1-5 "Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he's up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won't follow a stranger's voice but will scatter because they aren't used to the sound of it."
We don't see too many sheep around my neck of the woods, but whenever I see them in the fields, grazing just prior to "lambing" season, I love to stop for a few minutes to watch them. The ranchers have a few fields they bring them to just at that time, and those fields are usually rich with some type of crop that has been recently harvested. The sheep appear to be eating the remaining "stubble" of the cut harvest. They are purposefully brought there for that season - probably because of the opportunity to eat whatever that crop leaves for them.
As we read our passage today, Jesus is called the Shepherd and we are his sheep. As our shepherd, there are some things that Jesus does that ensure our safety and provide for the "seasons" of our lives. First, the Shepherd enters through the gate. When we invited Jesus into our lives, we really were giving him free access to our hearts. He is the "gatekeeper" of our hearts. He comes and goes as freely as he desires, exploring deep within the confines of our hearts. As our "gatekeeper", he also ensures that nothing else passes without his notice!
He knows each of us by name. Now, that is no small task! He has a huge flock - how well can you keep track of the names of those in your church alone? He doesn't stop with a "name" only - there is something of a connection he makes with each of us by the very mention of our name. He intends for the mention of our name to attract our attention, to alert us to danger, and to keep us focused on him.
He leads us out of the protective surroundings of our "pen". The shepherd has a tremendous task in front of him anytime he "moves" the sheep. With movement, there is always the danger of being distracted by what lies ahead. Sheep are silly that way - if something catches their eye, they follow it. In moving us forward, he also has an eye out for the distracting forces that will play upon our minds, hearts, and souls.
He walks ahead of the sheep - not because he sees himself as better, but because he knows himself to be their protector. A guide has a responsibility to point out the path, to give insight into the surroundings, and to ensure the safety of those on the journey with him. Jesus is always watchful over us and leads us with the knowledge of what lies ahead. The sad thing about sheep is that they sometimes forget who they are following, getting caught up in the "side-shows" along the way!
He brings new sheep into the fold - allowing the fold to grow and expand. Each new sheep is an infusion of new life into the fold. They bring new dynamics that need to be understood and accepted. Yet, without the infusion of these new members of the fold, we'd be a pretty static bunch of sheep!
What about the sheep? That's you and me, in case you hadn't gotten the drift of where I was going yet. We can infer a lot of things about the sheep from what it is the Shepherd "does" for and with the sheep. He even goes all the way to the laying down of his life for them. That means that there is such extreme value in our worth that the Shepherd is willing to give the ultimate sacrifice - life!
Besides hearing his voice, the sheep recognize that voice. God's voice is quite distinctive. For those who tell me that they have never really learned to hear the voice of God, I ask what "voice" they are hearing. Usually they will describe some vague "feeling" that they know what to do, where to go, etc. Well, the Shepherd's voice is not well-known to the newest members of the flock, but it is to those who have been hearing it for a while. It is natural to not feel sure about the "voice" of God to begin with, but as you become more familiar with God through his recorded voice (the Bible), you begin to recognize his voice when he is calling you!
Last, but not least, because the sheep spend so much time in the care of the Shepherd, they come to trust him for their protection. The simple truth is that when an imposter enters, the evidence of him being just that is plain enough through the very evidence of his voice! The "poser" is identified through the familiarity we have with the voice of God. That is why it is so important that we begin to learn all we can about the Shepherd - taking special care to learn his "voice" through his Word, his teachings, and the leading of the Holy Spirit! That familiarity will be the very thing that causes us to be alert when a "poser" voice attempts to get us off-course!