and the Father are one (v. 30), and no-one is powerful enough to snatch them from the Father’s hand, because the Father is greater than all (v. 29).
All of what Jesus says here ought to have shown the Jews that the very Festival of Dedication which they were celebrating was pointing to him, the everlasting light of the world, the Good Shepherd, the Messiah, the King of Israel, in whose power all who believed in him would find eternal refuge, and never be snatched away, as the people of Israel had been exiled, their Temple destroyed, and though rebuilt, profaned. In a few decades from that time, their Temple and even Jerusalem itself would be destroyed by the Romans. Jesus was offering the Jews eternal life and eternal spiritual security, if they would only believe in Him, hear His voice, come to know Him and be known by Him, and follow Him.
Today, we are called to belong to Jesus, to hear His voice, to know Him, and to follow Him. Are you doing just that?
I end with the last two verses of Jane Leeson’s hymn:
Loving Shepherd, ever near,
Teach Thy lamb Thy voice to hear,
Suffer not my steps to stray
From the straight and narrow way.
Where Thou leadest I would go,
Walking in Thy steps below,
Till before my Father’s throne
I shall know as I am known.