SHEEPING IS BELIEVING
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 13, 2020
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So 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.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.”
— John 10:22-30, ESV
The Gospel writer John must have really loved sheep, even though they have always been considered dumb animals. They do make an apt metaphor for Christians, though, and John mentions them more than the other three Gospel writers combined. Though he was a fisherman in his youth, and a fisher of men under Jesus Christ, he preferred to picture the King and the kingdom of God as a Good Shepherd with His sheep.
This was not the image of the Messiah the Jews were looking for in the first century, however. They wanted a warrior. They wanted a shrewd and powerful politician. They wanted a candidate for president who would make Israel great again by overthrowing the deep state of Roman overlords.
The Jewish religious rulers had been watching Jesus of Nazareth for about three years. He showed promise, with His insightful parables and undeniable miracles. But He was not militant enough, not material enough, not manly enough for them. So they ran out of patience with Jesus at this feast, and at the next one, they would kill Him.
Jesus Was Not Their Messiah
The “Feast of Dedication” is the setting for this story. It was not one of the big three (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), so it did not require a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But it was important and symbolic, and Jesus decided to attend, for the last time.
The celebration, also known as the "Festival of Lights,” occurs in the month that corresponds with our December. While we celebrate Christmas, Jewish people commemorate “Hanukkah” (the Hebrew word for “dedication”).
Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!
— Adam Sandler
Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of Israel in 164 B.C. from a tyrannical overlord named Antiochus IV “Epiphanes” (a self-given nickname of a madman who thought himself a manifestation of the gods), who had profaned the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing swine on the altar. After the war was won and the Temple was cleansed, a small oil lamp was found and lit. Instead of burning for the normal eight hours, its light shone for eight days and nights.
The hero of the Jewish revolt was Judas Maccabeus, or Judas “the Hammer.” Hammer-time was about the only time the Jews lived freely and independently in the promised land from the time of the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. to the United Nations’ recognition of the State of Israel in 1948.
This is a significant part of the story because this is the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ day. They wanted a hammer, not the humble, holy, and hard-to-understand person embodied by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was not their kind of messiah and they were not Jesus’ kind of sheep.
They Were Not Jesus’ Sheep
The Jewish religious rulers and the people at large did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus said this was due to one simple fact. “You are not among my sheep,” Jesus said, which is perhaps the saddest and most tragic thing a person could ever hear from God. But God knows, and it is not too difficult for others to tell, who the sheep are not.
When you are not a sheep, you do not want to go where the other sheep go. Jesus’ sheep form an assembly of born again believers who gather on the Lord’s Day for worship and serve the Lord every day as ambassadors of Christ’s church. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep,” because they generally shun the church.
When you are not a sheep, you do not want to eat what the other sheep eat. Jesus’ sheep feed upon the word of God, the Bible. It is the centerpiece of their Sunday worship and their daily diet throughout the week. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep” by the way they ignore or attack the Bible.
When you are not a sheep, you do not follow the Shepherd like the sheep in love, devotion, and obedience. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep,” for they follow their own way, their own will, and spend their time and money on things they want, without reverence or respect for God and His sheep.
When you are not a sheep, you will not wind up where the other sheep are ultimately going. Christ’s sheep are going to Heaven, according to the precious promises of God given by God’s Son in this passage of God’s word. On the Day of the Lord it will be painful and obvious to tell those who are “not among my sheep,” for they will be banished from the presence and kingdom of God and experience the awful wrath of God.
John Chrysostom said, “If you do not follow Jesus, it is not because He is not the Good Shepherd, it is because you are not a sheep.” When you are not a sheep, you just don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when you do, sheeping is believing.
Sheeping Is Believing
John’s Gospel is about believing. John’s Gospel is about sheep. Sheeping is believing.
What people believe wrongly about believing in our day is that it is a singular act of belief. But believing is not a singular act. It is a new life and an ongoing lifestyle. It is becoming a sheep, behaving like a sheep, and receiving the blessings and benefits of sheephood.
We become sheep by being “born again … through the living and abiding word of God” (ref. 1 Peter 1:23; see also John 3). “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said. It is a real epiphany, unlike the ungodly claim of Antiochus IV. Sheep hear the voice of God when by grace the gospel is preached to them and in faith they understand it and accept it. When a non-sheep turns from sin and selfishness and turns to the Lord, they turn into a sheep.
We behave like sheep when we obey God’s word and God’s will in our lives and lifestyles. “Follow Me” becomes the two most important words the Good Shepherd ever spoke. True sheep, Jesus said, “They follow Me.” John also wrote, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (ref. 1 John 2:4-6). Sheep are not perfect, they get wounded and weary, but the warp and woof of their lives is to follow the Lord and obey His word.
We get the benefits of sheep in the double blessing of eternal life and eternal security. Sheep, and sheep only, are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Sheep who know the Lord can know they are saved and kept and guaranteed an abundant life now and an eternal life forever, with the Good Shepherd of our souls.
And just who is this Good Shepherd? He is Jesus Christ, and He is God, for Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” I’ll have much more to say about this in the next sermon. For now, believe in sheeping, for sheeping is believing. Sheep are not so dumb, after all.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org