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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:To really grasp who Jesus is, believe his works
Text:John 10:31-42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5

Psalm 102:1,2 (after the law)

Psalm 93

Psalm 68:1-3

Psalm 68:7-8

Scripture reading: Psalm 82

Text: John 10:31-42

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The man sat crying in the cold, dark room, all by himself.  Perhaps you can imagine how he felt.  He was trying so hard to live a godly life.  His church taught him that he needed to try harder if he was going to go to heaven.  His church taught that he’d better do more good works and if he didn’t, God would be even angrier with him.  When he thought about Jesus, all he could see in his mind was a Judge.  He was coming to judge the living and the dead, and Jesus would be his judge, judging all his failed attempts to live a godly life.  The church taught him to see Jesus that way too – just as a judge.  It brought the man to tears, tears of anger and frustration. 

The man was a German monk named Martin Luther.  Many of you know Luther’s story.  You know how he started reading the Bible.  He read Romans.  God made him see the gospel of grace.  God made him see that our efforts are worthless, but that leads us to Jesus.  When we trust in Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of all our sins through the cross.  When we trust in Jesus Christ, all his good works are given to us as a free gift.  We’re then declared right with God – we’re justified.

The problem that burdened Luther isn’t unusual.  Even today, even many church-goers think that the Christian message is do more, try harder.  Do good works and if you try hard enough, you might make God like you, and then you might get to go to heaven at the end.  Maybe even some of us think that’s what the Christian message is all about.

If you do, I’ve got good news for you.  The good news is you’re wrong.  The Christian message is a beautiful and encouraging announcement of how Jesus Christ has done everything for us.  He’s done everything that needs to be done to rescue us from the judgment we deserve.  That includes giving us all his good works as a gift.  Through those good works, we have a permanent righteous standing before God.

Our passage from John this morning points us to the good works of our Saviour.  Here the Holy Spirit again shows us how the message about Jesus really is good news for sinners.  So the theme for this morning’s sermon is:  To really grasp who Jesus is, believe his works.

We’ll consider how:

  1. The Jews rejected his works
  2. Christ responded to their rejection
  3. Many others didn’t reject him

To understand our passage, the context is crucial.  We need to go back to verse 30.  Look there for a moment.  Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”  That’s something no other Rabbi had ever said.  That’s something no Jew had ever said.  That was radical.  Jesus was making a claim that he and the Father shared an essential unity.  That was like dropping a bomb on the Jews. 

In verse 31 that bomb nearly explodes.  The scene takes place in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The temple was still under construction, so there were stones lying around.  The Jewish religious leaders pick these up and they’re ready to use them as weapons to kill Jesus.  Normally you’d have to have a trial and do everything by the book.  But Jesus has said something so inflammatory that they’re ready to shove all that to the side and just spontaneously kill Jesus there and then. 

However, in verse 32, Christ is able to defuse the situation.  He does it with a powerful question:  “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”  He points to his good works here. 

What were those good works?  As Jesus says, there were “many” of them.  We could think about his perfect obedience to all of God’s commandments.  He loved God perfectly, and it showed.  His love for God was seen in chapter 2 when he cleansed the temple.  He loved his neighbour perfectly, and showed that too.  He demonstrated love and kindness, compassion and mercy.  We can think of how he healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda.  That was a good work showing compassion for this broken man.

All of these good works were “from the Father.”  What does that mean?  It means the Father commissioned them.  Jesus was called by the Father to do these good works.  It was part of the mission the Father gave to his Son to do. 

So, seeing there are so many of these good works, and seeing that they’re from God and for God, which of them deserves death?  What has Jesus done that’s deserved the death penalty?

Notice how the Jews respond in verse 33.  The many good works Jesus did don’t factor in.  They don’t even acknowledge that he’s done one good work, let alone many.  They ignore his life of obedience, his life of love, his life of compassion.  By ignoring it, they’re rejecting it.  They’re not just indifferent.  No, they’re hostile to Jesus and who he is, what he’s come to do.  They don’t care about his good works.  They’re just focussed on one thing:  he must be destroyed.  His words in verse 30 give them the occasion to do that. 

They allege that Jesus has blasphemed.  Even though he’s just a human being, he’s made himself out to be God.  That was implied in verse 30 when he said he and the Father are one.  That essential unity implies divinity.  And he’s said similar things before.  For example, he said in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  When he said that in John 8, they wanted to stone him then too.  They understood clearly what he was saying about himself. 

You might meet someone who says that Jesus was just a great teacher.  They might tell you that Jesus never claimed to be God.  I met a skeptic once who insisted on this.  He said that Christians later on came up with the idea that Jesus is God, but Jesus himself never taught that.  When you hear someone say that, you need to tell them to read John’s Gospel.  Tell them to read John and find out why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus.  Moreover, why did they finally achieve their goal?  Why did the Jews get Jesus put on a cross?            

Loved ones, another thing to take away here is to notice again the intense hatred of the Jews for Christ.  He does good works.  He shows love and compassion.  He is kind.  Yet they want to kill him and do it violently.  No one who’s ever walked on this planet has been more loving than Jesus.  Yet they wanted to stone him.  Sometimes we get this idea that if we’re just loving and compassionate, then the world will leave us alone.  The world won’t hate us.  The world won’t persecute us.  We’ll be safe if we’re just kind.  But look at your Saviour and the intensity of the hatred that he faced, even though he was loving, compassionate, kind.  He did good works, yet they wanted him under a pile of rocks.  We shouldn’t expect to be treated differently.  Think of the words of Jesus in John 15:20, “A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  What we see happening with Jesus here is exactly what we should expect as his disciples.

At the end of verse 33, the Jews were still ready to stone Jesus.  But our Saviour got them to drop their rocks.  He did it by going back to the Bible.  In verse 34, he refers them back to their Law.  The term “Law” isn’t used in the sense of the Ten Commandments, but simply as a general term referring to the Old Testament.  He calls it “your Law” – in other words, this is their ultimate authority.  This should settle it. 

Christ went to Psalm 82:6.  “I said, you are gods.”  When you read that in Psalm 82, doesn’t it make you a bit confused?  After all, there’s only one God.  Yet here we read of ‘gods.’  Then to make it even more confusing, Jesus quotes this Psalm, and he even emphasizes how the Scripture cannot be broken.  This is God’s Word, you better take it seriously. 

To our ears, it might not be right away obvious the kind of argument Christ is making here.  Remember who he’s speaking to.  He’s speaking to Jewish religious leaders.  They’re rabbis.  He’s using a kind of rabbinic argument.  There are three steps in this argument.  You have to pay careful attention to this, because if you miss one of these steps, the argument doesn’t make sense. 

The first step is to re-assert the ultimate authority of Scripture.  Jesus has the highest view of the Bible.  It’s God’s Word.  Since that’s true “the Scripture cannot be broken.”  If God’s Word says something, you have to accept it. 

The second step is to point out what God’s infallible Word actually says.  Psalm 82:6 says that the human beings to whom this word first came can be described in some sense as ‘gods.’  Most likely this is referring to human rulers or judges.  It doesn’t mean that they’re literally divine, on an equal level with God, with divine powers, to be worshipped, etc.  They’re called ‘gods’ because they represent divine justice.  Whatever the case may be, it is irrefutable that some human beings in the Bible are called ‘gods.’

The third step of the argument is the conclusion.  If some human beings can be called ‘gods’ in the Bible and that’s not blasphemy, then it’s not blasphemy either for Jesus to merely call himself the Son of God.  And he is the one who has been consecrated by the Father and sent into the world.  He’s not blaspheming at all and the Bible stands behind him. 

As I said this is a kind of rabbinic argument.  It’s called arguing from the lesser to the greater.  If it’s okay for human rulers to be called ‘gods,’ then certainly it’s okay for the greater to call himself the Son of God.  And this is an argument that’s irrefutable.  The Jews have no answer for it. 

So Jesus derails their charge of blasphemy and their desire to stone him right then and there.  But then he goes further.  He’s not done with them.  He puts out a challenge to them.  This is a challenge intended to call them to faith.       

Look with me at verse 37.  On the one hand, if Jesus is not doing the works of the Father, then fine, don’t believe in him.  In other words, if he is an evil-doer, then reject him.  In fact, if you examine his works and find him to be an evil-doer, then you should reject him. 

But then look at verse 38.  On the other hand, if Jesus is doing the works of his Father, even if you don’t believe his words, believe the works.  Believe what the works are saying to you about who Jesus is.  Examine the works, then you’ll know, understand/believe, the claim made back in verse 30.  You’ll grasp it:  that Jesus has the Father in him, and he is in the Father.  They are one.  Jesus is the Son of God sent for the salvation of sinners. 

Faced with the rejection of the Jews, Christ puts out this challenge to them.  He challenges them to consider his works.  They could do that because they had first-hand experience with him.  They’d been observing his life and his works.  For us, we can consider the works of Jesus in the pages of the Bible.  As we look through the Bible, do we see that what Jesus does is consistent with the works of God?  The answer, of course, is absolutely, yes! 

For example, think of healing.  In the Old Testament, God heals.  One time he did that was with King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38.  Likewise we see Jesus healing.  He healed the man born blind back in chapter 9. 

Think of forgiveness.  Psalm 32:5 and other places speak of God forgiving sins.  In Mark 2:5 we read of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralytic who’d been lowered down through the roof.  God forgives, Jesus forgives.  He does the works of his Father. 

One more example: think of compassion.  Think of how God had mercy on Israel in the wilderness and gave them the manna to feed them.  That’s in Exodus 16.  Then think of Christ feeding the 5000 in John 6.  Why?  Because of his compassion for the crowds.  He loves them, he loves people, just as his Father does. 

So Jesus did the works of his Father.  We see him doing exactly what God does – good works, beautiful works.  No one has ever done more of these kind of works than Jesus himself. 

And brothers and sisters, you have to remember that’s not Bible trivia.  This factors into your salvation.  Christ has had compassion on you and one of those ways is by doing all these good works you should have done.  He’s done it in our place.  We’re talking about what we call his active obedience.  It’s an important part of our salvation.

Let me illustrate why.  Let’s say a parent gives a certain chore to their child.  It has to be done by 4:00 or there’ll be consequences.  Four o’clock rolls around and the chore isn’t done.  But the child is repentant, says sorry to the parent, and asks for forgiveness.  The parent is merciful and forgives the child.  But the chore still needs to be done.  Forgiveness doesn’t make the required chore disappear.  You could have the child try to do it himself, or you or someone else could do it for him.  Now you see, we have forgiveness from our Father through Jesus Christ.  He forgives his children.  But the requirement is still there for the law to be obeyed – and it has to be obeyed exactly and fully.  And so the Father sends his Son Jesus Christ to do that for us, and to do it perfectly.  We have forgiveness through him, but we also have his obedience to the law of God.  You see, we not only need the cross, we also need his perfect life, we need his good works.

So, brothers and sisters, see the works that Jesus has done.  Believe them, and grasp him for who he really is.  He is the Son of God, who took on our human flesh to rescue us.  He’s done absolutely everything we couldn’t do for ourselves, including good works.  This is the Son of God, our Saviour. 

The Jews in Jerusalem couldn’t see it.  Their plans for stoning Jesus had been derailed, their accusation of blasphemy had been refuted.  But they still hated him and wanted to get him out of the way.  So we read in verse 39 that they tried to arrest him again.  However, it’s not the right time yet for Christ’s final sufferings, so he manages to escape from them. 

Where does he go?  He heads out of the city and out to a remote spot, near where it all began.  It’s a place across the Jordan where John was baptizing some three years back.  This is probably Bethany across the Jordan, the place mentioned in John 1:28.  Jesus stays out there, away from the hostile Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. 

But he can’t avoid the crowds.  Verse 41 tells of how many found him there.  They “came to him.”  For what?  The passage doesn’t directly say, but we can assume that it was his normal pattern of ministry.  He would have shown compassion and love by healing, but he would also have been preaching and teaching. 

That creates a reaction among the people.  They remember John the Baptist.  He baptized and preached, but he didn’t do any signs.  John did no miracles.  He did preach about the coming Saviour.  They remember what he said.  They see that everything, everything John said about him was true. 

What sorts of things had John said about Jesus?  The Bible tells us back in chapter 1.  John called him the Lamb of God.  John said that Jesus was the Son of God.  He said that Jesus was the one far greater than him.  The people see that all these things are true.  They heard Jesus, they saw what he was doing, and they believed in him. 

Notice how there’s a direct contrast between these people and the Jews in Jerusalem.  The Jews in Jerusalem hate Jesus so much.  They want his blood.  When Jesus preaches to them and does good works among them, they don’t believe at all.  But these people across the Jordan do.  They believe.  There’s a positive response.

Now think with me for a moment about what all these people have in common.  What do the people in Jerusalem and the people across the Jordan have in common?  They’re all covenant people.  You could say they’re all part of the church of that time.  They had the same Bible, what we call the Old Testament.  They heard the same preaching from both John the Baptist and Jesus.  They saw the same works and signs done by Jesus.  They saw his miracles, but they also saw his good works and obedience to God.               

And what was the difference between these groups of people?  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  The people in Jerusalem didn’t believe.  They didn’t believe what the good works were saying, they didn’t believe what Jesus was saying, they just didn’t believe.  The people across the Jordan did. 

Loved ones, that reminds us again that being in the covenant doesn’t guarantee saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Being part of the church doesn’t give you an automatic ticket to heaven.  Even just outwardly reading the Bible, or hearing it preached – that too doesn’t save us.  Probably the leaders in Jerusalem were far more religious than the people across the Jordan – but there too, just being religious, doing religious things, doesn’t save you. 

Notice how our Lord Jesus here in this passage is calling people, covenant people even, to faith in him.  Brothers and sisters, you covenant people need to believe and keep on believing.  Specifically, this passage is about the need to believe and keep on believing in the good works Jesus has done in your place.  Your good works will never be enough.  But the works of Jesus Christ are good, beautiful, abundant, and already accepted by God in heaven.  So place your trust there, place your trust in the works Christ has done for you.

As Luther came to discover, the Christian message is definitely not do more and try harder.  It’s not: do your best because you have to earn your way to a relationship with God.  No, when you place your trust in Jesus Christ and what he’s done, you can rest from that toxic way of thinking. 

To be sure, good works need to be done for your salvation.  In fact, we are saved by good works.  But those good works aren’t ours.  We’re saved by the good works of Jesus Christ.  So trust in him alone.  Trust only in what he’s done.  AMEN.


Our heavenly Father,

Thank you for the freedom the gospel gives us.  Thank you for setting us free from the bondage of believing that we have to earn our way to you.  We worship you for consecrating your Son and sending him into the world.  We adore you for sending him to take our place on the cross, for that great act of self-sacrificial love.  We also exalt you for sending him to do all those good works in our place, works of compassion, kindness and mercy.  Thank you that through Christ, we have infinite righteousness in your eyes.  Please help us always with your Holy Spirit to keep looking to Jesus alone for righteousness.  Keep despair and doubt away from us.  Fill our hearts with faith and trust, so that we always experience the joy and peace of knowing Christ as our Saviour.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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