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Worship Theme: Jesus is Our Shepherd
Sermon Theme: Listen Closely to the Shepherd's Voice
The phone rings! Without any regard for how loud it already is in the living room, the phone rings. You check the caller ID and see that it’s an important phone call. You now have two seconds to get the noise in the room from chaotic clamor lowered to library levels! What’s your go to tactic? Is it to dart out of the room to a quiet corner or the house? Do you have a phrase and a tone that everyone in the house recognizes as the “they mean business tone”? “Alright, everyone zip it! I have to take this call! I mean it!”
They’ve teased a news story that you are really interested in hearing! You’ve been waiting for ten minutes to hear. It’s been an acceptable noise level until two seconds before the story begins, that’s precisely when the noise levels go off the charts. “Quiet down please, I’m trying to listen!”
My wife does this really adorable thing – She asks me questions about the news story while the story is still going on! It’s then with all the love in my heart that I reply – “That’s a great question, honey, maybe we should listen to the rest of the story and see if the reporter answers it!”
When something is important, you would do well to listen! When your boss is giving you instructions about how the project should be done and when it needs to be completed, you’d be wise to listen. When your friend is telling you how you can help them, it’s going to be easier to help if you are listening. When your doctor gives you the instructions on what your rehab will be and what activities will help and which ones will hurt, you’d better be paying attention otherwise you could really undo the benefits of the surgery or make the situation even worse! When important people say important things, you had better be listening!!
When you are teaching a child how to listen, you need to teach them first why they need to listen. “It’s important to listen to mom and dad because they love and want what’s best for you.” “It’s important to listen to policemen and firemen because they want to keep you safe.” “It’s important to listen to this Bible reading or devotion, because it’s through words like this that Jesus shows us his love. He’s the only way to get to heaven, and so that makes his words the most important we’ll ever hear!
You don’t need to be a child for that last one to resonate, do you? It never stops being important for us to listen to Jesus!
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we can be thankful that our Shepherd sees fit to speak to us! We certainly don’t deserve his speaking and definitely don’t deserve his love! But he gives us both and we are wise to pay attention! And that’s exactly what we can do today – Listen Closely to the Shepherd’s Voice!
Twice in this short section of ten verses, Jesus uses a pattern that is recorded 26 times in the gospel of John! He begins a statement by saying, “Truly, truly I say to you!” Jesus uses a phrase that we often put on the end of our prayers. “Amen.” And he says it twice! “Amen, Amen.” “It’s most certainly, most certainly true what I am about to say to you!
Jesus in the way that only he can, announces the reliable and eternal truth of his speaking, even before he speaks! He shines a light on the powerful and words that he’s about to speak and calls on his audience to pay attention to them! “Listen up!” he says. “My words are important because they are truth!”
Twice in this section, he says – “Amen, Amen I say to you!” “Very truly I say to you!” Listen Up! Here’s the first: Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
But the Pharisees didn’t understand that he was talking about them!! They were the thieves and the robbers. They were the ones that were hell-bent on using and abusing the sheep! They were the ones that were misleading the sheep of Israel – teaching them to follow them in their folly! They believed and taught others to believe that a person could be saved through his own obedience! They thought they could earn God’s favor by keeping the laws of God and by making up their own rules to keep too! They insisted on leading the sheep of Israel. It’s no wonder they clashed with Jesus so much. Their message was the opposite of what Jesus was proclaiming. Jesus proclaimed life through his full and free forgiveness. The Pharisees message was life through obedience. Jesus spoke truth. The Pharisees spoke the lies of the evil one!
But it’s not just Jesus’ “Pay Attention to This!” phrase that causes our ears to perk up! It’s not just Jesus saying “Amen! Amen!” “Very truly I say to you!” “Listen Up!!” Did you catch what Jesus said about the sheep that follow him?
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. 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.
One of the hallmarks of sheep is that they know the shepherd’s voice. There were plenty of occasions that the sheep would get mixed up with other shepherds and other sheep. Whenever two or more shepherds and their flocks would cross paths, the sheep would bump into each other and get knocked off course. Often there were multiple shepherds who would rest their sheep in a large sheep pen for the evening. But the shepherds didn’t have to be so meticulously careful to prevent the sheep from intermingling with the sheep of a different flock, because the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. When the morning came and it was time to leave, the shepherd would simply speak and his sheep, the ones that knew his voice would stand and follow! They listen when he speaks and they come when he calls and not one of them is lost!
Our Shepherd speaks to us, and we do well to listen to him! There is plenty in this life that can get us knocked off course. The influence of those around us that don’t know the Shepherd is a big one! Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the impact the godless around us are making. Sometimes we know full well that we are ignoring the Shepherd’s voice to make friends with worldly sheep. There are certainly times that what’s happening in life makes it hard to listen to the Shepherd! Sometimes life is so easy and rewarded that we forget whose hand is bestowing those blessings to us. Sometimes life gets so difficult and the struggle so intense that we doubt God is really there or that he really cares. Maybe life just hurts to the point that we lose hope and give up!
Or maybe it’s the other voices that we allow to fill our ears! The voices that are so tempting to follow. Some of those voices mock the Christian worldview and convince us we are fools to follow God’s ways. Some of those voices trick us into thinking worldly things like kid’s sports or climbing the corporate ladder are a better way to spend our time than listening to the Shepherd’s voice and making sure that our family hears him too! Maybe we end up taking a consistent voice for granted and our ears slowly close to the Shepherd’s words of love.
We are all guilty of closing our ears to the Shepherd’s voice. We are all incapable of following him where he leads or heeding his every call! And for that we deserve to be left out of the flock. We deserve to have the Shepherd move on without us. He should leave us to the voices that we think are more important or the leaders that we think are better. He should let us find out just how powerless we are to shepherd ourselves and just how quickly we’d fall victim to our enemies’ attacks.
But Jesus doesn’t give up on us! Even though there’s no question that’s exactly what we deserve, he continues to be our loving Shepherd! Instead of letting us fall victim to our enemies, he laid himself down between them and us! He took the weight of the world’s sins so that we would not be crushed! He took on wolf and it cost him his life. He was willing to suffer and bleed, to be crucified in our place, so that he could show what a difference 3 days could make! He paid sin’s price; he endured the wrath of God for us. He traded his life for ours, and then rose victorious over death!
During this Easter season, we are wise to open our ears to the voice of the Shepherd, our Living and Risen Christ! As he appears to his disciples and friends, the comfort that his voice brings can’t be missed! The name “Mary” opens her eyes and her heart to Jesus’ love and the joy of the life that Easter brings. To the disciples and to Thomas who were locked in a fear-filled place, Jesus breaks through fear and speaks to them “Peace!” To the Emmaus disciples he speaks of promises fulfilled and love outpoured and their hearts burn with a longing they hadn’t often felt! Words from Jesus’ lips, a message of love and reconciliation from the Father, the Shepherd’s Voice – it’s the most comforting sound we could ever hear!
Our Shepherd speaks to us as he guides us through the challenges of this world! He speaks to us as we face adversity and persecutions for being sheep in his flock! He guides us and leads us even through the darkest valleys. He speaks his words of love to us when we feel lost and alone. There are many times when all we need to do is close our eyes, and open our ears to hear the words of promise and assurance that he speaks to us. Listen to this comforting promise of the glory that is waiting for us in heaven. God speaks it to John and through John he speaks it to us in Revelation chapter 7 (verses 16-17).
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Listen Closely to the Shepherd’s Voice! He speaks peace and hope. He speaks joy and victory! Peter had it so poignantly perfect when he said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68).
My friends, Listen Closely to the Shepherd’s Voice! He speaks to you again - “Listen Up!” “Truly Truly!” he says! Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Salvation is ours! Life here in this place is ours and a better and fuller life is in store for us in the eternal glory of heaven, because Jesus has made us to be sheep in his pasture, lambs in his flock, those who can and who do Listen Closely to the Shepherd’s Voice! Amen! Amen!
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