Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 17, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 10
They found the music, a single manuscript copy, amid the piles of unsorted papers the composer had left behind. It was clearly a piece for a solo violin. It was extraordinary—daring, and difficult—probably unplayable. Across the top was scrawled in the composer's own hand, "To the City Guild of Violinists." The City Guild of Violinists was honored and also embarrassed. They couldn't play it. They made copies. They passed it out. They took it home, and they tried, and they practiced, and they tried harder. When they got together to discuss it, they passed off their failure with excuses. "Certainly, the old man couldn't have intended for those notes to be played simultaneously," they said. "Perhaps his mind was wandering in his old age." "Maybe the old man hadn't intended it to be played at all."
N.T. Wright, sometimes he goes by Tom Wright, he uses that parable, that story, to introduce John 10. He uses it in his short and very accessible book on the Gospel of John. John 10 has this strange teaching of Jesus. He calls the people of God "sheep" and also "gods." On the one hand, Jesus says we're like sheep, but on the other hand, God's people are like gods. It's probably the strangest pairing of images ever conceived.
Now, if you don't number yourself among the people of God, maybe you think to yourself, "Well, the religious people that I've known, some of them sure seemed like sheep: gullible, ignorant, helpless, and others that I know sure act like they think they're God: judging everybody and pretending like they know it all." Sadly, we, the people of God, sometimes own that. Or if you're like me and you do number yourself among the baptized, among the people of God, you know that we're often called sheep. We hear this all the time. "We, like sheep, have gone astray. Each one of us has turned his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity, the guilt of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
We've all been there. We've been the lost one that has been sheepishly carried home on the shoulders of the Shepherd. We know we're sheep, but I don't think we really like the comparison. It's kind of an undignified image. Case in point, think about all the Christian schools or universities that you've known or been a part of. Did any of them claim sheep as their mascot? No. We've got dragons, and falcons, and bulldogs. We've got lancers, and knights, and saints, but no sheep, because what do sheep do? They get led out to the slaughter. Who wants their team to be known for that?
On the other hand, have you ever known a Christian school to have as their mascot the gods? That would be sacrilegious. It would be bordering on blasphemy, and yet we had the two paired together by the Lord Jesus Himself right here in John 10. So, what do we do with this? I'll try to explain it, but before I do, let me let you in on an insight. Even if I can't explain it, we follow Jesus not because we got Him all figured out. There's a lot we don't understand about Jesus. There's a lot of what He says we don't get. Sometimes we're like those city violinists staring at that music, that transcendent music, befuddled. Sometimes we're like sheep staring at our Shepherd, uncomprehending. We follow Him not because we can explain Him, but because in His voice we hear the One who laid down His life for us on the cross. In His voice we hear the One who loved us enough to take up His life again from the jaws of death so that He could lead us. In His voice we hear the One who loves us, even when the only music we can make is, "Ba-a-ah." So, I pray that Jesus would use my voice now for you to hear the voice of your Shepherd, as His words are recorded in John 10.
Jesus was talking to the guild, the religious guild in Jerusalem, the Pharisees, and He said to them, "'I am telling you the truth. The one who enters the sheepfold not by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, that person is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to him. He calls his own by name, and he leads them out. After he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and they follow him, because they know his voice, but they will not follow a stranger. In fact, they will run away from a stranger, because they do not recognize the stranger's voice. The thief comes only to steal and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.'
"'I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd of the sheep. He does not own the sheep. When he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away, and the wolf attacks and scatters them. He runs away, because he is a hired hand, and he does not care for the sheep. I am the good Shepherd, and I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me, just as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this fold, and it is necessary for Me to bring them in also, so that there may be one flock and one Shepherd. For this My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me. I lay it down on My own. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This command I have received from My Father.'
"And it came to pass, the feast of dedication, Hanukkah in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the courts of the temple, walking through Solomon's colonnade. The Jews there surrounded Him, and circled Him, and they said, 'How long will You keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.' Jesus answered, 'I told you, but you would not trust Me. The works I am doing in My Father's Name, they give evidence for Me, but you do not trust Me, because you are not among My sheep. My sheep listen to My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, into the age to come. No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.'
"Again, the Jews there picked up stones to stone Him. Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?' They answered, 'We are not stoning You for any good works, but because of blasphemy, because You, a mere man, are claiming to be God!' Jesus answered, 'Isn't it 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, then what about the One He set apart and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy for saying that I am the Son of God? If I am not doing My Father's works, then don't trust Me, but if I do them, even though you don't trust Me, trust the works that I am doing so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father.' Again, they tried to seize Him, but He evaded their grasp."
This is the Gospel of the Lord, John 10. Praise to You, oh, Christ.
Continuing with that story from N.T. Wright, the one about the City Guild of Violinists. Many years later, an old man with a long, scraggly beard and a battered violin case came to town. He didn't look much like a real musician, maybe just a vagrant or gypsy passing through. He took lodging near the Main City Square. Not long after, rumors began to circulate of music playing, violin music playing after dark, strange music, beautiful music. Some of the members of the City Guild of Violinists gathered there under the window to listen. They couldn't believe it. They were listening to the music that had been dedicated to them. It was unplayable, almost, but he was playing it. He was playing it. He was making the music dance and leap, swell and fall. It was wild and strange music, headstrong and sweet.
As it died away, some of the City Guild Members burst into applause, "Bravo! Bravo!" but others were furious. "He's playing our music," they said. "He's not even a member of our guild. He's making us look stupid. Who does he think he is?" Just then the window opened, and out stretched the man, and he said, "I am his son, the son of the great composer. I am his son, and he taught me to play the music." "Rubbish!" they shouted, "You've got no business here. How dare you?" The next morning, the visiting violinist vanished, and the music was never again heard in that city.
When Jesus said to the guild there, the Pharisees, "You are gods," he was quoting Psalm 82. Psalm 82 starts like this. "God presides over the great assembly. He gives judgment among the gods," lowercase-G. Then God, big G, says to the lowercase-G gods, He questions them, "How long will you defend the unjust? How long will you show partiality, show favoritism to the wicked, defend the cause of the weak, defend the cause of the fatherless?" Whoever these lowercase G gods are, it's clear that the one true God is calling them out. He's holding them accountable for their behavior. Then a little bit later in the Psalm, we get a clue as to their identity. God says to them, "I said you are gods, sons of the Most High, yet you will die, like mere men. You will fall, like every other ruler."
Now, some of the Jewish teachers in Jesus' day thought that Psalm 82 referred to the people of Israel, as they were gathered at Mt. Sinai. If you remember, God had rescued the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and He led them by Moses to Mt. Sinai to give them the Law. He called them gods, not because they would be false gods or idols, but they would be like Adam and Eve. They would be like the first humans. They would be representatives of God, made to display God's character in the world. So, God gave the people of Israel His Law so that they could rightly represent Him in truth, in faithfulness, in love, so that they could be God's children who do their Father's work in the world.
So, God's Law was like that strange and beautiful music. The quality and the creativity of this music was so out of this world, so transcendent that just to have it, just to be entrusted with it made the people of Israel special. And the music was meant to be played, but they couldn't do it. They tried, and they failed. They tried harder, and they failed. They were supposed to play the music so that everybody could hear. They were supposed to represent God on earth. They were supposed to be the light of the world. They were supposed to play the music, so all the sheep could hear, and they would come home, and there'd be one flock and one Shepherd, but they couldn't do it. This memory remained, in Psalm 82, of an impossible dream. "I said you are gods, sons of the Most High."
Then there comes into Jerusalem this Man, who wasn't even schooled in the Law. He wasn't even one of their students. He begins to say things, and He begins to do things that made the people wonder. He's doing God's work. He's keeping God's commands. He's playing the music the way it was meant to be played. They hear it for the first time, and some of them burst into applause, but some of them are horrified. They didn't think anybody could play the music, but here He is, claiming to be the Son of God, the union of God and humanity standing right before them, embodying God's music. It was as though the composer knew all along that one day His Son would come and play the music for them.
But before the music could be appreciated, they had to try and fail. We had to try and fail. Their failure was a stab in their heart's desire to be like God. Our failure means the death of our desire to be independent and god-like, when we could have been content to be God's sheep. Only Jesus can keep the Law. Only Jesus can truly love the Lord, His God, with all His heart, and all His mind, and all His soul, and all His strength. Only Jesus can love His neighbor as Himself. Only Jesus can play the music. Only Jesus can love enough to bring in all the sheep. Only Jesus can be our Shepherd, who laid down His life to save us from these wolves, these ravenous sins that would eat us alive with guilt. Only Jesus has the authority to take His life back up again and lead us.
Now, we get to be there and watch Him. We get to be there and see Him draw a crowd with His performance. We get to praise Him, as He delivers a standing ovation. Jesus is the only One who welcomes people, people like you and me who fail to fulfill God's Law. Jesus is the only One who loves you, and me, and people like us when the best music we can make sounds like the bleating of sheep. Jesus is the only One who can teach us how to play the Father's music. When His spirit is making music in our hearts, people will stop, and people will say, "What is that divine melody? Is that the music of the gods?" We will say, "That's God's sheep singing to Jesus." So, all together now, "Ba-a-ah!"
If you've heard the voice of your Shepherd, I invite you to make my prayer your prayer also. Jesus, you are my Shepherd. I am Your sheep, and I shall never be in want. I lack no good thing. You lead me beside still waters. You make me lie down in green pastures. You restore my soul. You lead me in paths of righteousness. You teach me to play the music for Your Namesake. You lead me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that I may fear no evil because You are with me, and You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for March 17, 2019
Mark Eischer: Once again, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. Again, I am speaking with Professor William Weinrich, professor of early church history from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Now, last week we talked about John 9. We're in John 10 now. Of all the ways that he could write of Jesus, he doesn't give us a bunch of inspirational sayings, disconnected. He doesn't give us a code of ethics. He gives us a narrative. What's the significance that he addresses us with a narrative like John's?
William Weinrich: The form in which God speaks to us is important to note. One of the primary designations of God in the Scriptures is that God is the living God. Now, how does God live? God is the God of love. God lives as one who loves. God lives as one who is humble. God lives as one who is merciful. God lives as one who gives grace to the sinner, and so the biblical narratives then echo the fact that God is Himself a living God. He doesn't just exist as an abstract thing, but as One who lives. Jesus becomes, if you will, the human form of the life of God. So, we know the living God by way of this man who is the very image of what our own lives are to look like.
Mike Zeigler: It makes me think of when I'm getting to know somebody, say a new neighbor, and we have them over for dinner or something. The first thing we do is we share stories of our lives, and by doing that we're not just giving each other information, we are inviting each other to join our stories and share a new chapter, so to speak, as neighbors. It seems like that's a good analogy for the reason God gives Himself in this way. He wants to live with us.
William Weinrich: Absolutely. You know, in our culture, the idea of identity is very huge. According to the biblical narrative, the identity of God is revealed by way of the narrative, in how does God actually work?
Mike Zeigler: We don't just give abstract descriptions. We tell, "Well, this is what He's like," and then you tell a story.
William Weinrich: The whole narrative of the Gospel story identifies who Jesus is, His identity. In fact, that question pervades the Gospel. Who are You? Where do You come from?
Mike Zeigler: What does this have for implications as hearers and followers of Jesus today? How do we participate in His life?
William Weinrich: Fundamental to John's Gospel is the Sacrament of Baptism, in which we participate in His death and resurrection, which is the establishment of what Jesus calls the "new commandment—that you love one another in the way that I have loved you." The Christian life is defined as that of sacrificial love, in which we are dedicated for the love of the brethren, and more widely for the love of all mankind, in the hope and the expectation that all the world will come to know Christ as the Son of God, and be baptized in Him, and so become the children of our Heavenly Father.
Mike Zeigler: By being united with Jesus in His death and resurrection through Baptism, through faith. His sacrificial love, His self-giving love extends to us as though we were His instruments to make music in the world.
William Weinrich: That's correct. Jesus says, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." But there's also a negative to this. Should we not live the life of Christ by way of hate, or by way of lust, or whatever it may be, then the Father is, as it were, hidden from the eyes of the world, and we need to keep both of those aspects in mind, I would say.
Mike Zeigler: Dr. Weinrich, thank you so much for your time.
William Weinrich: I enjoyed talking to you, Michael. Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)