Who is “They”?
April 30, 2023*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 10:1-10 Acts 2:42-47 1 Peter 2:19-25
Who are “they?”
In conversations with political topics of all kinds, speakers and writers refer to “they” as the people on the other side of their argument, or as generalized groups of immigrants, or people of color, or persons in poverty, or wealthy persons, or any other group that the speaker wishes to communicate as outsiders, outcasts, or “the other” and to linguistically paint their existence with disfavor.
The rock and roll band, The Who, famously asked, “Who are you?” If you attend a home game of the Cincinnati Bengals, you will likely her a stadium chant that asks, “Who dey?” And, of course, in our modern discussion of gendered pronouns, those who choose to use neutral pronouns wish to be described as “They/Them” rather than he, she, him, or her.
But you may be relieved to hear, none of those things are what I mean by “Who is They?” Instead, several of today’s scriptures refer to “they.” And, while each case is a little different, I think that we’ll learn something from looking a little deeper. We begin in John 10:1-10 where we find Jesus use an illustration, and then patiently explaining the meaning of that illustration and, at the end, we will find Jesus refer to this group of “they” several times. Jesus said…
10:1 “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, …
And you can almost hear him begin to speak very slowly…
… I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved [“kept safe” is an alternate translation]. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
In this case, Jesus says that “whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” In this case, those who follow Jesus are the people who are “they” and, if we have accepted Jesus Christ and have chosen to follow him, them “we” are “they.”
But in Acts 2:42-47, the situation is just a little different. In this case, “they” isn’t us… but it could be. Luke says…
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
“They” devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, “they” sold property and possessions to give to those in need, “they” continued to meet together in the temple courts, “they” broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. In this case, “they” isn’t just the disciples of Jesus. If we back up two verses, the subject of the sentence appears, and we learn just who “they” is. Verse 40 says, “40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” So, in this case, “they” is everyone who accepted Peter’s message, which was the good news of Jesus Christ. “They” were everyone who was baptized and who were added to the number of believers. So, while none of us were there, and technically, that isn’t us, it could be. If we accept Jesus Christ, are baptized, devote ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship and breaking bread, to giving generous gifts to those in need, and to regularly meeting together, then once again, “they” is “us.”
But we won’t find this elusive “they” in 1 Peter 2:19-25 because Peter is much more personal. Here, Peter pointedly addresses “you” and “we” rather than “they,” saying…
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Peter says that you were called to follow Jesus Christ, to live the kind of life that he modeled for us, and to do his work, even if that means that others don’t like it. If we suffer because of the good that we are doing, then our suffering is commendable before God. We have entrusted our lives to Jesus Christ. It was by his wounds that we are healed. We were once lost and astray, but now we have returned to him and trust him to guide us.
Jesus said “whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”
Luke said, “They” devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, “they” sold property and possessions to give to those in need, “they” continued to meet together in the temple courts, “they” broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
“We” are “they.”
But sometimes we go astray and drift off course. As Pogo famously said in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” But the sheep that have gone astray, can return to the guidance of the good shepherd.
Let us answer his call, follow him, and do his will, even if we must suffer for doing good.
Let us, once again, entrust ourselves to him who judges justly, for “by his wounds you have been healed.”
For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Let us repay our rescuer for his indescribable gift by living lives that point to him and give him glory.
Please LIKE and SHARE!
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.
*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™