“Oh, look!” Winnie said as her mother parked the car at Grandpa’s farm. “I see Grandpa’s new sheep! Let’s go pet them.” The children climbed out of the car and raced toward the sheep, but the animals darted to the far corner of the pen.
“Oops! We scared them,” said Josiah. “Let’s try again. Let’s pull some grass for them, and this time let’s walk, not run.”
Winnie agreed, and they each pulled a handful of grass and slowly carried it toward the corner where the sheep huddled. But as they approached, the flock spun around and dashed away. Winnie dropped her grass. “I give up.”
“Me too,” said Josiah, throwing his grass on the ground.
A moment later, the children saw their grandfather coming. They ran to give him a hug. “Grandpa, why do you have those baby bottles?” Winnie asked when she saw what he was carrying.
“Two of my lambs need these,” replied Grandpa. “I feed them because their mother died.”
“I wish I could feed one of them,” said Winnie, “but your sheep don’t like us. They run away.”
Grandpa smiled. “Watch,” he said as he led the children to a small pen beside the barn. They saw that it held two little lambs. “Here, Fluffy. Here, Snowball,” Grandpa called as he opened the pen. The lambs scampered out and followed him as he crisscrossed the lawn.
Josiah laughed. “They’re playing follow the leader!”
Grandpa handed each of the kids a bottle. “Here,” he said. “You can hold these for them.”
“Cool!” said Winnie, offering her bottle to one of the lambs. She giggled in delight as the lamb eagerly took it. “This one dances while he eats!” Winnie looked at Grandpa. “But why wouldn’t your other sheep eat the grass we pulled for them?”
“Sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow him. They tend to run away from strangers,” explained Grandpa. “It always reminds me that we are like sheep. We follow our Shepherd–Jesus–by obeying Him and trusting Him to guide and protect us and not let anything or anyone lead us away from Him.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter is designated as Good Shepherd Sunday. It might seem strange to us that an entire Sunday every year is given to a single image of Christ and God, especially one that is culturally remote from most modern Christians. The prophets predicted that the Messiah would be a shepherd to His people. Jesus referred to His followers as His sheep.
Shepherds of Jesus’ day raised their sheep in the Judean hills. The countryside was rocky, hilly and creased with deep crevices and ravines. Grass was sparse. The shepherd had to establish a personal relationship with each sheep, nurturing its love and trust in order to lead it to where the path was the smoothest, the grass was the greenest, the water was the cleanest, and the nights were the safest. The shepherd always led the sheep. He knew their names, and when he called them, they recognized his voice and followed him. When he stopped, the sheep huddled closely around him. Their personal relationship with him was based on his voice, which they knew and trusted.
Sheep are among the dumbest of all creatures. Most animals will survive if released into the wild. They will learn to fend for themselves and make it. A sheep released into the wild can’t survive. Sheep have no survival skills. They depend on the shepherd. The sheep know that when the shepherd speaks they should follow him because His plan for them is better that their plan for themselves.
The Bible describes our relationship with Jesus as being similar to the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. That relationship is based on the sound of His voice. Jesus’ sheep can be recognized because they hear and follow His voice, which is God’s Word, the Holy Bible. God has supplied His Word not so people will obey it out of obligation or fear but to assure His children of their relationship with Him and guide them home.
Jesus’ declaration that He and the Father are one means that they are unified and they enjoy perfect equality. Jesus and the Father are distinct persons, yet they share the same essence and attributes. Eternal life is not something believers receive when they die; they obtain it the moment they believe in Christ as Saviour. There are forces at work to try and snatch us out of Jesus’ hands. Some are subtle, and some are direct. Jesus reminds us that we are secure in God’s hands. No one will be able to snatch us out of God’s hands. His followers will never be cast into hell. Jesus and God are united in redeeming and preserving their followers. If we get something that is very valuable as a gift, what do we do with it? We protect it. We keep it safe. We might even buy insurance for it. If we are believers, we are God’s most precious treasure. He keeps us safe.
Often we are like tiny, helpless birds. God holds us in His hands and brings us to safety. We can’t always see what’s ahead, and sometimes we feel like we’re stuck. God scoops us up and protects us. He reminds us that in His hands we’re in the safest place we could be. No one is excluded from God’s love. We experience this love only when we accept the path of Jesus and it’s alignment with God’s character and plans for us.
God never drives us to anything. He leads us with love. We can choose to follow Him or go our own way. If we follow Him, the reward is eternal life. Do we hear His voice? Does Christ know us? Are we following Him?
Jesus can only be known as the Messiah by spiritual insight and not by verbal or human proof. That’s why the Pharisees could not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They wanted Him to state clearly that He was the Messiah. Jesus’ deeds were the evidence that He was the Messiah, but the Pharisees ignored that evidence.
Jesus also performed miracles, and to the scribes and Pharisees that was evidence that He was the Messiah. They had one problem. They claimed that the Messiah could not come from Galilee. He was poor and hated. He did not meet their expectations. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being an imposter, but God would not give power to an imposter. The power of working miracles was proof that Jesus was the Messiah. His words and deeds make who He really was known to those who sincerely seek the truth about Him.
Jesus told the Pharisees that if they would only open their eyes and see what He has been up to, they would see that He belongs to the Father. If they would open their ears to hear His voice, they would understand that they could belong to His sheep. Their refusal to become part of His flock makes it impossible for them to believe.
We are like the Pharisees. People want concrete evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, but they refuse to look at His deeds. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to declare openly that He was the Messiah so they could justify attacking Him.
Putting our faith and trust in Jesus is crucial because of who He was. He was God in human form. We hear the voices of the world and long to listen to them, but Jesus’ voice never fades away. There are thousands of radio and television frequencies all around us, but we don’t hear them all because we’re not tuned in. If we tune a radio or television to one of those frequencies, we will pick up the signal.
In the same way, God is constantly transmitting to us. He wants to lead us, guide us, protect us and give us insight, but too often we’re not tuned in to His frequency. We have to pay attention to Him and learn to hear His voice. God doesn’t speak to us out loud most of the time. Sometimes He speaks to us through subtle things such as inner peace.
Jesus speaks to us every day. He summons us in our restlessness and our longing. He calls to us in our deepest sorrow and in the incompleteness and dissatisfaction of our greatest joys. We have to train ourselves to hear His voice above all others, because His voice is the only voice that matters. We hear His Word by reading His Word daily and spending time listening for His instructions. That’s the only way we can know God’s will for our lives.
How does His ultimate care and protection shape our daily lives? It begins with remembering that God brings more good things than physical health and protection or even material wealth. Sometimes God’s protection and goodness may not be experienced in physically tangible ways at all. The truth that ‘nothing can or will snatch us from Jesus’ hand’ is known in these ways or ways like them:
- In an imagination which keeps creating even when it has been rejected too many times,
- In the ability to love again, even in the wake of heartbreak,
- In the courage to risk once more even when things didn’t work out as hoped the last time or the time before that.
- Perhaps it is in the wonder that faith does not fail us even when evidence for believing seems meager.
- Indeed, maybe it is in being given a heart which is open to the pain of the world and which keeps seeking to respond even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges…
And maybe it is in the ability to keep singing even as suffering and death seem to be winning the day.
Jesus calls us not as individuals but as a flock. That’s why we attend church on Sundays. We celebrate the resurrection because it is safety. It’s safety from death’s grip and from grief and anguish. It’s safety because the shepherd sees to it that our needs are met. It’s safety because our shepherd is totally committed to the well-being of the sheep. It’s safety because the shepherd knows his sheep intimately.
We aren’t just to listen to Jesus’ voice as one among many. We are called to hear Jesus’ voice as we hear the voice of a beloved parent. We are called to recognize the good news in the voice of the Shepherd-and to trust Him.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p.1460)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Fredrikson, R.L& Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 180-181)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Anne Graham Lotz, “The Sound of His Voice.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Debbie McDaniel, “When Strong Winds Blow: We’re Secure in His Care.” Retrieved from crosswalk.com
- The Rev. Billy Graham, “Isn’t Belief in God Enough?” Retrieved from aarcamax.com
- Ed Young, “That Still, Small Voice.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Daniel Darling, “God Loves Whom He Treasures.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- David H. Roper, “Listening to His Voice.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Greg Laurie, “How Are We Like Sheep?” Retrieved form email@example.com
- Rick Boxx, “They Know My Voice.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Joel Osteen, “Tune to Him.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Richard Innes, “The Shepherd’s Call.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 4th Sunday of Easter, -C-.” Retrieved from preacherexcahnge.org
- Margaret M. Primrose, “Grandpa’s Sheep.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Paul Simpson Duke, “John 10:22-30.” Retrieved from https://blogs.baylor.edu/truettpulpit/2016/04/14/john-1022-30/
- David Lose, “Resurrection is Protection.” Retrieved from workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4602
- Amy Lindeman Allen, “The Politics of Hearing and Response-John 20:22-30 & Acts 9:36-43.” Retrieve from https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-hearing-and-response/
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Fourth Sunday of Easter-May 12, 2019.” Retrieved from https://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2019/05/the-adventurous lectionary.com
- Janet Hatt, “No One Will Snatch Them Out of My Hand…” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.com
- Paige G Evers, “John 10:22-30.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org