What do you need from the Messiah? Christ has shown you all you need to know; now listen to the Shepherd’s voice and follow to life.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, year C
Texts: John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Why did the Christians at Joppa send for Peter?
At this point in Acts, Peter was becoming known for being able to heal. But Tabitha was already dead.
When Peter came, Luke doesn’t say they asked anything. He went upstairs to pray for her, met many of her friends who were mourning. They showed Peter all the clothes she had made, talked about what a wonderful person she was. Maybe they just wanted him for the funeral, for spiritual support. Maybe she was his friend. We’ll never know.
But what he did is challenging for us. Luke says that this raising became known throughout that city, and “many believed in the Lord” because of it. But if you’re trusting in Jesus as the Messiah because of Tabitha’s resurrection, that could be a problem.
And what did Jesus’ questioners want from from him?
At this point in John’s Gospel, he’s done healings, fed thousands, and become known in the north, in Galilee. He’s now in Jerusalem, at the Temple, not in the north. It’s a small country, maybe they heard of him.
But one chapter earlier, in Jerusalem, Jesus healed a blind man and it caused a stir. A Pharisaic investigation was launched, people were questioned, the man himself was grilled, it was big. They certainly knew of this. So they want a clear answer: Don’t keep us in suspense. Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?
Jesus says: I’ve told you already, and you didn’t trust me. You’ve seen all I do, and that proves where I’m from, and who my Father is, and you still don’t trust me.
He’s right. So, what do they need from him? It’s the central question for all who meet Jesus. John says he wrote his Gospel so that you, too, could believe Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, and, believing, have life in his name. Their question is your question: what do you need from your Messiah to believe in him?
You’d better not need Tabitha’s experience.
The Joppa Christians likely didn’t expect Peter to do what he did. People today say things like, “Raising of the dead never happens like that anymore, like it used to.” But it didn’t happen much then, either. Jesus only raised three people from the dead. Later in Acts, Paul will raise someone. Peter never had raised anyone before, and never did again.
It’s wonderful she was raised. But she’s dead now; she isn’t still walking among us. And all her lovely friends, the widows Luke speaks of, met their deaths without an apostle handy to divert the funeral.
The problem with believing in Christ because of Tabitha’s story is that it’s likely never to happen to you or me. If such resurrections, or even eye-opening miracles, are God’s plan for what you need to trust Christ, why are they so rare? And if they’re not what God thinks you need, what is? What do you need from your Messiah, your Good Shepherd, to trust him?
I asked this at our Tuesday noon Bible study this week.
Your fellow congregants said a Messiah, a Good Shepherd, could really help them by strengthening their faith. That by giving the Holy Spirit, Christ could help them learn to trust in God’s love and care without always seeing evidence.
They said it would be very helpful if Christ could lead them to what President Lincoln once called “the better angels of our nature,” that they could use a Messiah’s help to live a better, more loving, more welcoming life.
And they said that what they needed from a Messiah, a Good Shepherd, was help to break through fear, so they could live with boldness and courage, like those first disciples after Pentecost.
Now these are worthy things to seek from a Messiah. And unlike random resurrections at deathbeds, these are exactly the things the risen Christ not only promises, but has been giving to those who trust in him, for 2,000 years.
Jesus says it today: I’ve shown you all you need to trust me.
If you want me as your shepherd, listen to my voice. Follow me. You’ll know then. There’s nothing preventing Jesus’ questioners from being his sheep except their unwillingness to listen to his voice and follow. And there’s nothing preventing you. You’ve seen what you need to see.
You’ve seen that God in Christ loves you beyond and through your sin and offers you unconditional forgiveness, a life cleansed from guilt and shame. So you don’t need to fear what you’ve been, only boldly be who you are in Christ.
You’ve seen at the cross and empty tomb that God’s love cannot be stopped by death, and that not only will you have life in Christ after you die, but countless believers before you have told you that resurrection life is possible now, abundant, rich, fulfilled life following in the way of the cross, the way of Christ. So you have a path right before you, ready for you to walk without fear, to being a kinder, more loving, vulnerable, embodiment of God’s love, and bring God’s healing to this world.
And you’ve seen that the risen Christ has promised to be with you, and countless believers before you have witnessed to knowing this, so you can ask for your faith to be strengthened, for God’s Spirit to fill you, so you can trust in your Shepherd, even without seeing all the evidence we always seem to want.
You’ve seen, and you’ve heard.
You’ve been fed here at Christ’s forgiveness table, led by God’s Word, blessed by God’s people, and given strength and support.
All that’s left is to listen for the voice of your Shepherd, your Messiah, and follow. In following, you’ll find life that is eternal – that is, life now, rich and abundant, and life in the world to come.
Come, listen, and follow, find the life waiting for you in the arms of your Shepherd forever. Then, like so many before you, live your life as witness, so all can trust in the Shepherd’s love.
In the name of Jesus. Amen