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In John 10:1-16, Jesus uses metaphors from shepherding to describe his relationship with his followers, and more broadly, God’s relationship with God’s followers. He mixes his metaphors, describing himself as both the gate of the sheepfold and as the good shepherd. One of the key things he says in this passage is that the sheep know his voice.
…the sheep listen to his voice.
his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen … They too will listen to my voice.
Most of us do not hear the Voice of God directly, but rather through the messages from preachers, Fathers, reverends, pastors, apostles, prophets, bishops, etc. How then are we to discern if the word they are speaking is the voice of Jesus?
We will best learn to recognise the voice of our Shepherd by reading his words, which we find recorded in the Gospels. And I suggest that there are three main recorded things that Jesus said during his earthly ministry among us:
- Love. Jesus’ message constantly and repeatedly refers to love. He preaches a radical, inclusive, forgiving and parental love.
- Perspective. Jesus offers a new perspective on life, helping us to recognise God in a fresh way. We see this most explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), where Jesus says, “You have heard it said … but I say to you”. And perhaps the most radical new perspective that Jesus gives us is that God is not (just) the high, mighty and aloof creator of the universe, but also Abba, Dad, Pappa – the parent who fiercely loves his children.
- Challenge. Jesus challenges people. He challenges all of us to exceptionally high ethical and moral standard – again in the Sermon on the Mount. But his harshest challenges are not to ‘sinners’ (e.g., tax collectors and prostitutes in the Gospels), but to religious and civil leaders – those with power and wealth. These are the ones he calls “white-washed tombs” and a “brood of vipers“.
Let us continually read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, so that we tune our ear to recognise his voice. And let us test the words that preachers – including me! – say, asking “Can I imagine these words coming from the mouth of Jesus?” If a preacher is saying things that we could not imagine Jesus saying, she or he is probably not preaching the Word of God and we should not follow her or his voice.
[The shepherd] goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:4-5)
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