It is what we often call “Good Shepherd Sunday.” During this worship week, we often focus on Jesus who is our Good Shepherd, and how we are his sheep, his followers. Speaking of sheep, what do you call a sheep with its legs cut off? A cloud. I realized that’s not a funny joke when I told it to a sheep and it said, “That’s baaaaaad.” Two terrible dad jokes in a row, thankfully today is Mother’s Day, not Father’s Day – Happy Mother’s Day by the way too many of you ladies in the room today. You are a blessing from the Lord.
When you think about your parents – your mom, your dad, a guardian, perhaps – those are people you often listen to, right? Okay, fair enough, we don’t always listen by choice sometimes we are forced to, but especially as one gets older you tend to see the wisdom that those who raised you had and tried to share with you. It’s also true that as you get older the voices that you listen to, the voices that have your ear, tend to change and often broaden. You bring into your fold different people, and news channels, and websites, and books, that really shape how you think and view the world.
So, what voices do you listen to? And, more importantly, can those voices be trusted? About 8 years ago now, one of my brothers had a big interest in stock investments, and of course, he thought he was good at it, and, of course, I believed he was good at it. So it happened, one day he convinced me to drop some money into the stocks of two companies. Fast forward 8 years and you know how much money I made by listening to my brother? Nothing. Both companies went bankrupt. In fact, according to my now-defunct Scottrade account, I owe money somehow. I’ll admit I was pretty upset with my brother over this. I didn’t lose a ton of money, but no one likes a bad investment. When you listen to someone, that might happen. You might not like what they say or, you might like what they say initially, only to find out their words were false, or wrong. So, how do we know whom to listen to? How do we know whose voice is true?
If you were to look at God’s Word from John today, we find an answer to this question. John tells us that Jesus was walking in the temple courts when a group of Jews converge on him and surround him. They had a question and they were ready to listen to Jesus’ answer. Here was their question: “How long will you keep us in suspense? Jesus, if you are messiah, tell us plainly.” “Jesus, just tell us. Are you the promised Savior?” They wanted to know; their ears were listening. And Jesus answers – verse 25 – “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.”
One would think that having watched Jesus for years, these Jews by now would know Jesus was the Messiah. I mean this was the guy who commanded fish to swim into a net, demons to leave a body, fevers to cease, blind eyes to open, storms to be silent, and the very atoms of bread and fish to spontaneously multiply – this was someone worth listening to, but more than that this was someone worth worshiping. But they didn’t. Against all reason and logic, these Jews refused to believe in Jesus. Instead, they preferred to listen to their own thoughts and their own ideas about him. And I think I know why.
Do you know that a lot of children in this world are allergic to the word “must”? It’s true to tell a child, better yet, tell a teen that he or she must do something and you’re likely going to have a real fight on your hands. Even if it’s something they want to do – which is interesting – if you tell them they have to do it, they must do it…good luck. Adults do this too.
A social psychologist named Tom Gilovich has studied this and he says that when we want to believe something or do something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it? Can I do it?”, and if we find just one shred of evidence that says, “Yes, you can,” We stop thinking. We now have permission to believe or do what we wanted to do in the first place. On the other hand, when we don’t want to believe or do something, we ask ourselves, “Must I? Do I need to?” Then we look for anything, and I mean anything that allows us to doubt or dismiss whatever it is we truly didn’t want to believe or do in the first place.
So, take this concept into the story before us. The Jews were curious, they were listening, but they only wanted to hear one thing, and they were willing to ignore even unexplainable miracles – works of Jesus – to support what they wanted to believe, and Jesus knew this. Twice he said to them, “You do not believe.” Why? “Because you are not my sheep.” These were unbelievers who came to Jesus with their own presuppositions of what they thought he should be like.
Do you know what Jesus did in return? He laid out what his followers are like. Here is how he describes believers. He said, “My sheep listen to my voice…they follow me.” Do you notice what is missing in Jesus’ words here? Any sort of compromise. A believer either listens to Jesus’ voice…or doesn’t. A believer either follows him…or doesn’t. And let’s be clear, Jesus said his sheep must do this. They listen and they follow. Does that sound like you? Do you listen to the voice of Jesus? Do you follow him?
Look, there is a part of us that does not listen to the voice of Jesus. It just doesn’t. It listens to the world, it listens to the feelings and desires of our heart, and that failure to listen often leads to us failing to follow – to sin. And there are times we might like that seeming freedom and so come to resent Jesus’ voice of authority. We don’t like his my-way-or-the-highway attitude. We don’t like that when we sit down to feast on his Word it’s a single plate and we’re expected to eat it all, yes, even our spiritual vegetables, rather than some spiritual buffet where we can pick and choose what we want. We prefer the freedom to choose.
But, friends – that’s just it! – we are not free. To think that is a deadly mistake; we are sheep. And we are either Jesus’ sheep – under his watchful eye – or, well, we’re wandering, and one day we may find ourselves terribly and eternally lost. Those are the options, and they are not up for debate.
And, so we take this, and we say, “Look, God has given me no choice. I can’t listen to him. I can’t trust him.” But why? Because you don’t like what he has to say? Because you don’t think his plan for you makes sense? Because he didn’t answer that one prayer? Or you find his ways unfair? If those are our thoughts, we ‘relooking for the excuse. We wanted a way out, some way to justify our unbelief. Often even we who call ourselves believers are tempted to think like this; to listen to our own voice and run away. That’s a terrible thing to do, and when we fail to listen and fail to follow, how do we even come back from that? It’s not easy. In fact for us, it’s impossible.
I’m embarrassed to share this story, but back when I was in like 6th grade. I attempted to run away from home. I say attempted because I got about two blocks and then thought “this is dumb,” and I went home. During this short-lived escape, my parents didn’t even know I had left the house, but of course one of my brothers told them, and they were upset with me. Do you know how I felt later that night? I felt embarrassed and guilty, but also a bit resentful like they deserved this little act of rebellion. Through all of this, my parents still loved me, and I always kinda knew why, but maybe didn’t fully understand it until I had kids of my own.
Those little munchkins can make your life miserable – they can! They can turn your hair grey, give you anxiety, break stuff, break themselves, ruin your finances, and end any chance of a good night’s sleep. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they follow, sometimes they’re cute but other times they are not and do none of the above, and yet still, at the end of the day, they are loved. If you’re a parent – even if you’re not – you understand why. That child is yours.
Remember what Jesus said about his sheep – how they listen and follow? He said something right before that and you might’ve missed it. He said this, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” You see, we can doubt, and throw a fit, and listen to other voices, and run away from Jesus, but you’re his and he loves you. You belong to him, and he’s made some incredible promises to you. For instance, he says this, “No one can snatch [you] out of his hand.” And there are many times you and I might doubt that, especially when we are awash in our guilt and shame. And even when we repent, it can be hard to believe that Jesus would ever want us back. But listen – listen! – Jesus didn’t just say you are his, he backed it up with real proof. His actions, as it is often said, spoke louder than his words.
Well, what did he do? He listened and he followed. He listened to his Father’s plan for you and followed it right up to a cross. There he stayed as nails were driven through him, painfully placed there for his weak and wandering sheep. He stayed because he promised you he would, and he would rather die than lie to you. Jesus would rather hold on to all the pains of hell as if his life depended on it, when, really, yours did. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, became the Lamb who was slain to keep his promise of salvation; so that even though you sin, even though you wander, and you run, he can be there to forgive, and to love. He can be there to bring you back and set you back on the one path to heaven with him. This is his promise to you.
Ah, a quick story to conclude. There was a gentleman who was told by his doctor that he had three months to live. This man was distraught by this news and daily searched for comfort in the Scriptures, but after every passage he read, all he could think of was, “I got three months to live.” But then he came across these words from his good shepherd, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” After reading and listening to these words, this man had peace, he knew that in three months he’d still be in his Savior’s hand because he’d be home. If there has ever been a voice worth listening to, don’t you think it would be that voice that can give you comfort even in death? Only one voice can and will do that. It’s the voice of your good shepherd. He’s calling. Listen to him and follow him to life everlasting. Amen.
And, remember this too, Jesus knows you. Jesus has watched you mature and grow in your faith as a part of his flock, and he knows that still sometimes you don’t like him; you find his way and his will to be a burden. Sometimes you’d rather run away and blame him for your own mistakes. He knows your pain and your tears too. You are no stranger to him, and he wants to keep it that way, so he has one more promise that he plans to keep for you. He will “give you eternal life, and you will never perish.” If there has ever been a voice worth listening to, don’t you think it would be that voice that can give you comfort even in death? Only one voice can and will do that. It’s the voice of your good shepherd. He’s calling. Listen to him and follow him to life everlasting. Amen.