The DivineRev. Philip Miller | March 7, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
Many of us like Jesus, but we struggle with His claims of deity. People like Him because of His miracles and helping others, but when He claims to be God, then people get upset, even angry. The religious leaders of the day were going to stone Him for blasphemy because of it.
So, what are we to do with Jesus’ unexpected, extraordinary claims of deity? Is it okay to be skeptical?
In this message, Pastor Miller takes us though four dimensions of the unexpected in the life of Jesus and how each dimension reveals more of who Jesus is and why He deserves to be worshiped as the Son of God.
A while back a young lady wrote to me and this is the basic gist of her question or challenge that she was writing me about. She said, “A part of me really wants to embrace the Jesus you describe on Sundays. There’s so much I like about Him, His heart, His compassion, His justice, His humility. But I get hung up on His words, His exclusive claims, His narrow teaching, His required allegiance. I must admit I’m on the fence. I just don’t know what to do with Jesus.”
Now, in my experience, she’s not alone. I think a lot of people could resonate with the struggle that she’s articulating so well. In fact, this is even a central theme of the Gospel of John. You know, Jesus, He’s so compelling on so many levels. Right? I mean who wouldn’t love water turned to wine, you know, and bread and fish multiplied in the wilderness, and fevers breaking and invalids walking and blind people seeing? What’s not to love about Jesus in all of His power and what He comes to do, and the freedom He brings? This is amazing. And then He speaks, and He says things like He did back in chapter 5, verses 17 to 18: “My Father is working now, and I am working,” and then John tells us this is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him because He was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Or again in chapter 8. We just saw this a few weeks ago. “Truly, truly I say to you before Abraham was I Am.” And so they pick up stones to throw them at Him, but Jesus hides Himself and goes out of the temple. And today in the passage we’re going to look at He does it again in chapter 10, verses 30 down to 33. This is what He says, “I and the Father are one.” Verse 31 says, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” And in verse 33 the Jews are explaining this and say, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
See, what got Jesus in hot water was not so much the things He did. It wasn’t so much His works as it was His words. Oh there were times when Jesus cleared the temple or He healed on the Sabbath that, you know, got everyone’s feathers ruffled. But what really got Jesus in trouble was His words, His claims. He kept making these bold claims to deity, and the Jewish leaders believed this was nothing short of blasphemy. How dare He make Himself out to be God? No one has that right save God alone.
Leviticus 24:16 in the Mosaic Law stipulated that blasphemers were to be stoned to death, and so that is what they are trying to do here. And Jesus, knowing this full well, that that was the penalty for blasphemy, risks His life in order to make clear to us exactly who He is, that not only is He fully human, but He is also fully God. And it is, in fact, this claim that Jesus will die for. In Matthew 26:63–66 at the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin it says, “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’”
Now we tend to forget just how edgy these claims are, just how they would have sent shock waves throughout the Jewish world, caught everyone off-guard, how utterly unexpected this is. But let me help to show us that a little bit today. We’re going to be in John 10:22–42, and we’re going to see here four dimensions of the unexpected in the life of Jesus. We’re going to see an unexpected feast, unexpected clarity, unexpected nuance, and unexpected mercy. An unexpected feast, unexpected clarity, unexpected nuance, and unexpected mercy this morning, each dimension revealing more of who Jesus is, so let’s pray together, and ask that we would see and understand this Jesus who is so very unexpectedly bold.
Heavenly Father, we pray that you would break our categories. Help us to feel the tremors of the claims of Jesus. These are claims that lay claim to all of us. To hear them is to be accountable to them. To encounter the Son of God is to be forced to do something with Him. We pray that we would respond by the power of your Spirit in faith and trust in your Son, for we pray this in His name, Amen. Amen.
First we see here an unexpected feast, an unexpected feast. Verse 22: “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.”
Now I say this is an unexpected feast because if you go to find the Feast of Dedication in the Old Testament, you won’t find it there. It’s not listed. That’s because this feast didn’t begin until 165 B.C. You may be more familiar with its contemporary name: Hanukkah. Hanukkah is an eight-day feast celebrating the Maccabean revolt, which led to the reconsecration and rededication of the temple after it had been desecrated by a guy by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes. In short, there’s a lot of history here, but in short, in 168 B.C. a Syrian king named Antiochus the fourth who called himself Epiphanes, (Epiphanes means God manifest, interesting) he and his soldiers entered into Jerusalem and they massacred a bunch of Jewish people, entered into the temple and erected an altar to Zeus, the god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on it. And no one can imagine a more sacrilegious or blasphemous act in a Jewish context.
Now, led by a Jewish priest named Mattathias, with his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C. his son, known as Judah, known as Judah Maccabee, (Maccabee means the hammer. [laughs] Don’t you love that?) he took the helm and within two years, he successfully drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem, reclaiming the temple, using a lot of guerilla warfare, and they cleansed the temple, rebuilt the altar of the Lord, and lit the menorah in the temple. They had a very limited supply of oil, but miraculously that oil ended up lasting a full eight days, and thus the temple was reconsecrated and Hanukkah, the feast, was born.
Now, why do I bring all of this up? Well, first, it’s because this is the feast that Jesus is at. Okay? But the second reason is that the themes of the feast are particularly relevant to the conversation that’s going to unfurl here. The themes that we see here in Hanukkah are blasphemy, consecration, light, and worship. Blasphemy, consecration, light, and worship. And these will turn out to be the very points of contention in this conversation.
Just a few months ago, you will recall that Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the world. This was just a few months earlier. Then in chapter 9, verse 38, which is not that far in our context, and not that far in their memory, Jesus had accepted worship from the man who was born blind, now healed. And that irked them.
In short order, Jesus will claim to be God manifest, hmm? “I and the Father are one,” And the Pharisees will cry out, “Blasphemy!” And remember the Feast of Dedication is all about the consecration of the temple. And look at Jesus’ statement down in verse 36: “Do you say of him whom the Father (What is the word?) consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’”
So Jesus says, “Look, the Father consecrated me. We’re at a feast that is celebrating the reconsecration of the temple and the Father consecrated me.” These are not irrelevant statements. Here’s the point. The timing couldn’t be any more dramatic. Judah Maccabee stood up against blasphemy, and consecrated the temple by destroying the false worship so that the true worship of the living God could occur and the worship that is due His name might be received by God. And the Pharisees now believe that they are following in His steps here. They are standing up against a blasphemer, they believe. They are maintaining the consecration of the temple so that the worship of the true and living God might take place and be rendered to His name.
Now here’s the irony. The irony is that the Pharisees are the ones who are, in fact, blaspheming. Because in refusing to acknowledge God’s only Son right before their eyes, they are blaspheming Him. They are not treating Him with the honor He deserves, and it is God the Father who is consecrating His Son, sending Him into the world, who is standing up to their blasphemy, so that the worship of the true and living God might be given to the One who deserves it, His Son. So this is the unexpected feast, see. And it is at this unexpected feast where we encounter some unexpected clarity. Unexpected clarity.
Verse 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.’”
“Are you the Christ? Speak plainly, Jesus.” You know, are you the Christ, the Messiah, the promised One? Tell us plainly. No more of these confounded analogies. You know, ‘I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the door of the sheep, I am the good shepherd.’ Can’t you speak? Will you just speak plainly, Jesus? Will you just tell us?”
Verse 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, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.’”
Notice Jesus identifies here the two pillars of His witness, His words, and His works. He says, “I told you my words, and you did not believe, and the works that I’m doing in my Father’s name, you don’t believe them either. You don’t believe either My words or My works (Why Jesus?) because,” He says, “you’re not among my sheep.”
Now, He’s reengaging the previous analogy that He used earlier in the chapter. But this time He presses it a bit further.
Verse 27: “My sheep,” He says, “hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
He says, “Look, you’re not among my sheep. If you were, you would hear my voice and you would follow me, but you don’t believe. Oh, I wish you would because I would give you something hugely valuable.”
Verse 28: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” “Remember, I’m the Good Shepherd. I will not lose a single one of my sheep. No one can snatch them out of My hand. No robber, no thief, no wolf, nothing. I will keep My own for eternity. I will hold them fast.”
Verse 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. I and the Father are one.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to say to Jesus, “Now wait minute, Jesus. This is confusing to me, okay? So You say, you have your sheep, right? And they’re in your hand, and no one can snatch them out. I get that. Okay? And the Father has given them to me. So the Father had the sheep, and He put them in the Son’s hand, and now the Son holds them and will not let go of them. Okay, that makes sense. But my Father who is greater than all, no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. But wait. They’re in Jesus’ hands. So how does that work? So the Father gives them to the Son. The Son is holding them, but the Father doesn’t release them, because they are both being held by the Son and the Father. So it’s something like this. The Father puts the sheep in Jesus’ hands. Jesus closes His fingers and then the Father holds them too. “I and the Father are one.”
Now they ask for clarity. What does this mean? They ask for clarity. “Tell us plainly, Jesus. What do you mean? Are you the Christ?” This is way more than they bargained for. You see this. This is— “I and the Father are one.” So the Jews pick up stones (Verse 31) to stone Him. See, they understand perfectly what Jesus has said. He just claimed to be one with God the Father.
Now this is a tense scene, friends. They are animated. They have stones in their hands, and they are about to throw them. But watch what Jesus does.
Verse 32: “Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’” He asked them this question: “What did I do that made you stone me?” And they say—
He’s playing for time here. Do you see this? He’s playing for time here. Do you see this? He’s playing for time. He’s making them think.
Verse 33: “The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” “You make yourself God. It’s not for your works, but for your words that we are stoning you.”
See, friends, what’s happening here is Jesus makes an unmistakable claim to deity. Jesus makes an unmistakable claim to deity. They have asked for a plain statement: “Are you the Messiah, the Christ, the promised One, David’s son who will come and bring the days of the promise?” And instead Jesus gives them way more than they asked for. He gives them a crystal clear claim to be divine. Is that plain enough for you? (laughs) This is unexpected clarity, now followed by unexpected nuance.
Look at verse 34: “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?’”
Now I find this utterly fascinating. Remember they still have stones in their hands, and Jesus decides, “I think now is a good time for a little Bible study.” Okay? “Would you open your Torahs to Psalm 82?” you know. And this is where He goes. He says, “There’s a quote in Psalm 82. The Lord God is speaking, and He says, ‘I said you are gods.’” And Jesus’ logic here is if the Lord God can address beings other than Himself as “small ‘g’ gods” (small lowercase gods) and this is in the unbreakable inspired Scriptures, mind you, why are you upset with me for saying, “I am the Son of God?”
Now, admittedly the logic of this strikes us as a bit strange. It would be a lot clearer to us if we had an ancient Near-Eastern heritage. But if you study ancient Near-Eastern culture, you will find that kings and rulers were routinely referred to as the sons of God. Angels, likewise, were referred to as sons of God, and in the ancient Near East it was fairly common to label them as god with a small ‘g,’ small ‘g’ god. And that’s what we have here in Psalm 82. Now scholars will debate in this Psalm whether this is a reference to angels or to rulers and kings who are in view here. We don’t need to settle that debate in order to understand Jesus’ point however, which is that if God Himself, in the Holy Scriptures can use the term small “g” “god” to refer to beings other than God Himself, Jesus says, “Look, are you absolutely sure you want to be stoning me before you know exactly what I mean by this and who I am? Are you ready to render a verdict or are you willing to consider my claim at any level?”
Verse 37: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 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 I me and I am in the Father.”
Jesus says, “Look, it would be one thing if I was just making these claims and had no way to back up what I was saying, but look—look at the works that I’m doing. Look at the works of my Father that I am doing, things that only the Father God can do, but I am wielding them. The sick are healed, the lame are walking, the eyes of a man born blind have been opened. If you don’t believe my words, at least believe my works, the works that I’m doing.”
And then Jesus further nuances what He means here by, “I and the Father are one, and I am the Son of God.” He unpacks this further and says, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.” And “Again,” verse 39, “they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.”
Now what does this last nuance mean? “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Well, friends, this is very important, this distinction. Jesus claims not equivalence, but equality. Jesus’ claim is not to equivalence, but to equality with God.
Now we are getting smack dab in the middle of systematic theology here so bear with me for a moment, but this is vitally important. Jesus claims not equivalence with God, but equality. If Jesus were to claim that He was the Father, that He was the Father, that they were equivalent, that they were the same person and you could just sort of swap them out, it didn’t matter which one you had, that would actually be heresy. That’s not what He says here, because the Son is not the Father, and just as the Father is not the Son, nor is the Father the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, nor is the Spirit the Son, and nor is the Son the Spirit. The one true God eternally exists as three co-equal, co-eternal, persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these three are one God.
This is the doctrine of the Trinity and it is exactly what Jesus is nuancing here. “I and the Father are one. We are both God. We are both divine. The Father is in me, and I am in the Father, (And I’ll introduce you to the Spirit later. This is too much for you to handle right now) but we are three persons, one in essence. We are equal. We are united. We are one and yet we are three. We are not equivalent. You can’t just exchange us, but we are equal. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, all equally God and yet distinctly three individual persons, and yet so deep is the loving union of this eternal community of persons that they mutually indwell one another while maintaining their own unique distinctiveness.
Do you see this careful nuancing of His relationship with the Father? The nuance is enough to stop them in their tracks, and instead of hurling those stones, they decide “We better just arrest Him; we need to figure this out.” But then, once again, He slips away.
Now this unexpected nuance now leads to an unexpected mercy. I had never seen this before in all my reading of the Scripture until this week, and when I saw it, it took my breath away. There’s an amazing mercy here at the end of chapter 10. I want to show it to you.
Go back to verse 37 and 38. Jesus says, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 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 am in the Father.”
Now, who is He talking to right now in this final appeal, “If you don’t believe me, at least believe the works, that you would know and understand who I am and who the Father is and how we relate to each other.” Who is He talking to? The Pharisees, the religious leaders with stones in their hands ready to kill Him, and He says, “Look, look, look, look, you with your stones, listen. I know what I’m saying is hard to believe. I know you’ve gone your whole life conceiving of God as solitary, isolated, mono-personal, and what I’m revealing here is that there is more to God than you ever understood, and it’s a lot to take in. I get it, I get it, I understand, I know. But if you can’t believe my words, won’t you just at least believe the works that you might know and know?” The phrase here, “know and understand” is actually the same word in Greek. It’s ginosko, past test and present tense. At least believe the works that you might know and then know that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
This is such unexpected mercy, friends. He looks His assassins in the eyes and He says, “Look, I know it’s hard to believe what I am saying, but would you start with my works? Start with these miracles: the man born blind, the lame walking, the bread multiplying. Would you look at what I’m doing, and whatever faith you have, whatever faith you can muster, just even if it’s just a fraction, even if you can just only believe a little bit, then you would know and know that the Father’s in me and I’m in the Father. Would you just start where you are? Would you just trust whatever little piece you can believe here so that you might know and know?” What a merciful invitation to assassins.
Verse 40, John concludes this section by saying: “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, ‘John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.’ And many believed in him there.” Many believed in Jesus there.
So don’t you see here at the end of chapter 10, we have come full circle in the Gospel of John here? It was John who baptized Jesus in the beginning, introduced Him to the world. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And now Passover is just around the corner. The Lamb’s hour is nearly at hand, and Jesus goes back to where it all began for Him, and many believe in Him.
And notice. Notice the words that are used here. Very important. John offers no works, but his words are unquestioned. Jesus has just said, “If you can’t believe my words, believe my works,” because His words were being questioned. And so don’t you see that even in this, Jesus is reaching out in mercy. He says, “Look, the ideal would be that you believe my works and my words, the package deal, that you embrace me as I am. That’s what the man born blind did. That’s what the woman at the well did. That’s what so many people have done, to come and place their faith and trust in who I am. But if you can’t do that, at least believe the works in order that you might know and know. But even if you can’t do that, even if you have to rely on John’s words to finally trust me, even that I’ll take. That’ll get you down the road to faith.”
You see, Jesus patiently pursues hostile hearts, friends. Jesus patiently pursues hostile hearts. Aren’t you glad, because none of us believes as we ought, no one. Not me, not you, not anyone. None of us believes as we ought to, and how patient is our Jesus with us? We, all of us, could pray with Jesus that one time, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” That’s an honest prayer. Unexpected mercy.
Three takeaways quickly as we wrap up here:
The first one is this. Friends, Jesus didn’t stutter. Jesus didn’t stutter. He said, “I and the Father are one. I am the Son of God. The Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” Don’t you see Jesus has brought us to the very brink? He’s taken out all the guess work. This is the clarity they sought, but didn’t expect. And now there’s no going back.
Do you realize you have to do something with this Jesus? He either is what He claims to be, the Lord of heaven itself come to Earth, or He’s a certifiable lunatic, or else a liar from the pit of hell. You don’t have any other options. The problem is, everything we read in the Bible suggests that Jesus is in great psychological health. Aside from statements like this, everything else seems reasonable and normal and balanced, even incredibly healthy. That’s why many people say, “I can’t just lump Him into the category of a crazy person.” And a liar? If He’s a liar, how do we account for His works, for His miracles, His power, God’s evident power in His life and strength wielded through Him?
No, friends, the only reasonable conclusion at the end of the day is that Jesus is, in fact, who He said He was, that He is the Lord of heaven come down to Earth. Won’t you believe in Him?
The second takeaway is that Jesus deserves our worship. Jesus deserves our worship. Remember this feast was all about the consecration of the temple for the worship of the true and living God. And Jesus said (Remember back earlier in the book of John), “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll build it up again, I’ll raise it up.” He’s talking about His body. Jesus is the new temple. He’s the place we go in order to commune with God.
In John 4 Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Believe me, an hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship in Spirit and truth.” And now the Father has consecrated the Son and sent Him into the world, the new temple, the new residence of God on earth in flesh before us. He is consecrated so that the world might worship the true and living God in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son.
And so like the man born blind, friends, we are invited to believe in Jesus and to fall at His feet in worship. Won’t you worship Him?
The third takeaway is this: Jesus welcomes you where you are. Jesus welcomes you where you are. Maybe you’re like that lady who wrote me at the very beginning. You like much of who Jesus is, and yet you struggle with some of the things that He says. Maybe you’re drawn to Him, but you struggle with His teaching about say, sin or sexuality, or maybe parts of the Old Testament that seem harsh or offensive to you. Don’t you see that Jesus will welcome you exactly where you are? Even the parts of you that are skeptical, that are hesitant, that are doubting or timid. Jesus says, “Look, I know. I know some of this is hard to believe. I know what I say can be tough to swallow. Won’t you just start where you are? Won’t you just trust the little piece of me that you can believe? Whatever faith you can muster. If you would just believe even just a fraction of who I am, what I’m doing, or what other people are saying about me, then you would know, and then know who I am.”
You might even have to rely on somebody else’s testimony, like John the Baptist, or Philip Miller, or someone in your life. You might have to say, “Well, I think he sees this and maybe if he is telling me the truth I can believe in Jesus.” Even that will get you down the road. Jesus is inviting all of us to just put our toe in the water, just get down the road, and He’ll take us from there.
Would you pray with me?
Lord, we believe. Would you help our unbelief? Help us know what to do with Jesus. He doesn’t fit always what we would expect, but then again, why would God fit any of our expectations?
I wonder if there’s something real here, deep here, transcendent and life-changing here. I wonder if it is true that Jesus is everything He claims to be. O Father, if that’s true, it would change everything. It would change life itself. It would change our loneliness and our desperation to prove ourselves that if there’s a love from beyond the world that forged us in the beginning, and that will welcome us into your arms in all eternity, that death is not the end, nor is our birth the beginning, but all of our life is an eternal one, swept up into the arms of the triune God, too one to be many, and too many to be one.
What if love is the final word in the universe, and Jesus is everything He claims to be? Help us believe. Help us know, and know who Jesus is. Help us behold Him for we pray this in Jesus’ beautiful name, unexpected name, Amen. Amen.