Christianity 201

December 1, 2021

Sheep in the Presence of the Shepherd

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

After a break of a couple years, for the seventh time we’re back with author and pastor Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline, an excellent devotional writer. Click the header which follows to read this (and then explore other things) at its point of origin.

The Voice of Jesus

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice… Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… John 10:2-4, 11, 14

I have a cousin who is a dairy-farmer. His farm is a one-man business, and that can present problems when he needs to take a break for a few days. Certainly, he can get people to stand in for him, but if he does he finds that the milk-yield of the cows is seriously depleted – it’s almost as if they go on strike until he returns.

Which seems strange. Nearly all modern milking, including his, is done by mechanical means, so what difference should it make who actually attaches the equipment to the cows? But apparently it does.

I use the illustration of the farmer and his cows rather than the shepherd and his sheep because… well, I don’t happen to know any sheep-farmers! But if you read John 10 right down to verse 20 you won’t have any problem seeing the connection. Jesus describes himself as both the shepherd of the sheep and the gate by which they go in and out, but if he had chosen to talk about cows and their farmer the same essential truths would emerge.

What’s it all about? Trust, that’s what! And trust is at the heart of all good and healthy relationships, so it’s about that too. Lacking it, the cows don’t give their milk, and the sheep don’t follow.

The idea of sheep and shepherds is strong in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between the king and his people.

Moses is recorded as praying that God would appoint for his people a leader “who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16-17). (Compare that with Matthew 9:36, where the heart of the good shepherd is moved with “compassion” – that is, pity and deep sadness – for the big, swarming crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.)

Go to Ezekiel 34 and you find the prophet condemning false leaders as being like worthless shepherds who are only concerned for themselves. And it’s surely no accident that Israel’s greatest king – David – was, in his youth, a shepherd-boy (1 Samuel 16). In adulthood he simply swapped one type of flock for another…

So it’s a very natural parable that Jesus makes use of. What I find particularly striking about it is that four times in verses1-18 Jesus speaks about the shepherd’s voice.

Once when I was a small boy the head-teacher spoke during the assembly about the beauty of human eyes. To prove his point he told us, “There are many things you probably can’t remember today about your mother. But one thing I’m sure of – if I asked you what colour her eyes are, you would answer straight away.”

And I felt bad! Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t have a clue about the colour of my mother’s eyes. I had simply never noticed. Ah, but the sound of her voice – that was a different matter. Eyes, after all, are just there; but a voice is something you relate to. I would be able to pick that out in a roomful of noisy people.

And so it is with the voice of Jesus, our good shepherd; it is more precious to us than we can say.

But… how exactly do we hear it? Not, after all, with our physical ears. There may be times when in fact we don’t seem to hear it at all, perhaps because we have wandered away from him, or because it is crowded out by the many troubles, distractions and noises of our daily lives. But he is always speaking, even when we are not listening, or when our circumstances are such that we cannot hear.

This is where another memory of my early life comes in: as a child in Sunday School, and even more as a young convert, I was encouraged each day to have a “quiet time” of prayer and Bible-reading. That expression has, I think, fallen out of use over the years – people think it sounds a bit twee.

Well, perhaps. But I still think it has a real value, and I am not at all embarrassed to say that even all these years later I still try to make it my practice, and I’m still happy to recommend it to others.

In fact, the modern popularity of “mindfulness”, for us as Christians, is really just a recognition of our need to “be still, and know that God is God” (Psalm 46:10). To find such a time may be difficult in the busyness of our lives. But it needn’t be lengthy; it need only be sincere and determined. A few minutes with a focused heart and an open Bible can make all the difference.

So… Is it time you set aside a few minutes in your life to be still in the presence of Jesus and to allow him to speak? A few minutes to deepen that relationship I spoke about earlier? Everything good and wholesome springs from that, just as the sheep learns to confidently follow the shepherd and (if you don’t mind me comparing you to a cow) the cow produces rich, foaming, frothy, health-giving milk.

May God bless us all as we learn to listen for the voice of Jesus!

Lord Jesus, please train my ear through scripture and the Holy Spirit so that it becomes attuned to the sound of your voice, and so that I learn the secret of guidance, obedience – and peace. Amen.

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