Summary: Listening to the voice of Jesus, who laid down his life for his sheep, is the only way to enter into eternal life.
“The Good Shepherd”
Introduction: Of Sheep and Shepherds
Ask the children: What kind of animal would you like to be? Why? Have you ever noticed that no one ever says that they want to be a sheep? Why is that? Does anyone here know what sheep are like? You see, when we hear a passage like this one and Psalm 23 we often romanticize the images of shepherds and sheep. But once you find out a little more about sheep, you may not like the fact that in our passage we are compared with them! Here are a few attributes of sheep:
1.Sheep are generally stubborn and stupid creatures – have you ever seen a trained sheep? At the circus we can see trained horses, elephants, and even monkeys, but never do we see sheep. Sheep are simple-hearted. Or perhaps we can just say they are simply simple. Have you ever been stubborn? Have you ever done something stupid?
2.Have you ever seen those Serta mattress commercials? (Show the sheep doll that Ella got from the salesperson at Sears.) Well, sheep are not like this! Sheep are dirty and often wayward. Sheep wander easily and never learn from their mistakes. Have you ever made the same mistakes over and over again? Have you ever felt like you were wandering?
3.Sheep are also easily frightened and confused. They are known to plunge off cliffs in their confusion. Have you ever been frightened and confused in life, by specific circumstances and situations? Have you ever felt as though you were tumbling off a cliff?
4.Sheep are also defenceless, dependent and therefore need guidance and protection. Have you ever felt defenceless? In need of protection and guidance?
So, as you can see, for us to be called sheep is not exactly complimentary. But this is an image that Jesus himself uses. And if we are honest with ourselves and trust in what Scripture says about human nature, then we will admit that this description of sheep does reflect what we are often like. We are sinful, obstinate, rebellious, foolish, and in need of guidance. We are in need of protection. We do need someone to take care of us; we do need a shepherd. Thank the Lord that we do have a good shepherd in Jesus. While we may indeed be sheep, the Lord is our shepherd and our passage today tells us something of what our shepherd is like.
Our Shepherd Knows Us (and We Know Him)
One practice of shepherds in the Mediterranean world is to give each sheep a pet name – or to call each shepherd individually. A strong connection exists between the shepherd and each of his sheep. One scholar notes that there was “a personal bond between the shepherd and his sheep.” This is likely what lies behind Jesus saying that “he calls his own sheep by name” (v. 3b). Notice first here that Jesus calls us. Speaking of God as a shepherd, Ezekiel 34: 16 says this: “I will seek the lost.” Jesus calls us, he seeks us. It begins with him. Jesus issues the invitation. He takes the initiative, not us. And not only does he call and seek us, but he calls us by name. In the ancient world a person’s name represents who they are, so when he calls each one of us by name our passage is saying that he knows each of us intimately. The shepherd knows his sheep – in v. 14 Jesus says “I know my own and my own know me.”
And when Jesus calls his sheep by name, they listen. Verse 3 says that the sheep hear his voice. Verse 4 says that they know his voice. They do not know the voice of strangers – but they do recognize the voice of their shepherd. Hearing the shepherd’s voice, the sheep follow as he leads.
How do we listen to the voice of our shepherd? We listen by studying the Scriptures. We make studying and obeying the Bible a priority in our lives. We make sure that the voice of Scripture is one with authority in our homes: with more authority than the daily paper, television, the computer and whatever we find on the internet. The way to know whether the Bible has authority in our lives is to ask ourselves: am I spending time in the Scriptures every day? Now I know none of us is perfect. Even I am not completely consistent in my own daily devotions. But the primary way to know Jesus, to hear his voice, to listen to him, and to know therefore how to follow him is to study the Scriptures. Psalm 19: 10 calls Scripture sweeter than honey. Do you feel this way about Scripture? Read your Bible. Get to know it. Ask God to show you how to apply it to your life. Make it a priority.