“My sheep hear My Voice,” so said Jesus in John 10. He made this statement to the Jewish religious leaders who hounded Him. They demanded a plain answer from Him, a “straight” answer to the question, “Are You the Christ?” He had said much and done much, more than enough to validate His identity as Messiah. A hardened heart, however, cannot sense what’s behind the words being spoken.
Only sheep hear Jesus. These seek the Shepherd, one who cares for them. Their restless and battered hearts long for still waters and green pastures. Their sense of helplessness – the poverty of spirit that Jesus made reference to His Sermon on the Mount – actually is a blessed thing. They listen and discern a tone of compassion, a sound that draws them near.
Sheep are known as prey animals, ripe targets for predators. They are neither swift nor nimble. They possess no claws or fangs. The paths that they take are never straight; they meander, partly to position their eyes to detect trouble. As a flock, they can come together against a wolf or coyote. Ones that wander away from the group, however, are often devoured.
Sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it?
The Desperate Draw Close
Page through the gospels and take note of those who readily responded to Jesus. Luke 7 tells of the desperate prostitute who pushed her way to the table of a Pharisee and fell at the Savior’s feet. She then washed those feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with costly ointment. I have often wondered if this ointment was something she employed to entice her “customers” and now was something she lavished upon Christ as she heard His voice.
This lost, broken woman heard forgiveness in the words of Jesus. Her faith brought her to salvation and peace.
Those asking the questions in John 10 wanted no such peace. They could never see themselves as sheep in need of the Shepherd. They viewed themselves as the muscular members of their society; their influence, power, and prosperity rendered them dull to the message they so needed to hear. They were bullish in their pride.
Bulls – these are strong, tough, and determined animals that can sport an impressive set of horns. Let’s face it; we’d rather picture ourselves after this image. This is a concept that has some history among people, even among the people of God.
Moses was a shepherd raised to lead the people Israel out of Egypt to the Land of Promise. While he was away on Mount Sinai, the people had Aaron fashion a golden calf – a young bull to be their idol. In the days of the kings, Jeroboam led away 10 tribes in rebellion against Jerusalem and the dynasty of King David. Among the first things Jeroboam did after establishing his throne was set up two idol centers with golden bulls at their altars.
Integrity of Heart
In Psalm 78, we read through dozens of verses that reveal the bull-headedness that plagued the people of Israel. They rebelled against His covenant and grieved God again and again. They provoked the Holy One (see Psalm 78:40-41).
Thankfully, Psalm 78 concludes with a most uplifting passage:
“He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:70-72).Courage and conviction to those in his care made David ready to lead a nation. Click To Tweet
Catch the promise made here to Israel and to all of us. From the line of David, a shepherd boy made king, would come the King who would also be our great Shepherd.
How is it that David developed the heart seen by God, a heart after the Lord’s own heart? It came from being with the sheep, from caring for the “ewes great with young.”
Pregnant sheep – can you picture a more helpless and vulnerable beast? This shepherd spoke of fending off lions and bears that came after his father’s flock. It was this courage and conviction to those in his care that made David ready to lead a nation of millions.
Going Weak to Win
The last sentences of Psalm 78 point to Jesus, the last in the line of the royal sons of David. He feeds His sheep from the integrity of His heart. He guides His flock with the skill of His hands, the very hands that still bear the nail scars of Calvary.
Jesus didn’t power up to blow away His adversaries. He announced just what was at His disposal at the moment of His arrest. Legions of angels could have flooded Gethsemane at His bidding. But He refused to bull His way to victory.
Instead, Christ, the Son of David, triumphed as the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. It was through making Himself the weakest that He won the ultimate triumph. Through this, He rescued the ewes great with young who cannot get out of their own way. He became sin, who knew no sin, so that we – the sheep who hear His voice – might be made righteous in Him.
For more on Psalm 78 and our Good Shepherd, watch “Spirit and Heart for the Battle,” a message from Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.