There is an episode in one of my favourite sci-fi shows where the main protagonist (for that episode) developed the ability to hear the thoughts of all those around her, and feel their emotion. Her mind is under assault by the thoughts and feelings of the world around her. Voices and feelings everywhere, with no way to filter them out. It gets to the point where it drives her to the edge, there is no rest from the noise!
Imagine (hypothetically), that the same thing happened to you. Suddenly, you were able to hear the thought and comprehend the feelings of those who you walked by in the street, sat beside on the bus, drove past on the motorway. That whatever was on their mind at that moment, you had to comprehend and feel. It would be unbearable as people wrestled with the worries of work and family life, as they struggled with the guilt, as they moralised some questionable decisions, or even as they just thought about good things.
To be hit with such an amount of information would be unpalatable: one, how would you even begin to process it? Two, your mind would be so filled with noise, that there would be no time or space to consider your own thoughts and feelings. Living in that preputial buzz of noise and busyness would drive us to the edge. It would be like living in a swarm of locusts for your whole life, never able to find space or peace from someone’s thoughts or emotions. Never able to take a moment for your own. Struggling to comprehend which voice to listen to and trust in an ever nosey world. It sounds unbelievable, yet is it that much different to our world today?
While we (thankfully) might not be able to comprehend the thoughts of another or feel their emotions, are our minds any less harangued with noise? Strangely, we also do not need to be able to hear the innermost thoughts of those around us because so many voices now speak publicly. We live in the middle of a swarm, and the surreal thing is we have become so used to the constant noise, and buzz that we do not even realise. Our world today is full of a multiplicity of voices demanding our attention that it is hard to know what we are listening to. A situation only exasperated with the advent of technology over the last decade: increasing the number, and reach, of the voices. Fifteen years ago it was: TV, Newspapers, Books, Magazines, and radio; today, take your pick: YouTube Channels, Blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook Pages, News websites, Podcasts, Magazines, Papers. It is not that there is even an increasing number of platforms that speak, those platforms offer voices to everyone without a filter. Add to that their access to us via our smartphones, push notifications, Laptops, Emails, Web-push notification, text messages, radio, and podcast downloads. A nosy world keeps getting nosier, and the voices have more access to us than ever before. It can feel like we have nowhere to.
Every voice criticising another, every voice claiming to be the fount of knowledge and source of life if only we will listen to it. Every voice calling us to trust them and what they have to say above and against everything else. Because only when we listen to them will they live. There is a battle raging for the minds and hearts of the world, and we do not even realise it. I wonder how you chose which voice to listen to? Do you weight up the character of the person? Perhaps you consider their facts or research? Maybe it is to do with the following on social media? It could just be that whatever voice speaks the loudest we find ourselves listening in on? Or, because there are so many voices, we conclude that the best thing to do is to ignore them all, to look into ourselves and consider what we want. In the noise of the world, we tune into the voice of self, because after all who knows what is best for us other than us!
Yet, what if amid the chorus of chaos that rages in the world as the voice’s clamber to be heard, there is one who has been speaking since the before all voices spoke. A constant voice calling your name and offering a way through the chaos. A voice that has remained constant amid the every changing messages of our cultures and contexts. A voice that does not cause or worry or stress but offers us a peace that passes all understanding when we tune our hearts to it. What if amid the swarm of voices reaching for us there was one above all that we must seek out, listen to, and follow?
A voice that when we listen to it equips us to live in this world, and to know what to deal with all other counterfeit and completing claims. Today, John 10:1-10 tells us that we can know this voice. It is the voice of Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that spoke creation into existence and speaks with the same power and authority today, and speaks to us through the words of Jesus as we read these 10 verses, and Jesus calls us to “Know his voice.”
Passage: John 10:1-10 | The Good Shepherd | CSB
“Truly I tell you, anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the gate but climbs in 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 it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus gave them this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Jesus said again, “Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. 9 I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
Setting the Scene
Our context means our understanding of farming is different from what is being described here. We need to lose the images of green (well fenced) fields, with countrysides that have little natural threat to livestock; and replace it with one of an open, rugged, dusty and dry countryside crawling with animals that would enjoy a nice lamb chop for dinner. This was the context that Jesus was teaching in. Furthermore, need to remember that this was an agrarian society; farming and working the land was not a minority economic employment; it was the norm. Hence shepherding was an important task, and in some cases, the difference between life and death. Thus, as we think about this passage, try to read through the lens of that context and culture. Sense the urgency of what is being said and taught. What God, through his word, is trying to speak to you today.
Competing Voices: But There is Only One to Trust (1-2)
I wonder what voice you are listening to? What voice are you allowing to speak into your situation, fears, and hopes? Our passage is clear that there are at the end of the day, only really two voices speaking: the voice of truth (Jesus), and the voice of darkness (the world). When we cut away all the gloss and glamour there are competing (yet not equal for God is Lord over all) forces in the world for the hearts and souls of all people. The question is what one is your heart tuned to?
Thus right from the off in this passage, there are two characters presented to us: The Good Shepherd and everyone else. This passage is an extension of the conflict that Jesus has been having with the Pharisees in the chapters before. Thus, in teaching about the ‘goodness’ of the Good Shepherd, he is illuminating the lack in the current spiritual and moral leadership of Israel – the Pharisees. They have not cared for their flock, they might look like followers of Yahweh, but they are no different from the voices of the word, the voices opposed to God. Thus Jesus illuminates five different aspects of what makes the good Shepherd good. Why he is the Good Shepherd, and the one worth listening to.
The Voice Appointed By God (2)
Verse two can seem like a strange picture for us, but we must remember he is using imagery given to a specific cultural context. The people of Israel were used to images of sheep-pens and Shepherd, they grasped what was being implied and taught. Think of those farming scenes that we might see on a documentary form rural Africa. Where people would roam the lands with their animals. Where also animals are a great source of wealth and status, thus the threat of theft is real. In Israel the animals would roam the land looking for pastures, and when they return they would be kept in a walled pen for safety. The threat of animals and theft was real. Hence there would only be one gate in, and at the gate, the Shepherd would lie or keep watch.
As Jesus speaks, he is presenting the Lord’s view of the current state of the spiritual leadership of the nation. They are nothing more than thieves and bandits who sneak to steal and destroy that which is not theirs. No matter how fancy they might look, or sound; they cannot, and should not be trusted. In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is used to present the idea picture of leadership, God is the Ultimate Shepherd:
“Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine” – Psalm 80:1
The promised Messiah would be a King-Shepherd (Ezk. 34:23-34), and the model of leadership for those in the nation of Israel was that of Shepherd. It is a position that, in every way, captures the logic and reality of the Kingdom of God. It is not one of power but service, it is not one of influence in society; it is one despised. Yet, that was the way God expected his people to lead. This is a strong rebuke, and Jesus could not be clearer about what he thinks about those who speak and think like the world around them. They are bandits and thieves who intend only for evil, who cannot be trusted. Where he speaks life, they speak and lead to death. No matter how glossy they sound, how well they speak or what they offer – their only motive is self. Countered too that is the voice of Jesus: the one who can be trusted because he has been appointed by God (He Enters by the gate, the way appointed by God) and speaks life.
Today the Son of God speaks to you, the question is, are you listening?
They Know His Voice (3)
Some of my earliest memory is being out with dad on the farm, helping (or attempting to) out with our dairy herd. We would stand at a distance and call the cattle from what then felt like miles away and watch as they responded to my fathers’ voice. They would stop grazing and make their way peacefully to the gate; they knew the voice of the farmer, and they knew that to respond to that voice was to go back to the Milking Parlour and get feed with some meal! I always loved that moment of recognition, when you knew the animals trusted the voice that was calling them. Someone random could have called them in the same way, but they would have kept on nibbling at the grass because it was not the words but the person who called them.
The combined image of the Shepherd in verses 3 and 4 is someone who can be trusted because when he speaks the sheep respond to him. He will provide for them. The Sheepfold is the nation of Israel (v16), and the sheep are those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. Here we see two reasons as to why we should choose to follow him:
- First, he is concerned with his flock enough to go to them and call them out.
- Second, he is a leader who can be trusted as he not only calls his sheep, he goes out ahead of them to lead them (make sure that the pastures they go to are safe and fertile).
There is a play on the imagery within the context of the metaphor of shepherding. The ‘leading out’ is one of spiritual nourishment. Jesus is the good Shepherd not only because he protects his sheep, but that he will also provide for their needs. He knows the land ahead, and so we gladly listen to and follow his voice because wherever it leads us will be a place of provision not of taking. Whereas the thief steals to benefit, the Shepherd leads for the benefit of those following.
They Trust His Voice (4-6)
Jesus is the good Shepherd because he loves his sheep, thus he sheep delightfully respond with love for him. He is the good Shepherd also by how he leads his sheep. If you notice here in verse four, he is ahead of his flock guiding, not behind his flock driving. He is a kind shepherd that leads from the front, not a demeaning voice that drives from behind through coercion or fear. Thus, the sheep delightfully listen to it and follow it because they trust it.
Such is their love and trust of the Shepherd that his sheep will hear another voice and will not follow it. A stranger’s voice whatever it may say will not tempt the sheep away because in the voice of the Good Shepherd they know that they have found all that they have been looking for. They know they have found the one worth following, and no matter what another voice may say, offer or how it may speak they stay true to the voice of truth.
This is part of our calling to Christ, that we stayed tuned into his voice amid the chorus of the world. That we learn to recognise him as he speaks while the world around us competes to be heard. We do this through the tried and tested method’s:
- Reading and dwelling on the word of God.
- Praying and communicating as we walk with God.
- Through the community of the faith.
To trust a voice and to be able to hear it properly, we have to know it. While today, we do not hear Jesus speak in a literal sense, we do have the privilege of coming to the living word of God to hear the command and call of the Good Shepherd at all times. Especially during this crisis of Covid-19, let us renew ourselves by listening to the hope that he offers and the truth that Jesus speaks amid all the fear, fake news, and panic of the world’s voices. In Pandemic or peace, there is one voice that remains constant, the voice of Jesus.
The Only Voice (1-6)
Verses 1 to 6 outline for us five characteristics of the Good Shepherd, as to why he should and can be trusted.
- Jesus enters the Sheepfold the right way, by the gate. He is the one appointed by God (1)
- The Sheep listen to his voice because they know it can be trusted (2)
- He knows his sheep intimately by name (3)
- He leads and guides them no matter the pastures (4)
- His sheep follow him because they know him (5)
Today there are hundreds of voices calling us, offering us all that we have ever wanted or hoped for. Yet, there is one who calls us by name to himself and then goes before us into the world. One which offers us not what we think we want, but what he knows we need because he knows us better than we knew ourselves. Hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and chose to follow him.
His Voice Leads the Way (7-10)
The Pharisees were struggling the whole time with Jesus, here they were not able to grasp what he was getting at. Hence, he retells the parable this time with a different focus and teaching point. No longer does he come through the gate, he is the gate! (7 & 9). Here the Sheepfold represents those who have heard his voice and responded by entering into a relationship with Him, trusting in his death and resurrection (v11). That is they have heard his voice and come to him, and they continue to hear his voice and follow him, amid the deafening chorus of chaos in the world the voice of Jesus speaks clearest and loudest to those who known him. Hence, they are in the Sheepfold because of what Jesus was going to do then and has done for us on the Cross.
Verse eight speaks to the reality of our broken and sinful world, it speaks to the nature of the voices that choose to speak against the voice of God. Jesus is not saying that the true prophets of God (Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah) are false, he is stating that those who spoke their own way rather than the things of God. Those who offered false hope to the people of the world are the thieves and robbers – the ones not to be trusted. The false messiahs, even the Pharisees to which he was speaking today. They had only their own purposes in mind, whereas the good Shepherd would lead his sheep always to good pastures, and eternal life.
There are so many voices speaking to us, even today amid the panic in this Pandemic voices are telling us one thing, then more voices saying another. Then when you go onto the internet there are the voices that cry conspiracies, and fake news; the world is even nosier. Every voice claiming to be the one that you need to listen to, to trust, and to follow. Yet, regardless of motive, cause or intent, they are in fact, all the same, they are voices that distract from Jesus, and will ultimately lead to death. That is not to say that some voices should not be listened to, learned from or followed. It is good to listen to those who know what is going on and to live as good citizens. But that is not what we are dealing with here today. We are dealing with matters of eternity and faith. Thus we are faced with a choice, what voice do we listen to find life. The call of Jesus, or another voice?
Verse 9 shows us the result of responding to the call of Jesus, those who hear his voice will be saved. The imagery is twofold here: firstly, within the imagery of the first century Israel they who trust the good Shepherd will be saved from robbers, bandits and wild animals; secondly, within the imagery of eternity, they who trust the good Shepherd will be secure and safe in eternity. Not only will they be safe, but they will have the freedom and all they need for life, ‘they will come in and go out, and find pastures.’ Jesus is the good Shepherd because he not only saves his sheep, but he provides for them.
The question is, what voice are you listening to? The voice of the world, whoever may speak it that offers you everything, but in the end, takes it all, leaves you with nothing and leads you to death; or the voice of Jesus the one who calls you to himself, and daily leads us through this chasm, chaos and pandemics of life, the voice who offers us life by giving his own life?
Conclusion: Life To the Full
Today there seem to be thousands of voices competing for our ears, hearts and lives: they all sound different, yet lead to the same road, away from God to lifeless life. They might offer us ‘life’ if we do this course, follow this rule of living, invest in this product; then we will have life. Yet, when you cut through the product on offer, the voice that is selling, the seemingly endless rewards. When you strip away all the gloss and get to the core, it is the same lie behind the illusion.
Thus, the travel blogger on Instagram who seems to live the perfect life, the influencer who always has the best products speaks and presents in a way to draw us into the illusion they believe. That life can be found in the things of this world, or through looking into ourselves, and while I have no doubt, there is happiness in those things. Eventually new becomes old, adventure becomes routine, and risk becomes dull. The gloss fades, and we are left seeking another fade to follow, another lie to hope in.
Yet, out there amid the noise, there is a voice that speaks the truth, and a voice that speaks directly to you. It offers the same thing: life, expect the offer is not through effort or our offering of something. The offer of life is through faith and grace. Moreover, the one that spoke it is the source of life and the maker of all things. It was by his voice live was spoken into existence, and it is by his voice today that he offers us life. Not in some generic sense, but personally: He calls you by name (5) and in that we are reminded that salvation comes through a personal relationship with the living God. An offer he makes available to us all.
Whereas the thief comes to steal and destroy, the Good Shepherd comes to lay down his life, so that his sheep may live, and live life to the full. What better voice to listen to than that one that spoke you into existence, knows the number of hairs on your head and has plans and hopes for your life beyond your comprehension, who controls and sees all things and who is only good. Today, listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and let him lead you to the life better than you could imagine, as you follow him the Holy Spirit works in you to mould you into the sheep the Father intends for you to be. Amid the chorus of the world, can you hear him speaking your name?
Questions to Consider
- How can we hear the Good Shepherd speak over the false shepherds of our day?
- How do we equip ourselves in this season to hear his voice and to follow him?
- In what way does the life of the sheep look different to those who listen to the voices of this earth?
- What pastures might Jesus be leading us to today, too be refreshed and nourished in him?