Fall 2002

Religion and Spirituality

The Gospels for the 21st Century, Part 12

The Shepherd’s Voice

David Hulme

Jesus demonstrates the loving nature of His leadership as He heals a blind man, commissions 70 more to help Him proclaim the gospel, and teaches His disciples to pray.

During one of His visits to Jerusalem, Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about His statement that He is the light of the world. They said that His claim was invalid because He was speaking as His own witness. Jesus pointed out to them that He and His Father were the two witnesses to His claim. He had said that those who followed Him would not walk in darkness but in the light. The Pharisees did not recognize Him, He said, because they did not know the Father. These were strong words to be speaking in the confines of the temple, where religious convictions ran deep.

Now Jesus again told His audience that He was going to disappear, and that where He was going they could not come. Some thought He meant to kill Himself. Puzzled by His words, they asked Him, “Who are you?” (John 8:25). Others, however, put their faith in Him as He spoke.

To those who were less convinced yet still saw something remarkable in Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (verses 31–32). Filled with pride, some responded that they were already free and not in slavery to anyone. They claimed to be a special people since they were descended from the patriarchal father, Abraham. Jesus reminded them that they were nevertheless slaves to sin and that He could set them free. He said: “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father” (verses 37–38).

By this He meant that they were listening to the wrong father. He went on to say that father Abraham was a righteous man and that he would not have sought to kill Jesus. Insultingly they questioned Jesus’ origins. They said, “We are not illegitimate”—the implication being that Jesus was, whereas they had God as their father.

Even more directly, Jesus then told them that they were of their father the devil, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning.

Again He drew the distinction for them: “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (verse 47).

The discussion was getting too heated for many of them. Now they replied that He was one of the hated Samaritans, and demon-possessed. When He told them next that He was alive before Abraham, they picked up stones to kill Him, but He was able to avoid them and leave the area of the temple.

A Blind Man Sees

Blindness comes in different forms. It can be physical or spiritual. One is far more serious than the other. In a miraculous show of God’s power, Jesus healed a blind man by making mud and placing it on the man’s eyes. Then He sent him to the Pool of Siloam to wash. After that, he was able to see.

Blindness comes in different forms. It can be physical or spiritual. 

The man’s neighbors had varied reactions. Some said he wasn’t the same man who used to beg, while others said he was. The man himself said, “It’s me.” The Pharisees asked him what had happened, and he told them what Jesus had done. His parents knew that this was their son, but they didn’t know how he had come to see. At least, that’s what they told the Pharisees who had heard that Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees were spiritually blinded to such a degree that they said of Jesus, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16). Others disagreed, and so they, too, were divided over Jesus.

When the Pharisees called for the man’s parents to explain what had happened, his parents were afraid of being excommunicated. They knew that the Pharisees had threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who claimed that Jesus was the Christ-to-come. So they said, “Why don’t you ask our son to explain? He’s old enough to speak for himself.”

The Pharisees called for the healed man a second time. Again he was asked to explain. By now he was getting irritated with his questioners. “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” he asked (verse 27).

Now the religious leaders got angry. They insulted the man, telling him that he was just a supporter of Jesus and that he was steeped in sin at birth. With that, they threw him out.

When Jesus heard what had happened, He went to the man and comforted him, telling him who He was. The man became a believer.

All of this caused Jesus to remark, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (verse 39).

It was increasingly clear that only certain ones would understand, and that understanding was a gift from the Father. More likely than not, the religious leaders had not been chosen to receive such knowledge at that time. The Pharisees asked if Jesus regarded them as blind. He replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (verse 41). Jesus said that because they claimed they did know and understand, they put themselves in a different category.

Shepherd and Sheep

The whole situation with the healing of the blind man led Jesus to teach another lesson by way of an allegory. He began speaking about a man entering a sheep pen by climbing over the fence. He said such a man is a thief. He said the true shepherd comes in by the gate, and the sheep recognize his voice and follow him. They will not follow a stranger but will rather run away. The audience didn’t understand this figure of speech, so Jesus explained that He was the gate and also the shepherd. Other teachers were robbers, strangers and hired hands who did not really care for the sheep. When trouble came in the form of a wolf, the hired hands would run away.

Jesus said that He was prepared to lay down His life for the sheep. He said that His sheep would recognize His voice. He also said that there were other sheep not of the fold of Israel, alluding to the gentile peoples who would become His followers in future years. He added that He would willingly sacrifice Himself for the sheep—that His Father had allowed Him to do that.

This powerful teaching was too much for some of His Jewish listeners. They said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20).

As usual, others did not take that approach. They said instead, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (verse 21).

Jesus often engendered feelings and opinions that were at opposite ends of the spectrum. His teachings divided people.

So it was that Jesus often engendered feelings and opinions that were at opposite ends of the spectrum. His teachings divided people.

Blessed With Understanding

Jesus would send people ahead of Him to prepare the way in the towns and villages He was about to visit. He had done this with His 12 disciples in Galilee; now He commissioned 70 more to go to the area of Perea, which is Jordan today, and into Judea.

The men whom He chose would go out in twos to heal the sick and to teach about the kingdom of God. They were not to stay where they were not welcome. They were rather to shake the dust off their feet and go on to the next place.

Saying this, Christ remembered those towns that had rejected Him in Galilee. There was the fishing town of Capernaum, where He had been so much in evidence; the black basalt town of Korazin on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee; and the seashore town of Bethsaida. Jesus said that it would be more tolerable for the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon in the Day of Judgment than for these cities in His home territory.

When the 70 returned, they were exultant that the demons were subject to them. Christ said that they should rather rejoice that they had a place in the coming kingdom of God. After all, Jesus said that He had seen Satan, the leader of the demons, fall like lightning from heaven.

The fact that the Father had seen fit to bless these men with such spiritual understanding was a source of great satisfaction to Jesus. He said: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Luke 10:21).

Jesus was apparently so pleased about their understanding that He said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (verses 23–24).

Two Great Lessons

When a teacher of the law asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus had a perfect opportunity to teach a great lesson. He replied with two questions: “What is written in the Law?” and “How do you read it?” (verses 25–26).

The teacher of the law replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus told him that if he would do that, he would live.

But the lawyer wanted to go further, so he pursued Jesus with this question: “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29).

It was the occasion to recount the story of the good Samaritan, who took pity on a robbed and wounded man at the roadside. A shocking aspect of the story was that two others had passed by the man and done nothing. They were both Jews and part of the religious hierarchy. The Jews regarded the man who stopped and helped as part of a mixed people, religiously and tribally. He would have been considered unclean by the lawyer. The Samaritans, likewise, regarded the Jews as enemies. So Christ was teaching that even our enemy is our neighbor when he needs help. Jesus’ message was clear: Be like the Samaritan who showed mercy and was a good neighbor, and you will do well.

As they traveled, Jesus and His disciples came to Bethany near Jerusalem. There, two sisters, Martha and Mary, welcomed them. Mary was anxious to hear what Jesus had to teach, but Martha was busy with all the preparations for the guests. Martha, upset by her sister’s lack of help, complained to Jesus. He explained that there are times to set aside the physical distractions and concentrate on what is spiritually important. That was what Mary had done (verses 38–42).

How to Pray

Just how do we approach God? Is there a special formula? Does God hear and answer only when the formula is followed? Is He really there? How to pray is often a mystery to those who have seldom if ever done it and have never had any instruction.

Just how do we approach God? Is there a special formula? Does God hear and answer only when the formula is followed?

John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. The day now arrived when Jesus’ followers requested that He do the same for them.

Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ request has become immortalized in song and is repeated by rote and often without real meaning in the Western religious tradition—not, of course, what Christ intended. The so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is, in fact, a pattern for prayer rather than a prayer to be repeated as a ritual. Let’s look closely at Jesus’ instruction.

He said, when you pray, say: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Luke 11:2a, New King James Version throughout the remainder of the article).

Our approach to God, then, is as to a father. He is to be thought of as a loving father. So many today, however, have not experienced such a relationship with their physical father. That can sometimes get in a person’s way. It demonstrates the important effect that a father can have on his child’s relationship with God Himself. Now God can, of course, compensate for such lacks when a person asks Him for help.

The first line of Christ’s model prayer goes on to say that God’s name is recognized as holy. That’s because God is holy. What does this mean? Holiness is a mysterious subject to many. It is the condition of being set apart for a special purpose. God is set apart from us because He is a unique being, both Creator and loving Father of humanity, a being who has always existed. He has created us for a purpose and wants us to fulfill that purpose. We are to approach Him, therefore, with reverence, or respect.

Next, Jesus said we are to acknowledge that God has a kingdom that is to come on the earth, and that we should be looking forward to it. He said that we are to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (verse 2b).

Not only are we to anticipate God’s kingdom being set up on earth in our prayers, but we are also to look forward to His will being done on the earth as it is done where He dwells in heaven. That is to say that this present world is not where people in general practice God’s way; this is not a world that reflects God’s ways in action.

The future kingdom of God will be on earth, not in heaven, and as a result human beings will experience God’s ways in action everywhere. In today’s world we so often wonder where God is when tragedy strikes. We want to blame Him for what has happened, or agonize over why He has not prevented a tragedy. But because most people have opted to seek their own will rather than God’s, God isn’t involved in their day-to-day affairs. In that sense, this is not His world, as Jesus and His followers pointed out. But a time is coming when it will be.

In the following verse we read that we are to seek God’s help in providing our daily needs: “Give us day by day our daily bread” (verse 3).

In saying this, we acknowledge the source of our well-being. As individuals we recognize that, even though for the time being God stays out of the affairs of humanity as a whole, He still has ultimate control over the physical world He created. Though human society does not operate according to God’s ways, He does provide for His children’s needs when they live His way and request His help.

Next, Jesus said we are to pray: “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (verse 4a).

We are to acknowledge that we do commit sins. We are to regularly seek God’s forgiveness for our failures to live according to His standards.

What is sin? Today sin is an unfashionable word. The sinner has become a patient in a society dominated by psychological explanations of human behavior. People no longer sin, they are victims of their pasts. Too often the excuse is that we had bad experiences as children and cannot be held responsible for our actions. Jesus did not subscribe to that view. He taught that we do sin and that we need to acknowledge it, repent—that is, turn around—and be freed from the guilt that sin causes.

We are also to recognize our need to be willing to forgive others their sins against us and not to hold grudges against them.

Finally, Jesus said that we should pray for protection from the activities of Satan. Jesus understood that there is an archenemy, a powerful spirit who is dedicated to the destruction of humanity. He taught His disciples to pray with the following principles in mind: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (verse 4b).

It is not that God will put evil in our path, so much as it is a statement that we should recognize our need for protection from Satan’s destructive intentions toward us.

Keep Knocking

Jesus’ instruction about prayer was followed by a lesson in the importance of persistence in prayer. God will answer, but He does not always answer according to our timetable. The human tendency is to give up on prayer because the answer does not come as soon as we want. Boldness or persistence in prayer is expected of us.

The human tendency is to give up on prayer because the answer does not come as soon as we want. 

In Jesus’ example, He told a story of a man wakened at midnight by his friend asking for food for an unexpected visitor. At first the sleepy man was not going to get up and help, but when his friend persisted, he did get up and give him what he needed. So persistence pays off.

Continuing, Jesus showed that God is ready to answer our innermost needs. He said: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9–10).

The Father is willing to give His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him in sincerity and with a repentant heart. There can be no greater gift. It is the promise of the very mind of God, made available to humans. It is the promise of living forever.

We frail humans know how to give good things to our children. God, our Father, is capable of giving gifts of ultimate value to His children when they ask in honesty and truth.