The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman 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. John 10.2-4.
Jesus has a new follower. He is a man who was born blind but to whom Jesus has just restored the gift of sight. Receiving that gift from Jesus on the sabbath has, however, cost him his place in the congregation of the Jews — the Pharisees have thrown him out (John 9.34). But he doesn’t care because now he belongs to Jesus. And Jesus paints a picture in John 10 to show what the eternal realities are that lie behind the present incident.
There is. he is saying, a Jewish flock but those who should be shepherds to it (the Pharisees and other religious leaders) have, by their treatment of sheep such as this once-blind man, shown themselves to be bad shepherds — “the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves” upon whom God pronounces his woes (Ezekiel 34.2). By contrast, he, Jesus, is the one of whom God spoke when he said: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered … I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34.22-23). David was by then long-since dead, and God was speaking not of that David but of the coming Messiah, descended from David. Now, here in John 10, Jesus is saying, “I am [that] good shepherd … the one who lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11).
And he is saying more. He is saying that he is forming a new flock to which the man who once was blind now belongs. It is a flock marked by and held together by one thing: the fact that the sheep who make up that flock listen to his voice and follow him as he calls them by name and leads them out to pasture.
In Jesus day flocks in the Middle East were allowed to inter-mingle overnight in a sheepfold or by watering-holes, but once their shepherd called them by name they would go to him and the flock would re-form around him. Any sheep that was not listening or could not hear the shepherd’s voice was in danger of getting lost or ending up in the wrong flock.
I know the truth of this yet how little time I spend really listening. Elihu tells Job: “For God does speak — now one way, now another — though man may not perceive it” (Job 33.14). How often do I not hear the voice of my shepherd when he calls me? How many green pastures and still waters have I missed out on? How much restoring of my soul? (Psalm 23). Charles Wesley makes a powerful point in his hymn “O for a thousand tongues to sing” when he says: “He speaks and listening to his voice new life the dead receive …” Jesus may be speaking but if I am not listening I will miss out on the new life that I am in need of all the time.
All this prompts me to make a fresh commitment this morning; and I do so using the words of Rita Springer’s lovely song “All My Days” (see “All My Days (v)” under Crumbs) …
The Voice of my Shepherd I will follow,
and the Hand of my Friend I will take.
The hem of Your garments I will kiss, Lord,
for all my days.