Believe the Works

32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there. John 10:32-42 ESV

Darkness and light, life and death, truth and lies. John’s gospel is a book of contrasts, and at the heart of it all is the disparity between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. He is the Good Shepherd who feeds and cares for the sheep, while they are the hireling, who have proven themselves to be nothing more than thieves and robbers who steal, kill, and destroy. And while these men were supposed to be the experts in the Mosaic Law and students of the Hebrew Scriptures, they were incapable of recognizing the very Messiah spoken of by Moses and the prophets. Yes, they were religious, but they had no relationship with God the Father. Jesus accused them of being the offspring of the devil because they bore a greater resemblance to Satan than they did to God. They were liars and murderers, and the proof is clearly seen in their latest reaction to Jesus’ teaching.

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. – John 10:31 ESV

This was not the first time their anger with Jesus had turned to thoughts of murder. Back in chapter eight, John records another encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders where His words had left them confused and frustrated. Angered by His cryptic claims to be greater than their revered patriarch, Abraham, they had shouted, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 ESV). And when Jesus had responded, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV), they had picked up stones to kill Him.

The very fact that these men were so ready to kill Jesus with their own hands is evidence of their intense hatred for Him. Had they done so, they would have been in violation of Roman law which prohibited the Jews from enacting any form of capital punishment. Driven by uncontrollable anger, they were willing to throw caution to the wind and suffer the consequences.

But on this latest occasion, Jesus looked calmly at His antagonists, holding the stones in their hands, and calmly asked them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32 ESV). With this question, Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of their response to Him. All that He had done, from His many miracles to His messages concerning living water, the bread of heaven, and eternal life, gave clear evidence of His claim to be the Son of God.

Even the blind beggar who had been given the gift of sight from the hands of Jesus had been able to recognize that there was something special about this man.

“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”  – John 9:31-33 NLT

But the religious leaders were more concerned about the words of Jesus than they were with His works. It wasn’t what He did that bothered them, it was what He said.

“It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” – John 10:33 ESV

It didn’t help that Jesus had done many of His “works” on the Sabbath. According to their very strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, He was a Sabbath-breaker and therefore, worthy of condemnation. But when Jesus excused His behavior by claiming to be the Son of God, that was more than they could stand. He was a blasphemer. And the evidence was clear. Jesus had been arrogant enough to describe Himself as “I am,” the very words God had used to describe Himself to Moses.

But rather than refuting their accusation, Jesus calmly responded by using their own Scriptures as validation for His claim. He was fully in HIs rights to call Himself the Son of God, and He used Psalm 82:6 as proof. Quoting that verse, Jesus reminded His enemies, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (John 10:35 ESV). These men would have been intimately aware of this passage and known that it read, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” In fact, they would have taken great pride in including themselves among the “sons of the Most High.”

What is fascinating about the verse which Jesus chose to quote is its surrounding context. Asaph, the author of Psalm 82, is addressing the judges of Israel, those men who were responsible for the spiritual care and physical well-being of the flock of God. But the psalmist reveals that these men were not doing their job.

“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
    by favoring the wicked?

“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
But these oppressors know nothing;
    they are so ignorant!
They wander about in darkness,
    while the whole world is shaken to the core.” – Psalm 82:2-5 NLT

And what follows is the part Jesus quoted. But consider closely what He chose to leave out.

I said, “You are gods,
    sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
    and fall like any prince.” – Psalm 82:6-7 ESV

Once again, Jesus reveals the contrast between Himself and His antagonists. They are sons of God, but they are merely men. And like all men, they will die. But Jesus was a different kind of man. He was the God-man, fully human, and yet fully divine. He had every right to refer to Himself as the Son of God, just as they did. But what set Him apart was that He was “the one and only Son, who is Himself God” (John 1:18 BSB).

Jesus had repeatedly declared Himself to be God’s “one and only Son” (John 3:16, 18 ESV). He was not just another Israelite who could claim to be the offspring of Abraham and, therefore, membership in God’s family. He “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV).

But Jesus knew they were incapable of recognizing His identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. They refused to accept His words, so He challenged them to consider His works.

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” – John 10:37-38 ESV

Which brings us back to Psalm 82. The works Jesus did were in keeping with the will and the works of God the Father. Jesus was showing justice to the poor and the orphan. He was upholding the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. He was rescuing the poor and the helpless. In fact, when John the Baptist, confined to prison, had sent His disciples to ask Jesus if He was actually the Messiah, Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus had stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And then He had proclaimed to those in the synagogue, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had come to do the works of His Father. And He challenged the religious leaders to consider carefully all that He had done. It was evidence enough to prove that He was the Son of God. If they would compare His works with the words expressed in their own Scriptures, they might come to believe and to “know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38 ESV).

But rather than believe Him, they sought to arrest Him. Their minds were made up. So, Jesus departed once again. John closes this first half of His gospel account by describing Jesus leaving Jerusalem and returning to where His ministry had begun, the wilderness of Judea. And yet, despite His remote location, the people continued to seek Him. And they recognized that all John the Baptist had said about Him had proven true. And the result was that many believed. Unlike the religious leaders, the people saw Jesus’ works and believed.

The second half of John’s gospel will chronicle the final phase of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It will begin with Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead and culminate with His own death and resurrection in Jerusalem. His “hour” was quickly coming. The purpose of His incarnation was imminent. The Son of God was preparing to do the will of God, and His final work would be the definitive proof of His identity.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson