THE VOICE OF THE SHEPHERD IN THE WINTER
A sermon by T. Burden of Eastbourne, preached at Forest Fold, Crowborough on January 19th, 1995.
“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, neither shall any man
pluck them out of my hand.
My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them
out of my Father’s hand.
I and my Father are one.” John 10.27-29.
These words were spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ in the winter. We read in verse 22 that it was at Jerusalem, the Feast of the Dedication, and it was winter. The feast of the Dedication was a feast celebrating the great achievement of Judas Maccabeus in 165BC. In 168BC Antiochus Epiphanes ransacked the Temple at Jerusalem, and he set up there a Greek-styled altar and offered blasphemous sacrifices. For three years those sacrifices continued, but three years to the day, in the winter, on December 25th, Judas Maccabeus entered the temple, drove out the Greek blasphemous worship, and purged it. Ever since then, the Jews have celebrated the re-dedication of the Temple under Judas Maccabeus. It was this Feast of Dedicatinn which John refers to here, and it was winter.
1. A winter of discontent
In the winter, Jesus said these wonderful words, “My sheep hear my voice.” Sometimes it is winter in other ways than weatherwise. The winter evening tonight is suitable for us to be thinking of words that were spoken in the winter, but there are other kinds of winter as well. There is that winter of hostility and bitterness which these Jews had in their hearts towards the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a winter of discontent for these Jews. They were impatient with Him. In verse 24 they say, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” Then, later on, we read in verse 31 that the Jews took up stones again to stone Him, and later on, they were going to do the same again, “They sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand” (verse 39). There was this winter of discontent amongst the Jews.
2. A winter of the soul
‘It is summertime in my heart.’ We praise God that sometimes there are those summertimes of
the heart, when there is great hope and great joy in the heart. There are the times of spiritual spring in the heart when there are surges of fresh spiritual life, new spiritual energy, new fruits beginning to bud forth. There is the autumn of the Christian life when things are maturing and the harvest of grace in the heart is coming to rich fruition. There are also wintertimes in the soul when all seems dead, when the vigorous spiritual life that perhaps once we knew, just does not seem to be there; there is an absence of spiritual energy, and those fruits of the Spirit that we thought had ripened so well, well, they seem to have turned sour on the branch as it were; when we thought we were people who were gentle, we find ourselves losing our temper, and flying off the handle at the smallest provocation. The mature fruits of Christianity seem to be withered upon us, and there does not seem to be that hope and joy of summer, but just the hopelessness of winter. Maybe, some of you can identify in your own hearts with that kind of experience.
In the wintertime of the soul, there are perhaps fewer words that are so encouraging as these words that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke in the winter. It was the winter, it was the rainy season. John tells us in verse 23, “And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.” It may well have been raining at that very time. Rainy days are dreary days sometimes. Jesus spoke these wonderfully comforting words when it was winter.
I want us first of all, to look at these words and to see Christ as the Shepherd, and the Christian as a sheep, and then I want us to see Christ’s gift to the Christian, and then the Christian’s security in Christ.
We will spend most of our time with the first of these items:
3. Christ as the Shepherd, and the Christian as the sheep
Throughout history, people have had different ideas as to what Christ should be, and what Christ should do. You remember that the Apostle Paul tells us that the Greeks were looking for someone who was extremely wise. “The Greeks seek after wisdom,” and the Messiah that they would have accepted, would have been a Messiah of exceptional wisdom as they understood wisdom. He tells us that the Jews “seek after a sign;” the kind of Messiah that the Jews want, is a Messiah that can perform great signs and wonders. Moses was a man raised up of God to be a deliverer, and he performed great signs and miracles before Pharaoh in Egypt; they wanted a Messiah of signs and wonders.
Today people still have their own preconceived ideas of what Christ should do, and what Christ should be. You may have heard of liberation theology – that Christ should be presented as the liberator of people under oppressive political systems. There are others who
want a Christ of social justice, where the poor are elevated and the wealth of the rich redistributed; they want a Messiah who will level things out in a material way, just as the man who came to Jesus saying, “Speak to my brother, and tell him to divide the inheritance with me.” In one way or another, we all have our preconceived ideas of what Christ should be, and of what Christ should do. You remember John the Baptist, a very holy man of God, and yet from his question to the Lord Jesus Christ, we understand that he had certain expectations of what Christ should be. He should be this one with the axe, ready to strike at the root of the religious system, and bring it tumbling down; He should be the One that is sifting things now, lighting the fires now to bum up all the dross. He sends to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he asks this question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” He had his expectations of what Christ should do, and because Jesus was performing gracious miracles, and because Jesus was being so compassionate, and not, as it seemed, wielding a sword of vengeance as yet, John begins to wonder. We too, may wonder.
Maybe you have preconceived notions of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a great danger. We can sit under a Christ-exalting ministry for years where the true Christ is proclaimed, but because that is not the Christ that you wanted to hear about, you do not accept it. That can be a real danger. It was the danger, and the pitfall that these people had fallen into. These Jews came to Jesus with a question, ‘How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘I told you, I have told you I am the Christ. I have told you in plain language, I could not have seen plainer in what I said.’ Why did they not understand that He was the Christ? It was because they had some preconceived idea of what Christ should be, especially at the feast of the Dedication when their minds were going back to Judas Maccabeus. ‘We want a Christ like Judas Maccabeus; he overthrew the Greeks, and re-established the worship at Jerusalem. We want a Messiah that will overthrow the Romans, and give us our own identity back, and enable us to lift our heads high in the world again. Are you the Christ? Are you the one who is going to overthrow the Romans or not?’ They had this wrong concept of Christ, and because they were thinking their own preconceived ideas about Christ, they did not recognise Him when He came. You may have fallen into that pitfall. You want a Christ who will do this for you, a Christ who is able to heal miraculously, and if He does not do that, well, ‘He is not my Christ.’ You want a Christ who will give you this gift, or that gift, and if He does not do that, well, ‘He is not the Christ that I want.’ Do not have such preconceived notions of the Lord Jesus Christ that you miss Him.
For a moment this evening, I want you to hold in abeyance your
own thoughts of Christ and listen to what He says; He says to these people, ‘I told you plainly that I was the Christ.’ Well, what had He said to identify Himself as the Christ? What He had said was this, ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ What kind of Christ is the Lord Jesus? He is the Christ who is a shepherd. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” When the Lord Jesus Christ has described Himself as the Shepherd, He has explained what the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour is. He explains a little of what the Messiah, the Saviour does. He explains a little of how people come into an experience of this great salvation through the Messiah, and so for these people to come to Him and say, ‘Are you the Christ, are you the one who is going to save us?’ shows they had not listened to Him. I have just been telling you about the Saviour; I have just been telling you about salvation, I have told you plainly about all of these things, but you have missed them. Maybe you have sat in this church, and you have sat listening to gospel ministry week in and week out, you have heard plainly the gospel message, but it has not affected you, and you are still saying, ‘Where is this salvation?’
Maybe you are like Naaman. Remember, Naaman the leper went down to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy, and you come to church;
you know you are a sinner, no one needs to tell you that, you know it; you come, and you think that somehow you are going to be cleansed of your sin, but like Naaman, you have preconceived ideas of how it is all going to happen. Naaman went down to Elisha, and he thought, ‘Surely, he would come out and stand, and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and strike over the place, and cure me of my leprosy.’ Because he had not done exactly as he thought he would, he was off, he had had enough. His friends have to say, ‘Now come on, he has told you the message, Wash and be clean; do not go off because he did not match your preconceived ideas of what he should have done.’ If you have come, and you have thought, ‘Well, salvation must be down this way, or down that way,’ and when you hear the Word of God, it is actually down another avenue, do not dismiss the Word of God because it did not match what you expected.
The Lord Jesus Christ explains that He is the Shepherd. ‘I told you that I am the Messiah.’ He tells them, “I am the good shepherd (verse 11,14), and in verse 16, “Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Are you the Christ? Yes, I am the Good Shepherd.’ Are you the Christ? ‘Yes, there is only one Shepherd, and I am that Shepherd,’ Jesus says. Are you the one that we are looking for? ‘Yes, I am the Shepherd of Israel, I am the Shepherd of God’s people, there is no other; there is one Fold, and one Shepherd. I am the Good Shepherd.’ Tell us plainly.
Are you the Messiah? ‘I could not have told you in plainer language, I am the Good Shepherd; I am the One.’ The Lord Jesus Christ says in verse 10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” In verse 14, He speaks of the care that He has for the sheep, “The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” ‘I care, I have come to give life in all its fulness.’ Are you the Messiah, the deliverer, the one who will enrich our lives? Tell us plainly, do not make us doubt a moment longer. “I have told you plainly,” ‘I am come to give life, I am the Messiah, the One who does give life in all its fulness.’ He says in verse 18, “No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” The Messiah must be one appointed by God. Moses! We know about Moses. God gave His word to Moses. God set up Moses. The Messiah must be one who comes from God. “This commandment have I received of my Father.” Are you the Christ? Put us out of our doubt. ‘Yes, I have been commissioned by the Father.’ Are you the sent one? ‘Yes, I am the Christ; I have this commandment from my Father.’ The Lord Jesus Christ could not have said it in plainer language. Are you the Christ who cares about the people of God, who will deliver the people of God, who will enrich their lives; the Christ who has been given power from God, and commission from God to deliver? ‘Yes, I have told you plainly, and the illustration that I have used is that of the Shepherd. I am the Good Shepherd.’
There is a Saviour for you; there is a deliverer appointed by God for sinners. Where are you going to find Him? Who is He? What is His identity? Are you in any doubt? Will you raise this question with God? Show me where the Saviour is. Jesus’ words come, “I told you, I am the Good Shepherd who gives life to the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep.” Christ is the Shepherd, and the Christians are people who are His sheep; “My sheep,” He says, “hear my voice, and I know them.” The people who come into an experience of Christ’s work, the people who come into experience of His saving power are the people who are His sheep, and they hear His voice.
4. Hearing the Shepherd’s voice
Now, what is this hearing of the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it that they hear some whisper in the internal recesses of their minds, somehow, this whisper must be the voice of God, and the voice of the Shepherd speaking to them? Is it that they hear a voice which is different to the voice of men, a kind of angelic voice, a heavenly voice, a resonant voice that speaks into their minds, a voice which is
beyond this world? Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” What is the hearing of this voice? Maybe some of you are not Christians this evening because you are waiting to hear a voice, waiting to hear some internal voice in your minds, some audible voice, some thundering voice to confirm that you are one of the sheep. What does Jesus mean when He says, “My sheep hear my voice?” Jesus explains a little of what the sheep hear when they hear His voice. He said to these Jews, “I told you, and ye believed not: but ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” ‘I have spoken plainly to you, exactly the same things that I speak to My sheep, but you have not believed. My sheep hear exactly the same things, and they believe. My sheep hear my voice, they hear what I have said, they hear me say that I am the Good Shepherd; they hear me say that I give my life for the sheep, they hear me say that I have received this commandment from My Father; they hear me say I am the one Shepherd, they hear me say that I must bring them, and they believe. They hear exactly the same things. My sheep hear my voice.’ It is not that they hear something in their mind, some whisper in their mind, some audible voice distinct from the message which Jesus gave to these Jews. ‘I told you, and you believed not;
my sheep hear, and they follow.’
What is this hearing of the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ? It is the hearing of this gospel message that He has given, and it is the hearing of it in such a way that it is embraced by faith. The Apostle tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. They hear the Word of God; they hear the voice of God in the Word of God. As they hear the Word of God, and the voice of God in the Word of God, God works upon them, and they believe it. The Apostle Paul says, ‘We are ambassadors for Christ; it is as if God did beseech you by us. We urge you, be reconciled to God.’ In the days when Jesus was here, the people literally heard His voice. When He had died and risen again, and ascended to heaven, the people heard the voice of Jesus from the lips of the Apostles. We are in Christ’s stead. God is beseeching you by us. The voice of the great Shepherd is heard through us. What you hear is the Gospel. Today, people hear the voice of the chief Shepherd from the lips of the lesser shepherds. Your pastor here when he ministers to you from the Word of God, he is in Christ’s stead, he is the voice of Christ to you, as it were. As he opens up the Word of God, and he preaches the Word of God to you, as he urges you to receive these things of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are hearing the voice of the Shepherd. There are those who hear and do not believe, but with the sheep, it is different. There is a hearing of exactly the same message, but their hearing becomes a personal hearing, a hearing which becomes
overwhelmingly personal. It is as if there were no other person in the whole church but you, and the preacher is not really there either. It is God speaking to you, and you know that this Gospel message is God speaking to you. You remember that on the Mount Sinai, the voice of God was heard, and it came like thunder, and the thunder became louder and louder and louder. In a sense, the Gospel is like that. It comes to a person, they hear it and it impresses itself upon their soul, and they hear it more and more and more, and they cannot throw it off. God is speaking to them, and they cannot throw it off. On Monday morning, Tuesday and Wednesday they try and absorb themselves in their work, but this Gospel message comes to them: ‘I am the good Shepherd, my sheep hear my voice.’ You say, ‘No, it cannot be me that He is addressing,’ so you give yourself to hear the voices of the world; you pay attention to the things of the world around you. The world says, ‘Come and earn extra money, come and buy this in our hypermarket.’ The voices of the world come and try to drown out the voice of Christ, but the voice of the Good Shepherd presses on, and it presses on to your soul. All they are interested in is getting things out of you. They will take your money, they will take your time, they will take your energy. As long as you have something to give, all of these voices will try and get something out of you, and when you are dead, they will dispose of you. They will not want to have anything to do with you, and indeed, will not be able to do anything for you. All these are the world’s distracting voices, but the voice of the Good Shepherd is different.
He is concerned for your soul, He is not interested in taking from you anything except your sin, and that which bars you from heaven.
Â‘I am the Good Shepherd, I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ Life in its fulness, life that nothing can take away. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, and His sheep, the Christians, are His sheep who hear His tender voice calling them.
5. How the Shepherd values the sheep
What would you give for a sheep? I do not know the current price for a sheep. Some would go and they would assess the market-place
– what could I get out of this sheep? What is its fleece like? Will it be able to give birth to lambs? Will it give milk so I can make sheep cheese? They will look at it in a commercial way. The thieves and the robbers do that, but not Jesus. Jesus sees you as you are. He sees that there is nothing worth buying you for. He sees there is nothing worth buying me for. He sees that we are diseased sheep, that our fleece is matted and infected. He sees that our feet are torn and weary with wanderings. He sees that our eyes are blind to all
spiritual truth. He sees that our mouths are vile and have been used for all the wrong kind of things. He sees that we are useless and we can give nothing to Him but trouble, and yet Jesus says, ‘I will have that sheep; I will buy that sheep.’ What are you going to buy it for? It is useless. ‘I know it is useless, but I love that sheep.’
The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep, and the Lord Jesus Christ has given His life for no other kind of sheep but a dead carcass of a sheep. He has given His life for no other kind of sheep than sheep whose coats are full of sin. He gives His life for no other kind of sheep than a sheep whose feet have wandered in the paths of sin time and time and time again. He gave His life for sinners such as you, and sinners such as me. He is not like any other shepherd in the world; all the others want to know what they can get out of you, what they can squeeze out of you. If they can get one bit of religious devotion out of you, another penny to fill the coffers of the church, they will get it. If they can get some more material benefit out of you, they will wring you dry for it, but not this Shepherd. He has come to give you life, life in all its fulness. ‘Tell us, how long do you make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.’ ‘I told you, I am the Saviour; I have come to give you life in all its fulness. I have come, not to take anything from you except your sin. I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.’ What He tells the sheep particularly, is of His death. ‘I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. Therefore does my Father love me because I lay down my life for the sheep’ – the only way that ruined, helpless sheep can be raised to a God-glorifying flock is by the death of the Shepherd. The death of the Shepherd procures their cleansing. The death of the Shepherd secures their being raised incorruptible. The death of the Shepherd is the price for a purified flock.
There is no other Saviour, no one else who can deliver you from sin. Christ is the Shepherd, His sheep hear His voice in the Gospel;
it comes to them in the Gospel, and the Gospel impresses itself on them until they realise it is for them that Christ suffered and died, and they rise up and follow Him. ‘Let me have Christ and no other. Let me follow Christ and no other. When I come to walk the valley of the shadow of death, let it be Christ before me and no other, for no other will do. He will preserve me and keep me through it all.’
6. Christ’s gift to the sheep
Briefly we shall look at Christ’s gift to the sheep, the gift of eternal life. ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.’ Do you have eternal life? Do you have this gift from the Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord Jesus Christ described eternal life as a well of water springing up within them; this Holy Spirit’s supply of life, it is
eternal, it does not dry up. It does not decay, it is a spring of life within them. James speaks of a spring; it brings forth sweet water. It cannot bring forth bitter water as well, it brings forth sweet water. Do you have that life within you, that spiritual energy, from the Holy Spirit given by Christ to bring forth a sweetness of life? I give unto them eternal life. It is indestructible life. Do you have it?
There is a lovely illustration in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in the house of Interpreter, an illustration of the eternal life that Jesus gives. Pilgrim is shown a picture of a fire, and the fire is burning in the grate, and there is another pouring water on the fire to extinguish the blaze. However much water is poured upon this fire, it will not go out. This puzzled Christian, and he could not understand it. Why is the fire alive inspite of all the water? He is taken behind the wall, and he sees that on the other side there is one pouring oil on to the fire to keep it alight. He is told, ‘This is Christ, Christ pouring in the oil to keep the fire alight. The devil is pouring on the water to try to extinguish it, but Christ will not allow it to be extinguished. He will keep it alight and burning.’ Do you have this eternal life? “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish. The life will never be extinguished; they may feel the cold, they may see all the difficulties, they may feel the water as it were, coming upon them to extinguish that life, but it will not perish. “I give it’ – the eternal Son of God gives it, the One who is life. John begins his Gospel here, “In him was life,” and He gives eternal indestructible life to His children. They shall never perish. It will not be extinguished however low it may seem to be burning. However low your fire might be burning at present, Christ says, I gave my sheep eternal life, they shall never perish.
7. The Sheep are safe
There is a great security for the Christian. Jesus says, “My Father which gave them, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” You remember the Lord Jesus Christ when He was performing great miracles. He was able to cast out demons, and the people wondered at His miraculous power, and some of them were foolish enough to suggest that it was demonic power. Jesus was quick to rebuke them. He says, “This is the Holy Spirit’s power. The kingdom of God is among you.’ He says that these things are the finger of God. Remember the sorcerers in Egypt, when they could not imitate and copy the plague of the lice, they say to Pharaoh, this is none other than the finger of God. One finger of God! Jesus says, “I give to my sheep eternal life, they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” One finger of
God is omnipotent, one finger of Christ is omnipotent. ‘This is the finger of God, no one can pluck them out of My hand. I grip them with a five-fold omnipotence. My Father holds me and has another five-fold omnipotence; they are safe in the omnipotent grip of God. My sheep, they are safe.’
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke these words in the winter, and when it is winter in our hearts, these are encouraging things to remember. He is the Messiah, the Saviour. He is the Shepherd. Look at His care for the sheep! The hireling flees because he does not own the sheep; they are not his, he does not care for them, but He cares, He gives His life for the useless sheep to make them glorious. He gave His life on the cross for the sheep, so that He could give them eternal life, and however cold it is in the soul, they shall never perish; He will give and give and give life from His own heart. They cannot be lost, they are held in omnipotent hands. Have you this Saviour as your Saviour? ‘I told you, and you believed not.’ Why not believe such a Saviour? You need a Saviour. You need someone to hold you through death. You need someone to give you eternal life. You need someone to get rid of your sins. You need someone who will give you peace with God. Why not believe the One whom God has given? The Father gave Jesus His commandment to be the Saviour of all who will believe. He will not fail any one of you who believe and call upon His name for salvation. Trust Him, He is a great and glorious Saviour.