Jesus continues on His travels, teaching and healing as He goes. But soon He decides to return to Jerusalem. His apostles are quite reluctant, knowing that the majority of the Sanhedrin wants Jesus killed for what they believe is speaking out against God and breaking His laws. But Jesus knows His timeline and what He needs to accomplish before His time on earth is done. He tells them, “It is nearly Hanukkah, and we need to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication.” “Far be it from us to try to tell You what You shouldn’t do,” Peter says sadly. “We will go with You, of course.” So they set out for Jerusalem. It is winter, so the traveling is not very comfortable. They arrive just before the Feast of Dedication and Jesus goes immediately to the Temple to teach. He is in Solomon’s Portico, a large sheltered area of the Temple facing the east, believed to have survived the destruction of the original Temple from the time of Solomon. There is a mixture of believers, seekers, and doubters present, along with those who hate Jesus enough to want to kill Him. Suddenly, they surround Him and demand, “Stop beating around the bush! Are You or are You not the Messiah?”
By now they have drawn quite a large crowd. The Pharisees don’t know what to make of this latest teaching of Jesus, and neither, it seems, do the rest of the Jews who are standing there listening. Fierce debates break out all over the crowd. “He’s insane!” “He’s a prophet!” “He is Satan incarnate, get away from Him and don’t listen to anything He says!” “He’s the Messiah!” “He heals on the Sabbath and breaks all kinds of other laws. He can’t be from God!” “But nobody has ever healed anyone who was born blind. How can He have done that unless He is from God? No demon could do that!” Back and forth the arguments flew, louder and more forcefully with each round. In the midst of the furor, Jesus beckons to His apostles and His newer followers – including the formerly blind man of the hour – and they quietly slip away from the crowd.
“I AM the Good Shepherd. My Father has put Me in charge of taking care of all of His sheep, His children. Just like My Father knows Me, I know My Father. In the same way, I know and love each one of My sheep, and when they hear My voice they know Me and come to Me. I willingly lay down My life for each and every one of My sheep because I love them with all My heart. Most of the sheep in My sheepfold are children of Israel, but I have many other sheep scattered all over the world, and all over time. When they hear My voice they will come to Me. I will bring them all into this sheepfold, so that there will be one fold and one Shepherd over them all. When My Father sent Me here to gather My sheep, He told Me everything I will need to do. I will give My life for My sheep, and I will take it back again. My Father has given Me the power to do this. Nobody has the power to take My life. I alone have the power to give it and to take it back again, and because I AM obedient to Him, He loves Me and is pleased with Me.”
John 10:11, 14-18
“Now, let’s look more closely at the shepherds who take care of the sheep. There is a huge difference between types of shepherds. Some shepherds are either the owners of the sheep or their children or other family members. They love their sheep like part of the family and care for them as such. The shepherds of Bethlehem who raise the Temple sheep are even more fiercely devoted to their shepherding responsibility. For them, it is even more than the love of their sheep. These men have shepherding in their blood – their families have been Temple shepherds for many, many generations. They take their duties very seriously, knowing that in accepting the position of shepherd of the Temple sheep they are raising and caring for God’s sheep. Then there are those who are paid by the owners of the sheep to care for them. To the majority of these shepherds, this is just a job. A paycheck. Under normal circumstances, you might not be able to tell the difference between the shepherds. But when trouble comes – thieves break in to steal the sheep or wild animals come to kill them – that is when you see the true shepherds. The hired shepherds, in most cases, do not fight for the sheep. Why should they? It’s just a job for them, not worth losing their lives over. They run away and leave the sheep to fend for themselves. But the sheep owners or the Temple shepherds aren’t in it just for the money. When trouble comes they willingly defend their sheep with their own lives, sometimes losing their lives in the process.”
Jesus continues, “Even when a shepherd comes to the gate without his key, he calls to the shepherd on duty and the gate is opened for him. The shepherd comes into the pen and calls his sheep, and his sheep come to him because they know his voice. The sheep follow the shepherd wherever he goes, because they know and trust him. But anyone else they will run away from, because they do not know him or his voice, and do not trust him. The Pharisees glance at each other warily, thinking, “Where is He going with this?” Jesus tells them, “Here is the Truth you need to understand: I AM the gate. I protect My sheep. Anyone who comes to God through Me will be spared punishment for their sins, and will instead gain entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. They will be able to come and go as they please, and they will be given everything that they need for a rich, full life. There have been many who have come before Me who have claimed to be the Messiah, but they have been like thieves, coming only to steal God’s people from Him and destroy that which God creates. My sheep have not listened to them, knowing in their hearts that these thieves were only interested in themselves. But now, I AM come. And I bring with Me life, full and rich, for all who trust in Me.”
Jesus looks around Him, spreading His arms to draw the Pharisees’ attention to the scenery. They are standing in a field next to a sheep pen. There is a high wall around the pen to keep out animals and thieves that may try to take the sheep away in the night. There is a gate with a strong lock at one end. The Pharisees, with the importance they place on cleanliness, are clearly uncomfortable in their surroundings. Jesus takes this opportunity for a reminder of who they are. “You hold shepherds in disdain, because they spend their lives caring for dirty, smelly animals. You forget where you came from. Many of our most prominent ancestors were shepherds – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David – I could list many more. The people of Israel have always been identified thus. Now listen closely, because what I AM about to tell you is important Truth. When night falls, the sheep are led into the pen. The night shepherd is set in charge of all the sheep and the gate is locked. Whenever someone comes into the sheep pen at night and does not use the gate but climbs over the wall, the shepherd knows that he is there to try to steal the sheep. The shepherds have keys to the lock and enter through the gate.”
“I AM come to judge the people of this world, to give sight to the blind and blindness to those who claim to see clearly,” Jesus tells the man, gently helping him to his feet. As usual, there are Pharisees who have followed them and are watching in the shadows. One steps forward now, unable to just stand there and witness this display. “Are you saying that we Pharisees are blind?” he asks Jesus. Jesus replies, “If you were truly blind to the evils of the world and to the laws of God, then you would not be guilty of sinning in breaking those laws. But as it is, you know the law. You are not ignorant of the things of God. And yet you violate His greatest commandments in everything you do. You claim to know better than anyone else what God expects. You claim to be better than everyone else in your behavior. You believe you see. But you do not. Your eyes may see, but your hearts are blinded by the sin of pride. You do not let yourselves see God’s Truth that is staring you in the face, and so you are guilty of sin.”
A messenger arrives in Jesus’ camp. “Where is the Rabbi?” he asks. “I have news from Jerusalem.” John points him in the right direction and the messenger finds Jesus. “Rabbi,” he says, “the man who was blind has been thrown out of the Temple and exiled from Jerusalem forever. He is on a mission to find You.” “Thank you, My friend,” Jesus replies. He speaks to the 12 apostles briefly, then leaves the camp to find the man who is now seeking Him. When He comes upon him, Jesus asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man knows instantly that this is the One who he has been seeking, the one who gave him his sight. He is not sure what Jesus means by the Son of Man, but if Jesus is endorsing this person, he wants to believe in him. “Who is the Son of Man? If You show him to me, I will believe in him,” the man responds earnestly. “You have seen Him now, and know His voice. He is the One who is speaking with you now,” Jesus tells him. “Oh, Lord, yes! I do believe, with all my heart and soul!” the man exclaims. He falls to the ground in adoration, throwing his arms around Jesus’ ankles.
A deafening roar of outrage meets these words. The leading Pharisee stalks over to the man, towers over him, points a finger at the man’s chest, and thunders, “How dare you! You were born blind – meaning you did something so terribly sinful while you were in your mother’s womb that God punished you with blindness – and you presume to try to teach us? Get out! Don’t ever show your face in Jerusalem again! You are banished and excommunicated!” And with that, he turns on his heel and storms off. The rest of the Sanhedrin members follow him into an inner room of the Temple. The man stands there stunned for a moment, then begins to laugh. Since coming from the Pool of Siloam he has wanted nothing more than to become acclimated to his newfound sight and to find the Man who healed him. Now he is completely free to do both. He runs to his parents’ home, empty for the moment since they have not returned home from their work in the marketplace. He hurriedly grabs a few provisions and sets out on his mission to find this wonderful Man.
Uproar again, at these words. But this time the leading Pharisee shouts for silence right away. With a slight edge to his voice he once again asks the man, “Tell us exactly what happened. How did He do it? Don’t leave out any details.” The poor man sighs, feeling very tired. A thought runs through his mind – albeit quickly dismissed – that maybe this whole seeing thing is more trouble than it’s worth. He closes his eyes for a moment before answering the man. “I have answered all your questions already. I don’t know how He did it, He just did. And I am very grateful that He did. Why do you keep asking me? Are you trying to find out more about Him so you can become His followers too?” The Sanhedrin members don’t like that response. A low grumble begins but is quickly quelled as the Pharisee says, “We all know that you are His follower, but that is only because you are young and foolish and unschooled. We follow Moses. We know that he was sent from God. As for this Man, we are becoming more and more convinced that He is a messenger of Satan, though we can’t say for sure.” At this, the man laughs and says, “Really? That’s interesting. Because we know that God will not answer the prayers of sinners, and we know that nobody can do miracles unless God gives them the power. We also know that those who love God and do His will are blessed by Him. And nobody, in the whole history of the world, has ever healed someone born blind. But this Man did heal me. He opened eyes that have never seen anything at all before today. And you’re telling me that you don’t know where He comes from, and that I am foolish? You amaze me! He has to be from God, otherwise He would never be able to do the things He does.”