>The following was preached at Emmanuel UMC on 02/10/2008.

John 10:22-28
22At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24So 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.” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

When I was a kid, a movie came out called, “FernGully.” It was a pretty neat movie for an 11 year old. Zak is a human who is working with a logging company. Crysta is a fairy that lives in the rainforest. I forget exactly how it happens, but Crysta ends up accidentally shrinking Zak to her height, about 3 inches. They are joined by Batty Koda, who is voiced by Robin Williams, who is a bat with a radar problem and is a little off his rocker. Zak and Batty are having a conversation at one point in the movie which starts by Batty saying,

Batty Koda: Nobody cares about me.
Zak: I care about you, bat man.
Batty Koda: Really?
Zak: Positive.
Batty Koda: Only fools are positive.
Zak: Are you sure?
Batty Koda: I’m positive…

We live in a time of doubt; a time in which it seems like everything gets called into question. Yet at the same time, one person’s views are just as valid, and just as true, as another’s. It is a bit of a paradox. How, on the one hand, can somebody say that all views are equally valid, yet on the other hand, call into question the views of another? I got a lot of this in some of my classes in college. It’s okay to believe whatever you want, but if you’re a Christian, then your worldview is automatically suspect, and you’re deemed irrational. Be a Christian who is seen as positive about the faith, who is sure of the truth of the gospel message and you’re seen as a fool. This is the world that today’s youth have to deal with, not only once they get to college, but also even now, in high school and middle school.

Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking shows on television when it comes to matters of religion is House. The title character is a strict naturalist, and regards anyone with religious beliefs to be irrational. This past week, there was a woman who had recently converted from a wild lifestyle in the music industry to a very strict form of Judaism. Throughout the entire episode, House said that one of her symptoms was a “change of mental state.” He constantly referred to her onset of “irrationality” throughout the episode as something important to the diagnosis. He firmly believed that people did not change, and to make such a drastic change in lifestyle was a sign of mental instability.

Now, for me, House is not just a character on television. He is the voice of a segment of society that constantly challenges Christians in a negative way. He is so prideful and confident of his own position that he ridicules all others. But what he does do is cause us to take a serious look at our faith. We believe that we can enter into a relationship with God because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How do we know the truth of the things we believe? Well, believe it or not, this is not a new question. It is a question that has been plaguing the people of God for centuries.

In the 16th century, a young man was caught in a terrible thunderstorm. He was so scared that he promised God that he would become a monk if he could only survive the storm. He kept his promise and entered a monastery. At the time, it was taught that people had to earn their salvation. While at the monastery, this young man was so determined to earn his salvation that he was extremely hard on himself. As if the life of a monk wasn’t difficult enough, he started working harder than the rest. He would often beat himself and go for days without eating. But this brought him no peace, and it brought him no closer to God. One day he was reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans, and Romans 1:17 jumped off the page to him, “The righteous shall live by faith.” At last, he sensed the peace of God. He went on to challenge the view of the Church that one had to earn one’s salvation, and was the spark that started the Protestant Reformation.

A couple hundred years later, there was another man who was sailing home to England after a brief stint as a missionary in the American colony of Georgia. He was raised by an Anglican pastor. He himself taught Greek at a school in England. Yet, he never had peace about his position before God. Somewhere in the Atlantic, his ship was caught in a terrible storm, and he was terribly afraid. But there was a group of German Moravians who were calmly singing hymns throughout the entire storm. He talked to the leader of the group who asked him, “Do you have faith in Christ?” Sometime after this encounter, the man went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street. He later wrote about this experience in his journal,

In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, both struggled with their faith. It wasn’t because they did not believe in Christ. It wasn’t because they were not in relationship with God. It was because they were unsure of their salvation. They lacked confidence in their position before the Lord. Yet, Jesus tells us in John 10 that indeed there is reason to have confidence.

Jesus refers to those who follow him as sheep. Now, I don’t know much about sheep. There are not exactly a lot of sheep on the south side of Indianapolis where I grew up. But what I have heard is that sheep are pretty dumb. But, as dense as sheep are, Jesus says that they know the voice of their shepherd, and they follow him. But even more important, their shepherd knows them as well. Our shepherd knows who we are, and no matter how dense others may think we are, we can know the voice of our shepherd and follow him.

To those that are a part of Jesus’ flock, he gives eternal life, and they will never perish. The Greek word that is used for “perish” is actually a very violent word. It can also mean “destroy” or “abolish.” It’s the same word that is used in John 3:16. In fact, Jesus is practically saying the same thing to these people in John 10 that he said to Nicodemus in John 3. There are some key similarities between the two passages:

1) Something is given; not earned, not taken, but given. Just as the only Son of God was given for the world, that same Son gives life.
2) And not just life, but eternal life. Jesus isn’t just about making the world a better place. We already know that we aren’t going to live in this world forever. Yet, eternal life is offered for all who believe in him. For those who are a part of his flock, there is eternal life.
3) And eternal life means that those who believe will not perish. They will not be abolished. They will not be destroyed.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes one step further. Those who are in his hand will never be “snatched out” of it. Again, the Greek word that is used is rather violent. The picture that is given is one of something being seized and carried off by force. For those who are a part of the flock, there need not be any fear of being forcibly taken from it. Sheep have to worry about predators. There are always wolves or coyotes, or something worse lurking in the shadows that can seize them and take them off. But this is not the case for the flock of the True Shepherd. While there may be predators lurking in the shadows, there is no fear of being taken. Now, of course, it is important to avoid being lured into the shadows, but perhaps that a message for a different time.

I came across a story of a 3 year old boy who was being held by his father in the middle of a pool. The father started walking towards the deep end of the pool saying, “Deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper.” All the while the water was slowly climbing up the child’s body. He was getting panicked and was holding on tighter to his father, whose feet were still easily touching the bottom of the pool. But if the little boy had taken just a minute to think about the situation, the water at the shallow end would have been over his head, and yet, in the arms of his father, he was not worried. He was just as secure in the deep part of the pool as he was in the shallow part of the pool.

Our story is not much different. No matter how deep the water in the pool of life around us is getting. We are still being held firmly in the arms of our Father. When things are going bad, jobs are terrible, friends are mean, and finances are thin. We are still being held firmly in the arms of our Father, and He will not drop us. None of these things can seize us and take us from Him. Here at Emmanuel, we say that our core vision is to share God’s hope, and there is no greater hope than resting in the arms of the Father.

Is it foolish to be positive? In a world that believes all views are equally valid, how can we say that we are positive about anything? Maybe it is foolish in the eyes of the world to be positive about something, but I’ve never been too concerned about looking like a fool in the eyes of the world. Will there be times of doubt along the road? Of course, but know that our hope is built on much more than anything we could ever accomplish on our own. Our salvation is not dependent upon our feelings. It is not dependent upon the things that we do. It is solely dependent on the work of Jesus Christ, and that is something you can be positive about. Always keep that in your mind and leave here today knowing the truth of Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn 10:27-28).

Just some musings from a traveling pilgrim.