Last night, as I was finishing my post for the day, I started to think about sheep, and I even mentioned that I felt another post coming on. Well, you guessed it, here it is! I have been thinking about this topic for some time now, and for some reason I felt compelled to teach a little this evening. So please hang in there with me, because I just love this stuff!
As Christians, we are familiar with “sheep” and how Christ refers to his followers as “sheep.” And let’s face it, sheep are pretty ordinary animals. They are not even near the top of the chart in terms of intelligence, and they are not all that clean. But they do follow, and maybe that is why Christ uses sheep as the example. Of course, a better reason may be that many people were shepherds and the idea of using sheep would create a sense of identity with the story. Because every shepherd knew the traits of sheep. And this would have created comfort for the audience.
So it makes perfect sense that Christ would connect with His people using a story about sheep. But how can we, as 21st century Christians, connect with the various stories of sheep in the Bible? Most of us have never even been on a farm, let alone in a profession taking care of sheep. And we have no idea how to connect the theological “dots” to get anything of value from the story.
Tonight, let’s unpack one of the simplest verses from Christ Himself, in John 10:26, “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The central theme here is that Christ tells the reader that not everybody belongs to the kingdom – only those who recognize the voice of the shepherd, Christ Himself. And this is not random, because Christ has taken time with those who belong to him – He KNOWS them, and that means He has an intimate relationship with each of them.
And what makes this story so special is that the real sheep grazed in the pastures during the day and then were brought into the pens in the evening; but the pens only had three sides. Several flocks of sheep would gather together in the same pen, and the shepherds would lay on the ground, head to toe, creating the fourth “side” of the pen. Wild animals would not dare to cross the bodies of the shepherds to get to the sheep, and the sheep would not break out of the pen. So the animals were safe.
The neat part of the story is what happened in the early morning when the shepherds arose. All the sheep were together, and you would think that there would be confusion as to which shepherd was responsible for which sheep. But that was not the case. Because as a shepherd awoke, he would talk to the sheep and the ones belonging to him would follow him out of the pen; walking through the opening created when the shepherd stood up. And the other shepherds could still be asleep, or they may arise as well. But each sheep knew the sound of the voice of the “master.” And so there was no confusion as to which shepherd to follow. Rarely was there an argument about ownership of a particular animal. Get it?
Christ is saying that His sheep, translate that believers, recognize His voice, and will follow Him wherever He leads, because they trust Him. Personally, I think that this is one of the most tender stories in the entire Bible. Because the only way the sheep would recognize the shepherd is if they had spent time together. And isn’t that what Christ wants for us? To spend time with Him, and get to the point of recognizing His voice in our lives. And don’t forget that Christ claims that he KNOWS each sheep – intimately. What a story! Who among us wouldn’t want to follow a perfect shepherd? So there you have it – a true story about how Christ used a very ordinary concept to teach us about the Kingdom.
My encouragement tonight is that you will spend time with the ultimate Shepherd, and if you have not done so already, learn to recognize His voice. Because there are many false shepherds out there, but there is only one perfect Shepherd, and that is Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you will rest in the protection provided by being in the flock of Christ. Because nothing can hurt you – nothing – as long as you have committed to follow the voice of our Shepherd. And that will give you divine peace….eternal peace…….