St Michael’s, March 11th 2012
Reading John 10:1-21, 27-28
Whether we’ve been reading the Bible for years, or are quite new to it, the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is usually a familiar one. We’ve probably all sung ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ at a funeral, or remember pictures from our childhood of Jesus surrounded by lambs and children – my Gran had one on her spare room wall where I used to sleep regularly.
However, when you come to look at this passage for a bible study or sermon … you realise that it’s simply overflowing with different images and pictures of Jesus and of his relationship with his sheep – us, we who call ourselves disciples or followers of Jesus. And I wish I had time to go through them all because every detail of this passage is rich with meaning for us. But I can’t, so I’m going to simply pick up on one detail that we find throughout the reading …
I usually like to begin at the beginning, but today, we’re going to begin at the end! There’s a key question in those few verses at the end of our passage where John tells us about the reaction to all that Jesus said … as the Jews listened to Jesus, they reacted in different ways, some believing that the miracles Jesus performed showed he was from God, while others described him as ‘demon-possessed and raving mad!’ (v20)
But the question they ask, ‘Why listen to him?’, is a vital one and it’s the key to our study this morning. We all listen to someone, whether it’s our parents and teacher or classmates and friends, politicians or commentators, heroes – pop stars or footballers … we all come under the influence of those we listen to. Otherwise political parties wouldn’t bother to include famous non-politicians in their campaigns … the politicians know we’re more likely to listen to a favourite actor or singer than the most important or attractive politician …
So it’s important to whom we choose to listen.
The Jews chose to reject Jesus and his claims … we know that when Jesus said ‘I am the gate, I am the good shepherd’ he was claiming to be God, he was using the phrase they recognised as the name by which God had revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. The Jews rejected this claim but they asked the right question, Who should we listen to, why listen to him?
There’s a lot about listening in this chapter … so let’s look back through the reading together …
- v2,3 … The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.
- v4 … When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
- v5 …they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.
- v16 … I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice
- v27 … My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
We listen to Jesus because hearing his voice is hearing the voice of God – and we recognise it. It speaks to us, it has something authentic about it, a sense of power and authority … it speaks to our hearts, goes beneath the skin … it’s not superficial but reaches into the darkest situation, the deepest corners of our lives.
But, we have to listen … and it’s easy to be distracted and unfocussed. So how do we distinguish Jesus’ voice among all the others that clamour for our attention? Quite simply, we listen for our name … look at the end of v3 …
- v3 … the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
He calls us by name, and in Biblical thought, names are important because they describe us, they capture our character with all it’s faults and good points.
Knowing someone’s name means that you know them well, even intimately. When you were growing up, did you have to call people by their surname? My neighbour was Mr Peach, and I used to play in his house with his son several times a week, I knew him really quite well, I came and went as I chose, but I was never allowed to call him Wilf … my parents did, they used to play cards together regularly at the weekend, and went round for a coffee most days, so I knew his name, but in my presence he was always referred to as Mr Peach and if I’d tried to call him Wilf, I’d have had a clip round the ear before I’d drawn breath!
Jesus knows his sheep by name. If you know nothing about sheep, you might think it’s hard to tell one sheep from another … I’m not so sure about sheep, but I grew up around dairy farmers … and they will tell you that every cow has it’s own character – and they certainly knew their stock well – by number if not by name. Ask a dairy farmer about any of his cows and he’ll instantly tell you their milk yield, how many calves they’ve had … and whether they kick or not – they are all individuals. And certainly, our experience of both cats and hens tells us the same – they are all individuals with their own characteristics and therefore have different needs for attention, food, sleep etc!
Jesus knows his sheep by name, which means he knows you … knows all about you, your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures, your fears and your needs. And he cares for each of us as individuals … so listening to his voice means that we’ll recognise his voice – it all depends on listening.
But notice something else about being known by Jesus …
- v14 … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me …
There are so many voices competing for our attention … has anyone else followed the news item this week about earworms – those tunes that get into our heads that we can’t shake off?! And these days advertising is a science … we can’t escape the messages that tell us we need this or that for the perfect life, perfect holiday, perfect husband. What makes us believe them?! While adverts on the internet are geared to the individual by tracking what we read, so that for example, if I look up a recipe online, all the adverts on that page will not only offer me the ingredients I need, but will relate to my wider interests because they know what sort of information I search for regularly.
So knowing who is speaking is crucial in deciding whether or not we listen. And just as Jesus knows our name, so we know his many different names, and through his names, we know and understand who it is who is calling us to follow him … Jesus, Immanuel, Saviour, Brother, Friend, Redeemer … you probably have other suggestions?
Son of God, lamb of God, Son of Man, the Word, the Alpha and Omega, the new Adam, Prophet, Priest, King, Lord of Lords, the Light of the World … we could go on for a long time!
And, of course, The Good Shepherd!
Now what I can’t do is tell you what he’s going to say … or even, in what form you’ll hear him … I do know that he doesn’t play games … like Chinese whispers or hide and seek! When God speaks to you, he will speak clearly – but it may take some practice to recognise his voice – so keep listening. And don’t worry about identifying his voice – throughout this passage, Jesus claims that all those who know him, will recognise his voice – even those who are not yet part of his flock. So whether it’s through your Bible reading, in prayer, through dreams or by some other means … even perhaps in a sermon …
- listen to his voice
- hear him call your name
- recognise his voice
- and know him by name