"A Firm Hand"
Pastor Tom Millner
John 10:22-33; 1 Peter 5:6-8
June 6, 2010
As our scripture reading unfolds this morning we find Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Feast of Dedication was what has become known in modern times a Hanukah, and He was there with many others to commemorate and celebrate. We're told that a crowd of Jews gathered around Him and basically said; "Come on, Man…how long are you going to keep us in suspense about who you really are (after all, the messiah is going to be a great warrior and free us from the grips of Rome or any other occupier). When are you going to show us your real colors and start amassing your army? Now if you're Him, just tell us!" "Hey dudes, I did tell you," Jesus said, "but you didn't believe me. You see, all these miracles I've been doing in God's name speak for me, but YOU didn't listen because you can't hear my voice – tat means you're not my sheep because my sheep hear my voice – I know who they are because they follow me – I keep them eternally secure and no one can snatch them from my hand – my God, my Father, has given them to me and He is greater than all and no one can snatch them out of His hand – He and I are one!" For the believer, these are consoling words! These words serve as a foundation of the faith by which we walk – "if God be for us, who can be (come) against us!" For those who had confronted Jesus, however, these words weren't comforting – they were worthy of death by stoning.
What is God saying to you with His actions in your life? Will you own Him or stone Him? God speaks to us as surely as He was speaking through the works of Jesus back then, yet not all are hearing. Let's look at some ways He's speaking today.
- He speaks through His WORD! There's a Bible in every seat here in this worship center. Many see it as nothing more than a book. Some see it as a reference when the Pastor or teacher asks to refer to it. Some see it as confusing and confounding. Just as Jesus was speaking through His actions of love and mercy and miracles in His presence here in the flesh, so too does His WORD today speak to us of the truth that is from God. If we're looking for Him in a way that conforms to pre-conceived and conventional forms (much like the Jews of Jesus' time), we won't be able to hear Him. Pre-conceived notions like this community holds today that God can only love us if we change, or become eunuchs, otherwise we're damned! You heard me right…this community believes this tripe. If it didn't, this place would be packed. If it didn't believe the lies, this community would be having a celebration weekend that embraced the presence of the loving God who holds all His sheep firmly in the grip of His mighty hand! Instead, it holds a celebration that doesn't want even the name of the One who holds us all to be mentioned. This wouldn't happen if the lies weren't believed. If you believe that the WORD of God condemns you, why would you read it? The WORD of God does NOT condemn; the WORD of God speaks to the heart and mind of those who seek to hear His voice more clearly and convicts us of the rightness of His way for our lives. That's not about changing who we are, but rather what we believe about WHOSE we are!
- God speaks to us through and by the actions of His Body. His Word tells us that where two or more are gathered in HIS name (living in the character of Jesus) there He is in the midst. We are told in His WORD that the church is the virtual body of Christ. Each and every one of us here is called (by His voice) to be here as a part of this body. Many of you have heard the voice of the Savior through the actions of this body. Being a part of His body does not mean everyone is the same part or should be expected to act the same. I've heard it said that the greatest emotional hurts come from the Church. I've experienced them myself. If you haven't already, stick around – you will. Yet God is holding fast to each and every one of His parts and seeks to have this body grow as a whole. The scars we bear are a witness to His enduring love that brings us closer in communion with each other in His presence.
Some years ago during a hot summer day here in South Florida, a young boy eager to cool off, ran from his house shedding shoes and shirt to dive into the cooler water of the pond behind his house. As he was swimming to the center of the pond, his mother looked out the kitchen window in fright as she saw the alligator swimming toward the shore. She ran out of the house screaming to her son to turn around and return to shore. Hearing his mother's frantic voice, the boy turned to swim back to shore. He was nearing the edge of the pond as his mother grabbed her son's arms. It was too late, however. The alligator had clasped his jaws firmly on the boy's legs. A local farmer was driving by as he heard the woman's screams as her nails dug deeply into the arms of her son. The farmer arrived none too soon with rifle in hand to shoot the gator in the head. Later, as the boy was recovering in the hospital, a local television station visited him in his hospital bed as they were recounting the miraculous experience he had with the gator. They wanted to show the scars on the boy's legs. The boy said "those are not the most important scars; look at these scars on my arms from where my mother wouldn't let go." The scars from God's grip on us are the greater evidence of our having been rescued from the grips of the attacker! You know His voice; you have heard Him speak! You wouldn't be here today if that weren't the case. And, if you have no scars from His loving grip, don't despair there'll be opportunities everywhere!
If God has us so firmly in His grip, how are we to respond? When I returned to India in December of 1987 to bring my daughter home, I was facing some daunting challenges of court hearings, passport issuance, US Immigration meetings, and the reality of bonding with my soon the be daughter who had only briefly seen me for an hour or so per day for a week some six months prior. She was eight months old and didn't know me. Every day when I would see her during my initial visit in May, I would wear the same cologne, hold her near my neck in my arms and sing softly to her. The day that all court proceeding in India had been finalized and I was free to hold my daughter in my arms forever, I was met with big eyes of fright and a crying, wiggling eight month old. I was prepared. I had a freshly laundered blanket ready, a full splash of the cologne I had worn every day six months earlier, and a song ready to gently sing to her. As she squirmed and cried, I gently bound the blanket tightly around her, drew her closely to my neck, and held her tightly as I sang her song to her. Her protest was short lived. Her whole body relaxed as she surrendered herself to the firmness of a secure grip and a soothing voice of love. From that moment on, the bond was secure. She didn't want to leave my sight. Even now, 23 years later she will call just to hear my voice.
God calls to us through His Word, through His Body, and through His firm grip on our hearts and souls. God speaks to us through the miracles He has wrought in our lives. The fact that we are here together today in this place is a miracle of God's grace. What does God want from us in the grip of His love? Our reading from 1 Peter 5 today gives us a direction; "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert." Humility as expressed here implies surrender. Just as the screaming baby finds peace in the security of the closely bound hug and surrenders to the loving arms of the parent, so are we to surrender to the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior. The bonds may seem tight until we relax in His embrace.
What is the grip that He has on you?