Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 1-2; John, chapter 10
Scripture: John 10:11-21 (NRSV) – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Observations: Two things stand out to me today. First, when Jesus talks about laying down his life, and the fact that no one takes it from him, I’m reminded that the end result could be seen from either perspective. The people who orchestrated his arrest and crucifixion probably thought that they were taking his life from him. From their perspective, he was a trouble-maker who needed to be dealt with – so they did. The vast majority of people in that society probably believed that the leaders had taken his life from him. Back in John 7, when Jesus went to the festival, the people who were gathered said, “Isn’t this the man that they are trying to kill?” When he was arrested and crucified, they probably thought, “Well, they finally got him.”
But perspective is influenced by what we know, and what we want to believe. They leaders wanted to believe that he was a trouble-maker who deserved to be killed, so they looked for reasons to do it. The people probably worked from a couple of assumptions: first, the no one would willingly die, especially not by crucifixion; second, that the powers and structures of this world were the ultimate authority. When Jesus was crucified, the people would have felt that those assumptions were confirmed – Jesus hadn’t wanted to die, but the power structure finally got him.
The second thing that stands out relates to that; in the final two verses quoted above, the people are divided about Jesus. Those who didn’t want to believe him looked for reasons to discredit him: He has a demon and is out of his mind. Now, there was absolutely no evidence to support either of those beliefs – but because they were looking for reasons, when they didn’t find any, they made them up. Those who were open to belief – or who had already believed – found reasons to support their belief: These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind? In either case, their perspective influenced their understanding. We need to understand the power of perspective to shape beliefs, because perspective will strongly impact people’s willingness, and even ability, to believe.
Applications: The point that I believe God is making with me today is that because people’s perceptions are so powerful in shaping their response to Jesus, we need to work to understand what those perceptions are, and how to respond to them. Ultimately, the only way we have to respond to them is with demonstrable truth – not by argument, but by evidence. Those who supported Jesus said, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” That was a powerful argument, but it was made stronger because people knew that Jesus had healed the man who was born blind. While we might not have that sort of miracle to point to, every one of us has the miracle of a transformed life to point to as evidence of the power of the gospel. “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
I believe that God is challenging me to tell that story more – and to encourage others to tell their stories. There will be people who will not accept that evidence, who will continue to disbelieve because they’re too invested in their alternative reality. I can’t control that, and God won’t control that. He’s given us the freedom to believe, or disbelieve. But he has called us to share the good news, and the best evidence we have is the impact Jesus has on our lives.
Prayer: Father, thank you for transforming my life. Help me to be ready to share that evidence in support of Jesus’ message. Help me to recognize the opportunities that you bring to me today to do that, and help me to respond in obedience. I thank you for the work of your Holy Spirit – preparing people’s hearts to hear and respond to you, and directing me and helping me to see the opportunities. May your Kingdom come in greater measure today as people recognize the work of Jesus and respond in belief. Amen.