John 10:22-30 (Easter 4C – Good Shepherd Sunday)                              

St. John, Galveston 5/8/22

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It was a Friday night. Sarah’s parents were about to go out for the evening. They had called their regular babysitter, but she hadn’t arrived yet. Sarah, who was seven years old, didn’t want her parents to go anywhere that night. Well, she especially didn’t want mom to go anywhere. She fell to the floor and clung to her mother’s leg and said, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” Mom knelt on the floor and looked Sarah in the eyes and said, “later tonight, after you eat and play, if you go to bed and go to sleep, I promise I will come and see you when I get home.” Sarah looked at her mom, extended her pinky finger, and said, “You promise?” Her mom locked pinkies with her and said, “Yes, I promise.” And amazingly, that was enough. Sarah calmed down. She turned to her babysitter and began to play as mom and dad went on their way. 

That may or may not have ever been your experience, but there is power in a promise. Mom’s promise was enough that evening. How about God’s promise to you today? Jesus comes to you in this very hour in the Gospel reading with a word of promise, a promise to hold onto to you no matter what. Even with all the trials and all the struggles you’ll go through in life His promise to you remains. “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. 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.”

On this particular day in Jerusalem, people were gathered for the Feast of Dedication. It was an annual festival celebrated by the Jews in which they remembered how God had delivered them from the weariness of war. About 200 years earlier, a wicked king by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. He set up pagan altars and brutally oppressed the Jewish people. The people, however, fought back. They recaptured the Temple and reconsecrated it to the Lord. At the Feast of Dedication, they gathered in the Temple in Jerusalem to recall that war and to remember the victory that God gave them over their enemy.

On this celebration of the feast, things were different though. God Himself came to the Temple in human flesh. Jesus walked along the colonnade and looked out over the people. He saw their joy, but He desired that their joy might be full. And so, He recalled another war, an ancient war, a war as old as sin and death, and He promised His people yet another victory. This victory would be sealed in His life, death, and resurrection. It wouldn’t be a battle over stones which made up a Temple. Rather, it would be a battle over the lives of people who make up His Kingdom.

“We don’t fight (God says through St. Paul), against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The Devil is a roaring lion who is always seeking someone to devour. He conspires with the world to hurl his fiery darts in a desperate attempt to claim God’s people. He tries to snatch them out of the very hand of God. 

We know the battle all too well. We also know, I should think, that spiritual battles are not the same as other battles. Certainly, the stakes are much higher, but the methods, the tools of the enemy, are different too. Oftentimes it’s the passage of time, God’s seeming silence, and our weariness that is the greatest ally of the devil.  

This passage in John’s gospel reminds me of a another one from the Book of Isaiah. The prophet once offered Israel a vision of the coming Messiah. He described the Messiah in this way: “The Lord has given me the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain with a word the one who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4). Did you catch that? The prophet says, “That I may know how to sustain with a word the one who is weary.”

Normally, when we encounter people who are weary, we want to provide them with some sort of tangible help. If they are weary from working and forgetting to eat, we offer them a meal. If they are weary from overnight travel and not getting enough sleep, we offer them a place to rest. If they are weary from projects that need to get done, we offer them a hand.

Jesus though knows a deeper kind of weariness, one that strikes at the very core of our faith, and for that weariness, He offers us a Word of promise. He knows our true enemy, the devil too. Satan can take any weariness (wars and rumors of wars, economic disparity, struggle with sickness, anxiety over work) he can take any weariness and use it to try to pull us away from God. But the harder he pulls the closer God draws us to Himself.

In this war, instead of overtaking His enemy with violence, Jesus allows violence to overtake Him. His body would soon be desecrated and hung on a tree. He would endure death itself. God’s Temple would be destroyed, but He would raise it in three days. Rising from the dead, Jesus revealed His power over death and the grave. And that power is for you. No one can defeat Jesus, not even death, or the devil himself. And because no one can defeat Jesus, no one can snatch you out His hand.

He’s the One who makes you this promise. “My sheep know My voice. 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.”  And then, as if that promise were not enough, He says, “I and the Father are One.”

I suppose, in life, we gauge the value of a promise based on who made it. For most children, Mom’s promise is as good as gold. But what about when God makes you a promise? Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.” The creator of the heavens and the earth, the One who speaks and the thing of which He speaks is done, the One whose power is unmatched in all the universe, and yet, whose grace and mercy shine as a light in the world, a light that can never be put out, the One who stretches out His hands to be nailed to a cross for the sins of the world, says to you, “No one will snatch them (that is, YOU) out of My hand.”

There is a certain resolve in those words. And the resolve is Gods. “Let us run with endurance (the Scriptures say) the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

There is great power in a promise, especially when it comes from Jesus, who is One with the Father. “No one will snatch you out of His hand.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +