There’s a phrase that is used to describe something really good or inventive. That phrase is “best thing since sliced bread”. Since sliced bread has been available since the 1920s, most of us don’t know life without sliced bread. There are other things that we can relate to along those lines. Best thing since TV dinners. Best thing since Christmas shopping in a catalog. Best thing since playing outside until the sun went down. And the best thing since caller ID.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us have and rely on caller ID. “Caller IDs became a standard feature on home phones in the later 1980s.”[i] I can recall being amazed at knowing who was calling before I even picked up the phone. Before we had caller ID, there were some people that didn’t have to identify themselves to me; I knew who they were by their voice. These were people that I was close with and spent a lot of time with. I could answer the phone with “hello” and they could just say, “hey” or “hello” back and immediately I would know who it was I was speaking with. Several times, though, I would answer the phone and someone would say, “Hey, it’s me.” And I’d have to respond, “Me who?” because I didn’t recognize or know their voice.
Along comes the convenience of caller ID and it becomes unnecessary to identify ourselves when we call someone. Our name and phone number will usually appear on their screen. A few years back, a new feature was added. A phone number might appear on our cell phones and the phrase “Suspected Spam” or “Spam Risk” would be right underneath the number. This enables us to ignore calls coming in that were meant to swindle us or entrap us.
I’ve got my phone set to only allow calls from my contacts to come through. All other calls are sent directly to voice mail so that I don’t even have to reject the call. And, I will sometimes put a “Do Not Disturb” on my phone and only those people listed as “my favorites” can reach me.
So we’ve gone from having to answer every call not knowing who was on the other line to having the ability to block out any calls coming in from people we haven’t taken the time to list as a contact in our phone or even those who aren’t listed as a favorite.
Even when calls come through from people we know, we still have the option to either take the call or not. Confession time. How many of you will “avoid” a call coming in from certain people? As in, just let it go to voice mail? I don’t do that very often. Even if it’s inconvenient, I will most often take a call. But I must admit, every once in a while, I’ll not take a call because I see who it is calling. Sometimes it’s simply because I don’t have the time or the energy to engage in a long conversation. And if I’m being truthful, there have been a couple of times I didn’t take a call because I knew the reason the person was calling. It’s just sometimes a little easier and more comfortable to just let it go to voice mail.
I always took a call from my parents. I always take a call from my children, my husband, my other family members, and my friends as long as I’m not prevented in some way. If for some reason, I am unable to take their call, I’ll send them a message telling them I’ll call them right back. Because they are important to me, I value hearing from them.
When it comes to my family and my close friends, I don’t need caller ID. As soon as the conversation begins, I know exactly who I am talking with. About a year ago, my phone rang. At that time, I didn’t have unknown calls blocked. I could tell it was a local number so I went ahead and answered it. The person on the other end didn’t identify themselves but started engaging in a conversation with me. It was apparent they knew who I was but I didn’t have a clue as to who they were. I finally had to stop them and apologize and ask who they were because I didn’t recognize their voice. It had been several years since I had seen them, much less talked with them. If I could have seen her face, I would have known exactly who it was. But you could say that I was blind to her identity because her voice was unfamiliar to me. We had not had any interaction in years so she had to tell me who she was.
Let’s say you’re in a room of people that you know well. If everyone closed their eyes and only one person spoke, you would not only be able to recognize the voice but guess what else would happen? You would visualize the person. The image of their face would appear to you. Let’s try it.
“The part that tells us about a person’s voice is the auditory area, and the part that tells us about a person’s face is the visual area. These parts of the brain work together to identify a person. When two senses work together like this, scientists call it a “multiple sensory modality,” which basically means that the two (multiple) senses are so connected that they act like one sense. “[ii]
We tend to compartmentalize events of the Bible as separate events. When a new chapter begins, we think of it as a new event. In this case, chapter 10 of John is a continuation of the interaction that took place in chapter 9 where Jesus healed the blind man. If you recall, Jesus told the blind man and the Pharisees in verse 39 “I came into this world so that the world could be judged. I came so that people who are blind could see. And I came so that people who think they see would become blind.” (John 9:39 ERV) The Pharisees were offended by what Jesus was implying. They had high opinions of themselves and considered that their ability to see much more clearly than the average person was obvious. They were wrong.
In chapter 10, Jesus speaks of a different sense – hearing. He speaks of the ability to hear and know His voice. He uses sheep and the occupation of shepherding as an analogy. In the first few verses, He reiterates to them what is common knowledge to anyone who has any dealings with sheep.
Each shepherd was responsible for their own sheep. Often, at night, all the sheep in a particular area would be gathered in a sheep den or a sheepfold. This den would have been an area enclosed by a stone wall or some kind of barrier with a small opening. While most of the shepherds would go off to rest, one of the shepherds would keep watch over all the sheep to protect them from wolves and other animals that were known to prey upon them. The shepherd on duty would position themselves at the opening or the gate so that no sheep could leave, and no enemy could enter. It was a dangerous position to be in because it was common for predatory animals to come after a large group of sheep. The shepherd on duty put their life at risk to protect and care for the sheep. In the morning, the individual shepherds would come back to the sheepfold to collect their sheep. Sheep weren’t branded or marked in any way to identify their shepherd. The only way that the right sheep got with the right shepherd was by the shepherd’s voice or their call.
If you’ve ever kept the nursery here at church, you can identify with this scene. You can have a room full of children belonging to many different parents, but when a child hears their mommy or daddy’s voice, they run to the door because they know they belong to that parent. The same thing occurred with the sheep running to their shepherd.
Jesus is using this illustration to help them understand His role as the Good Shepherd. John 10:3b ERV “And the sheep listen to the voice of the shepherd. He calls his own sheep, using their names, and he leads them out. 4 He brings all of his sheep out. Then he goes ahead of them and leads them. The sheep follow him, because they know his voice. 5 But sheep will never follow someone they don’t know. They will run away from him, because they don’t know his voice. 6 Jesus told the people this story, but they did not understand what it meant.”
Even though the ones listening would have understood the practical aspect of what Jesus was saying, they didn’t understand the spiritual meaning. Whereas in chapter 9, Jesus had addressed their spiritual blindness; now He confronts them with their spiritual deafness.
We’ve talked a lot about sheep in the past and it’s no wonder since sheep are the most mentioned animal in the Bible.[iii] Some of the things we’ve discussed regarding sheep are:
-They aren’t considered to be the most intelligent of animals.
-Sheep have no sense of direction and must have a shepherd to guide them.
-They are also one of the few animals that have no real defense mechanisms. They don’t bark or bite. Their main tool of defense is either running or huddling up with other sheep.
-Sheep are very emotional animals and their facial expressions will often reflect what they’re feeling.
-Sheep are not designed to carry heavy loads.
-Sheep don’t always act in their best interest. They’re content to be filthy. They will drink from a muddy puddle rather than walk a few feet to drink fresh water. They’ll imitate other sheep in their fold even if that means jumping off a cliff.
More than 100 times in the Bible, we are referred to as sheep.
Mark 6:34 “Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Ezekiel 34:30-31 “You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!”
While considering that sheep are emotional creatures who are considered to be less than intelligent, without a sense of direction who often don’t behave in a way that is in their best interest among the other characteristics used to describe sheep, we can sort of see why God describes us as His sheep, right? Or at least we can see the similarities in others even if we don’t see it in ourselves.
“Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.” Charles Spurgeon
One physical trait that sheep have that we don’t possess is that sheep have rectangular pupils that afford them a greater scope of vision. “Sheep has field vision of around 300 degrees (it can see behind its head), but it has poor depth perception. Sheep compensates its poor eyesight with excellent sense of hearing.”[iv] Because of this, “Sheep have blind spots where they cannot see directly in front of or directly behind themselves. Sheep can only see at a distance of around 20 feet.”[v]
So, it can be said that sheep have the ability to see all around them but they have certain blind spots. They are also disadvantaged in that they aren’t able to see what is directly in front of them and can only see a short distance away. In order to get around, they rely on their sense of hearing and know that it’s crucial to listen for their shepherd’s voice to know which way is safe and beneficial to their health and well-being. Although we don’t have rectangular pupils and field visions of 300 degrees, we share with sheep the disability of having blind spots. Many times, we choose not to see where God is leading us. Sheep can’t see what’s directly in front of them and neither do we at times. How many times have we purposefully avoided “seeing” what God puts before us? Sheep can’t see their way down the road and neither can we. We don’t know what our future holds, we only know Who holds our future.
Psalm 119:105 ICB “Your word is like a lamp for my feet
and a light for my way.” It doesn’t say Your word is like a spotlight for my entire life and I can see clearly everything that’s in store for me!
But as Jesus is speaking, you can imagine the Pharisees, the disciples, and others standing around listening to Him discussing Sheep 101 and wondering what He was talking about.
When Jesus was asked by His disciples why He spoke in parables, He tells them “Only you can know the secret truths about God’s kingdom. Those other people cannot know these secret truths.”(Matthew 13:11 ERV) He goes on to say in Matthew 13:16-17 ICB “16 But you are blessed. You understand the things you see with your eyes. And you understand the things you hear with your ears. 17 I tell you the truth. Many prophets and good people wanted to see the things that you now see. But they did not see them. And many prophets and good people wanted to hear the things that you now hear. But they did not hear them.”
Here in the 10th chapter of John, Jesus is speaking metaphorically. He uses the illustration of sheep, predators, sheepfold, and the shepherd as a way of relating to them in a way that they should have understood, but they don’t. They didn’t understand the comparison between the sheep and the shepherd with them being the sheep and Him being the shepherd. So, He tells it a different way. He describes Himself as the gate – the only right way into the sheepfold.
John 10:7 GNT “7 So Jesus said again, “I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.”
What Jesus is telling them is that He is the only way for anyone to have a relationship with God. In describing Himself as the gate for the sheep, He is identifying Himself as the protector and provider for those in His flock as well as the only legitimate way to reach God. When He refers to the thief who comes in order to steal, kill and destroy, we automatically think of who? Satan, of course. However, many Biblical scholars think otherwise.
“In John 9, one chapter back, Jesus heals a man blind from birth near a pool. This miraculous sign prompts the religious leaders to interrogate the healed man, but they don’t believe his story that Jesus must be from God. They finally dismiss the man from the synagogue. As chapter 9 closes, Jesus is defending the healed man against the disdain of the religious authorities.”[vi]
In John 10:1 NIV, there is no mistaking who Jesus is addressing. “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.”
“The healed man is an example of the sheep who have heeded Jesus’ voice. Jesus is the shepherd, and the religious leaders are thieves and robbers.”[vii]
Religious leaders today are thieves and robbers in that they steal the truth about a relationship with God. We’re surrounded by them. Modern-day preachers teach that God wants us to be prosperous in money and possessions. Others teach that God’s Word is outdated and is no longer valid when it comes to certain issues. Many religious leaders of today have redefined what is righteous to cater to their congregation. All of this is done in order to make people feel comforted and not convicted. Their goal is to dilute our sinfulness and emphasize the unconditional love of God. But failing to acknowledge the filthiness of our sins and the need for not just a Savior but a Lord for our lives is robbing us of the relationship with God that we were created for.
2 Peter 2:1 GW “False prophets were among God’s people [in the past], as false teachers will be among you. They will secretly bring in their own destructive teachings. They will deny the Lord, who has bought them, and they will bring themselves swift destruction.”
I hope that many of you have been following the revival that started on February 8th at Asbury University in Kentucky. Allow me to share some words from a professor who went to see it for himself.
“Most Wednesday mornings at Asbury University are like any other. A few minutes before 10, students begin to gather in Hughes Auditorium for chapel. Students are required to attend a certain number of chapels each semester, so they tend to show up as a matter of routine.
But this past Wednesday was different. After the benediction, the gospel choir began to sing a final chorus—and then something began to happen that defies easy description. Students did not leave. They were struck by what seemed to be a quiet but powerful sense of transcendence, and they did not want to go. They stayed and continued to worship. They are still there.
I teach theology across the street at Asbury Theological Seminary, and when I heard of what was happening, I immediately decided to go to the chapel to see for myself.
Many people say that in the chapel they hardly even realize how much time has elapsed. It is almost as though time and eternity blur together as heaven and earth meet. Anyone who has witnessed it can agree that something unusual and unscripted is happening.
The holy love of the triune God is apparent, and there is an inexpressible sweetness and innate attractiveness to it. It is immediately obvious why no one wants to leave and why those who must leave want to come back as soon as they can.”[viii]
I don’t have any statistics on how many people have participated in this revival that has continued 24/7 for nearly two weeks. But it’s obvious from the videos and the pictures that have been uploaded that a great number of people are gathered to worship God. They are worshipping because they chose to listen to the Holy Spirit. They have flocked together and are being led to abandon outside distractions, and instead, listen to their Shepherd. Interestingly, the name “Asbury” literally means “fortress”.[ix] A Mighty Fortress is Our God! Indeed!
John 10:11 GW “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.”
If Jesus was willing to die for us, don’t you think He wants to talk with us?
Unfortunately, some of us just have Him as an emergency contact – Someone we call on when we can’t handle things on our own. For some of us, we go for such long periods of time not waiting to hear Him speak or get a word in, so we don’t recognize His voice. We get confused and unsure of whether it’s God speaking or not.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had caller ID on our thoughts and inclinations? How convenient it would be if when a thought or an urge came upon us and if it wasn’t from God, then “Spam Risk” would flash before our eyes? Or even better, if we could just block out any calls that didn’t come from Him so that we only listened and heard what would help us, grow us, and mold us into the people He designed us to be and we could avoid those spam calls intended to rob from us and harm us. If only we had a Helper that would do that. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV “What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”
When we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit, we enable that feature that blocks out and redirects any unwanted and harmful calls. When we respond to the urgings of the Holy Spirit, we are then able to follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who then leads us to the throne of God. But if we are unwilling to respond to, follow, hear, and know the voice of God, we are denying the opportunity to hear from the One who spoke the world and everything in it into being. We are tuning out the voice of the One who spoke life back into Lazarus. We are turning a deaf ear to the One who healed, fed thousands, and calmed raging storms simply by speaking. Does it make sense that we wouldn’t listen? Especially to One who gave His life in order to save us? Jesus not only wants to be your emergency contact; He also wants to be your favorite contact.
[iii] The Top Ten Animals With the Most Mentions in the Bible (theverybesttop10.com)
[iv] Sheep Facts (softschools.com)
[v] What Sheep Can See: Color Spectrum, Range of Vision & More – Savvy Farm Life
[vi] Who Comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy? | Christianity Today
[vii] Who Comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy? | Christianity Today
[viii] Asbury Professor: We’re Witnessing a ‘Surprising Work of God’ | Christianity Today
[ix] Asbury – Meaning of Asbury, What does Asbury mean? (babynamespedia.com)