22Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
I’d like to take this text in a direction that perhaps is not entirely obvious or necessitated by the context. Jesus made these statements to opponents (which in itself is revealing!), but he also made them to the Church which reads this Gospel according to John. We do well to pay close attention to the manner in which he speaks to his opponents, but we do much better to pay attention to the words he spoke to them. So, I may not be entirely within the scope of context, but I don’t think I have abused the text to make my point.
Isn’t that the problem with most people: You tell them plainly who Jesus is and they simply refuse to believe. There are a lot of reasons why people say they don’t believe, but it still boils down to unbelief. But there is no other way. They asked; he answered. He is the Christ, the Messiah. The onus, thus, is on them: they are the ones who don’t believe. Those who do believe hear his voice and listen to him. The benefits are great: Eternal life, no perishing, no one can take us from Him and wreck our salvation. We cannot be taken from Him because we are protected by the Father. Then: I and the Father are one. Right there is the single most plainly spoken statement about Jesus’ self-understanding, about His complete identity: He is God.
The implications of this statement are astounding, nearly incomprehensible. It is staggering, astonishing, and yet absolutely comforting and reassuring. The implications are quite revealing, not least because we are told that Jesus is the head of the Church (which necessarily means he is the head of every Christian). This means that the church, if the church functions (I realize that is a rather simplistic choice of words) with Christ at the Center, as the Center, defining the Center. We do not operate apart from His sovereignty or His governance. It also means that Jesus’ interest in the church is not some mere passing acquaintance. It means that his association with the church is the Father’s association with the Church. It means that His intentions for the Church are the Father’s intentions for the Church. It means that He and the Father are in complete accord when it comes to Church and those who belong to the Church. It means that we are answerable to Him, to Him alone, in our conduct as Christians and our membership in His Body. There is no other way but Jesus.
Well this is, frankly, astonishing because there are many nowadays who are quite convinced that, in fact, they run the church. So important people convene a meeting and begin discussing this subject or that subject. I suppose they pray and listen to position papers too. They do so gather in the Name of Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of the Holy God. So how do they come up with the idea that Jesus Christ, who is One with the Father and the Head of the Church, would tolerate sin in His body? To what God are they praying when they conclude that sin is A-OK in the Church and those practicing shall not be punished? Don Carson rightly asks how we think God ‘feels’ about the sin that cost the life of His Son. “How does rebellion appear to One so incomparably transcendent that even the superpowers appear to his eyes like the fine dust in a balance? How does rebellion appear to One who measures our sin by the death of His Son?” (How Long O Lord?, 86). I wonder: Christ died to make a people unto himself, pure and holy, a Kingdom of priests who will declare his praises and many in the church have turned the church into a place where any and every kind of sin is validated, justified, practiced, and applauded.
Jesus’ intentions for the church are no different than God’s because Jesus is, indeed, God. There is no difference of opinion on how things ought to be done: Jesus’ Way. There is no other way for them to be done: Jesus’ Way. There are no two ways about it: Jesus’ Way. Well, how do we know this? David Wells, in that lecture I mentioned in another post (The Disappearance of Evangelical Theology, pt 2) makes this point clear: For us to be Christ centered is to be begin by understanding the Scripture. Our Center, he says, is Christ: Understood theologically: Biblically Mediated, Biblically defined. In other words, we don’t have a right to redefine Jesus, or His Scripture in the way we wish that it looked. We have no right to challenge the Biblical Witness. We have no right to ‘re-imagine’ Jesus, or ‘re-imagine’ the Church. We have the Scripture: Our sole Rule of Faith and Practice. This is what Jesus said: My sheep listen to My Voice.
So we must understand His Voice. We must listen to His Voice. We must be careful to discern His Voice. We must be cautious not to stray from what is written. Again, Wells, “The Christian life is Christian only to the extent to which it is constituted and defined by the Word of God.” I submit to you that the Church, in her efforts to be ‘relevant’, has altered this and we thus have a disjunction between Scripture and practice. The Church has decided that it can do away with certain doctrines as antiquated, or irrelevant. The Church has decided that one must not be hastily or harshly judged for heretical teachings (on which see Albert Mohler http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=987). The Church must be tolerant, even of those who are openly practicing sin because we don’t want to offend them or drive them away from God’s love (with their wallets firmly squeezed between the material on their slacks!). After all, we are told, God loves the sinner and hates the sin. And who are Christians to judge! (But in the Church we are to judge!)
But at what expense? What is the cost of listening to man centered theological extracts, heresy at best, and diminishing the Word of Christ? What is the cost to the Church, to the Gospel, of such a tolerance for sin and such an intolerance for the faith once delivered? What price will the church pay for it’s incomprehensible tolerance and justification of sin and heresy? Funny thing is, and I don’t know where I heard this, but the Word of God includes all the Scripture, not just the words in Red. In other words, it’s all binding on the Christian, on the Church. What has taken place in the Church is that people figure they can meddle, correct for culture, make adjustments on the fly as if God’s Word were not sufficient. Even the popularization of the Gospel in the form of ‘Christian fiction’ or ‘Christian psychology’ or ‘Christian (insert popular ism here)’ is a bastardization of the Gospel which was given to us that we might believe in Jesus and have life in His Name alone.
Much of what goes on in the church is shameful and embarrassing. It is disgraceful and an abomination to a Holy God. David Wells makes an important statement at the end of his lecture concerning the Gospel in the Church. He perceptively says, “Where would we be if there had not been men and women down through the ages who insisted on handing down the teachings of the Apostles in tact to the next generation? We wouldn’t be here!”
But he doesn’t leave it there. “Where,” he asks, “will the next generation be as we hand this truth on to them?” One wonders. What will be the theological legacy this generation will leave to the next generation? We have only one choice: We must, as His sheep, listen to His voice. I think it is safe to say that we can ignore the cacophony of voices we hear clamoring about the rights of this group and that group. There is only One Body. But which voice will we listen to? Which voice will we hear? Whose sheep are we, anyhow?
Soli Deo Gloria!