Nuance

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter . In yesterday’s post we focused on the idea that if Jesus is the Good Shepherd – then what/who constitutes the flock? Who are the sheep that follow the promised Messiah? And in the course, we spend some time nuancing some of the language used in the text.

27 My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. 

John makes a connection between the sheep who hear the voice of Jesus and believing.  Brian Stoffregen notes that Jesus makes the following statements about his sheep in John 10:27-29 (in a more literal translation of the Greek)

  • My sheep are listening to my voice.
  • I am knowing them
  • They (the sheep) are following me
  • I am giving them eternal life.
  • They will not perish for eternity.
  • No one will snatch them from my hand
  • My father has given [them] to me [the word “them” is implied and not stated]
  • The middle of v.29 is difficult to translate and can be rendered “My father is greater than all things”, or “what my father has given is greater than all things.”  In other words, is the context taken to be God or what God has given Jesus. Almost all translators opt for the first meaning as the affirmation of God’s greatness seems more appropriate.
  • No one is able to snatch from the hand of the father

Listening and Knowing. There are numerous shades of meaning to “knowing” (ginosko) from no direct personal involvement in what/who is known, e.g., “to know about” someone to knowledge gained through an ongoing direct personal relationship with the person. In contrast to the question, “Do you know the Lord?”, the issue in this verse is Jesus’ knowledge of us. Frequently John talks about Jesus’ knowledge (ginosko) of people:

  • he knows Nathanael (1:48)
  • he knows all people and what’s in them (2:24-25)
  • he knows what the Pharisees have heard (4:1)
  • he knows that the ill man has been at the pool for many years (5:6)
  • he knows that “the Jews” do not have the love of God in them (5:42)
  • he knows that the crowd is about to come and make him king (6:15)
  • he knows the Father (8:55; 10:15; 17:25)
  • he knows his own [sheep] (10:14, 27)
  • he knows what his disciples want to ask him (16:19)

With this word (ginosko) and with a synonymous word (oida, e.g., knowing the betrayer, 13:11), John indicates that Jesus (supernaturally) knows what is in people, but this may not necessarily indicate the close, personal relationship that can be implied by this word, which is meant when it is used in reference to “knowing” his own sheep (see also 10:4-5 where oida is used concerning the sheep “knowing” the shepherd’s voice).

Both of these words are used in last week’s text: Does Jesus know (oida 21:15, 16, ginosko v. 17) that Peter loves him, as Peter declares? Does Jesus know (oida 21:17) everything as Peter declares? If so, what is our response to this knowledge that Jesus has about us? Perhaps it is easier to think about not believing that Jesus knows us, then we would believe that we can keep our evil deeds hidden in the dark (3:19-20). Perhaps like the question to Peter, they are not asked for the benefit of Jesus’ knowledge (who already knows the truth), but so that we may know the answer within us.

Being Given. In v.29 it is clear that it is the Father who has given the sheep to Jesus.  This small part of one verse, when reflected upon can be a quite challenging revelation. We are part of Jesus’ flock because of what God has done, not because of anything we have done, (cf. “You did not choose me but I chose you””15:16a). Can we refuse to be God’s gift to Jesus? Jesus is clear that “the Jews” to whom he is speaking do not belong to his sheep. Why not? Clearly they have heard Jesus words – yet they refuse to listen and follow. What is the word they refuse to hear? It simply this: “God has given you to Jesus.”

It is the mission of the church to proclaim over and over again to its people: “You have been chosen by God. You are part of Jesus’ flock. You belong to Jesus. You are a sheep of God.” The hearers can choose to believe or not believe these words. The hearers can choose to follow up on what God has done for them or not.  Based upon those choices, now and in the end of all things Jesus will say (or not say): “I know them and they follow me” (v.27)

Can We Follow? The Father who gives us to Jesus is greater than any other power. There is nothing that can snatch us away from Jesus or from the Father. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,  nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). If salvation (i.e., belonging to Jesus’ sheep, being part of the family, and thus being given eternal life by Jesus) is dependent upon God and Jesus; then it is not dependent upon my faith or my love or my knowledge – all of which can be somewhat unstable. Salvation is rooted in the Word of God which proclaims: “You have been chosen by God. You are part of Jesus’ flock. You belong to Jesus. You are a sheep of God.” The hearers can choose to believe or not believe these words. The hearers can choose to follow up on what God has done for them or not. “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50).  The implication of “being given” and “hearing” is to discern and do the will of the God who has already given you to Jesus.


Sources

  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible 

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