Webster’s Dictionary defines knowledge in a few ways. One definition states that knowledge is the awareness of something or the state of being aware of something. I have the knowledge of my coffee cup because it is currently sitting to the right of my computer. I see that it is there, so I am aware of it. Another way that Webster’s Dictionary defines knowledge is: information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education. This form of knowledge allows me to go from awareness to a greater understanding. For instance, I am no longer simply aware that my coffee cup is sitting to my right, but I have also studied it, touched it, drank from it, and smelled its essence. I now understand that this coffee cup is white with four detailing ridges. It contains warm coffee with just the right amount of creamer. It has also provided for me a valuable amount of caffeine to get me through the morning, and for that, I am thankful.
In the first half of John Chapter 10, Christ conveys a beautiful metaphor about the relationship between him and his followers: the Good Shepherd and his sheep. He takes time to give a vivid explanation of the nature of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name (v.3), he gathers his own flock and walks ahead of them (v.4), he is also the gate for the sheep (v.7), through him his sheep are saved (v.9), his purpose is to give life (v.10), he sacrifices his life for his sheep (v.11), he knows his sheep, (v.14) and only he has the authority to lay down his own life for his sheep (v.18). I am reminded of the old hymn, “I am a Sheep and the Lord is my Shepherd.” You know, the one where he “watches over our souls?” When the winds blow he is our shelter and when we’re lost and alone he rescues us. That hymn has a very powerful message as to who the Good Shepherd is in relationship with his sheep.
But, today I am curious. I am curious about his sheep. What does the Good Shepherd say about his sheep? The trend I notice is the Good Shepherd’s voice and his sheep’s ability to distinguish his voice. Verse three says that “the Good Shepherd’s sheep recognize his voice.” The word recognize is translated from the Greek word ἀκούει which is defined as to hear or to listen. Verse four says “they follow him because they know his voice.” Then, verse five goes on to say, “They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” How do his sheep distinguish the Good Shepherd from a stranger? The answer is simple: they know and listen to his voice. They have studied his word, they have drank from the cup, tasted the bread, and felt his presence.
What does it look like for his sheep to distinguish his voice from strangers today? We are bombarded with to-do lists, deadlines, natural disasters, terrorist threats, and mixed messages from both the media and religious organizations. It is very easy for me to not recognize his voice. Does his voice ever sound fuzzy to you? Does something that is not his voice ever sound like his voice? Or how many of us recognize his voice but cannot quite put a name to the voice? The Apostle Paul gives us insight on what it may look like to know the Good Shepherd’s voice in Philippians 3:10-11 “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”
How can we know his voice if we do not participate in his sufferings? How can we know his voice if we are not buried with him and raised again? How can we know his voice if we are not daily sharing in his death? As Christians, many of us are aware that he suffered, that he was buried and raised again, much like I was aware of my coffee cup. But how many of us are truly listening for him? How many of us are studying him, taking in his essence, and allowing him to change our hearts? The Good Shepherd leads us and we follow, but we cannot follow him if we do not know his voice. Today I encourage you to ask yourself how you can better recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me.” John 10:14
Lauren Rutland Hightower Children’s Minister University Church of Christ Shreveport, LA