Believing Jesus in a Time of Spiritual Winter

Sermon on John 10:22-42, preached on Sunday, 3 March 2019.

Bible Readings: (OT) Proverbs 8:22-36 / (NT) John 10:22-42
Main Points:
I. A time of Jewish feast in winter
II. A time of defiance against the Lord
III. Conclusion: Believing Jesus in a time of spiritual winter

Last week a newspaper article grabbed my eyes because that article was about an event happening in a city I know in the States. The photo of a famous landmark of that city grabbed my attention. The title of that article read like this – ‘United Methodist Church votes to maintain its opposition to same-sex marriage, gay clergy.’ This had more of my attention – so, I read it. Interestingly, the Methodist church in that article was a Methodist denomination which had a number of international member churches. Its member in the US is the second largest Protestant denomination in the States. The article was about the decision its highest church court made. They voted to maintain the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and gay clergy. What a refreshing news in a time like this.

The reporters of this article, however, seemed unsympathetic toward the decision as they shared in this article more comments of the supporters of gay marriage than of the opposers. It closed with a comment made by a member of that denomination who was upset and spoke strongly against the decision. It was a weird comment that made me strongly suspicious whether this person knew God’s word at all. This is the comment she made: ‘I speak for all who are at home feeling betrayed, harmed, undermined by this work. … This conference is not a full expression of who we are as United Methodists. And hear me, friends. Resurrection happens on the third day, not because people voted for it. Resurrection happens on the third day because the movement of God could not be legislated. You see, God does not depend on a majority vote!’ I suspect that this person might think that God’s truth was changeable and progressive, and the church’s acceptance of gay marriage was God’s movement. What an absurd view on God’s truth that never changes, nor fades!

I share this with you only to remind you that what sort of time and era we’re living in, what sort of wind has been blowing in this world, trying to carry us all with it. I share this with you that you may see the spiritual challenge we all face. A church, a denomination has decided to maintain the way the Bible teaches, yet its member, representing the likely minded others within that denomination, claims that that church’s decision is oppose gay marriage is against ‘God’s movement,’ stopping God’s guidance for His Church. It was spoken not in a bar, but in a highest court meeting of a Christian denomination.

In fact, this comment is just a grit among gravels. There have been much bigger, stronger and severer attacks on church, faith and even Christ the Lord. It is happening now as was in the past, including the time and generation of the Jews of Jesus’ time. The Lord Jesus speaks to us, therefore, that we should know the time and be wise in a troubled time to believe in Jesus and follow Him more. So, if you feel the weight of this evil generation upon you, you’d better listen to this message. On the other hand, if any of you here is not a believer or, if you’re a Christian but have not yet fully committed your life to Jesus, you need to pay a careful attention to this message because believing in Jesus and following Him in your life is an urgent need for all people in a sinful generation like ours which is, in a word, a spiritual winter. Jesus will cover you with His grace and adorn you with His eternal life; He’ll break all attacks of Satan and keep us in His mighty and loving arms. So, come along and hear this message on how to believe Jesus in a time of spiritual winter.

I’d like to start with the time of this happening recorded in Jn. 10:22-42. As v. 22 says, it was a time of the Feast of Dedication which was in winter. This is an important background setting for the message of this section of the Scripture. In a word, it was a troubled time for the Jews which was like a cold and harsh winter. Let me explain why it is so.

The Feast of Dedication was (and still is) one of the significant Jewish feasts. It’s not one of the feasts commended in the OT. Rather, it began from the mid-second century BC when the Jews defeated the Hellenistic Syria and restored their temple worship. What happened was that a Syrian emperor desecrated the temple in Jerusalem, erected in the temple of God an altar to Zeus, banning all forms of Jewish worship. About three years later since this desecration, a Jewish revolt took place, led by a famous person, Judas Maccabaeus. He and his followers expelled Syrians from Jerusalem and restored their temple worship. Since then, that day was celebrated by the Jews yearly and such feast is the background of our text passage from Jn. 10. Jewish people of the present time call it as Hanukkah.

Its timing was in Winter – more specifically, in December – a time of chill wind. So, it seems natural that this feast has traditionally been regarded as a feast of ‘light.’ This Feast of Dedication in Jn. 10 was a celebration of two century old victory and restoration of their temple worship. But, the political and religious circumstance was quite different to that of the first Feast of Dedication. No longer was there in the feast people’s shouts of joy due to their subordination to another foreign power and rule, the Romans; the spirit of national pride was long gone; and the religious fervour was waned. Faithful God-fearers were rare in that time and godless ways of life pursuing worldly pleasures were sought by many. No one cared for God as if God had gone far away from them and no longer were found near. It was a time of spiritual winter.

That’s almost the same as the time we live in. Churches in our time have become more like the world; clergy is one of the least respected professions; and church is fast losing her credential even in the area of interpreting and teaching God’s word. Generally speaking, no one in our time seems to care about church, her voice or even God! Like the winter the Jews of Jn. 10 faced, we’re in the middle of a spiritual winter. As those Jews celebrated one feast after another with little joy of faith, with little spiritual fervour in their midst, we see lukewarmness in today’s Christian faith and life, we see indifference to the knowledge of God and Christ. That Methodist member’s comment I introduced to you earlier well reflects this current of the times – condemning her church’s decision against gay marriage, she argued, saying, ‘God does not depend on a majority vote!’ This spiritual winter is so deep and dark that it is now hart to see which way is God’s way or which voice is God’s voice.

This is why we ought to be careful with whom we believe and follow. As Jesus the Lord commanded, we must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves because we’re sent in the midst of wolves, in other words, we’re in a spiritual winter. Prov. 8:32, our first Bible reading, teaches us that those who ‘listen to the Lord and keep His way’ are ‘wise.’

Considering these things, it is obvious that a time of spiritual winter is closely related to people’s poor attitude toward God’s word and teaching. When people reject God’s word and twist His teaching, that is the time of spiritual darkness covering people’s eyes and blocking their ears and minds, causing them to go astray. A good example is given in our text passage from Jn. 10.

The Jews gathered around Jesus in the colonnade of Solomon and asked Him a question, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” This was surely an ill-intended question because they asked this not to know the truth about Jesus as the Saviour of their souls, but to confirm whether Jesus was their political leader who would defeat the enemy of the Jews, liberate their nation and restore the temple worship once again as Judas Maccabaeus had once done. It was an ill-intended question because they didn’t want any other answer from Jesus; they had already rejected in their minds any other answer than Jesus being their political leader. They had already rejected Jesus in their minds before asking a question.

This is the most prominent phenomenon in a time of spiritual winter, a time of defiance against the Lord. Many people reject Jesus of the Bible. Having rejected the biblical Jesus, they seek a ‘jesus’ of their own. Gay marriage advocates, for example, seek a ‘jesus’ for gay marriage, while prosperity gospel preachers and their followers pursue a ‘jesus’ for earthly wealth and fortunes. In their minds, Jesus is no longer of the Bible, no longer the Son of God and Saviour of the sinners; He is, to their eyes, not the Lord to worship and submit their life to. In this way, rejection of the Lord and His word and teaching is the prominent indicator of a time of defiance against the Lord.

One thing to consider is that many of us are not free from this sin. We’re in a sense guilty of the same sin of rejecting the biblical Jesus. The most ‘popular’ form of this sin is to turn our spiritual switch off whenever that seems to be convenient to our conscience, then, turn it back on when that’s all over and keeping Jesus near seems to benefit us. I believe you know what I mean. Another ‘popular’ form of rejecting the Jesus of the Bible is to go with the current – I mean, if the majority people around us reject the Lord, we simply keep silence until it is safe to say or do anything.

I believe that this second ‘popular’ form of rejecting the biblical Jesus is also evident in our text passage from Jn. 10, especially in vs. 22-39. When Jesus answered the Jews and said that He is the Messiah and Shepherd of His sheep who gives them eternal life because He and the Father are one, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him. Interestingly, no one questioned that reaction of the Jews, no division among the Jews took place. That was clearly contrary to the people’s reaction made in the immediately preceding section of Jn. 10. If you read vs. 1-21, the Lord Jesus taught the Jews with the almost identical message about His being the good and true Shepherd with heavenly authority. Then, as v. 19 tells us, there was a division among them – one group said that Jesus was demon-possessed while others said no. The latter also pointed out Jesus’ miracle of opening the eyes of a man born blind as a clear evidence of Jesus’ power and authority. You see? There was a sharp division among people when it wasn’t really a forceful or coercive case. But when people picked up stones in v. 31, there was no record of anyone questioning their hostile behaviour. As was then, the same is often found in our midst.

In addition to people’s rejection of the Lord of the Bible, His teaching is often twisted to mean a different thing. By rejecting Jesus of the Bible, people establish their own version of Jesus; by twisting His word, people use God’s word to serve their own interests. An example we find from Jn. 10 is the Jew’s reason to stone Jesus as in v. 33. They say this: “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.” If the works of Jesus testify to His nature, the Jews who have seen all His miracles should not jump to an immature conclusion. But they twisted the meaning of Jesus’ miracles to mean nothing, but His words for His oneness with the Father to be a deadly sin of blasphemy.

Let me give you one more example of twisting God’s word to serve one’s own interests. One of feminist theologian’s favourite twists is the passage in Gal. 3:23-29 for woman ordination. Especially v. 28 of Gal. 3 is their ‘holy grail.’ It reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Feminist Christians twist this verse and claim that because there’s no division or distinction between male and female, ordination of women in church is now possible. But this verse is simply a part of that passage in Galatians which explains who can receive the gospel grace. That passage says that now all people can receive the gospel of Jesus’ free grace. There’s no barrier for Jews or Greeks, male or female, slaves or masters; whoever receives the Lord’s favour is now able to come to Him and be saved. V. 28 never teaches what the feminist Christians claim; they simply twist God’s word to serve their interests.

Having rejected the biblical Jesus, having twisted His word, people in a time of spiritual winter indict the Lord which is another prominent indicator of the troubled time! They accuse Him, the Lord! Like the Jews of Jn. 10:31 and 39, they try to stone Him, arrest Him, in other words, put Him under their custody, under their control. This is the third indicator of a time of defiance against the Lord.

Then, there’s a clear message for all who bow to Jesus and worship Him as the only Saviour and Lord. What is this message? It is summarised in the word that came through the mouths of the people of v. 41. They said this: “everything that John said about this Man [Jesus] was true.” So, they believed in Him. This is the message for you and I and all Christians; we must remember this and uphold it in our faith and life.

Let me explain what this message means. Who was John the Baptist? The last prophet of the OT. So, ‘what John said about this Man’ means what the OT teaches about Jesus. Moreover, it also means what the entire Bible, the word of God, both the Old and the NT, teaches about Jesus. He is the Saviour and Lord as the Bible clearly teaches. So, as those people came to Jesus in v. 41 “believed in Jesus there” (v. 42), knowing that the testimony of God’s word to Jesus is true, so must we believe in Him as the Bible teaches. This is a simple faith, simple allegiance to Jesus. It’s simple because our faith in Jesus is simply based on nothing else but the word of God. This faith is a meek faith because we uphold nothing but the teaching of the Scriptures.

This is the answer to us who live in a time of sinful generation that rejects Jesus and twists His word. When all others go a way that is against the teaching of the Bible, we simply remain with God’s word. When people pick up stones to stone Jesus, simply reflect what the Lord teaches us in the Bible. Then, leave the rest to the Lord who is our true and good Shepherd who knows what is best for us all individually and corporately. This is the faith the 16th and 17th century Reformers died for – a simple and meek Christian faith as summarised in five ‘solas’ or five ‘onlys,’ such as ‘sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone), ‘solus Christus’ (Christ alone), ‘sola gratia’ (grace alone), ‘sola fide’ (faith alone), and finally ‘soli Deo gloria’ (God’s glory alone). All these solas emphasise the faith in Jesus that is taught in the word of God alone.

So, believing in Jesus in a time of spiritual winter, a time of defiance against the Lord, is to remain with the very word of God. The darker the world becomes, the closer we must be to the Lord of the Bible. The closer you remain with the word, the lighter your burden will be in this troubled generation, the simpler and firmer your faith will be in the Lord Jesus of the Bible! ***

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