The word “sheep” is found many times in both testaments – 41 times in the New Testament. Several times it is applied to us but prefaced with the word “as.” “Behold, I send you forth AS sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted AS sheep for the slaughter.” “For ye were AS sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” With scriptures like that, it would be hard to use “sheep” as one of the titles of the children of God. But in John 10 Christ calls us “HIS sheep” elevating the term and blessing us in the process.
Let’s use this scripture to consider some of the opportunities and blessings of us – the Lord’s Sheep.
We have heard the voice of Christ.
Verse 27 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Sheep were not raised like chickens – brought to a certain weight and then slaughtered in a few months. Eastern sheep were raised primarily for their wool. Sure, there were some that were sacrificed, but many fewer were used for food. And doesn’t word “sacrifice” suggest that there was an expense in killing that animal? The people of Jesus’s day ate far less meat than we do in our society. When they thought about lambs, it was not with mint sauce. Sheep were loved, prized, and often kept as pets, sometimes even living in people’s houses. And since many sheep lived to full maturity, they got to really know their owners. It is proverbial that sheep could learn the appearance, smell, demeanor and voice of their shepherds. “My sheep hear my voice,” said the Saviour, perhaps the way a pet dog learns her mistress’ voice.
When referring to the people of God, what does it mean that we “hear the voice of Christ?” This conversation in John 10 took place in December in the place called Solomon’s Porch. This dedication was a commemoration of the cleansing of the Temple in the days of the Macabees. Josephus, the Jewish Historian, says that this portico or porch survived the destruction of the temple at the hands of the Babylonians. But more probably this one was merely fashioned like one that was attached to Solomon’s Temple.
In the cool, winter air, Jesus was in that porch when He was surrounded by some of Jewish leadership. They were asking, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? They literally wanted to know, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” “If thou be the Christ, give us a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.” That is an interesting question and demand: First, let it be noticed that they were not really interested in the answer. I’m sure that many people WERE honestly asking this same question. But these people only wanted some direct statement which they could use to condemn Christ.
And implied in their question is the faulty idea that the Lord was the cause of their “doubts.” All human beings are – by nature – “doubters.” And this is not a phenomenon caused by God in any way. It is our nature to doubt God, hate God, disbelieve God, shun God and flee from God. By nature we are not even interested in LISTENING to what God has to say.
It takes a miracle to give anyone ears to hear the voice of the Lord. But it is one of the characteristics of God’s people, God’s sheep, is to hear His voice. God’s people are able to hear the conviction brought about by the Spirit of God. God’s people love and listen to the written Word, both in reading and attending Gospel preaching. And God’s people can distinguish between the voice of Christ and the voice of anti-Christ. Those JEWS could not hear the voice of Christ, but God’s people can and do. And with that we come back to the question percolating throughout this series – “If this is the criteria to make a judgment, am I one of God’s people?” Do I hear and listen to the Word of the Lord?
We are told that, God’s sheep are known of Christ.
Again verse 27 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Known by God are all His saints, and they have been known from before the foundation of the world. They are not known because God foresaw their future faith – they have always been known. This is a subject that deserves two or three messages on its own.
Let it suffice to say at this point that to be known of Christ is to BE one of the Lord’s sheep. And how does someone become one of that special flock? There are people who say that the sheep choose to join the Lord’s herd. Of course, it is faulty logic to build a doctrine based upon an illustration or a parable. But the fact is that sheep choosing to join one man’s flock over another man’s flock is silly. It is not their choice. And the illustration is borne out in more direct Bible statements on the subject How did anyone become a part of the Lord’s sheep? Verse 29 says that God the Father gave them to the Son. That is an act of election and performance. John 6:37 says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” There are a lot of well-meaning people who only see the last part of that verse: “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” And those well-meaning people think that this coming to Christ is simply an act of the sheep. But the truth is that in their coming to Christ we see the act of God the Father. “We love Him because He first loved us.” We come to Christ because He first came to us.
To be known of Christ is to be known as the sheep of Christ.
At this point I want to take a backward step to look at verse 26 in a backward way, but bear with me.
Doesn’t verse 26 say that these Jews didn’t believe Christ, BECAUSE they were not the sheep of Christ? Can’t we logically and scripturally say – the Lord’s sheep are believers? It is commonly understood throughout Christendom that faith is a part of the life of the Christian. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” I could multiply these verses about faith ten-fold.
In the light of verse 26, what is the relationship of faith to sheepness. The Saviour told those unbelievers that they were unbelievers because they were not sheep. The Lord’s sheep become sheep before they exhibit faith. Dead hearts cannot believe on Christ – they must first be given life through divine regeneration. We are the sheep of God’s pasture because He made us so. Faith is an evidence of salvation, not the cause of salvation. God is the cause of salvation, and He bestows it entirely by His grace. We cannot entice God to be gracious towards us, in any way, even through the good work of faith.
But WHAT hadn’t those Jews believed? That Jesus was the Christ. What have the sheep believed? Among other things, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Jews demanded a clear declaration of Jesus’ Messiahship, but they already had heard and seen the proof on many occasions – without faith.
As believers, God’s sheep follow Christ.
Verse 27 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” We can picture a dedicated shepherd leading his flock out of the place where they had bedded down. I realize that shepherding is done differently in different parts of the world. For example, I know that in some places dogs are used to herd sheep. Usually that is because the herds are huge, or the people are in a hurry. Usually those shepherds don’t know and love their animals in any personal way. But in ancient Israel, where herds were small and life was slower, the only sheep dogs were wolves. The shepherd didn’t drive his sheep; rather he led them with his voice and his presence. Some shepherds would play a musical instrument and the sheep would follow. Others would sing, and some would simply talk to the sheep. And the sheep would follow his voice. Of course, this kind of treatment couldn’t be carried out in a hurried fashion. You might remember that Jacob reminded Esau about this characteristic of sheep. In this kind of shepherding, it might take a long time to get from point “A” to point “B”.
There are few scriptures which give the Christian more comfort and assurance than John 10:27-28. As I understand, this is an unconditional statement that those under Lord’s care are His for eternity, because they are sheep in His hand and under His care, and they are in the Father’s hand and under His care. It is the combined action of the Father and the Son which guarantees our eternal safety.
But there are people who try to corrupt this passage by adding an implied “if.” My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and (IF) they follow me, I shall give unto them eternal life. That is not what the Lord was saying that wintery day in Solomon’s Porch. The Lord’s sheep follow the Shepherd. This is not a “maybe” or an “I hope” they follow – they DO follow. So as in all the previous lessons in this series, we have to ask – “Am I truly following?” This provides us with an unmistakable test: If you are not following the Shepherd you have not heard His voice. If you have not heard his voice, how can it be said that you are one of his sheep? Are you following the Lord?
Another blessing of the Lord’s sheep is their utter and eternal safety.
“And I give unto them eternal life.” Please don’t think that this says that they “will be given” eternal life. The sheep of Christ are in possession of the eternal life of Christ the moment they are regenerated.
The word “eternal” is a rather controversial term among theologians. There are people who want you to believe that the Greek word means exactly the opposite to what the English word means. But that is pure imagination; faulty imagination; Satanic imagination. The Saviour clearly shows us how He defines the word, by explicitly stating that those who possess eternal life shall never perish; they shall never die. Eternal means “never ending” no matter how you want to slice it.
The sheep of Lord are in hand of Saviour, and no man is capable of plucking them out that mighty hand. There are thousands of preachers who teach that even though no OTHER man is able to pluck the Christian out of the hand of the Lord, they say that it is possible for the Christian to voluntarily leave. But wait just a minute. In Psalm 95:7 we read “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” What does it mean to be the “sheep of his hand?” What does that mean besides the fact that again we have reference to God’s being his sheep? From what I have learned, it refers to the Lord’s creation and care of those sheep. Being in the hand of the Lord means utter safety, even from ourselves.
When those sheep belong to Christ, they are His. We are His! We have been created by Him, born again through Him, and given His eternal life by Him. We have been purchased with His own blood. We have been given to the Saviour by the Father. Doesn’t ownership mean Lordship? That which is owned has no right of will contrary to the will of the owner. Those sheep have liberty to go, only within the limits granted by the owner. If the shepherd doesn’t want the sheep to leave His hand, they cannot leave His hand – period. And there is no hint here that God will permit anyone to leave His tender care. God’s hand, neither the Father’s nor the Son’s, is an open hand – at least in this regard. It would be a disgrace to a human shepherd to say that he allowed his sheep to stray. How much more does it disgrace the Good Shepherd to say that He allows His sheep to leave Him?
Do the sheep have power to leap out of God’s hand contrary to His will and purpose? To admit this, would be to contradict Jesus’ words: “My Father is greater than all.” The “all” must include the sheep as well as the Devil.
Ah, what privileges and blessings the sheep of the Lord possess. What privileges and blessing we possess as the Lord’s sheep. There is no end of room for praise to God for His great – eternal – salvation. There may be no better animal to illustrate the child of God. But “sheep” is more than just an illustration – it appears to be another of our titles. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”