TODAY’S READING: John 9–10
The Gospel of John was written almost sixty years after Jesus died, after the epistles, after the formation of the early church, after the first waves of persecution. Not only had Christians been martyred, they also were being cast out of synagogues and shunned in their own society and community. John wrote reminding them that this was nothing new, reminding them that Jesus always divides (John 9:16).
In the first century, the Sadducees had Roman support and were the official religious authorities, but the Pharisees were more popular with the local people. Consider, if you will, the Pharisees as the “Mutaawa” of Jesus’ time. In present day Saudi Arabia there has been an alliance between the royal family and the Wahabi sect of Islam. The Wahabi have functioned to the house of Saud as the Sadducees to the Romans—the recognized religious authorities. The Mutaawa have been the vigilante religious police who volunteer their services to ensure the promotion of virtue and the subjugation of vice. The Wahabi are more formal, the Mutaawa more forceful.
There is a debate as to whether followers of Jesus can remain culturally religious after coming to Jesus, and John 9 helps definitively answer this question. Jesus divides, and to follow Him fully is to ultimately mean ejection from any community that denies His deity. The Jews had agreed that “if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 22). In the days of Jesus and the days of the early church, to follow Him had religious, cultural, and societal consequences. This by no means implies that followers of Jesus should adopt non-indigenous cultural Christian forms, but it does mean one cannot stay a cultural Muslim, for example, and follow Jesus. One can stay Arab (humbly proud), stay Saudi (joyful and glad), and follow Jesus, but one cannot stay Muslim, and the non-biblical aspects of being Arab and Saudi must likewise be evacuated (same goes for Americans, Asians, Africans, etc.).
When we come to Jesus, we come to the light of the world (v. 5)! Jesus is Master of all peoples and brings light to the darkness of all religions. He insists on a flock that hears His voice as He leads them out, and whatever and whoever came before are thieves and robber who only kill and destroy (10: 3, 8, 10). But Jesus calls us out of bondage into abundant life and promises there will be one flock and one shepherd (v. 16). All peoples of earth must unite in the new tribe called “the church” under the authority of Jesus, and all new believers from everywhere must have their primary identity with this flock. No longer can our primary identity be Arab or Saudi, and it can certainly not include being culturally Muslim. We must be called by the name of Christ and linked spiritually to the people of Christ both militant (alive and active) and at rest (glorified and observant). There is a necessary division that is the consequence of following Jesus (v. 19). There is a calling out of all that is broken and a uniting with our new people. Once in the hands and tribe of Christ, no other identity or ideology can snatch us away (v. 28).