Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tell Us Plainly

Tell Us Plainly
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
August 2, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 10: 22-39
Psalm 82

For a live recording of this sermon click below

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.
Amen.

 22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico 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 Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.  30 The Father and I are one.”
31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand  that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. [1]

We have come a long way in this Gospel way back since the last Sunday in December, with the prologue of In the beginning was the word. We saw Jesus call his disciples, we saw him turn water into wine. We saw him meet in the middle of the night with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, we saw him meet the Samaritan woman at the well. We've seen him at ever festival the Jews have had. . . Sabbaths, Festival of Booths, of tabernacles, of the Dedication. It has seemed that every time Jesus has done anything it has been some type of holiday. He's fed the multitudes, he has told those who were about to stone an adulterous, that only if they were without sin, should they throw a stone. He has healed people. . . a paralytic, a man blind from birth, he has also healed an official's son. . . He's walked on water. . . he has claimed to be the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, The Gate, The Good Shepherd, the Word, the Son of the one true God. . . Some have followed, some have started to follow then left, some have opposed him at every step, calling him a blasphemer, planning to stone him, threatening to stone him, plotting to arrest him, put him to death, saying that he has a demon. Some get it and some don't, and here we are 10 chapters in, after all of this has happened, and the people say, "Jesus, tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?"
Tell us plainly? What are they looking for? I was trying to think about the best example of this, you know where someone asks a question, they don't get the answer they like, so they ask again, pretending to be confused. Can you think of any? I guess it happens in the media with politicians all the time, or with sports people. They ask the same questions over and over, so what do you think of this. . . oh really, so what do you think of this? It's like a dance, where no one is listening to the other, just asking and answering, and it doesn't matter what the answer is, ever, they aren't listening anyways, their minds are already made up. Jesus, are you the Messiah, yes, no Jesus tell us plainly, are you the Messiah, yes, no be clear, lay it all on the line, are you the Messiah. . . . well maybe to be fair, Jesus doesn't ever quite say yes. .  . instead he doubles it. Jesus are you a teacher sent from God, no I'm the son of God, Jesus are you a prophet, no I am the Messiah, Jesus are you, well, I am the light of the world, I am the bread of life, I am the gate and the Shepherd. . . . no Jesus tell us plainly, are you the Messiah? Now think about it what answer can he give, because they want him to answer if he is the messiah or not, but they have already accused him time and time again of, yes you guessed it, blasphemy. . . now if you are a blasphemer, how are you going to answer that Messiah question. . . It's almost like a scene from the Monty Python "Life of Brian" movie, where they are going to stone a man for blaspheming for merely saying Jehovah, but then they end up stoning the stoning official because he says Jehovah in describing what is going to happen. . . I mean you just cannot win if you are Jesus. And this isn't the first time that they have been playing both sides of the fence, and picking and choosing what laws to follow and which to break, which to ignore and which to enforce, who to give a pass to and who to persecute. . . remember the old Pagan Well that all the people were hanging out at, but the problem there wasn't that well, but Jesus actually healing someone there on the Sabbath, picking and choosing, minds already made up, you just can't win if you are Jesus with these people, why, Jesus' answer, they are not his sheep.
The question is how do we feel about that? How did they?  I mentioned last week that it does seem that Jesus' flock is bigger than what these guys had in mind, the problem is that it has shifted away from them. Their entire status is built on this idea that they are keepers of tradition, the keepers of the Law, and in such the keepers of the keys. They are the ones who judge, deciding who is in, and who is out, who has followed the law and who has not. Now all of a sudden their judgment is being ignored, by this new teacher, and not only is their teaching being ignored, it is being threatened, and not only is it being ignored and threatened, it is being altered, and not only is it being ignored threatened and altered, it is being reassigned, and now it's being ignored, threatened, alterned, and reassigned and doesn't include them. . . and it doesn't include them on the basis of anything other than they are holding onto an old system, one where they had preferred status, one where they held the cards, and they have to give them up. . . They' be in, a part of the sheep fold, following the Good Shepherd, but no more preferred status. . . and it doesn't seem to be because they have changed, but because the rules have changed, the game has changed, and that cannot be, so Jesus must be a blasphemer, a phoney, tell us again Jesus, are you the Messiah, it doesn't matter what you answer we'll still ask because we know you are not.
So they keep on the blaspheming line of accusation, picking up stones now,  and Jesus responds in a really interesting way, he says. . .
I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?

I said you are gods, interesting.  . . . and there are so many differing points of view on what is going on here. . . so let's take a look. Jesus is quoting the Old Testament, but he says in the Law, but actually it comes down to us in the Psalms, the Psalm we read this morning as the Old Testament Lesson. Let's look again.
1     God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2     “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?      Selah
3     Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4     Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5     They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6     I say, “You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
7     nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.”a
8     Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you! [2]

So this is the passage Jesus is referring to, and yes it does say there, "You are Gods. . . and it says also, Children of the Most High, so on the surface we could say surely, here is Scripture, proclaiming exactly what Jesus is saying, so how could he be a blasphemer, all he is claiming to be is Son of God, which is the same in the terms at least as, son of the most high. . . but it is a strange legalistic argument, when taken like this, taken literally, and we have seen again and again that it is unwise to take what Jesus says as literal, think Born Again, and Nicodemus saying how can we go back into our mother's womb,  just to name one. . . and why would Jesus equate himself with these Pharisees who are judging him? Think about it, has Jesus tried to elevate the definition of himself in this gospel or negate it? Yeah he is always claiming, from the beginning divine status, son of God in an exceptional, he only type sense. . . why would he, here, use a legalistic, simple word play to get out of the stoning on a technicality, it doesn't seem to be Jesus' style. . . no there must be more to it. . . and there are many theories.
The one that makes the most sense to me, is that the allusion to the Psalm is biting when taken in context. . . because they both have to do with Judging. . . and these guys have been judging. . . . and in Psalm 82 it talks about wicked judging. . .wondering how long. . . we've put you in this place, where you are gods, sitting in judgment, you are the law, the embodiment of the law, but how long, how long will you continue in this wicked judging. . .  it will surely lead you to death as a mortal . . . see the juxtaposition there between the works of a judge, the name of god, and then the wickedness of that judge, and not immortality like a god, but death. . . . Think about this connection here with Jesus as the Good Shepherd, he not only gives life, but eternal life to his sheep, they shall never die. . . because his works are good. His judgment is good, he is the good shepherd, the good judge, and the new gate for the sheepfold. . . he is giving life, where these guys because of their wickedness instead bring death. . . if you connect it back again to last week it is even more intense. . . the murderers and thieves, and bandits. . . wicked judges, in line, in cahoots with the oppressors, corrupt and presiding over death. . . Jesus instead brings life. . . . and why because of his work, his works, the works that they have already said they are not condemning him for.
Can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand  that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

They ask for him to tell them plainly. . . . I think he did, judge him by  his works. . . and he is bringing life with him. . . which will all come to the forefront, a culmination in the next chapter, when he calls Lazarus out from the grave. . . . judge him by his works, believe the works. . . .they speak plainly, recognize the shepherd, be one of his sheep. . . . "then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands."




[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 10:22-39). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
a Or fall as one man, O princes
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 82:1-8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.