April 29, 2007: The Recognition Factor

Let us pray: Dear Savior, tune our ears to Your voice of comfort and hope. Tune our hearts toward Your undying kindness and love. Tune our mouths to speak Your truth in love. And tune our lives into that blessed equilibrium of knowing that we are Your beloved sheep and You are our beloved Shepherd. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SHEPHERD OF YOUR SOULS!

TEXT: John 10: 22-30

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Eleven days ago, our Italian driver, Leo Pretelli, was transporting us down the road outside a small town in Italy. The car ahead of us was going slowly, too slowly for Leo! He made a passing comment about “American drivers” and pointed out dad driving, mom trying to read the map in the front seat, and the daughter in the back of the car looking about anxiously. We all had a laugh. It is true that you can usually pick Americans out of the crowd in a foreign country. We are physically larger, wear sneakers a lot, and are usually not as fashionable in our dress as the locals. Our facial features also differ. On that last point, one of my colleagues who lived for many years in Europe once shared with me an interesting insight. He said that Europeans can usually pick out the nationality of another person simply by looking at their face. It seems different languages use different facial muscles, hence the uniqueness of our features. Since he’s a language major, I’ll differ to his observation. All of this points to what I call The Recognition Factor.  Since Christians are the most unique people on this planet, today I want to discuss THE RECOGNITION FACTOR with you!

I

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”

It was December, Hanukkah time.  The time when the Jews celebrated the rededication of the temple under the Maccabees about 160 years before. The idea behind this celebration paralleled the Psalm verse: “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit.” Unfortunately, from the rather clueless question posed to Christ, it is obvious that although the temple had been renewed, the hearts of the people had not.

Another item of interest is the forum Jesus employs to teach them exactly Who He really is. Solomon’s Colonnade was a “porch” outside the temple. In Greek it is called the “stoa” from which we get the word “stoic.” The contrast here is that Christ not only changes minds but does something even more important. He also has concern for the heart and soul of lost humans. Unlike today when humans define themselves in terms of body and mind, God reminds us that we also have a soul, the very heart of our humanness and that the health of that soul is vital for life.

The fact of the matter is this: Although they ask Jesus if He is the Messiah, He has already told them, showed them, and proved it to them. They just didn’t want to listen. Already He has done countless miracles. Already He has fulfilled countless prophesies about Himself. Already He has exhibited amazing understanding of the Bible and dazzled the masses with it. Already He has fed their souls. And yet, human unbelief is strong. Humans hate giving up their preconceived notions about Who God really is and why He came into this world. Unfortunately humans don’t recognize their need for a Savior because they think they can save themselves by simply going through the motions of external piety.

II

So, what does Christ do about this failure to grasp the obvious? He instructs them, and us, in The Recognition Factor! “Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’”

Have you ever been to the grocery, looked for an item, and unable to find it asked for help—and then had it pointed out that you’re standing directly in front of it?! Well, that’s Christ’s point. He’s given people countless signs and words of truth about Himself and His plan for our salvation. He really did miracles. He really did heal people. He really did raise people from the dead. And in every instance He also proclaimed that God’s gift of eternal life is just that—a gift. A gift earned by Christ for us and given to us freely through faith.

In Italy, our driver, Leo, found out that I was a minister. After quizzing me a bit, he informed me that “He loves Jesus.” I responded, “That’s wonderful! But, it’s even better that Jesus loves you!” That’s the point for God’s sheep. They focus on, they recognize that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He loves them. He laid down His life for them—for us. And we then respond to His voice of comfort and hope through faith. We recognize Him because He has bought, paid for, and made us His own with His blood.

Next time you find yourself traveling in a foreign country, employ the recognition factor in sizing up the crowd around you. You’ll find it enlightening. But even more importantly, employ that recognition factor to yourself and to your relationship with Christ and ultimately you’ll find a real home in heaven. Amen