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Sermon for May 8, 2022 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Speaking Of Life 4024 | Not Wanting the Shepherd

Correctly interpreting scripture can be challenging. Yet, like a shepherd, Jesus’ voice guides us when we read the word of God. Even when the world says differently, may we find peace knowing that he is the Good Shepherd who will bring us into the light.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4024 | Not Wanting the Shepherd
Greg Williams

Have you ever misheard the lyrics to a song in a way that drastically changed the meaning? Most of us have done this at one time or another, perhaps you even had a favorite song that you only discovered years later that had a very different meaning than what you originally understood?

We have a word for that, it’s called ‘mondegreen’ – a misunderstood or misinterpreted phrase resulting from mishearing the lyrics of a song.

The consequences of mondegreen can be amusing or absurd. The next time you listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival sing Bad Moon on the Rise, instead of singing the song title during the chorus interject “There’s a bathroom on the right,” and you’ll see what I mean.

A colleague of mine shared a mondegreen he had as a child regarding the famous Psalm 23. This didn’t come from mishearing the words, so much as misunderstanding their meaning.

When he heard “The Lord’s my shepherd I shall not want” sung at church, he took it to mean that we shouldn’t want the Lord as our shepherd. Why wouldn’t we want Him as our shepherd you might ask?

Well because he’ll force you to lie down in green pastures all day!

It’s amazing how a glitch on a record, a syllable out of place, or a word changing its meaning over time can totally change how we perceive and understand a piece of music.

Part of the reason my colleague read the words of Psalm 23 in such a negative light, was because in the authoritarian church he grew up in, it made perfect sense to him why someone would not want to follow the judgemental and condemning image of God he had been presented with. He had been taught that God was a strict and demanding shepherd, not at all like the shepherd we read about in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation we are blessed with a glimpse of the end to come, the lamb sits upon the throne, and all are drawn before Him. Using language drawn from Psalm 23 and Isaiah 25 we are told in no uncertain terms what kind of Shepherd he will be:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Revelation 7:17

In other words, he is the Good Shepherd.

The truth is that many people do not want the Lord as their shepherd. Often, this is because they have encountered a theological mondegreen. They’ve misheard, misunderstood, or have been deceived when it comes to the truth about God. As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing good about him.

Without knowing the Good Shepherd, no other scripture, whether psalm, prophet, gospel, or epistle will be understood in its proper context. Without knowing Jesus, the Bible itself becomes an endless series of misheard lyrics drawing us down some theologically dubious rabbit holes.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd under whose care we shall want for nothing, the Shepherd who, filled with love and compassion, will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The Shepherd’s whose voice we will never mishear as He calls us by name.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 23:1-6 • Acts 9:36-43 • Revelation 7:9-17 • John 10:22-30

On the fourth Sunday of Easter we witness how Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls his people to himself. Our call to worship Psalm speaks of the Shepherd who cares for every need of his sheep. In Acts we read about Peter calling to Tabitha, and at the sound of his voice she follows, even from death. In Revelation we are greeted by the great scene of every believer who has been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and who have followed their Lord into eternity. Finally, in John Jesus declares to us that his sheep will hear his voice and follow him – that we are safe in the hands of the Father and the Son.

Rapt in Anticipation

John 10:22-30 NRSV

Read, or have someone read John 10:22-30 NRSV.

Most people don’t like being left in anticipation – they want to know what happens next – it brings them comfort and security. Good writers know this; that’s why they use things like cliff-hangers and foreshadowing to build the anticipation – knowing that you will keep reading or watching in the hope of returning to a place of certainty. The only thing worse than our favorite character in a novel being killed off, is the hint that they might be.

Share an example of what builds up an excited anticipation in you such as the example below.

For me it’s a cliff-hanger at the end of an episode of one of my favorite shows. You won’t see a stoic face when I finish a TV episode that ends on a good cliff hanger. There’s no bemused smile, just a furious impatience at not having all my entertainment needs immediately actualized. While the anticipation might not be killing me, it sure is killing my time as I Google theories on YouTube about what could happen next!

For the Jews who came to Jesus in our passage, they approached Jesus as though he were a character in such a story. Let’s look at how they spoke:

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

Those coming to Jesus wanted to know the end of the story; how could they make plans for the future when a potential messiah was on the loose? False messiahs had come and gone before, and the Jewish people were desperate to see the real Messiah arrive and bring about the change they were looking for. Yet Jesus had not revealed himself as the Messiah – this was a classic “Is he? Is he not?” narrative!

Or was it? Jesus’ response is telling and probably didn’t contain the spoilers they were looking for:

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:25-26)

Jesus sees through the people’s desire to view the Messiah like the next big thing to chat about around the water cooler. Why do these people want to know if he’s the Messiah? So they can follow him? This seems unlikely. Jesus tells us right here an important point. These are not people of his flock; even were he to declare himself the Messiah here and now they would not follow him (quite the opposite we find out.) They’re not seeking the Messiah to follow – they’re seeking the next big story, the scandal of the year. They’re seeking resolution to their anticipation – they want to know not if Jesus is the Messiah – but if he is going to claim to be the Messiah. Because if he does, the sparks are going to fly – that’s when the story gets juicy. And those posing the question intend to be part of the story.

A Messiah besieged

The Greek word that’s translated “gathered around” in verse 24 has sinister connotations – it’s only used one other place, in Luke 21:20 to describe the Romans surrounding Jerusalem before destroying it – in other words, a siege. And given we know that these very people tried to stone Jesus, it colors our understanding of the narrative. So, when they tell Jesus “Don’t keep us in suspense!” there are other motivations at play. It might help to read the passage in a more mocking tone, given we can see their ill intent.

Yet amidst all of this, Jesus takes the opportunity to continue his lesson. The context for our passage is rich, it is part of Jesus’ last public address before his crucifixion in the gospel of John. And we are told he is speaking at Hannukah – the Festival of Dedication. It’s wintertime, and the group are gathered in Solomon’s Colonnade, a section of the temple that allowed people to shelter from the cold while still hearing teaching. Hannukah reminded the Jewish people to beware of false leaders who lead you astray. Ezekiel 34 would frequently be read during this time, a passage that warns Israel to avoid the false shepherds and cling to the Good Shepherd.

So as the people huddle together for warmth, teaching and discussion Jesus has already made an incredibly bold claim – he is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14). This is what he is referring to when he tells them in verse 25, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.” In no uncertain terms, Jesus has declared who he is to the people who are now questioning him. And they knew it too – in verse 33 they tell him their reason for stoning him is that he has claimed “to be God.” Throughout his ministry Jesus has avoided the question of messiahship, as it would have hindered his ministry. Yet here he does not shy away – he gives the group besieging him exactly what they want. Why?

All for the sheep

The clue is in what he says next, and just as importantly, who he says it to:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – (John 10:27-30)

Jesus has already established for us that those who are besieging him are not his sheep. Yet the words he speaks here are words of incredible encouragement to anyone who would identify as a follower of Jesus. They are words of great encouragement to us. Jesus is speaking to all his sheep – any who are included among those huddled from the cold in Solomon’s Colonnade, to believers scattered around the globe for the past 2,000 years, and to us. There is one clear message conveyed to us here, we have heard his voice; we are to follow.

This section of Scripture teaches us three things about our life in Jesus:

  1. Being part of the flock is to both receive a gift, and be a gift
  2. Eternal life is just that, eternal
  3. We are secure in the hands of the Father and the Son
  4. Being part of the flock is to both receive a gift and be a gift

Without delving too deeply into the incredibly complex debate of predestination right now, this we can say: our ability to hear the Shepherd and follow is a freely given gift from the Father. But what is more, we are also a gift to Jesus from the Father – given and received in love, by the power of the Holy Spirit who has opened our ears to hear Jesus.

This certainty reassures as – there is nothing we can do to escape the love of God, which we have been given by the Father, received by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. The fullness of God’s triune being has defined what it means to be one of his children.

  1. Eternal Life is just that, eternal

Perhaps when you’ve tried to conceive the concept of eternity, you’ve either struggled to conceive of it at all, or you went too deep and ended up in an existential crisis induced panic attack. It is a hard concept to get our heads around. But here Jesus summarizes the eternal part for us beautifully, we shall never perish. We know from John 17:3 that eternal life is coming to know God fully – life forever with God. And now, this passage tells us we will not cease to exist in this life with God. Perhaps this not ceasing to exist thing is a bit easier to conceptualize than the living forever bit, and certainly it induces fewer existential crises.

  1. We are secure in the hands of the Father and the Son

Jesus tells us that not only can we not be plucked from his firm and almighty grip, but that furthermore we are also in the grip of the Father. In this statement he makes it clear that in giving us to Jesus, the Father does not let go of us. It is the certainty of our place in the fold of God that allows the apostle Paul to write this:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

We need fear no thing and no one for we are in the hands of God, safe and secure.

Jesus concludes this passage with a clear statement of unity with the Father – “I and the Father are one.” This statement is referring to unity of will and purpose. He is reaffirming the certainty of purpose that God has toward his sheep, the future is secure in his hands. There’s no villain coming back from the dead for a final scare, no ironic defeat for the heroes at the last moment, no bogeyman that spirits us away from our life in God.

This is the good news of the Good Shepherd. Though our lives might sometimes have the drama of a serial TV series, we don’t have any cliff hangers, we need not wring our hands in rapt anticipation of how the story ends. We know for certainty the parts that matter:

We will know God amid his abundant gift-giving love.

We will not perish.

There will be no twist endings.

Glory be to God.

Resurrection Fish Fry w/ Jeff McSwain W2

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May 8 – 4th Sunday of Easter
John 10:22-30 “One Love”

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Program Transcript


Resurrection Fish Fry w/ Jeff McSwain W2

Anthony: Jeff, let’s move on to our second passage, which is John 10:22-30. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 8.

Brother, would you do us the honors of reading this particular passage?

Jeff:

22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” [NIV]

Anthony: Based on what you’ve already said, Jeff (in part you’ve already answered this), but the way we read this passage, Jesus said that the Jews don’t belong to his sheep.

So how do we reconcile the statement when our theological imaginations want to believe that every person belongs to God? What do we do with it?

Jeff: They’re definitely not acting like his sheep. They’re getting ready to slaughter the shepherd! It’s interesting. I think that the way Jesus talks—he also says the Pharisees are children of the devil; they’re not children of Abraham. He uses this kind of hyperbole to let people know that, of course they’re children of Abraham, the Pharisees. But he uses this hyperbole. (And he says that even later in that same passage in John 8, I think.)

But the point is that when you’re not acting like it, your actions—is Jean Vanier wicked? Yes! That’s not all that we can say though, about Jean Vanier. And so, when you adopt this Christological anthropology as the lens with which to read scripture, then we can say, in their flesh, they’re acting like children of the devil. They are children of the devil. They are not; they don’t belong to Jesus.

They’re the types of people that come up to Jesus and say, I did this in your name and that in your name. And it says here, Jesus does these miracles in the Father’s name. They say, I did this in your name and that in your name. And Jesus said, get away from me. I never knew you. [Matthew 7:22-23]

He doesn’t know them in the flesh, in a sense. He doesn’t know them in the flesh because that’s not who they are. The flesh is only parasitic to the indicative truth of who we are in Jesus Christ. And Jesus draws those delineations quite often. And they’re meant to show the severity of the anti-reality, the antichrist. Sometimes I might say the unreality, but “unreality” sometimes can communicate that the bad things aren’t really happening or that they don’t hurt. No! They hurt like hell, but that’s because of the good news or the indicative in contrast to that. Yes, it hurts. The contrast is painful and deadly.

And this is an example of people who should have known better, who are actually hurting the sheep who are following Jesus, because they are acting in such an antichrist way. And their father is the devil in these existential actions; they’re showing this is the “wolf” off the chain.

They’re showing the flesh in the way that Jesus is here to eradicate such thing. That’s why he came, in order to destroy sin, death, and the devil. In Romans 6, right before the passage of living to God, it talks about our old selves were crucified with him [verse 6] (that goes along with Galatians 2:20).

We can live out of one or the other of the two totals. If I stand up in front of you and say, I’m a 100% righteous, I’d get laughed out of the room, especially by people who know me. But if I stand up and say, I’m a 100% evil, I’d get laughed out of the room too. That’s not what we see, like you said, but our actions do manifest from the two totals.

If we walk by sight and not by faith, we won’t get it. We’ll judge people by their actions and define them by their mistakes. And so, Jesus is not doing that here. He’s not making an ontological claim about these people. And if it is an ontological claim, it’s the pseudo-ontology, the anti-ontology because as Barth says, there is no ontological godlessness. Absolutely not!

The only godlessness that can happen is a pseudo-ontology at best, which would be just very, very deep, deeper than we can fathom, more evil than we could ever comprehend, but not as deep as grace.

And where sin increases grace increases all the more. [Romans 5:20]

So, it always has to be in that asymmetrical relation. And I think that, when Jesus is talking about the sheep, he’s not talking about it in categorical terms, in terms of who’s a sheep and who’s not. Who’s elect, and who’s reprobate. He’s talking about it more in terms of how this is playing out and calling them out on it.

When he says he doesn’t know these people who are doing these things in his name (to use that other passage,) he knows them on his terms. He knows them on terms of grace. He knows them on terms that they are created in Christ, living to God. And here Jesus Christ himself, of all people, knows that. But he also knows—because he knows that so well—he also knows sin really well and sees the contrast and calls it out when he sees it.

And that actually is a real blessing. If we can really get into our bones, how good grace is, we’ll be better able to call sin out in ourselves and see it in the world. It’ll be more exposed; the contrast will be more apparent. There’s not a lot of contrast in a zero-sum game because the line’s so arbitrary and it just gets mixed together.

But in a total-total—as Barth would say, the old man from top to toe and the new man from top to toe—then all of a sudden you see this conflict. But as Barth would say, it’s not a hopeless conflict or else we wouldn’t even have this conversation. But he [Barth] says, “I was and still am the old man. I am and will be the new man.”

We’re both of those in the present, but I was and still am the old man; I am and will be the new. But the two present tense “I am” statements in this life were together. They were together for the Pharisees. They’re together for these people in this passage. They’re together for every one of us now. They were together from Genesis 2:4 on, in my opinion. And that’s part of what I write about in the book.

Anthony: “The Father and I are one.”

Jeff, that feels fairly weighty, and we have talked about it. Anything more that you want to add about the oneness, the sameness, the substance of Father in Jesus.

Jeff: Of course, I always go back to TF Torrance and the Torrances. Studying under Alan, of course, I asked him if I could do it on his uncle and his dad, JB. And he was kind of shy about it, and he goes, yeah, that’s fine. I think Alan’s his own theologian and his own thinker.

But it was a privilege for me to be able to do my work under Alan, and I have the highest regard for him. I think about [how the] Torrances talk—and I’m sure other people who’ve interviewed, probably talk about Torrance—about there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ. There’s no God behind God, back in the shadows with a frown on his face. And Jesus is the nice guy with a smile on his face. We really have to be able to trust that the God we see in Jesus Christ is God. And the Yahweh of the Old Testament is perfectly revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who created the world, who came into the world and the world didn’t recognize him.

The light that gives light to every person was coming into the world. This is the God who became flesh. And so that we could know what God was really like. And that wiggle room that often gets inserted between who God is and who Jesus is, has to go away. And that’s why Jesus says, guys, quit asking me to see the Father; he who’s seen me as seen the Father. And to really be able to trust that picture.

That’s also why, oftentimes, I call TF Torrance—and I came to Barth through TF and JB’s work—but I often call TF and JB, the godfathers of Reality Ministries, because it’s this whole paradigm that we’re talking about, this folding into the relationship that Christ has with the Father. The oneness that they have, that Jesus then, by adoption, we get to be included in his Sonship.

So, we’re not just included in God in a vague way. We’re included in the Son of the Father and in the Holy Spirit. And so, through the vicarious humanity of what Christ does in representing us, we really are able to enjoy that unity and oneness that’s derivative of the unity and oneness that Jesus has with the Father and Jesus has with the other persons in the holy Trinity as Son of God.

So yes, that oneness is critical, Anthony. And if we get away from that, then we come into all kinds of terrible theological train wrecks, about Jesus loves me, but I’m not too sure about God. Or maybe God loves me because Jesus loves me, but not really directly. Maybe he tolerates me because Jesus loves me, or Jesus died from me. But yeah, we could get into all the different bifurcations that come into play when it comes to getting rid of our or interpreting anything less than what the Nicene Creed calls the homoousion, the oneness of being between God the Father and the Son.

And then of course, Athanasius’s letter to Serapion is very clear that the homoousion is also related to the Holy Spirit. And that’s very critical for us in regard to this understanding of the total of who we are as human beings in Christ: we are full of the Spirit. We’re not just in Christ, but someday, maybe full of the Spirit.

And any expressions of fullness that we see, in those moments where we feel full of the Spirit. Or we say, that guy is full of the Spirit. Or we have a feeling in ourselves that we’re full of the Spirit. That’s the fullness that’s manifesting. It all comes from this idea of the real unity that we have by grace in the Son of God, which is derivative of that same unity that the Son has by nature with the Father.

Anthony: As I’ve heard said, everything hinges on it. Amen and amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon

  • What is likely to get you buzzing with anticipation?
  • When you’re anticipating “what’s going to happen next” in your life, do you remember to bring God into the equation? How would the “what next” question look without him?
  • When you contemplate eternity, do you draw a blank? Does it help to think in terms of “not perishing” to frame your attempts to comprehend eternity with God?
  • Gush a little bit about how great it is to have your future certain and secure in God’s hands – it’s good for the soul.

Questions for Speaking of Life

  • Do you have a mondegreen of your own you’d like to share? (A mondegreen is a misheard lyric that totally changes the meaning of a line of phrase in a song.)
  • Have you ever had a time where you’d rather not have God as your shepherd? Why? Was it due to a misunderstanding about him, or something you didn’t want to have to change?
  • How does knowing God is the Good Shepherd (as opposed to a bad one!) help us understand the rest of Scripture?

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