(Read John 10:22-27.)
It’s winter, and Jesus is walking in the temple, specifically, under the roof of that part of the temple called Solomon’s colonnade. The religious leadership of the day find him there and they surround him. They take a demanding tone, and they say, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus says: I already told you, but you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you don’t believe because you’re not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
The Pharisees’ Desire
In Jesus’ day Israel suffered under Roman occupation. Scholars tell us that the Pharisees expected Messiah to come as a conquering king who would deliver Israel from their enemies. But God didn’t do what they expected. God’s Messiah didn’t free Israel from Roman oppression. God’s Messiah didn’t come as a conquering king, instead he came filled with grace and truth and love and mercy. God did what he prophesied he would do in Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 35:5-6. When Jesus began his ministry he read from Isaiah 61 and told them plainly: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (see Luke 4:16-21) But the religious leaders still demanded that Jesus tell them–plainly–if he was the Christ. Jesus responded: “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” When John the Baptist was in prison and sent messengers to ask Jesus the same question, Jesus answered the same way. He said, Tell John what you see: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” (see Luke 7:22, Matthew 11:4-5, Isaiah 61:1-2, Isaiah 35:5-6) The Jews seem to ignore, and even resent, the works Jesus does in his Father’s name because they don’t meet their expectations. They don’t recognize the testimony of the works from Isaiah 61 and 35, or the other prophecies Jesus fulfilled (for example, Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22). They didn’t recognize the divine love, mercy, grace, and truth found in Jesus because Jesus didn’t come as a conquering king as they anticipated. They had their own narrative concerning Messiah, but God’s Messiah didn’t fit their narrative. So rather than reject their own narrative, they rejected God’s Son, and his works, and his words.
My Desire And Your Desire
But before you pass judgment on the Pharisees, think about how we behave when God doesn’t do what we expect him to. We have our own narratives about how God should behave. The Pharisees, understandably, were filled with desire for liberation from Rome. But what are we filled with desire for? When I was filled with desire for success in my career, I was attracted to any information, inside or outside of the Bible, that encouraged an industrious lifestyle. I wanted a God who approved of that lifestyle. I became so good at finding biblical and extrabiblical information to support my desire for success that I became comfortable prioritizing it over God and family. For years at a time. Leaving damage in my wake.
I have a married Christian friend who was intensely attracted to another man. But her belief in Jesus and Jesus’ words wouldn’t allow for her to act on her desire. So she modified her beliefs enough to allow for an affair.
The famous atheist Aldous Huxley says his “philosophy of meaninglessness lends itself very effectively to furthering the ends of political and erotic passion . . .” At least he’s honest.
Liberation from Rome, success, desire for another man or woman, the pursuit of erotic passion unbridled, those are just a few examples but it could be anything. Ask yourself right now: “What’s my desire? What am I hanging on to?” By all external appearances the Pharisees were the most diligent truth seekers alive. But I think it’s interesting how Jesus described them in our passage. “. . . you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” “Not among my sheep,” Jesus said. When we let our desires determine what we see as the truth, we’re not among Jesus’ sheep. That is to say, we flee the sheep fold until we’re just far enough away that we no longer hear his voice. In this way we prevent his voice from messing with our own particular narrative. Like the Pharisees we prioritize our desire over God’s truth. It’s only when you love Jesus so much that pleasing him is your first priority, above whatever desire you may harbor, that you’re a genuine seeker of truth. It’s only then that you’re among Jesus’ sheep. It’s only then that you’re close enough to hear his voice.
The Leader Of The Jesus Table
There’s an amazing ministry in Portland called the Jesus Table where street people are fed dinner restaurant style. Haircuts, showers, foot care, and dental services are also provided. Waiters serve them, and “table hosts” provide a listening ear and, warm and welcoming conversation.
The leader of the Jesus Table, recently shared with me one of his writings about hearing God’s voice. Some of the questions he asks himself when he thinks he may have heard God’s voice are: “Is it God honoring?” and “Is it biblical?” If the answers to both of those questions are yes, then he asks godly people close to him for feedback. Finally he prays about it.
But he also lists obstacles to hearing God’s voice. And the number one obstacle listed is sin. That can be tricky, because a desire to be industrious and successful, in and of itself, isn’t sinful. But prioritizing success above God and family is. A desire for sex isn’t sinful. But acting on a desire for sex outside of marriage is. A desire to be liberated from the Roman occupation, in and of itself, isn’t sinful. But allowing it to prevent you from recognizing God’s voice is.
A Subtle Seductive Inner Voice
The problem with us humans is that we can be so subtle with ourselves. “I want success for my family,” I tell myself. “I want success so I can give more, financially,” I say to myself. “The Bible says, a slack hand causes poverty,” I tell myself. And it’s all true–sort of. Success does provide material benefit for my family. And success does allow me to give more, financially. And a slack hand will cause poverty. It all sounded like pure truth on the surface, but like the Pharisees, I was like a whitewashed tomb. Inside, my desire skewed my pursuit and perception of God’s truth. I loved success with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. I loved success more than I loved God’s truth.
The truth I wouldn’t admit to myself was: I loved what I desired more than I loved God.
And that, is sin.
Timothy Keller, The Reason for God
Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, Transaction Publishers, Reprinted in 2012