We are in this world as a ship at sea, tossed up and down, and in danger of being cast away. We need an anchor to keep us sure and steady. Gospel hope is our anchor in the storms of this world. It is sure and steadfast, or it could not keep us so (cf. Heb 6:19). All we need is to lift up this anchor and we will be swept away by the waves in no time. Is there a verse or passage of Scripture which anchors us to our faith? For me, it is John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand”. I find these verses most reassuring. They remind me that Christ’s knowledge of his sheep corresponds with their recognition of his supreme claims; their active trust is rewarded by his greatest gift; their indefeasible birthright is guaranteed by his limitless authority and power to protect them.
Christians are here compared to sheep. Not a very flattering comparison we may say; but then we do not wish to be flattered, nor would our Lord deem it good to flatter us. While far from flattering, it is, however, eminently consoling, for of all creatures the sheep is the one most afflicted with infirmity. In this frailty of their nature they are a fit emblem of ourselves; at least, of so many of us as have believed in Jesus and become his disciples. Let others boast how strong they are; yet if there be strong ones anywhere, certainly we are weak. We have proved our weakness, and day by day we lament it. We do confess our weakness; yet may we not repine at it, for, as Paul said, so we find, when we are weak then are we strong (2 Cor 12:10).
Sheep have many wants, yet they are very helpless, and quite unable to provide for themselves. But for the shepherd’s cure they would soon perish. This, too, is our case. Our spiritual needs are numerous and pressing. Yet we cannot supply any of them. We are travelers through a wilderness that yields us neither food nor water. Unless our bread drop down from heaven, and our water flow out of the living rock, we must die. Our weakness and our want we keenly feel: still we have no cause to murmur, since the Lord knows our poor estate, and succours us with the tenderest care. Sheep, too, are silly creatures, and in this respect likewise we are very sheepish. We meekly own it to him who is ready to guide us. We say, as David said, “O God, you know my folly;” (Psalm 69:5) and he says to us as he said to David, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” (Psalm 32:8). If Christ were not our wisdom, we should soon fall a prey to the destroyer. Every grain of true wisdom that we possess we have derived from him; of ourselves we are dull and giddy; folly is bound up in our heart.
The more conscious we are of our own deficiencies, our lack of stamina, discretion, sagacity, and all the instincts of self-preservation, the more delighted we will be to see that the Lord accepts us under these conditions, and calls us “the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7). He discerns us as we are, claims us as his own, foresees all the ills to which we are exposed, yet tends us as his flock, sets store by every lamb of the fold, and so feeds us according to the integrity of his heart, and guides us by the skillfulness of his hands. “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezek 34:15).
Oh, what sweet music there is to us in the name which is given to our Lord Jesus Christ of “the good Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14)! It not only describes the office he holds, but it sets forth the sympathy he feels, the aptness he shows, and the responsibility he bears to promote our well-being. What if the sheep be weak, yet is the shepherd strong to guard his flock from the prowling wolf or the roaring lion. If the sheep suffer privation because the soil is barren, yet is the shepherd able to lead them into pasturage suitable for them. If they be foolish, yet he goes before them, cheers them with his voice, and rules them with the rod of his command. There cannot be a flock without a shepherd; neither is there a shepherd truly without a flock. The two must go together. They are the fullness of each other. As the church is the fullness of him that fills all in all, so we rejoice to remember that “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). That I am like a sheep is a sorry reflection; but that I have a shepherd charms away the sorrow and creates a new joy. It even becomes a gladsome thing to be weak, that I may rely on his strength; to be full of wants, that I may draw from his fullness; to be shallow and often at my wit’s end, that I may be always regulated by his wisdom. Even so may my shame redound to his praise. Not to you, the great and mighty, who lift your heads high, and claim for yourselves honor: not for you is peace, not to you is rest; but unto you, the lowly ones, who delight in the valley of humiliation, and feel yourselves to be taken down in your own esteem — to you it is that the Shepherd becomes dear; and to you will he give to lie down in green pastures beside the still waters (Psalm 23:2).
“My sheep,” says Christ, and thus he describes his people. They are his own, a peculiar property. May this truth be henceforth treasured up in our soul! It is a common truth, certainly; but when it is laid home by the Holy Spirit it shines, it beams, not merely as a lamp in a dark chamber, but as the day-star rising in our hearts. Remember this is no more our shame that we are sheep, but it is our honor that we are Christ’s sheep. To belong to a king carries some measure of distinction. We are the sheep of the imperial pastures. This is our safety: he will not suffer the enemy to destroy his sheep. This is our sanctity: we are separated, the sheep of the pasture of the Lord’s Christ. This is sanctification in one aspect of it: for it is the making of us holy, by setting us apart to be the Lord’s own portion forever (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). And this is the key to our duty: we are his sheep: then let us live to him, and consecrate ourselves to him who loved us and gave himself for us. Christ is the proprietor of the sheep; and we are the property of the good Shepherd.
When there are so many flocks of sheep, it is necessary to mark them. Our Savior marks us. It has been very properly observed, that there are two marks on Christ’s sheep. One is on their ear, the other is on their foot. These are two marks of Christ’s sheep not to be found on any other; but they are to be found on all his own — the mark on the ear: “My sheep hear my voice.” — the mark on the foot: “I know them, and they follow me.”
Think of this mark on their ear. “My sheep hear my voice.” They hear spiritually. A great many people in Christ’s day heard his voice who did not hear it in the way and with the perception that is here intended. They would not hear; that is to say, they would not hearken or give heed, neither would they obey his call or come unto him that they might have life. These were not always the worst sort of people: there were some of the best that would not hear Christ, of whom he said, according to the original, as translated by some, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). They would get as far as curiosity or criticism might allure them; but they would not go any farther: they would not believe in Jesus. Now, the spiritual ear listens to God. The opening of it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and this is a mark of Christ’s chosen blood-bought people, that they hear not only the hollow sound, but the hidden sense; not the bare letter, but the spiritual lesson; and that too not merely with the outward organ, but with the inward heart. The chief point is that they hear his voice.
One point is worth noticing, however. I think our Lord meant here that his sheep, when they hear his voice, know it so well that they can tell it at once from the voice of strangers (cf. John 10:5). The true child of God knows the gospel from the law. It is not by learning catechisms, reading theological books, or listening to endless controversies, that he finds this out. There is an instinct of his regenerate nature far more trustworthy than any lessons he has been taught. The voice of Jesus! Why there is no music like it. If you have once heard it, you cannot mistake it for another, or another for it. Some are babes in grace: others are of full age, and by reason of use, have their senses exercised; but one sense is quickly brought out — the sense of hearing. It is so easy to tell the joy-bells of the gospel from the death-knell of the law; “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). “Do, or die,” says Moses. “Believe, and live,” says Christ: we must know which is which.
Christ has marked his sheep on their feet as well as their ears. They follow him: they are gently led, not harshly driven. They follow him as the Captain of their salvation; they trust in the power of his arm to clear the way for them. All their trust on him is stayed; all their hope on him they lean. They follow him as their teacher; they call no man “Rabbi” under heaven, but Christ alone. He is the infallible source of their creeds.
And the sheep of Christ follow him as their example; they desire to be in this world as he was. It is one of their marks, that to a greater or lesser degree they have a Christ-like spirit; and if they could they would be altogether like their Lord.
They follow him, too, as their Commander, and Lawgiver, and Prince. “Do whatever he tells you.” was his mother’s wise speech; and it is the children’s wise rule. Oh, blessed shall they be above many of whom it shall be said, “These are they that have not defiled their garments” (Rev 3:4). “It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev 14:4). Happiest of all the happy are they who see the footprint — the print of that foot that once was pierced with the nail — and put their foot down where he placed it, and then again, in the selfsame mark, follow where he trod, till they climb at last to the throne.
In conclusion, let us say that in the text there is mutual knowledge. “I know them, but they also know me, because they hear my voice, and recognize it.” Here is mutual confession. Christ speaks, else there would be no voice: they hear, else were the voice not useful. “I know them;” that is his thoughts go towards them. “They follow me;” that is, their thoughts go towards him. He leads the way, else they could not follow. They follow, however, whom he leads the way. Being the counterpart of each other, what the one does the other returns through grace; and what grace puts into the sheep the shepherd recognizes, and makes a return to them. Christ and his church become an echo of each other: his the voice, theirs is but a faint echo of it; still it is a true echo, and we shall know who are Christ’s by this.
Let us thank God with the hymn “Take and Eat”. We are His flock because we know the Shepherd’s voice. We belong to Him because He has redeemed us with His blood.