God became one of us, declaring “I am the Son of God,” and promising to save us. Yet many didn’t believe him. Many didn’t hear him. What does it really mean to hear God? Many today even believe that Jesus was a good moral teacher, but they don’t believe that he is God. Those who really hear him, believe. Those who really hear him, have been given the gift of hearing by the Father. Do you believe Jesus is who he says he is? He was more than just a man. He is God, and he came to save us. Dr. Bryan Chapell served for nearly two decades as president of Covenant Seminary in St. Lous, and today he is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL. Dr. Chapell has had a rich impact on Mars Hill over the years. He wrote the book titled Christ-Centered Preaching which is used in seminaries worldwide and has been an important text to equip and train our pastors in preaching. He has also taught many classes at Mars Hill through Resurgence for a number of years. We are grateful that he was able to deliver this powerful message as a gift to the people of Mars Hill during our 2014 Best Sermon Ever series.
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 part of my flock. 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.”
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 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, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
Introduction from Pastor Mark Driscoll
Howdy Mars Hill, Pastor Mark here. I’m really excited to have some guest preachers for us. I’m taking my usual summer break with Grace and the fab five, and so it’s time for Best Sermon Ever.
This week, I am really excited to introduce to you Dr. Bryan Chapell. He is a great friend of Mars Hill. He’s taught at ReTrain over the years. He literally wrote the book on preaching. If you’re a guy or gal who wants to learn how to teach God’s Word, “Christ-Centered Preaching” is awesome. He’s written a great marriage book as well. He’s been married for 34 years. He’s a guy who led Covenant Seminary, a great Jesus-centered, gospel-saturated school, for about 20 years. He’s a seasoned pastor, godly husband and father, and fantastic Bible teacher. We’re very honored, very blessed to have him. I want you, Mars Hill, to welcome, enjoy him, to listen to what the Holy Spirit would have him teach.
And for our Best Sermon Ever series, it’s our kind of fun summer series, we always give our special guests a special gift. So, since we are ones who baptize adults and he baptizes infants through sprinkling, we have for him a very nice sprinkler to take home for him and his family.
We love you, Dr. Chapell. Thanks for joining us and serving Jesus at Mars Hill Church.
So, it may be a little spiritually dangerous to follow your own promo, especially if Mark Driscoll is giving it. I crossed paths with Mark various times and I so love the opportunity now to minister here. Let me tell you one of the reasons in particular.
Mark and I usually cross paths at various conferences. A few years ago, we were in different conferences, but actually crossed paths in an airport in Ireland. And as we were crossing paths, we just had an hour or so to spend together. He was with his dad at that time, and I must tell you, I was at a particular low place in life and ministry. And it was great for me just to have some time with Mark, at the end of which he just said—now, we didn’t know each other that well at the time, but as we were parting, he just said, “Bryan, I just want you to know I love you.”
I know that sounds so simple and maybe a little sappy. It was exactly what I needed in that moment, and I’m so thankful for Mark for having a pastor’s heart and expressing it to me in those moments. It’s a privilege now to be in this church of his ministry and to speak to you from God’s Word as well. To do that, I want to ask that you would look in your Bibles at John 10.
John 10, we are very close to the end of Christ’s earthly ministry. The Gospel of John, divided in half roughly. The first half of the book is the 3 plus years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the last half of the book is, basically, just the final week described in detail. Here in John 10, Jesus is preparing, not just his friends, but his enemies for the cataclysm that is about to happen, the end of his earthly life. And he sets it up himself.
John 10:24, we read these words. "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.’ 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, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 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. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ "Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came— and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands."
Let’s pray together.
Father, thank you for the truth of your Word and the Son who came. Would you help us, by the Word, to hear the Son, by his witness, the Spirit, in our hearts. Do this, we pray, that we might know you through him. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
“You know, this church needs to improve its music.” The words were spoken, not in this church, but in my church, to my wife, our music director, by a woman in our church who was letting us know that our music did not quite meet her classical expectations or qualifications.
She spoke at some length, her husband by her side. I stood by my wife’s side as we listened to the critique. At the end of the critique, as it had kind of built in crescendo, the woman ended again with the rant, “This church needs to improve its music,” and just to underscore, she looked at her husband and said, “Don’t you agree?”
Well, by that time, he was kind of distracted and looking out across the lobby, and he didn’t even hear what she had said. She, now, in utter frustration, turned on her heel in a huff, sang to us, “He’s so old he doesn’t hear anything anymore.” She walked away, and when she was out of earshot, he turned to us with a wink and said, “I hear what I want to hear.”
The message clearly, you can listen and not really hear at all. It’s what’s happening here in this account. There are people who have listened a lot, but they have obviously not really heard who Jesus is or what he is saying. And the same, we know, can happen to all of us. We can be in church settings, we can be in religious settings, we can hear things about the gospel from the Bible about Jesus. Lots of things can just be the words going past, but they don’t really sink into our hearts, into our consciousness. They don’t have the weight of reality in them. And what Jesus is making clear in this particular passage is that we have to actually hear the reality and the truth of these words if we are to be his. You have to say, what is it that the Jewish leaders at this time, what are they actually supposed to have heard?
I mean, it’s pretty clear they’re supposed to have heard Jesus’ claims to divinity. Now, you recognize they’ve been around the fringe of that when they say to him, “Tell us plainly, are you the Christ?” And Jesus seemingly is saying, “Well, I’ve said to you already but you haven’t heard.” He just kind of says, “I’ve already told you.” Now, if you’re to be fair to the Jewish leaders at this time, you would have to go through the book of John and say, “Actually, Jesus hasn’t told them.” I mean, not in so many words. He has never said, to this point in the gospel of John, “I am the Christ.” So they may have some valid complaints of saying, “Well, just tell us. Be plain about it.” But Jesus says, “No, listen. It should already be plain to you.” Because even if he has not given the very words, there are enough dots to connect to make clear who he actually is. After all, recognize that there have been words whispered around the Jewish leaders already.
If your Bibles are open and you just back up into the previous chapter in the book of John, in John 9, there’s an account of a man born blind who has been healed by Jesus. And at the end of that account, when that man says, “It’s Jesus who heals me,” he is thrown out of the temple.
Jesus later meets him, and at the end of the account, we read this. “Jesus heard that they,” that is, the Jewish leaders, "had cast [the man now healed] out, and having found him he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’” Now, that’s kind of unusual language because it’s a title. It’s not just a descriptor. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
In the book of Daniel, hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Daniel had prophesied the coming Messiah, identifying him as the Son of Man, one who would be like us but whose origins would be in heaven. And now Jesus says to this man who’s been born blind but healed by the miraculous work of Jesus himself, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Listen to how the blind man responds. “‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’”
Who is Jesus claiming to be? The Son of Man, the one who is like us but whose origins are in heaven.
John 9:40, we read this, “Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things,” the whispers of who Jesus is, just the reputation. Even the overhearing of the conversation says they have some idea of who he is. But it’s not just the whispers, it’s the very works. Jesus says later in this chapter, right, “You should believe for the very work’s sake. You’ve seen a man born blind, healed. You know that I have fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. The water has been turned into wine. The lame has been made to walk. Those who were deaf have been made to hear.” There are works that are affirming who Jesus is, but still the Jewish leaders have not connected the dots.
So finally here toward the end of his life, Jesus connects the dots for them. It’s in John 10:30. Jesus actually says there, “I and the Father are one.” Do you remember what happens next? They begin to gather up stones, for what purpose? To stone him. And Jesus said, “Now, why are you about to stone me? For what works are you about to stone me?” They say, “We’re not about to stone you for your works but for your words, because you make yourself out to be God even though you are a man. You said, ‘I and the Father are one.’ You can’t be a man and claim to be God.”
Then Jesus does something that kind of tests your Bible trivia knowledge for a little bit. He does something very unusual to our hearing. He says, "Well, wait a second. “Don’t your own Scriptures say that those to whom the word of God came are gods?”
Now, that’s very odd to us. Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 82. In that particular passage, those who were judges in Israel in the Old Testament, those who were supposed to judge others by the word of God were given the title of gods. Now that sounds so odd to us, but it’s not so odd. I mean, imagine an old black and white movie of somebody in an English courtroom who’s on trial. And when the person on trial in the dock addresses the judge, how does the person on trial address the judge? He says, “My Lord, these are the charges against me. My Lord, I’m not guilty. My Lord—” and even in our English tradition, those who are judges are sometimes called lords. In the Old Testament, sometimes those who were called judges or who were judges were called gods.
And so Jesus—now, can you picture it? I mean, you almost have to kind of put on your humor glasses a little bit. People are reaching down. They’re about to stone Jesus and he says, “Wait a second! Doesn’t your own Bible say that whoever has the word of God is a god?” And they’re going, “Well, yeah, it does. Well, maybe we can’t stone him.” And just in that moment of hesitation, Jesus has opportunity to escape.
Now, even though he has distracted his critics, what we should recognize is Jesus has never retracted his claim. He has claimed that he and the Father are one. He has claimed that he is the Son of Man, the long-predicted Messiah. They ask him if he is the Christ and he says, “I’ve already told you,” and then he connects the dots by saying, “I and the Father are one. He is in me and I am in him.” He is claiming to be the actual Son of God, now present among his people. That is what his words are.
Why don’t they hear him, I mean, really hear him? Jesus actually says why they don’t hear him, because they do not have the gift of hearing. Look with me at verses 26 and 27 of John 10. Jesus, speaking to this Jewish crowd who’s now critiquing him and ready to stone him, “You do not believe because you are not [part of my flock]. My sheep hear my voice.” And who are they? Verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to [take] them out of [his] hand.”
The ones who hear are those who have been given to Jesus by the Father. If you can’t hear, you have not been gifted to hear.
What Jesus is actually claiming is in the counsels of God, in heaven itself, God so works in the hearts of human beings that they are changed internally so that ears that no longer felt the reality of the word of God, that maybe never heard it as something that is actually true, now begin to actually fathom its depth, its truth, its reality, its weightiness.
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You may have grown up in the church or you may have heard churchy things for a long time. It may have sounded like foolishness or weirdness that God would send his Son to die on a cross for our sin, that we could confess our sin to God, and that by belief that Jesus had taken our sin upon himself, we would be pardoned forever. And you kind of go, “Man, those Christians believe crazy things.” And then somehow, by the gift of God, the Spirit began to work in your heart and it began to make sense, that God would have made a way for your sin to be put away. And the way that he made that way would be through the sacrifice of his own Son.
Travis Reed is a Christian media producer who writes about his own experience of how this gift of God happened, how the Spirit began to work in his heart so what he had heard for so long began finally to have weight, to make sense to him in a way that was more than just the cognition of words. Writing about his own life experience, he says this.
"At age 13, I was baptized by my first stepfather. I thought that somehow, by letting him baptize me, that he would stick around. But three days after he raised me out of the font, my stepfather beat up my mom and ran off, and we never saw him again. "The well-meaning churches that my mom and I cycled through in my youth didn’t ever mention my unusual life circumstances, four new fathers in four years and many other such things. But I continued searching, searching for the father I never really knew, the father who never really stuck around.
“One year, I went to see U2 in concert. I was yakked out on coke and tequila. And the last song of the night was ‘40’: ‘I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and listened to my cry.’ I had no idea that the lyrics were from Psalm 40, but I was drenched in love and I was immediately sobered. The voices carried me toward the arms of God. Out of nowhere, the breeze of grace began to blow over me. The moment was profound. The majority of what I had heard in church had not stuck, but I did remember that somewhere in the middle of the Bible was Psalms, and so I began to devour the words of the Psalms like they were the lyrics on the liner of a Johnny Cash album.
“They were deep and rich. They had street cred. I started to think, ‘Man, this might be real.’ The next morning, I was listening to U2’s song, ‘Hawkmoon 269’: ‘Like a desert needs rain, like a town needs a name, I need your love.’ I pulled the car over and started weeping. I did not just hear the song, I felt it in the depth of my being. It called me to strength. It gave me hope.”
That’s what Jesus is talking about here. Not merely listening to words but actually hearing them for the reality that they are. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” There is something that now begins to speak to us out of the reality of the God who came and the provision he makes. And we begin to say, “That’s real. I need that. I need that love. I somehow have heard its provision, but now it begins to make sense.” And that is the very gift of God.
But the Jewish leaders don’t hear because they don’t have the gift of hearing. The other thing they do not have is they do not have the guts for hearing what Jesus is saying. After all, if it is really true that Jesus is the Son of God, come for his people to claim them by his own death and suffering for their sin, then that is going to, among other things, make what he is talking about absolutely unique among the religions of humankind.
C.S. Lewis, as he was once describing what it would really mean for Jesus to claim to be the Son of God and for that to be real, talked about how it would distinguish what Jesus is talking about from all the other religions of the world. C.S. Lewis says this, “There is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, ‘Are you the son of Brahma?’ he would have said, ‘My son, you are in the veil of illusion.’ If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Muhammad and said, ‘Are you Allah?’ he would have rent his clothes.’” But Jesus claims to be the God made flesh, and that is unique among the religions of the world.
Now, candidly, if you were a Jewish leader, that might not have bothered you very much, to be unique among the religions of the world. But what bothers them so much is Jesus’ claim that he is the one that makes this unique, that his presence is what is so important and not religion itself. Because if what Jesus is claiming, that he is the Son of God and we hear as a consequence of his gift to us, not our qualification, then that doesn’t just make Christianity unique, it makes all religions obsolete, including our own, including theirs.
If Jesus is God as a gift to us, not for which we qualify, religion itself is obsolete. I mean, if you take the sociological definition of religion—the mastery of knowledge or practices, or a state of consciousness that unites the human with the divine—then Jesus is basically saying that is just not what he is about at all. But rather, he claims that we are made right with God, we’re united to him, purely as a matter of giftedness, of grace, not what is a matter of competence, or performance, or consciousness. That God is doing something separate from us by his own great grace.
That’s really a triple gift that’s described in this passage. The first aspect of the gift is in verse 28. Jesus said, “I give [to my sheep] eternal life.”
Now, if you’re in Western culture and you hear about a gift of eternal life, when eternal life comes you’re thinking about angel wings and living forever on a cloud playing harps, you know? Which is not what the Jews meant at all when they talked about eternal life. Eternal life was existence in union with God in his eternal kingdom, where relationships were made right, where God’s peaceable rule was over all things, where tears were no more, anxiety was no more, we were made right with one another and right with God, and that would be an eternal reality. And Jesus is saying, “I am willing to make this available to people purely as a gift, not because they qualify, not because they earn it, not because they keep the law. I am willing to gift this to people.” That’s the first gift of eternal life.
The second gift in this faith that Jesus is talking about is the gift of the sheep to Jesus. It’s verse 29. Jesus says, “My Father, who has given [the sheep] to me, is greater than all.” Now I know the language is strange, but I want you to think for a moment. If someone is very precious to you, it’s actually your heart’s desire to give them very precious things. And Jesus, who is the most precious child of God, says, “The Father gives my sheep to me.” He is in some ways telling us how precious we are because we are God’s gift to his Son.
Now listen, sometime in a moment of arrogance, somebody’s going to say to you in the future, “You just think you’re God’s gift to the world.” Now, you need to deny that. You say, “No, I really don’t think I’m God’s gift to the world. I just think I’m God’s gift to Jesus,” which you are.
What God is expressing is that beyond our earning or deserving, he has counted us precious. And this is not a matter of our qualification, but a matter of his grace toward his people who believe, and hear his word, and take it as reality.
And there’s of course one more gift in this triple gifting that’s being described, and it is the gift of Jesus himself to the sheep, it’s verse 36. Jesus, in fending off the stones, says, “Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”
Now you recognize that we’re just in kind of this fending off of the stones, but Jesus is saying absolutely critical things. “I am consecrated by God and sent into the world for my sheep. I, the precious one of God, am myself a gift to my sheep, and I’m a gift because I’m consecrated.” That means set aside for a purpose.
We know what that purpose is because earlier in this chapter, Jesus has said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” and he says, “I will lay my life down and I will take it up again.” He has been consecrated and sent into the world to die, and he will die to lay down his life for the sheep to save us from the consequences of our own sin, and ultimately show that he was successful in that, to rise the victor over the grave. That great penalty for sin, death itself, has been conquered.
And what Jesus is showing us by this work of saying, “I’ve been consecrated and sent by God,” is to say, “I came on a mission. You were so precious to God that he sent me for you.” And that’s hard to receive, hard to believe.
Maybe even harder to believe is what it means for Jesus to be sent into the world. He wasn’t just sent above the world, he was sent into the world. He came as one of us, that Son of Man, to live a life of poverty, and difficulty, and heartache. He who was the king of glory, the maker of the universe would come and humble himself for our sake.
Joan Osborne in the mid-90s created a little bit of a stir with a song whose lyrics were these, “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus.” Would you believe in that God? It’s actually what the Bible is saying. He would come and be like us, in our humanity, to experience our pain, our heartache, so that the Bible said he could be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He would know what we go through.
And if it sounds somehow irreligious or irreverent to say, “A slob like one of us,” remember that even the prophet Isaiah says he would have no form or majesty that we should even want to look at him, no beauty that we should desire him." But we hear him because we know he can hear us. It’s the reality of a God who would come as human, that he would be God yet, and in experiencing all that we would go through, would be one who could actually hear us when we call out to him, and we call out to him because we have actually heard him. You are my God who loves me enough to come for me, and I recognize there is no reason that I deserve your grace, and yet, God, you came for me. I hear that.
When that reality is something that we hear, it begins to change us because we begin to believe what he is saying, and believing what he is saying means that we receive what he promises.
After all, if we begin to analyze the Jewish leaders and we say, “What were they supposed to hear and why didn’t they hear it?” This isn’t written just for them long ago. Ultimately, the question is, “Why should we listen? Why should we hear what Jesus is saying?” That he is the Son of God, the reason that we have to hear that is we have to know who he is to receive what he promises. What is he promising? He is promising that he is the Lord God who came for us.
Now, that has to be believed for the promises to make sense. After all, I recognize, and you do, that so much the reaction in our culture, which desires just to get along everybody with everybody, is just to claim, "Well, listen, I believe in Jesus. “You know, good guy. You know, great moral teacher. You know, just don’t do that Son of God stuff where, you know, you have some unique claim on faith.” It won’t wash.
C.S. Lewis, you may remember, long ago said, “Those who claim that Jesus is just a good, moral teacher will not deal with the facts in the Scriptures or in their own consciousness.”
What did Jesus claim? He claimed that he was the Son of God, that he was divine. He can’t be just a good, moral teacher. Remember what Lewis said? He’s either a lunatic—he’s a human, but believes he’s God, in which case he has all the credibility of somebody who believes he’s a poached egg. He’s either a lunatic or he knows he’s not God but he claims it anyway, in which case he is a liar. What’s the third alternative? Liar, lunatic, or Lord. He is who he says he is.
You can’t just claim that Jesus was a good man, a good moral teacher. Either he’s lying, or he’s crazy, or he’s Lord. He cannot be just a good man. Listen, whether you are in junior high, or in grad school, or a grandma, that will make sense, right? He cannot be just a good man. He’s either liar, lunatic, or Lord.
Now, let’s just forget everything he says if he’s a liar or a lunatic, but if he is Lord, why do we have to hear that? Because of what he’s promising.
He promises that he will save. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He is consecrated and sent into the world for this very purpose. He has to be God or else he cannot save us from the reality of this world, which hurts us in so many ways, including our sin, but also the way we’re sinned against.
In our town recently, The Fray came and I listened to their most popular song, “How to Save a Life,” with the awareness that some of you have of the origin of that song. As the leader of The Fray talks About, having stayed up all one night to try to help an adolescent who was brilliant, and addicted, and suicidal, and ultimately not knowing how to help. You know the lyrics, “Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend somewhere along in the bitterness. And I would have stayed up with you all night had I known how to save a life.” Jesus knows how to save a life. He knows that to be God for us, he would give himself upon a cross, and in doing so would take the penalty for the sin that we deserved, and having paid the penalty would rise the victor over death itself to say, “I made it right.”
And now by his Spirit, he witnesses into our hearts of the reality and the truth of what he’s done so that when we feel the weight of it, we will actually believe it. He has the means to make it right, and because he’s God, he can do it.
Now for some of us, we say, “I once believed that, once that had weight in my heart, in my hearing, but too much struggle, too much hurt, too much sin, too much wandering. I’m not sure if it still applies to me.” And that’s why we need to recognize Jesus is not just saying that he came to save, but that he, because he is Lord, can also keep us. Not just save us, but keep us.
There’s this wonderful double grasp upon us that he describes in verses 28 and 29. Jesus says, “I give [my sheep] 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. I and the Father are one.” As though there is this double grasp of the divine upon us, of the Son and the Father, who hold us.
And we know we can fall, and we know that we fail, and we know we are faithless at times, but God says, though we are faithless, he abides faithful. “My grasp isn’t enough to hold you, God,” but his grasp holds us. It’s the double grasp of the Father and the Son by which he says, “I not only have the ability to save you, but to keep you.”
Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century preacher said it this way. He said, “As a believer, you may fall on the ship of faith, but by Jesus Christ you do not fall off the ship of faith.” We are held by him.
I don’t know if that makes reality known to you until I put it in real terms. I think of my brother, raised in a Christian home, affirmed in his high school years, many Christian things. He has been in prison and will be in prison for a long time. But it was actually the pain of going through the prison experience that reawakened him to what it would mean that if he could not hold onto God, God could hold onto him.
He wrote recently of a Christmas card that he received, and the card had these words, “It’s nice to know that some things never change. We will always be family and you’ll always be loved.” And my brother wrote, “This so touched my heart because I know it’s true.” We’ll always be family. Fault does not change relationship. And what God is saying through his Son is that when we have heard his voice and we, by hearing who Jesus is and having believed that, are made one with him, we are grasped by the Father and the Son. We’re part of the eternal family. And we may fail, but that doesn’t change the relationship. He holds us.
And the reason that you and I have to hear that and receive that is too much can happen in life, our failures, the failures of others, the abuse that we experience, the trials that we go through, the hurt that we can’t get rid of. We have to hear through all of that cacophony of the noise of this world the words of Jesus that say, “You are mine. I gave myself for you because you are precious to the Father and I will not let you go.” And that’s what gives us home. It allows us to be sustained in a world where the heartache can sometimes be so great and beyond our ability to cling.
Matt Redman is a musician that some of you will know. Before the turn of this last year, he wrote on his Facebook page a response to a Twitter that he had seen, a Twitter that he thought was rather vacuous and empty. The Twitter message said this, “I cannot wait for the new year. It’s going to be a great year.”
And Matt Redman responded, “My first thought was, ‘Well, that depends on how you describe great.’ Last year,” he says, “was a rough year for my family. There’s been a lot of loss and regret. My father died. We were financially wrecked by car repairs and health issues. To be honest, I expected the year to open new opportunities for a job for which I am better suited, but it never happened. We wanted this year to be different than it was, and that seemed possible because we’ve had years that we could look back on and say, ‘They were great!’ But this was not one of those years. Maybe your new year will have all your dreams come true, at least some of them be realized. But it is possible that this year will not be a great year for you. It is possible you will experience severe emotional and lasting pain because of tremendous loss. It is possible physical pain will be a large part of your year to come. It is possible you will sin in ways that you never thought possible. It is possible you will lose your job and financial ruin will rise like a specter in the dark of every night. It is possible death will visit your door or the home of one of your loved ones. You may find yourself in sackcloth and ashes, guessing the rating of the storm that has devastated your life. And despite what the prosperity preachers say, you may have one of the worst years you’ve ever seen. And yet, Christ is faithful. He will not let you go. He will not forsake you. He will not abandon his people. He will hold you, though your grip loosens on him. The promises of our Sovereign God will remain unspoiled in the heat of the hardest days. And even when our palate cannot detect the goodness of God, his mercy will not be moved.”
This is my God. I want you to hear his voice. He sent his Son for you and his sheep hear his voice, and they know him, and they follow him because they recognize what he has done on their behalf. And believing that he is the Son of God, they recognize not only could he provide for them but he shall provide for them for eternity. And because we receive that, we have hope again, not because this world is unbroken, not because our lives are unfractured, but because we have a God who came as one of us. And because he came as one of us, he knows what we experience and provides forever for us to be his own.
It’s what the Apostle Paul said, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor [anything else in all creation can] separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I want you to hear it so that you will receive it. It is the word of God; may it have weight in your heart that you may have hope that his grip will never loosen on you. He can save you and he can hold you. Hear it, believe it, receive it.
Heavenly Father, so work your gospel into our heart. We listen too, and sometimes the words are just the breeze going past us. For this day, give the words weight. Help us really hear them, the goodness of the gospel, of the God who came to save, who knows what we go through, and holds us, saves us, keeps us. This we hear, and believe, and receive. In Jesus’ name, amen.