I perceive much of the preaching that goes on today as cheerleading. Rousing people in the spirit of the 1970 classic "Tighter, Tighter" to hold on just a little bit tighter now. And what's wrong with that?
Absolutely nothing. Hold on I say just a little bit tighter to the Shepherd's Word. That was the problem with the Jews in our text. They said they were being held in suspense because Jesus wouldn't come right out and tell them plainly He was the Christ. That wasn't true; they just weren't listening. In the first year of His ministry, Jesus had told the Samaritan woman. Just a year before, in the very location of our text, He told the man born blind. Between those 2 events, again right here in Jerusalem, the Jews were upset because Jesus "was making Himself equal to God" (Jn. 5:18).
Hold on to His Word tighter as they did not. Don't let go of His commands in favor of your opinions. Don't let go of what He says about this or that in favor of what's trending. Hold on I say to every jot and every tittle of His Word because none of it will ever pass away. Instead of poor mouthing, hold on to Jesus' promise of abundant life. Instead of being down and out, hold on to His Word of hope. It is impossible to hold on to Jesus' Words too tightly.
The same is true about what Jesus' knows. He puts before the Jews the fact that He knows His sheep. Hold on to that. Stop bemoaning the fact that no one understands you, no one knows your troubles, no one knows what you have to put up with, deal with, live with. You know what you're problem is: You're not holding tight enough to the fact that Jesus knows you. Every hair on you head, every cell in your body, every thought in your head, Jesus knows. Tighter, tighter; hold on just a little tighter now.
What's wrong with urging people to hold on tighter to the Words, knowledge, and the ways of Jesus? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Hold much tighter than you are to the ways of Jesus. He says sheep follow Him so off you go. The way of Jesus is to come to you in Baptism, so hold on to your Baptism. The way of Jesus is to come to you in Absolution, so hold on to every single Word of forgiveness ever spoken to you. The way of Jesus is come in Bread and Wine with life and salvation. Hold on to His Body and Blood ever tighter as your body and blood ages, ails, and dies.
Go on; hold on tighter now. You can't grasp Jesus' voice, knowledge, or ways too tightly. But just how long to you think you will last doing that? How long before your grip tires, loosens, and you fall? Do you think you can last as long as Judas did? He held on to Jesus during the first year of His ministry, but by year two Jesus says He was a devil. Do you think you can last as long as the 10 others did? They all promised to stay with Jesus no matter what, but they let go of Him in Gethsemane. They didn't hold on; they dropped Him like a hot potato.
O I see. You'll be Peter. Yeah, he lasted longer. He held on to Jesus right up to the high priest's courtyard. Peter held so tightly to Jesus that he boldly sat down in the middle of those warming themselves around a fire. Peter bravely held on to Jesus tighter and tighter until a little servant girl broke his grip with questions. Then again I'm sure you can last as long as John who lasted through the high priest's house to the cross itself. He held on to the suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying Jesus just like I urge you. But then what? He didn't go to Galilee to wait for the risen Jesus as Jesus had told them all to do. Instead, he locked himself in the upper room for fear of the Jews. On Good Friday, when Jesus said it was finished John was finished holding on to Jesus.
It feels good to preach "hold on." I feel powerful, bold, and heroic, and you like it too. Finally, you're getting something out of this preaching. You're getting courage, hope, zeal; why you'll walk out of here and really start holding on to Jesus. You won't let go for anything. That's what you think, but what chance do you have holding on longer than 10 disciples, 1 courageous Peter, 1 beloved John, or even 1 traitorous Judas?
What you're thinking is that all but Judas let go in very difficult situations. What I've noticed is that letting go often happens like it did in the case of Elijah. It was after he held on to the true God in the face of hundreds of false prophets, after he defeated them, that he let go and fled into the wilderness wanting to die.
Read The Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers or In Harms Way. They are accounts of 2 World War II naval battles that resulted in hundreds of sailors being cast adrift in the sea. These first person accounts tell how for days they fought off attacking sharks, dealt with severe injuries, and suffered maddening thirst. Yet they held on tighter and tighter to rafts and what not. Both accounts tell how when the search planes finally found them, not a few of the survivors let go of where they were safe and sure to be rescued to sink to their deaths in the ocean.
I can relate more to Elijah then I can to those sailors, but what holds true for both is that it was victory not defeat that led to letting go. Do you see how precarious our hold to Jesus, to faith, to salvation must be? I mean if not only suffering, fear, and defeat can lead to letting go but relief, boldness, and victory can too, where are we to go? What good is it to enthusiastically, winsomely, humorously urge you to hold on tighter, tighter when in good times and bad, happy and sad, in winning and losing, people let go?
Nope, I'm not helping you sheep by urging you to hold on to the Shepherd. I help by pointing you to the Good Shepherd with the strong hands, the nail pierced ones. Not your many sins or your ever present sinfulness, not the Death that we recoil from and fear, not the Devil who threatens, accuses, and roars, could make Jesus drop you. You've seen the movie where the person is running and all the pursuer wants is what they are carrying. All they have to do is drop what they're holding on to and they can go free. Well that was Jesus. He was only pursued by sin, Death, and Devil because He was holding on to you.
Remember when Jesus says the Devil has nothing in Him? That's right; Jesus as God in flesh and blood had no sins, and so the Law demanding sins be punished didn't give the Devil the authority to pursue Jesus. Being free of all sins, Death had no claim on Jesus either for only sinners die. But Jesus willingly picked up our sins and sinfulness, and not just ours but the whole worlds. And with the world's sins, He shouldered the world's death too. The Greeks and Romans pictured the god Atlas holding up the physical world, you are to see the true God holding all the world's sin, guilt, and death, and the Devil chasing Him as He does it.
I've had a hawk swoop down and take a dove I shot; I've come upon a coyote with prey in it's mouth. Off they go, holding tighter and tighter, but I yelled, I hollered, sometimes I shot in the air; they let go and were free. All Jesus had to do is let us go, and the nails would have popped out of His Body, the crown of thorns popped off His head, the sun would have shined, and the Father would've boomed from heaven, "You are My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." But Jesus would not drop you. Your ugly, shameful, disgusting sins couldn't make Him do it. The stench, cold, and dark of the tomb couldn't do it. The Devil shouted, yelled, and shot his arrows into Jesus; still He wouldn't let you go.
Jesus holds you, His sheep, tighter and tighter, but He even goes one better in our text. He says His hands are the hands of God. This is a twofold comfort and let it wash across you from both directions. Jesus hands are God's hands. Think of the All State commercials picturing cupped hands. God's hands are bigger, better still. We chant in the Venite, "His hands formed the dry land." You marvel don't you, at the work of men's hands? You stare in awe at a skyscraper, a bridge, even a small piece of technology. How much more must the hands of God be capable of? Can they hold on to you through illness, job loss, marriage problems, child problems, world problems? Of course they can.
I said there are two comforts here. One is that Jesus' hands are God's; the other is that God has hands. The immortal, invisible, God has hands to touch you, to hold you, to caress you. The hands of God are wherever Jesus' hands are, and where are Jesus' hands? His hands baptized you with water in the name of the Triune God. As often as you flee to your baptism, you are running back into the hands of God. Jesus' hands are the ones laid on you in Absolution. As often as you confess you sins, God is faithful and just and will hand wipe them away. Jesus hands us His Body and Blood in Communion. As often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood the hand of God is at work rebuilding your life and preparing you for heaven.
Jesus gives two more indications of how tightly He has His sheep. The insert misses one. First Jesus says, "No one shall (not can' as the insert interprets) snatch them out of My hand." It won't ever happen that someone or something shall snatch you from Jesus' hands. Secondly, "No one is able to snatch you." No one has the power or ability.
The band that recorded Tighter, Tighter" was a one hit wonder named "Alive and Kicking." Jesus rose from the dead, alive and kicking, still holding tighter and tighter to you. Rather than live in the world focused on whether you're holding on to Him, live in the world of being held. This is where Paul lived. What else is he saying when he all but shouts: "I am convinced that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?" Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday of Easter (20130421); John 10: 22-30