What does the Scripture intend to say about the people of God in its description of us as sheep in need of a Shepherd? This question sparked good conversation about the nature of sheep and the unique relationship between sheep and shepherds, and brought this post to mind, published a little over a year ago on Laura Miller's personal blog, #thereyougothinkingagain. Part 1, On Shepherds, Sheep, and Sheepdogs was posted earlier this week.)
One of the children once told me of the unique yet simple way that their mother, Merida, who was principal of one of the lower school campuses, kept track of them all when they were out and about.
She whistles. Yep. Whistles. Think Captain von Trapp, only Merida didn’t employ his method of having a different tune for each child. She would signal to the family with a single phrase of melody to which they all would respond. The distinctive notes would rise above the clamor and jangle of the noisy crowds, no matter where they were. It could be heard above the racket of the grocery store with its crashing shopping buggies and PA announcements. It would sing above the referees’ whistles and fans’ cheers at a sporting event. And those of us who filled the stands or made up the crowds would hear it and watch five heads pop up, alert, swiveling about, looking for mom. The focus was not on who was being called, but on who was doing the calling.
Are you being called?
Do you know by whom?
Do you know your shepherd’s voice?
When he calls, can you detect it amongst all the other noises and sounds? If the Good Shepherd is yours, you must be able to do this, you know. This is not a matter to be uncertain about. When the Shepherd calls, it is a fact that his own sheep will hear him and will know him. It's like Merida's whistle lifting and hovering above the crowds: His call is so particular and so unique to his own sheep, that other sheep would not respond. In fact, it is the call itself that transforms the sheep, that gives them this new identity as HIS sheep, and it is so powerful and persuasive and contains all the mystery of the ages and the glory of heaven, that it draws these newly transformed sheep to their loving and caring shepherd -- our wonderful Savior.
In John 10:3-5, Jesus himself gives this illustration: “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.”
The hint of danger creeps in toward the end of the passage. This is not simply a pastoral scene of a gentle shepherd and his fluffy, bounding sheep. There are cowardly hirelings ready to flee at the merest sign of trouble. There are robbers and killers lurking in the shadows.
“He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (v. 1).
“All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them” (v. 8).
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10a).
“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (vv. 12-13).
But we hear over and over again in this passage from Jesus: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 9, 10b, 14-15).
The sheep are surrounded by danger and outside distractions. Being sheep, there are probably a lot of sheep-generated noises as well that could drown out the sound of the good shepherd’s voice. I can think of quite a few in my own life that fit both categories – external distractions and internal noisemaking. Jealousy of friends and strife among my family members, political campaigns, worry about my children’s futures, pride and puffed up attitudes about my excellent service in the church, songs with lyrics that make me edgy, an awareness of the growing acceptance of bold sexuality in the world. These all create a clamor that pollutes my ears and my brain with confusion and makes me forget who I am.
This is who I am: I am HIS sheep. When he called me, what was most important in my transformation from a sheep in danger to a sheep among his fold was his voice. There was nothing in me. He didn’t need to personalize it for me or for anyone else. His voice alone is sufficient to do the work that causes his sheep to hear him. When he laid down his life for his sheep, I was counted among those who received new life through him. Saved from the mire and the pit, I took his mark upon me as part of his own flock.
This means I am not to be a silly sheep bleating about in confusion and dismay. Today, I am able to maintain calm and obey because, with that new life, he has given me ears to hear. He has made my eyes to see and stirred up understanding for the commands of his word by means of the Holy Spirit. No matter how raucous or confusing the noise gets, nor how distracting or disturbing the elements of this world might be, I can find rest and clarity and wisdom in the Bible, his whistle for me to obey, his call for me to know him better. He does not change, nor does his word. I can trust my Shepherd.
And he assures me that as the Good Shepherd, he is continuing to collect his flock, which gives me hope for the lost, because his call is powerful. ”And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (v. 16).
This message about the Good Shepherd and the sheep is probably not as famous today as the story of the Captain and his children and Maria the governess. However, the sheep who need to hear it will do so, because, remember, the Good Shepherd will not leave any of them behind. There are many sheep about and most do not belong to my shepherd, but I don’t know who they are, so as part of my response to him, I will spread this good news about a loving, caring, sacrificial Shepherd. A GOOD Shepherd.
Can you hear the whistle blowing? Have you heard the call of the Shepherd?