Think about someone you love. How well can you can pick that person’s voice out in a crowd? Jesus says that is the kind of awareness and intimacy he has with his own.
Jesus was still addressing the Pharisees, the formerly blind man, and the growing crowd around him when he gave this illustration, here. He had just finished telling the Pharisees that because they claimed to see, yet rejected Jesus, they were not only truly blind, but they were guilty, too.
Picture the Pharisees and scribes, in all the tradition and power of their office, standing off with Jesus, in his humble attire. Who, to the people around them, looked like the true religious authority, and who looked like the poser? So, Jesus used a very familiar metaphor to expose the truth.
Jesus, the True Shepherd
The Hebrews had been a shepherd people for millennia, ever since Abraham.
- To the Jewish mind, a shepherd was a familiar image for a leader, both spiritually and politically.
- People considered the kings and prophets as shepherds.
- Their famous leaders had all literally been shepherds, most notably Moses and King David.
- Most of the prophets talked about the Hebrew people as God’s flock, and God as the great Shepherd.
- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah all prophesied using the shepherd motif.
So Jesus said what everybody knew,
Amen, amen, I say to you, he who does not enter through the gate into the fold of the sheep, but rather who comes up from another place, that one is a thief and a robber. But he who enters through the gate is a shepherd of the sheep.Jesus, John 10:1-2
The Sheep Know their Shepherd’s Voice
In the winter all the local shepherds would bring their flocks to a communal enclosure for the evenings, that had a porter who knew each of the shepherds. Every morning, the porter only let those shepherds back in for their sheep
But even if a thief or robber had snuck in, the sheep would not have followed them. They would have had to have been taken by force somehow. Because the sheep knew who their shepherd was, and they knew they were safe only with their own shepherd.
In the morning, the only way the shepherds could sort through all the sheep that had mingled together through the night was to call out to them. The sheep had been trained to recognize their own shepherd’s voice, so would instantly respond, leave the fold, and follow the voice of their own shepherd.
These were well-known facts.
Only the real shepherd could count on their sheep following them as the shepherd led them out, because they knew their sheep knew their shepherd’s voice.
The sheep are God’s people. The sheep belong to God in this metaphor, a very familiar one to those who had gathered around Jesus, listening. To try to keep the sheep for oneself, to point them away from God, was to be a thief and robber, to steal from God’s own flock.
The implication was clear.
There is only one true shepherd, and that one person is Jesus. Those who rejected Jesus were only posing as shepherds. They were actually thieves who had snuck into the fold, and robbers who took by force what was not theirs.
Picture the Pharisees and religious authorities once again darkening with fury. There was no question Jesus’ words were pointed at them, trying to keep people away from Jesus, keep the power and authority that belonged to God for themselves instead.
You can see how apt this illustration was for the formerly blind man.
- True Shepherd: Jesus had specially come to comfort and encourage him after the religious authorities had put the ban on him. His introduction to Jesus was through Jesus’ voice, the voice of the person who had given him sight.
- Thieves and Robbers: The Pharisees had tried to force the man to renounce Jesus using threats and punishment under their traditions.
- Sheep of the Lord’s flock: The man who could now see was like the sheep who knew whose voice to trust, whose voice cared for him personally. He had grown increasingly unwilling to follow the Pharisees’ commands. He could tell the difference between the true shepherd, and the thief.
When Jesus had announced himself as the Son of Man, the one prophesied, the man trusted Jesus’ voice, and his spiritual eyes were opened to faith in Jesus, and he worshiped Him.
Still, the people did not quite understand what Jesus was saying to them. They could not figure out who was the real shepherd and who were the thieves and robbers, because they so deeply loved and respected the Pharisees.
Sometimes you and I might be in that same kind of dilemma, so let us look at the five distinguishing marks of the True Shepherd:
- John 10:1, the true shepherd enters by the GATE. One way to see the gate, in this illustration, is as all the prophecies that pointed to Jesus. Only one person can honestly walk through that gate, but the religious authorities had slowly been cutting a new gate for themselves.
The way they kept the people was by tying them up in extra laws and traditions, saying this was what God really meant. Through fear of reprisal, they had kept the people tied to their oral law over and above God’s Law as given in scripture.
How can you and I recognize false shepherds today? We ask ourselves: Does this draw me closer to God, or closer to the person?
- John 10:3, the PORTER only opens the door for the true shepherd: The porter, then, is God the Holy Spirit, opening people’s eyes to the truth, to recognize Jesus, Son of God, Messiah.
- John 10:3, the sheep hear his voice, and he calls them by NAME: Each encounter Jesus had with people in the gospels was personal. He saw into their hearts, he knew them, and he responded to them. That is the way Jesus continues to be with every person—he knows you and me, he knows our hearts, and he meets us in a one-on-one relationship.
- John 10:3-4, the true shepherd LEADS the sheep, bringing them all out to himself: The shepherd does not drive the sheep ahead of him. There is nowhere the sheep go that the shepherd has not already gone. In every kind of temptation, grief, suffering, trial, even death, the true shepherd, Jesus, has already been there first, and he stays with his own, guiding them through it all.
The shepherd does not leave the sheep in the fold. Even though the fold is cozy and secure, the sheep must come out and follow their shepherd in order to eat and drink, to grow and become strong.
- In what way is God calling you out from your cozy, secure place?
- Is it a new work, or ministry?
- Is God stretching your faith about something, or calling you into deep prayer?
- Would you really rather be left in the sense of security of the fold?
Yet it is actually safer to follow close to the Shepherd, even though it means the open field, new experiences, new events, new demands. You and I can trust he not only knows us, but he knows what it is like to go through what you and I are going through. He will not leave us in this place, he will guide us through it.
- John 10:4-5, The sheep KNOW his voice and follow him: But they will run away from a stranger. You and I who are born again have the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us to help us, and we also have the Bible, God’s published words, to follow, and measure against all the other kinds of teaching that we hear.
Our relationship with Jesus begins with his voice.
By reading the Bible on a regular basis, and not just reading, but thinking about God’s words, meditating on them, applying them to your life, listening to God’s voice as God speaks personally to us in prayer, you and I develop an ever more sensitive ability to recognize the difference between God’s voice and any other.
[Sheep | Needpix.com]