Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is the center focus and prompts us to ask a question about his identity and the nature of God.

I generally preach with one concept through the sermon instead of treating the sermon like a Bible study that tries to make all the pieces of the text fit neatly. Thus, I find two paths diverging in my sermon prep.

The options:

  • focus on Jesus’ self-understanding that he is the Messiah (I wrote about that here)
  • focus on Jesus, the Savior in Whose Hands We are Kept.

About the first option, I believe the minister should be self-aware in preaching. One can take on the perceived tone of the text, which in this case is antagonistic. They “encircle” Jesus and then threaten to murder him. There is a difference between their questioning and the good-faith questioning that many of our listeners bring with them. Can one talk about the questions in the text without demeaning or shaming the spiritually curious or those investigating the claims of Christianity? Hope so.

I will focus on the second option with the aim of speaking of our assurance of grace: to be in the hands of Jesus is to be also secured in the very hands of God.

My main focus will be John 10:29, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

There is a divergence of opinion on the first half of the verse, what/who is greater? Is God the Father greater or is that which has been given by God (authority) to Jesus greater? The passage states that the Father (God) saves and gives the saved ones to Jesus. To be in the hands of Christ, to believe and to follow, means that we are secured in the hands of God. Christ is not adding to God’s work, but is faithfully completing it by protecting, preserving, and saving.

One thing that may be in play here is that the ones who encircle Jesus may also be trying to dissuade the 12 disciples from following. It seems possible that when Jesus says, “You will never be able to pluck them out of my hands,” he is stepping up to defend. He is arguing for the faith of his disciples, who literally follow him and listen to him. This is a powerful idea – Christ is not passive in our life, but advocates for us.

What is the why of this sermon? Why does it matter that I understand that God is greater than all? Well, in our text, God is greater than the human accusers. God is greater than our questions. Our questions do not threaten us and do not intimidate God.

The appeal of this section of this passage is that it addresses all the concerns that may be stirred up by the first part of the passage. Do I really believe in the words and the works of Jesus? Do the way and the reality of Christ have a home in my heart? Am I just playing games? How can I be certain?

This past week, after having celebrated Holy Communion and given the benediction, I took my seat behind the altar and contemplated the moment. There in front of me was my beloved congregants with life-stories of all types. There are those living with or seeking a diagnosis, those making sense of lives lost, those facing disappointments, those with hopes and aspirations, and those holding on to faith through the process of reconstructing a faith beyond toxic religion.

Some congregants will tell you they are going through a job search, have health issues, or dealing with anxiety. Those are significant and on top of the often silent and persistent questions and nudges of darkness that cause us to question the goodness of God and the gift of life: whether they can be truly loved by God or person, whether or not they have worth, whether or not their experience of God is true, et al.

These questions, and those like it, oppress and feel like such big monsters – unconquerable, better not to be stared down, felt but ignored. We feed these monsters by rarely questioning them or countering them with the good news that is found in this passage.

When the minister acknowledges the presence of these doubts, we bring them to light and bear witness that these monsters are small when compared to the power, presence, grace, and commitment of such a big God.

From my experience of preaching 40+ funerals in 5 years, these questions produce a low hum of spiritual anxiety in all people. People need assurance at times and not another moral checklist. When I read Psalm 23, the feeling in the room quiets and people visibly settle themselves into their seat as if they are settling into the very assurance that passage gives us.

The questions are real: What if my child dies before baptism (a reality faced last week), What happens when I get Alzheimer’s and can’t remember? What if I have doubts and die with them? The assurance comes, you are not left in the hands of fate. You are safe and secure, for God is greater than all.

I leave you the words I often leave with my congregation after a sermon, “May this good news have a home in our heart.”

Comments are closed