Pastor's Corner: The shepherd's voice

Friday, January 11, 2013

When answering the phone, some voices are recognized immediately. A simple "hello" or "hey" is all that it takes to identify the caller. Certainly I know my wife's voice in this way, and she knows mine. The same is true of any family member or close friend. Somehow my ears are tuned to the particulars of tone and pitch that distinguish "my people" from everyone else.

Remarkably, the voice recognition and personal familiarity we experience with a loved one can even be characteristic of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. To illustrate this truth, Jesus talked about the special connection between a shepherd and his sheep. In John 10 He said, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me" (v 14).

Just how close is this relationship? "The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (v 3-5)

In first century Israel, there was one large, central pen, or sheepfold, in a given community. At the end of the day, local shepherds brought their small individual flocks and led them into this one big sheepfold, guarded by a gatekeeper. The next day the shepherds returned to claim their sheep. Imagine walking among this multitude of mixed flocks and trying to separate your own sheep. How would you do it?

Here's what amazes me: When the shepherd began to talk to his sheep they would actually come to their owner! Each shepherd had his own unique sing-song way of speaking, and his flock would only respond to him. A stranger they would not follow. Sheep may be stupid, but they do know their master's voice -- especially when he calls them by name.

Palestinian shepherds were so intimately involved with the care of their sheep that they actually had names for them, usually according to their characteristics. One might be called Long Nose, and another Black Ear, or Fluffy. And this shows how intimately our Lord cares for us. He knows us by name and is familiar with our unique tendencies and habits, doubts and fears.

One of our greatest fears in relationships is the fear of transparency. How will someone respond to me if they truly know me? Jesus Christ knows everything about you and He still loves you! "God shows His love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Jesus not only knows us, He loves us as we are, and gave Himself on the cross for our sins. He's a Good Shepherd! And He's gathering His flock. He comes to the gate and calls "His own sheep" by name. Even today, through the words of Scripture, Jesus is calling His people to follow Him. Have you heard His voice? Do you relate to Him in such a personal way?

The prophet Isaiah wrote, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (53:6). But in order to be saved, a personal response is required. You must turn from your sins and come to Christ in faith.

The apostle Peter tells the believers, "For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:25). If you hear His call, respond to the Lord Jesus quickly, in true faith and repentance. It's time to return to the Good Shepherd. Those who follow Him lack no good thing!