Knowing Jesus’ Voice
Text: John 10:22-30
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s said that a baby can identify its mother by her voice. This stands to reason, as the child has heard her mother’s voice while living and growing in the womb for nine months. Then, after birth, the one voice in the world that the child can identify and cling to, trust in, is the mother’s. So the mother’s voice can soothe her infant, console, and reassure. Take the baby away from her mother and you’ll quickly see fear and upset. This shows us that although infants can’t express it verbally like we do, they have a deep and profound sense of trust—we would even say they have faith. And it all stems from the voice they know and love.
Jesus speaks in a similar vein today, Good Shepherd Sunday, which happens to fall on Mother’s Day this year. He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus’ sheep hear their Shepherd’s voice and they’re able to recognize it. Shepherds are known to talk to their sheep as the walk them through pastures. Sheep, like some other animals, are able to hear and recognize the voice of their human. When they’re uncertain, that voice can lead them to something more secure. It can encourage them to move forward when they otherwise might freeze or bolt the other way. Sheep know their Shepherd’s voice.
And that’s important, especially for us, the sheep of Jesus’ flock, because we have so many voices all clamoring for our attention. There’s the voice of the world hawking its wares to us, the newest, biggest, shiniest, most expensive things it has to impress and offer. It has the latest trends in thoughts and behaviors, the loudest and newest beliefs borne out its own loveless and hollow heart. Then there’s voice of the evil one, the tempter, trying to lure us to pastures that seem better, more comfortable, more satisfying, more pleasing. And then, when we fall for temptation, there’s the devil’s voice again, but this time as an accuser, asking how we could have ever done that, how we could have been tricked again, how we could wander away. And, of course, we have our own voice, the voice of our own thoughts, which can be just as misleading, just as accusatory, just as dangerous and beguiling as any of those others. All of those voices can lead us, Jesus’ wandering sheep, to dangerous pastures.
What is it that’s so bad about those pastures? We could talk about the damage that comes from giving in to the pressures of the world or the devil’s temptations. We could talk about how many people have had everything good ripped away from them because they fell from some great height or another, or how they were continually dissatisfied with what they had until they had lost it, only to realize what they’d lost later. We could talk about how hearts are hardened and love grows cold when lured away by the newer and shinier. We could talk about the poison that lurks in those pastures, the predators and death that skulk through them, the wolves and deadly nightshade.
But in the end, the greatest danger of those other pastures is that they’re not our Lord’s pasture. To be led away by those other voices—or our own voices—is to be led away from Jesus, our Shepherd. And that, fellow flock, is what true death and hell are. It’s separation from God. It’s looking for something to sustain us other than our Lord and His life and light and goodness. There are some dangerous pastures out there, but the deepest danger is being separated from the One who protects us, gives us life, and keeps us safe for eternity.
Looking into the deep darkness, being separated from God; hearing all those dangers in other pastures, is enough to make a sheep tremble. It’s enough to make us freeze with fear and nervousness. It’s enough to make us jumpy enough to bolt and run headlong into some danger or other. Sheep are known to do that.
So Jesus, our Shepherd, calls out, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, an they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” His voice calls to us, to defend us, to guide us, to sustain us. His voice gives us life. He provides everything His flock needs, and He does it with His voice.
But where is His voice calling out? If we listen out there in the world, we won’t be able to hear anything but chaos when it comes to Jesus. If we listen in nature, or the forces of the cosmos, then the message will certainly become garbled. If we listen for His voice within, then we risk thinking that our own voices are His, and we’ve tricked ourselves again.
In order to give us certainty that it is His voice, Jesus calls to us in consistent and clear ways. His voice calls from Scripture, that steady and reliable Word, His living voice, recorded for our benefit. His voice calls out from the baptismal font, where He first called us, so that if we should ever get lost, we go back to the beginning, back to our Baptism, where He’ll be waiting. His voice calls out from the altar, our table where we know a spiritual feast waits for us with our Good Shepherd. His voice calls out through the absolution, where He cleans all the sins of the week in the world off us, using the purity of forgiveness found in His voice. He calls to us from those places, so that we can know it’s really Him, and be led back into His familiar, rich, holy pastures.
Jesus calls to us, because He knows us. He knows our particular weaknesses, the ones unique to each lamb in His flock. He knows the paths that each of us are prone to wander down. He knows us, so He calls us back from those places, those particular dangers. He leads us back to safe pastures. He feeds us with His Word so that our souls would be strengthened. He waters us from steams of living water flowing from the font. He sets a table, even in the presence of our enemies, sin and death, and gives us the antidote to those foes—forgiveness and life given and shed for you in His body and blood.
Jesus restores us to life, to connection with Him and our heavenly Father. He restores us to the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Now that’s not to say that we’ll never wander, or that we’ll never get tangled up in the brambles or get thistles and thorns in our wool, silly sheep that we are. We may even munch on a poisonous weed or tumble down a cliffside. But nothing, not even those more dire situations, can snatch us from His hand. For that hand of His bears the mark of what He was willing to do to bring us back to His pastures. His hand, as Thomas learned, as we learned, will forever have the nail mark to show us and the world, even our enemies, that the Shepherd has died for the sheep and nothing will ever separate us from Him again. The glorious scars of His crucifixion is a comfort to us and a threat to our enemies. Nothing will snatch you from His hand.
So graze safe, precious flock of Christ. Your Shepherd is tending you well. He is setting a table for you, leading you in paths of righteousness. He has traveled through the valley of the shadow of death long before you, so He knows the path to lead you to the other side, as He has with so many others in our flock who are safe in their eternal pasture. Surely goodness and mercy will be your rear guard and follow you all the days of your life, protecting you and caring for you forever. His voice has promised it. His voice is calling you even now. Follow Him into life. In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Amen.