John 10:1-21 (AD 29)
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (v.1)
Notice that the Pharisees acted like they wanted to be in the sheep pen – that is, to be among the people of God. And yet Jesus equated them with thieves and robbers. A desire to lead God’s people and/or be among them is not on its own proof of…well, anything. They ‘climbed into’ the sheep pen rather than entering through a gate opened for them. Although they exerted authority over God’s people, they had no authority from the Word of God for what they were doing – in fact they were contradicting the Word of God.
How do you sniff out the guy who’s clambered into church leadership over the wall, or clambered into another church’s leadership over the wall? Or clambered into a popular preaching ministry over the wall? By staying in the Bible yourself and growing in love for God. The more we know and love God, then the more we “know his voice” (v.4) and naturally want to follow him. When someone comes along demanding agreement/adherence/submission without Biblical authority, then as God’s ‘sheep’ we will know it’s not God’s voice we hear.
And if all of that sounds a bit alarmist, remember that you’re being fed bad theology all the time from the media, social media, well-meaning friends, books, popular preaching and other places. Not the big obvious stuff like Satan-worship which you probably don’t find very tempting, but maybe even the kind of bad theology the ancient Jews were getting: those voices telling you what you need to do to placate God and make him like you. Or the opposite: the idea that God’s happy with you regardless of what you believe or do.
Today’s reading also contains another episode in the drama of Jesus’ relentless God claims, followed by people attacking him for it. This time, his claim sat alongside prophecies about being killed and rising again to life, and that many Gentiles would be saved (v.11-18).
The first cited response, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (v.20) is the entirely reasonable and correct response…to ME or YOU saying what Jesus said. But by this stage in his ministry Jesus had a history of spontaneous healings, exorcisms, resurrections and the instantaneous creation of food for 5,000 people. So the objection, as ever with the opposition to Jesus, ignored the evidence.
There is no recorded response by our Saviour to those non-Pharisees saying Jesus was demon-possessed, in contrast to how he attacked the Pharisees for their unbelief earlier in the chapter. This echoes later New Testament teaching that heresy among teachers is not to be accommodated for a second, and those who would assert authority without understanding the basics of the gospel, cannot be tolerated. On the other hand, doubt, hesitation and confusion among others, is what we are called to be patient and help people with (ref Jude 22).
Patience for those who are struggling, intolerance for those who are actively pulling people away from God. That was Jesus’ model, and it should be our model with ourselves and others.
You’re not, for example, called by God to beat yourself up over your struggles with doubt, but rather to talk to God about them as he patiently helps you. Beware of feeling comfortable in your doubt as ultimately it won’t help you. Equally, don’t go jumping out of the doubt hole into a bucket of ignorant certainty just for the sake of having an opinion. You’ll fall over.
Instead, ask for faith to trust– every day and increasingly – the evidence that Jesus Christ is God.