If you’ve already made up your mind about someone, you’ll be suspicious or skeptical about anything they might say or do to the contrary. You might say, “Okay, hotshot, convince me,” giving the impression of being open-minded. But if the truth be told, it would take a miracle to convince you.
And maybe not even then.
As we saw in a recent post, Jesus was in Jerusalem for Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over their Syrian oppressors. When his opponents found him walking in a covered colonnade next to the temple, they surrounded him and said, “How long will you test our patience? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24, CEB).
Jesus could have answered, “Well, all right then. You guessed it: I am in fact the Messiah.” He had already said as much in a private conversation with a Samaritan woman (John 4:26). But he had never said it in public. Why not say so now?
Because he knew they wouldn’t listen.
Their question gave the appearance of openness, as if they would believe if he would just stop speaking in riddles. But he knew better. They weren’t about to believe; they just wanted him to declare himself openly so they could be confirmed in their rejection of him. Thus Jesus dodges the question:
Jesus answered, “I have told you, but you don’t believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you don’t believe because you don’t belong to my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30, CEB)
“I already told you,” he says. Well, not in so many words. But he has accepted John the Baptist’s testimony about him, and has not shied away from talking of his own unique relationship with the Father. And oh yes, there are the works, the miracles, the signs — most notably and recently, the unprecedented act of giving sight to a man who was born blind. Only someone from God could do such a thing. Why did they not believe already?
Because they don’t belong to his sheep. Here Jesus returns to his earlier declaration of being the Good Shepherd, a title with messianic overtones. His sheep know him, know his voice, and follow him when he calls. They are safe with him; no one can take them away. And he will lead them to the greatest pasture of all: eternal life.
It’s hard to miss the predestinarian strain in this passage; Jesus’ opponents don’t believe, because they don’t have the gift of faith that is given to God’s elect, his sheep. Jesus, of course, is not attempting to develop any kind of doctrine of predestination here and he continues to invite his opponents to believe (e.g., vss. 37-38). But he does puncture every pretension by which humans decide on the basis of independent intellect who is and who isn’t from God, or what God can or can’t do.
Sorry to say, even the sheep get it wrong sometimes. Jesus’ own disciples may listen and follow, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying to lead the Shepherd down the paths they desire. Unlike Jesus’ opponents, they believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But like Jesus’ opponents, they expect the Messiah to be cut from the same powerful cloth as King David or Judah the Hammer.
They’re in for a big surprise.
But meanwhile, it might be good for us to consider how open- or closed-minded we are when it comes to what God can or will do.