Safe In His Hand

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 10:27-28

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 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.

John 10:27-30 rsv

“You are not my sheep.” That’s a startling statement, isn’t it, coming from the lips of Jesus? He says to a group of His countrymen, to reputable people who are asking Him questions about religious matters, “You are not my sheep.”

OUTSIDE THE FOLD

What can He mean by that? Doesn’t He call Himself the Good Shepherd? Aren’t the multitudes in all their need, confusion and lostness like shepherdless sheep to Him? Doesn’t He care for them all? Doesn’t He pursue in His compassion even the least and the last? Doesn’t He rejoice over that one remaining lost sheep that He finds and carries home on His shoulders? Why would He say then to any group, “You are not my sheep”? What puts them in that category? What disqualifies them from belonging to His flock?

Are the non-sheep the Gentiles? No, Jesus was speaking here to members of His own nation. In fact, just earlier, He had scandalized some of them by saying, “I have other sheep, that are not of this fold.” They thought that all God’s sheep were within the fold of Israel. But Jesus looking out over the nations and over the centuries of time says that He has other sheep out there that He must also bring. His ministry was to the Jews first but it was also to the Gentiles. No one’s nationality or race bars him or her from being included among Jesus’ sheep.

Are there some whom the Lord does not want to bring in? Are some so bad, so depraved, so rebellious that they are forever excluded? That can’t be so. See Jesus weeping over a wayward city and crying out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings . . . (Matt. 23:37).” No doubt about His longing to gather them. Jesus prays even for those who murder Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His heart yearns over every human being on the face of the earth. His invitation is as wide as the world. Why would He say then to some, “You are not my sheep”?

These are people to whom Jesus is no stranger. They have listened to His teachings. They have seen His mighty works. They are interested in religious things. They come to Jesus on this particular occasion (we read about it in John, chapter 10, beginning at verse 24). And they say, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

All the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus had exercised considerable reserve on this point. Very seldom did He speak openly of being the Messiah, Israel’s long-promised deliverer. Sometimes when people sensed that it might be true, He urged them not to say so publicly. It was not that He had any doubts on the matter, but He knew how many misconceptions there were among the people as to what kind of Messiah was coming and what His ministry would be. He didn’t want to nurture anyone’s false impressions. But these people formed a ring around Him one day in one of the temple porches and demanded that He tell them if He was indeed the Christ. They implied that He had been less than candid. Now they wanted an answer, clear, forthright, unequivocal. “What about it, Jesus?”

The Lord responds with these words: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” (John 10:25,26). Jesus denied that He had been trying to conceal His true identity. He had never denied being the Messiah. He has already said to them many things that point in that direction. And lest they should accuse Him of a merely personal claim, of an unsubstantiated self witness, He speaks further of the works that He has done. They have seen these. They are well aware that He has made the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the blind to see, that He has raised even the dead to life again. These are the very healing, saving events which the age of the Messiah was to bring. Jesus has done these things in His Father’s name. They have the stamp of the divine written all over them. They bear witness to Jesus. They testify powerfully that He is the Christ.

But these people do not believe the claims He has advanced. They reject His self witness. They do not credit His works as having been done in the Father’s name. They do not trust Him. That’s the heart of the issue here, friends. That’s what shows which people are not Jesus’ sheep. It is refusal to trust Him in the face of much evidence. It’s closing our eyes to His light, stopping our ears to His truth, hardening our hearts to His love. It’s when people are confronted with Jesus, in all the wonder of His words and works, and will not believe.

That’s the only thing that can possibly disqualify us from being called His sheep. It’s not our nationality or our race, not our status in society. It’s not our sins, however heinous they may be. It’s not the idolatry or false religion that we may have been involved in, even the occult practices or the demonism. All that keeps us from being Jesus’ sheep, all that shows us not to be among His flock, is our refusal to believe when He speaks to us, when His light and love are presented to us. He doesn’t exclude us; we rather exclude ourselves.

JESUS’ SHEEP

Now look at the other side. Jesus speaks of those who are His sheep. What does He say about them? Listen: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). Jesus knows His sheep. He is intimately acquainted with everything about them. He knows their names. He has an individualizing concern for them. Each is familiar and precious to the Good Shepherd. He would recognize one of His sheep anywhere. He has them upon His heart.

They are the ones, He says, who hear His voice. They know His call. They can distinguish it from other voices. They recognize that He has their interest at heart, that He knows what’s best for them.

Our sons, when they played high school basketball, were privileged to have an exceptionally good coach known by everyone in our community as Zeke. Zeke coached with tremendous intensity. He cared deeply for his players and expected from them the utmost in effort. He was always kind and fair in his treatment of the young men under his tutelage, but he could sometimes shout at them furiously in the midst of a game.

Now if you’ve been to high school basketball games, you know what the noise level can be during the action. But no matter how raucous the crowd or how great the din, everyone on our basketball team could hear Zeke above it all. They knew when he was calling and they knew when he was addressing a word to one of them. And though the message might have been disturbing at times, they always knew that he was on their side. They heard their coach’s voice. And usually, they didn’t just hear what he was saying; they tried their level best to respond, to do what he wanted.

That’s the sign, Jesus says, that His sheep hear Him, that they recognize His voice, that they believe in Him. “My sheep,” He says, “follow me.” They go where He leads, submit to His direction.

In the religious world of Jesus’ time, the word “to follow” had several shades of meaning. For some it meant “to imitate.” The student would not only pass on faithfully his instructor’s teaching but would even mimic all his mannerisms. For others, to follow a rabbi meant to learn everything that he had to teach and then leave him to become better rabbis on their own.

Jesus’ use of the word is different. That becomes clear when He speaks of His sheep following Him. Sheep do not imitate their master, nor do they eventually become his superiors and declare their independence from him. Their abiding lot is so to heed their master’s voice that they may stay near to him.

That’s how believers follow. They say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psa. 23:1-3). He is the Lord; we are His people. He is the shepherd; we the sheep. His to lead; ours to follow.

A BRIGHT FUTURE

Now Jesus speaks of what that hearing and following will mean for the sheep, what He the Shepherd will do for them. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). This goes far beyond what a human shepherd can do for his flock. This is more than green pastures and still waters. This is safety even in the valley of the shadow and beyond it. It’s keeping beyond death. This is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

Jesus gives to His people eternal life. This means not only life of unending duration. It’s also life of a different order. It’s new life, abundant life, the life of the coming age. Through faith in Jesus Christ, ordinary people still living here in this world become partakers already of God’s own endless life. They are born anew. They are part of a new creation. They have the life that is life indeed.

As a result, Jesus says, they will never perish. Through Christ they are totally accepted, freely justified. There is no condemnation for them. They may face the coming judgment unafraid. Christ has died for all their sins. No evil will ever be counted against them.

Then Jesus adds this: “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.” The sheep know about wolves and other predators. They live with danger. No human shepherd can give his sheep complete protection all of the time. Some may be attacked, dragged off and slain. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He doesn’t flee when the wolf comes. He never abandons His own to enemies. He’s able to keep them completely. No foe, no matter how cunning and powerful, can ever snatch them away from His keeping.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus follows up this promise with a word about His Father’s keeping of the sheep. “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” (v. 29). That is, to be kept by Jesus and kept by the Father are all one. When we entrust ourselves to the care of Jesus Christ, when we follow Him as His believing people, we are kept unfailingly by the almighty power of God.

It’s immediately after this that Jesus makes the oft-quoted claim, “I and the Father are one.” This is the context for those amazing words. Jesus and His Father are one in their being as God, one in their loving purpose to save, and one, we learn, in their faithfulness and power to keep. This is our ultimate security, friends, that we belong by faith to Jesus Christ and are the children of the Father’s care.

Today, in the name of Jesus, I’m inviting you to become one of the Lord’s sheep, if that has never been true for you before. Don’t worry that you might be excluded. If one of those who challenged the Lord that day had later experienced a change of heart and put his trust in Jesus, called on Him, would he have been turned away? Absolutely not! Jesus said it clearly, “Him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Don’t be bothered by the doctrine of election, fearing that you might not be among the chosen. I think of a prayer that Charles Spurgeon once prayed, “O God, gather in all of Your elect, and then elect some more.” Spurgeon was not being presumptuous or irreverent. He believed as strongly as any man who ever lived in the sovereign grace of God. But He knew that grace isn’t a closed, mechanical system. He knew that God hears prayer and that “whosoever will” may come.

You can’t figure out by airy speculation whether or not you are among the chosen. You only discover it when you take a step of faith and believe the Lord’s word. You walk through the door that says “Repent and believe!” and after you’ve entered you look back and see over the threshold, “Chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world.” O friend, listen to the gospel today. Come to the table. It’s spread for you. Come to the shepherd. He’s calling you. Not even your past prejudice and unbelief, not even your opposition to Jesus in days gone by can keep you away if today you will hear His voice and entrust your life to His keeping. God bless you as you do!