The Story - It's All About Belonging
It's All About Belonging Because...
"By sharing stories, we have begun the process of turning strangers into friends," filmmaker Jehane Noujaim told the U.S. studio audience gathered to experience Pangea Day. The live global film fest broadcast simultaneously worldwide highlighted 24 short films meant to promote dialog and cooperation on universal themes such as food, home, water, laughter, sorrow, hope, landscape, despair and joy.
The video you just saw was from the short film Americana Project. It shows a young man returning home to Cuba following a 13 year absence because his father put him on a raft to America when he was a little boy. As you could see, the reunion was joyful at first, but like the Prodigal Son’s in Luke 15, his return raised many emotions as well. Especially obvious in the reaction of the brother who remained in Cuba if you were to keep watching. It's amazing how such a good story could be told in just 7 minutes!!!
But as that short film so powerfully illustrates, belonging is a complicated thing. Which is what we're talking about today. Could it be there are many other prodigal sons and daughters out there, perhaps some even in these pews today, that are waiting and wanting to come home? That are craving the sense of belonging and security only a loving and authentic church family can provide? Wouldn't it be cool if the church, especially our church, was all about belonging? Wouldn't it be cool if by honestly sharing our stories, we too could turn strangers into friends? Let's turn in our Bibles to John 10:22‑30 to see how that might be done.
The Bible says, "22Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. 24The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one."
Most folks nowadays have heard of Hanukkah. Which is a Hebrew word that means dedication. But back in Bible times, the term for this special Jewish feast was called The Feast of Dedication or as the Jewish historian Josephus calls it—the Festival of Lights. All these names describe the same celebration instituted by Judas Maccabaeus. Who was one of the greatest warriors in Jewish history alongside Joshua, Gideon and David. He fought after the Old Testament was written but before the New Testament between 167 and 160 BC. It was his victorious revolt against the Seleucid Empire and its leader Antiochus Ephiphanes, who had defiled the Jewish temple by offering sacrifices of pigs on the altars, that the people were commemorating. By attending it, Jesus seemingly gives credibility to it. But that may not be the real reason He's there because Christ's attendance probably had more to do with confirming the words of the prophet Daniel than recognizing a zealot like Judas. Why? Because Daniel 11:14 predicted hundreds of years earlier that "Violent men among your own people will rebel in fulfillment of the vision, but without success." And long term that's exactly what happened.
Here's some more background. John 10:22 also says it was winter. And according to the Talmud, winter extended from about the middle of Kislev to the middle of Shebat. Which on our calendar is roughly equivalent to the middle of December to the middle of February. How would you like to have church outdoors in the middle of winter? Well, they didn't either! That's why John says they went inside. Or at least to a part of the temple where it was sheltered from the elements. That colonnade to the east of the Temple was supposed to have survived the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC and thus was believed to have been a part of the original workmanship of Solomon. Acts 3:11 and 5:12 mention Solomon's Porch as well so it obviously continued to be a sentimental place of belonging where people gathered to worship.
But since it was winter, Jesus was not teaching out in the open as was His custom, but under cover. And among those in the crowd that day were many who were also under cover. But not the kind sheltering them from the elements. These people were wolves in sheeps clothing. In John's account, it's not coincidence this episode in the story of Jesus occurs right after a discussion on the Good Shepherd. Jesus even alludes to it in his response to these under cover agents of accusation.
How do we know they weren't just curious? In English we wouldn't. Verse 24 innocently says, "The Jews gathered around him, saying, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.'" Nothing wrong with that right? But in the Greek that’s not how it sounds. In there the expression is thought to mean: “How long will you make us doubt? How long will you trouble us? Even, how long will you vex and annoy us?”
Implied in that innocent sounding question is an under cover accusation of suspicion and doubt and rejection. Which leads us to point number one. Belonging precedes believing. With no where to flee, as Jesus does in John 6:15 when the crowd wanted to crown Him by force, Jesus' enemies have Him surrounded and trapped inside an outside corridor. And isn’t it ironic that in the temple area built by the wisest man on earth, Solomon, these under cover wolves in sheeps clothing ask Jesus the stupidest question.
Now Dee said I shouldn’t say there is such thing as a stupid question. And Mrs. Manasco, my 3 rd grade teacher, told me the same thing. Over and over and over. But in this case, I have my doubts. Why? Because the intent of their question is not sincere. The intent of the inquiry is to accuse. And entrap.
Yeah, they wanted to know plainly. But they wanted to know plainly so they could deal with this menace the way Judas Maccabaeus dealt with the menacing Romans nearly 200 hundred years earlier. That was their real intent not obvious in English. But Jesus sees through all that. And skips straight to point number one. Belonging precedes believing. He replies in verses 25-26, “25Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”
Here Jesus refers back to His discourse on the Good Shepherd not the good sheep. He reminds them of God’s goodness. How the Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. How He knows them all by name. And that when He calls them out from a large sheep fold combined with many other sheep from different flocks, the sheep that belong to that particular shepherd recognize his voice and follow Him through the gate. That’s the kind of God He revealed. And that’s the kind of Son the Father sent. The Good Shepherd is good and loves us even though we aren’t good. But it gets even better than that. Because He actually chooses us long before we even knew to choose Him.
John 15:15-16 says, “15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”
Isn’t that encouraging? Belonging precedes believing! Long before we even know we are His, He is ours. He chooses us. Let’s remember what a friend we have in Jesus. We belong to Him because He chose us long before we choose Him. Revelation 13:8 says the Lamb of God was actually slain before the creation of the world. You can’t go back any farther than that!
Therefore, everybody belongs to Him. But as our passage reveals through verse 26, everybody doesn’t believe that. But their rejection of Jesus doesn’t change Romans 8:17 which says, “17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co‑heirs with Christ.”
So belonging precedes believing. Point number one. But belonging also precedes behaving. Which is point number two. Look at verse 27. “27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” How did John 15:16 put it? “16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” Romans 1:5 says it this way. “5Through Him [Jesus] and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”
Where does behaving fit in? Before or after we choose Him who first chose us? Where does obedience fit in? Sooner or later? For years, we have implied or in some cases outright said that behaving comes first. Stop this and this and this and then you can be baptized. So while someone quits smoking, someone else continues gossiping. Or something just as bad. Romans 1:29 makes no difference between these sins of omission and commission. So why do we?
Make no mistake. Belonging precedes behaving. We know this is true because even among the holiest most obedient followers of Jesus, this was the pattern in their lives. Paul says in Philippians 3:12 and 15, “12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
He says the same thing from a painfully personal point of view. Paul is so unsugarcoated and brutally honest, I would’ve loved to have been in his circle of influence. Romans 7:18-20 says, “18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
And this guy struggling to obey and behave wrote half the New Testament it seems! So if we have to get all our behavior and obedience figured out first, before we can be accepted by God and baptized into His church, guess what? None of us would be there! I sure wouldn’t be! Because like Paul, none of us have already obtained all this. None of us do good. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “20There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” That’s why we all will always need a Good Shepherd. And loving Father. And Savior and Messiah. Even after conversion.
So while it’s true, as far as the public record goes, that Jesus had never publicly laid claim to that title Messiah in His temple talks, throughout his ministry He has revealed enough about Himself for honest seekers to know His true identity. And theirs as His sheep. Such was the case for the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:26. And the paralytic in John 5:17. And the blind man in John 9:37. The question is, how will we respond to Him? If you or anyone you know is still undecided, point number three should seal the deal.
Because point number three is belonging brings security. Verses 28-30 say, “28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
Please note: the grounds for this assurance is not our behavior. Supposedly good or obviously bad. Before or after conversion. No, the grounds for this assurance is that eternal life is given to us by God and that those who choose to accept it and believe Him remain in the care of His Father. And because our Father is greater than all and so powerful, no one can snatch them out of His hand!!!
So how sure should we be our salvation? Doubly sure for sure! The security is so strongly expressed in the Greek that commentators suggest its fullest significance of the word “perish” in verse 28 refers to the final irrevocable second death Jesus refers to in John 5:25-29 and John refers to in Revelation 2:11 and 20:5-6. We’re not going to go into all that right now. Not with the death and resurrection of Lazarus shortly around the corner in John 11. We’ll talk about that then. For now, just know that most folks don’t think “perish” in this verse is talking about the first death which is really only a short sleep according to Psalm 146 and 2 Corinthians 5 and 1 Thessalonians 4. But the second death is the permanent one. The consequences of which have everlasting eternal implications. So we’ll talk about that soon.
But if like the 11 disciples who kept falling and failing, but stayed humble and close to their Savior throughout the story of their life, if we stay close to and abide in Christ belonging to Him who first chose us, we too can have security. Double the confidence. John 6:39 says it this way: “39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
If however, like Judas Iscariot, we insincerely follow Jesus for monetary gain or some other reason, we can be lost. That’s what Jesus meant in John 17:12 “12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
Is that what Jesus wanted for Judas? No! 1 Timothy 2:4 says it is God’s desire that everyone be saved. Including Judas. We know this is true because the “any man” in John 10:28 literally means “anyone” Satan included. But he, like some, chose not to stay chosen. Which is a sad ending to a happy story. But it doesn’t have to be yours. Because we can belong. Not only to Jesus. But a community of people who sincerely want to serve Him for the rest of their lives.
And to help us do that, a group of great people here in Toledo First have been brainstorming and planning ways for more of us to feel like we belong. So I’m going to invite Carla to come forward at this time. I’m not sure you know this, but there are half a dozen groups of people that meet together outside of the times we gather for worship. And you’re invited to join them!
I am SO excited to introduce you, not to small groups, that are exclusive or to cells that live and sometimes die, but to something we’re calling Circles. Open and honest groups of people speaking truth in love making room for strangers to become friends of God.
Carla, tell us a little bit about Circles and some of the options available to us. Thank you! I hope and pray you’ll consider joining one of these Circles. Perhaps some of you will consider starting your own. As long as you meet with me once a month so we can be accountable to each other, you’re more than welcome to do so! We’ll add your name to the board outside. Because belonging precedes believing. Point number one. And belonging precedes behaving. Point number two. And belonging brings security and blessed assurance. So let’s sing about that in closing.