“The Sheep Hear His Voice”
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“The Sheep Hear His Voice”

John 10:1–6  (ID: 3646)

When Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber,” He was using a familiar picture. Explaining both the context and the content of Jesus’ statement, Alistair Begg reminds us that this metaphor is depicts God, who, in Christ, is the ultimate Shepherd, seeking and providing for His people. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus offers the only way of salvation. If we’re in Christ, we will know His voice and follow Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our “Truly, truly” for this morning comes at the beginning of John chapter 10, but I’d like us to read from John 9:24. John 9:24–10:6, and the context is that Jesus has healed this man who was born blind, and this has resulted in quite a dialogue between the man and his parents and the Pharisees and so on. And we pick it up in verse 24:

“So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.’” And they’re referring, of course, to Jesus there. “He answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I[’ve] told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ And they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and [you would] teach us?’ And they cast him out.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him. Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.

“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.’ This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”


Our gracious Father, we thank you that you have chosen to speak to us, making yourself known to us, as we have pondered already this morning. And we pray that in your mercy and in your kindness, we might find, as we turn to the pages of your Holy Word, an encounter with your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in a way that changes our lives and sets our feet on the path of your appointing. Hear us as we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, there you have our “Truly, truly,” the opening verse of chapter 10: Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs [up] by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.” Now, in verse 6, you will notice that John says Jesus is here using a figure of speech. And it is important for us to understand the Bible in the way in which the Bible is presented to us. In other words, where there is metaphor, where there is allegory, where there are figures of speech, we need to remind ourselves that that’s what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing here with a picture.

God reveals himself and speaks as the Shepherd of his people.

Now, in each of these “Truly, trulys,” we’ve said to one another it’s very, very important that we do not fall into the trap of isolating this single statement from the surrounding context—the surrounding context of the Bible, the surrounding context of the immediate place in which these words are set. And so I want to do that. I want to do it first of all, if you like, in terms of the historical reality of the context and then in terms of the immediacy of it, recognizing a number of things.

The Historical Context

First of all: that when we read our Bibles, and when we read particularly through the Old Testament, we very quickly come upon the fact that God reveals himself and speaks as the Shepherd of his people—that God is the Shepherd of his people. So, for example, the psalmist cries out, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, [to your people].” That’s the first verse of Psalm 80. We find the same thing runs all the way through the work of the prophets. And perhaps most memorably, because many of us know Isaiah 40 fairly well, we have loved that eleventh verse, which reads,

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
 he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
 and gently lead those [who have] young.[1]

It’s a wonderful picture! A picture of the invisible God expressed in this particular way.

So, we first of all find that God is revealed as the Shepherd of his people.

When we read the Old Testament, we also very quickly discover that God, having, if you like, entrusted the privilege of shepherding to under-shepherds, then has set the standard for how those shepherds should operate. And we discover that, very quickly, he speaks against many of these shepherds. And the reason he speaks against them—for example, in Jeremiah 23 [sic] (and I’m choosing not to stop on all these places, but I’ll give you the note of them so you can follow up)—in Jeremiah chapter 23, God says of these shepherds, “The weak you have not strengthened.”[2] “I gave you as shepherds to make sure that you strengthen those who are weak, that you care for those that are my own.” And in Ezekiel you find very much the same thing: “The lost,” he says, “you have[n’t] sought, and with force and [with] harshness you have ruled them.”[3] So, God, the Shepherd of his people, entrusts shepherding to others; and when they foul out, God speaks concerning them.

As we read, of course, through the Bible and as we discovered when we went through 1 and 2 Samuel, the people of God, through the judges period and then in the establishing of kings, were constantly looking for the one who would come that would fulfill all of God’s plans and purposes. And so we weren’t surprised when, in 2 Samuel—and you may want to turn to this just to remind you that there is a 2 Samuel (although, how could we ever have forgotten?)—in 2 Samuel 5:

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led [us] and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be [my] prince over Israel.’”[4]

So, we have this amazing advancement, if you like, in the story as God sets in this position of responsibility and privilege David his own servant. And we discover, of course, in the Psalms that “he chose David his servant and [he] took him from the sheepfolds.”[5] What a good plan, to take somebody who was himself a shepherd in order to shepherd his people! Somebody who would care for lambs and for little ones, someone who in the physical frame would embody the picture of Isaiah 40:11, would seem to be an ideal choice. And there, of course, from the fields of Bethlehem, where he cared for sheep, there would come the one who was to be the ultimate Shepherd.

So, if you’re following this, what we’re acknowledging is that when we view the panorama of things as we come to chapter 10, we’re not suddenly arriving at a metaphor that emerges from nowhere: God first as the ultimate Shepherd of his people; shepherds who do a bad job under the judgment of God; David raised up in a unique position, pointing forward to a kingdom that will never fail and to a Shepherd who will never let anybody down. And that, of course, is that when God promises personally to come and to seek and to feed and to provide, the ultimate fulfillment of that is in the Lord Jesus—which brings you to chapter 10. And in verse 11 he makes the declaration, “I am the good shepherd,” and again in verse 14: “I am the good shepherd.”

Now, what we have here, then, is Christ likening, if you like, the gathering of his people, his church, to a sheepfold—an immediate and obvious picture for people who were his listeners. In an agrarian culture, in that kind of environment, he was not pulling something strange. He was actually just using a picture that everybody understood. God assembles his people in this way, and Jesus is actually comparing himself to the door of entry, as we will see. And the reason he does that is because he is the only way of entry into his church. The church is the sheepfold; Jesus is the Shepherd, and Jesus is the way of entry.

That is all I think I want to say, in terms of the context, in terms of its historical context.

The Immediate Context

But the reason I read from chapter 9 was so that we would get a grasp of the immediate context in which Jesus makes these statements. The people that are referenced in chapter 9, that we meet in chapter 9, are giving a very poor showing of what they might be as those who are supposed to care for the sheep that are around them. So, for example, in verse 16, I think it is: “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can [this] man who is a sinner do such signs?’ And there was a division among them.” And you have this amazing confusion and chaos.

The people also, remember, at the end of chapter 8, had decided the best thing they could do with Jesus, who we now meet as the Good Shepherd, is to pick up stones and kill him for blasphemy.[6] That’s at the end of chapter 8. Then you go into chapter 9, then we find ourselves in chapter 10, and by the time you get to 10:31, it is a repeat performance: “The Jews picked up stones again to stone” Jesus.

Now, this is the immediate context. This is his listening group—not exclusively the religious leaders but the crowd and the leaders among them. And what they can’t cope with is the fact that this man who was blind from birth can now see, and that this man who can now see is testifying to them that this man who they wanted to stone is the one who is responsible for his sight. And it’s really quite terrific, isn’t it, where, almost with frustration, the man says to him, “Look, I don’t know many of the things you’re asking me”—this is verse 25—“but I do know this: once I was blind, but now I can see.”

And this, of course, is the great picture of what it means to become a Christian. Becoming Christian is not somebody who’s decided to become religious out of an irreligious background or to become a different kind of religious person from a different kind of background. No, it is somebody who has been blind, somebody who has been enslaved being set free and being granted sight. Because after all, when Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and he spoke, taking up the word of the prophet, he used that very prophecy to say, “I’m here, and I’m here to do this”[7]—sight to the blind and freedom to those who are captives. He’s already said to these folks, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[8] What did they say? “We are not slaves to anybody at all. We don’t need your truth.”[9] And now he says to them, “You’re essentially blind, and like this man, you need to be made to see.” And they’re somewhat sarcastic, as you see at the end of chapter 9.

Now, what they’ve been doing, of course, is conducting an investigation. That’s what authorities usually do: “Let’s conduct an investigation. Let’s put a committee together and see what’s going on here.” It’s one of the things that, in bureaucracies, wastes a ton of money and a tremendous amount of time when usually the answer is right there, right as bald as your nose on your face. And that’s the problem. Why did they need an investigation? The thing is straightforward: the man was blind, now he sees, and the issue is Jesus of Nazareth. “No, no. We’re going to have to check this out.”

Verse 26: “They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’” And I love his response. I think a couple of you chuckled as I read verse 27: “He answered them, ‘I[’ve] told you already.’” Well, he’s told them already, in verse—where?—11, I think, or around there. “‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do[n’t] know.’”[10] Oh, yes, it’s verse 11. Yeah: “The man…” “I told you already.” “The man called Jesus made mud … anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and [I] received my sight.” And so, now they come back to him, and he says, “Look, I told you about this already. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Well, that’s a pretty… That’s an elbow in the ribs right there! That is.

But what do we discover? He says, “I told you already, and you would not listen.” They could not because they would not. If we make it to another Sunday, we will discover Jesus says to them straightforwardly in verse 26, “You do not believe because you[’re] not among my sheep.” “I told you this,” he says, “and you had it as clear as you can see with your own eyes. Even my parents realize what has happened.”

This is the story of somebody becoming a Christian, and perhaps they become a Christian out of a background that is very religious, and the religious people—the religious mom and dad and the religious authorities—are going to investigate what has happened to this poor girl, what has happened to this poor soul, with all this stuff that she’s begun to talk about, about repenting, about believing, about finding that she has seen the reality of Jesus, and so on: “We’re going to have to talk to her about this. After all, we’re the religious authorities. We understand things. What are we going to do with it?” Well, some of you have lived that, and you’re still living it.

So, instead of rejoicing, “they reviled him.” “They reviled him.” That’s what it says. That’s not very nice! I mean, just on a fairly superficial level, in a guy who’s been blind all his life, do you have a modicum of compassion in you to say, “Well, you know, we’re not pleased about the Jesus part, but hey, yeah, it’s nice you can see”? No. No, “they reviled him.” “You are his disciple,” they said. “We are [the] disciples of Moses.” “Who do you think you are? We understand everything. You were born in utter sin. You’re going to teach us?” The picture is very clear, isn’t it?

And so, verse 34: “They cast him out.” “They cast him out.” They had already made a plan for casting people out. You will see that in verse 22. His parents were equivocating when they were approached by the authorities: “His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ,” to be the Messiah, “he was to be put out of the synagogue.”[11] Absolute clarity, no doubt about it. And so they did what they had planned to do. He fits the bill. They cast him out.

Now, the reason I tried to read into chapter 10 with hardly taking a breath was in order to make the point that there is no chapter break. And I take it that Jesus goes on to say what he says about thieves and robbers because he has these characters in his gaze. They who should be the shepherds are acting more like thieves and robbers. And he actually says quite clearly in verse 39, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Now, we’re going to not exegete this now. It’s a masterful piece of work by Jesus. Let’s just hold with the notion that “for judgment I came into this world.” The bell is going off in at least three heads at the moment, saying, “No, no, wait a minute; that’s not true. Because Jesus says, ‘I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.’” Is it just three heads, or are there more heads thinking along those lines? I think that’s in chapter 12. Yeah, it is. It’s 12:47. Jesus says, “If anyone hears my words and does[n’t] keep them, I do[n’t] judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

So then, what in the world is Jesus saying here? “For judgment I came into the world,” but “I didn’t come as a judge.” Well, it’s straightforward, I think. He says, “My coming inevitably creates division. My words create a distinction”—a distinction that is obvious already in the response of the Pharisees: “We are the disciples of Moses. You are his disciple.” Their judgment is that Jesus is not what he claims to be, and the judgment of the man is that clearly, whoever he is, he has the power to change.

Now, as I struggled over that for a moment or two, my mind went to Simeon in chapter 2. Remember, Simeon was the man in the temple—takes you back to Christmas for a moment or two. Actually, just takes you back to Luke chapter 2. And remember, when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the temple to do for him after the requirements of the law, Simeon, who’s a righteous soul who has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel”[12]—in other words, he’s been reading his Bible, and he realizes that there is one who is going to come, someone who will be the perfect Priest, the perfect Prophet, the perfect King. He’s waiting for him, he’s looking for him, and here they place this baby in his arms, and what does he say? “I can die now”:

Lord, … you [can let] your servant depart in peace,
 according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
 that you have prepared in the presence of all [the] peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
 and for glory [of] your people Israel.[13]

“And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.”[14]

In other words, he understands that when Jesus steps forward, it will force people to decide whose side they’re on. Are they following Jesus? Are they following their own agenda? Are they following religious material? Whatever it is. And he actually says, then, in verse 35, “so that [the] thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Now, I take it that that is what we are finding here in John chapter 10. Jesus by his word and by his works exposes the hearts of these religious leaders. These are the ones who are looking for the one who is to come, and he stands before them, and they reject him. And it’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a matter of eternal significance. At the end of chapter 9 he says to them, “You know, if you were blind—if you didn’t even have the Old Testament, if you were just completely blind—you wouldn’t be guiltless, but you wouldn’t be as guilty as you are now, because you are the beneficiaries of all these things.” Think of what Paul says in Romans chapter 2. And he says, “But now that you say, ‘We see,’ and you don’t actually see, your guilt remains. Your guilt remains.”

No one’s case is more hopeless than the person who is blind, believing they can see.

Well, we can’t pause here, but let’s just acknowledge that there’s a lot of talk about guilt. And people say, “Well, you shouldn’t have any guilt.” Psychiatrists are dealing with guilt all the time. Mental health: guilt is the problem, guilt is the issue, and so on. There are all kinds of notions concerning that. But the real guilt—the real guilt which every single person on the face of the earth faces—is that we are guilty before God; that we have offended against God; that by our lives and our lips and so on, we’ve decided that we will deal without him. We’re alienated. We’re under condemnation. We face his wrath. We’re guilty. And he says, “Your guilt remains—unless, of course, you would understand who came in order to deal with your guilt: the Shepherd.”

There’s nobody that’s in a worse predicament this morning than the person who is self-confident in their own sight—the children of the Enlightenment, some of my intellectual friends, you know: “We’re the ones who see. We feel sorry for you, Begg, that you’ve got into that obscurantist religion of yours, that Jesus thing. I mean, by and large, it’s really reprehensible. We’re glad that we don’t have to face that. All your talk about the need for freedom: we don’t need freedom. All that talk about being made to see: we don’t need to see. We’ve seen everything. We’re rational people,” and so on. And Jesus says, “Well, your guilt remains.” No one’s case is more hopeless than the person who is blind, believing they can see. No one’s case is more hopeless than the Pharisee in Luke chapter 18, who says, “I thank you that I am not like other men”[15]—the response of religion to the intervention of the Shepherd.

The Content

So, context one was historically. Context number two was in relationship to chapter 9. And now, “Let’s go to the content,” says somebody. All right, let’s do that.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door…” It’s straightforward, isn’t it? In fact, it’s so straightforward that a child listening to me now would be able to draw a picture in her notebook and would be able to explain it to her mother or her grandmother over lunch: “There’s a sheepfold. Jesus is the way into the sheepfold. If you don’t go into the sheepfold, you’re left outside. Your guilt remains. You’re in deep trouble. You need Jesus.” “Thank you,” says the grandmother. “I wish Alistair had just been as clear as that this morning.”

The sheepfold… The sheepfold is a sheepfold. If it was just a family affair, it would attach to a house, adjacent to a building, a bit like something we might add to our home to put things in; or it would be a community courtyard. In other words, it would be in a central place where a number of flocks could be placed for a period of time for the night—I suppose a bit like when you drive out 87, there’s a place you can put your dog down there. I see that. It’s irrelevant to me, because I don’t have a dog, but I always think, “Well, that’s got to be a nightmare living in there.” But anyway, if you have a dog, you just have a dog yourself, but if you want to put it in there, then it goes with all the other dogs and phew! And so, if you’re a shepherd, you bring your sheep, and you deposit them in the sheepfold.

There’s one point of entry, and it’s guarded by a watchman. That’s what Jesus says in the picture. And he points out that anyone who’s seeking to enter the sheepfold by climbing over the wall or trying to cut his way through the fence is up to no good at all. That wouldn’t be the shepherd. Why would the shepherd ever do that? He would never need to do that. And people say, “Well, I can get into the sheepfold of God by my own mechanism. I can climb over the wall. I can find different ways.” Think Pilgrim’s Progress, right? “We can go over the wall. We’re good people. We can do this. We can do that.” Thieves and robbers! Only one point of entry.

The one “who enters”—verse 2—“by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” Another bell goes off, and somebody says, “Wait a minute. I read the rest of the chapter. Jesus is also the door of the sheep. How can he be the shepherd of the sheep and the door of the sheep?” Listen: let’s go back to English literature. This is a figure of speech. Therefore, you cannot press all the metaphorical details tidily if you’re going to stand back from it enough to say, “Oh, I get the picture.” Because in actual fact, this is true all the way through John. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and he gives the bread of life. He is the one who tells the truth, and he is the one who is the Truth. He is the one who is the Shepherd, and he is also the Door. Don’t stumble over that.

Verse 3: “To him the gatekeeper opens.” Who’s the gatekeeper? We’re not told. It’s a picture. “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice.” “The sheep hear his voice.” Now, my grandfather was a shepherd. I never met him. I have his crook. And it’s a precious thing to me, and I imagine him using it, with a hook on the end so that he could reach in and pull lambs to safety and with a point on the other end so that he could do as necessary to stop some naughty sheep annoying another sheep, or whatever it might be. But the sheep actually “hear his voice.” I sat at my desk, and I said, “Fantastic! Voice recognition, huh?” I said, “What is voice recognition?” So I looked it up. I was delighted to discover that it is “an interdisciplinary subfield of computer science and computational linguistics that develops methodologies and technologies that enable … recognition.”[16] So you imagine the sheep saying to the other sheep, “Did you hear his voice?” And the sheep said, “Yeah. VR is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s amazing!”

No, but notice, you see, what it says: “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep.” He doesn’t just call sheep. He’s not calling, “Hey, sheepie, sheepie.” No, no. He’s calling them “by name.” Now, if you’ve been places—for example, in Africa. I think of Willy in Africa, in Bloemfontein. When we went out with him amongst his cattle, he named them. He called them by name. So this is not a bizarre thing.

Morton, who wrote a book about the Holy Land way back in 1931, records in this book, which is a quite wonderful book,

Early one morning I saw an extraordinary sight not far from Bethlehem. Two shepherds had evidently spent the night with their flocks in a cave. The sheep were all mixed together and the time had come for the shepherds to go in different directions. One of the shepherds stood some distance from the sheep and began to call. First one, then another, then four or five ran towards him; and so on until he had counted his own flock.[17]

“He calls his own sheep by name.” “I have a Father; he call[ed] my name.”[18]

Who are “his own sheep”? We know them from John 6:37: “All … the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never [turn away].” So who are these sheep? They’re the sheep who have heard the voice: “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come [to] me …’ I came to Jesus.”[19] That’s the sheep. That’s why it’s a tragedy when people in positions such as mine are not actually themselves sheep of the true Shepherd. They fulfill the role of a shepherd while never actually having come to meet the Shepherd himself.

He doesn’t drive them from behind; he leads them from the front. They follow him because “they know his voice.” This is even better than the nursery! I mean, there was a couple of times I can’t get my grandchildren out of there, ’cause I don’t have a ticket. Now, I understand. I understand that. I’m not dissing that at all. The thing has to work, and it has to work for me as well. But if you don’t recognize my face, do you recognize my voice? They followed him because they heard his voice.

Now, let’s just acknowledge that the wonder of our dealings in terms of these things is that God has made himself known. Jonathan prayed about it in our earlier prayer: that God has revealed himself. He’s revealed himself in creation: “The heavens declare [his] glory.”[20] We saw that in Romans chapter 1: his invisible qualities and so on are apparent to people.[21] There’s no actual voice, but his speech goes throughout the entire earth. Because everybody on Planet Earth can look up and see the rising of the moon, can waken in the morning and see the rising of the sun.

He’s spoken in creation; he’s spoken in conscience. Our consciences are distorted by sin, but you will never, ever meet a person who doesn’t understand the sense of oughtness: “I don’t think I ought to have said that. I don’t think I ought to have done that. I wish I hadn’t done that.” Why does anybody ever say that? Because God has stamped eternity in our hearts.[22] Conscience!

And, of course, in Christ. So, his voice is heard in creation, in conscience—although distorted by sin—and in Jesus himself. God has spoken actively, objectively, historically in the person of his Son. And Jesus’ words are then witnessed to by the apostles, who, filled with the Holy Spirit, have given to us the legacy of his words written down for our teaching. And if you’re just coming around Parkside, and you wonder, “Why the big fuss about the Bible? Why take a New Testament? Why get in a Bible study group? Why even study the Bible? Why read the Bible on your own?”—because this is God’s voice! This is where we hear his voice.

If we had time, which we don’t, we could turn to the Nineteenth Psalm, where you’ve got the wonderful movement in that dramatic poem which begins, you know, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shew[s] his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. … No speech nor language,” and so on.[23] And then, just like poetry at school, just all of a sudden, from that context, the psalmist then goes, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: The testimony…”[24] You say, “Wait a minute. I thought you were talking about ‘God speaks in creation.’” Yeah, but this is how he speaks. The hymn writer has it quite wonderfully when he says—and I’m looking for it in my notes—that in the act of creation, God’s voice is heard. Here it is:

The heavens declare thy glory, Lord;
In every star thy wisdom shines;
But when our eyes behold [your] Word,
We read [your] name in fairer lines.[25]

Because think about it: throughout history, people have looked up at the sun, and they worshipped it. What is it makes a person worship the Lord Jesus Christ? Because they understand that he is the radiance of the Father’s glory.[26]

Are You a True Sheep?

Now, let me end in two ways, first of all by saying this: The practical purpose of God giving us his Word—the practical purpose of God giving us his Word—is in order, of course, that we might meet Jesus. But at the same time, it is in order that we might respond to it, if you like, with an intelligent sense of reverence—that God’s Word is to be approached best, if you like, on our knees; that God is actually communicating to us in this book.

The heart of the true Shepherd is revealed in his voice. And the heart of the true sheep recognizes the voice of the true Shepherd.

Packer says the Bible is “God preaching.” So the indication of how much the Bible means to me is first of all displayed in “Do I respond to it reverently?”; secondly, “Do I trust it wholeheartedly?” Do I trust it wholeheartedly? Or do I take it as a few suggestions for various ways of approaching life? Am I prepared to put my own opinions over against the truth of God’s Word? Am I just toying with the thing? My traditions and so on? All of my opinions, all of our traditions, all of our feelings must be brought under the jurisdiction of his Word if we’re going to approach it reverently, if we’re going to trust it wholeheartedly, and if we’re going to obey it completely. Obey it completely. People get a little churned up about this, you know: “Obeying? We’re not so sure we like obeying.” Listen: the reason we obey the Bible is because it is a logical outcome of our submission to Jesus. Why do we believe the Bible? Jesus believed the Bible, and Jesus told us to.

Now, the heart of the true Shepherd—which we’re going to go on and see in our study next time (not tonight but next time)—the heart of the true Shepherd is revealed in his voice. And the heart of the true sheep recognizes the voice of the true Shepherd. How do I know that I’m one of his sheep? I recognize his voice. “He walks with me, and he talks with me.” How? In his Word. “And he tells me I am his own.”[27] The true sheep. You see, because Mr. Jones’s sheep, when Mr. Levi was calling his sheep, did not have to worry that his sheep—Mr. Jones’s crew—would go off with Mr. Levi. Because his sheep know his voice!

Conversely, “A stranger they will not follow.” Why do you read so many stupid books, some of you? Why do you spend the fleeting moments of your time considering the voice of strangers? Now, this is not a blanket statement regarding all of our reading. You can come back to me on this if you choose. But what I’m talking about: people come up to me and say, “Did you read what Mr. So-and-So had to say about that?” No, I didn’t. “Well, don’t you care?” No, actually, I don’t care. “Why?” It’s the voice of a stranger. Why would I listen to the voice of a stranger? I’ve only got so many days left in my life. There’s only so many books I can now read.

So, the true sheep is known when the true Shepherd walks out front by those who are actually walking behind him. And if some other thief or robber says, “Hey, come with me,” and a group of those people divert from the true Shepherd, it becomes apparent that they didn’t hear his voice, they’ve never understood him, and they’re just interested in wandering wherever they want to go. You will know if you’re in Christ not only because of who you’re following but also because of those from whom you flee—you flee. Well, Jesus was a stranger to the Pharisees and to the crowd. He says, “A stranger you won’t follow if you follow the true Shepherd.” But they weren’t following the true Shepherd. They were strangers.

Now, let me end in this way. Because when Jesus looked out at the people, remember—it’s in the Gospels all over the place—when he looked out on the crowd, it said that his heart was broken. Because when he looked at them, they didn’t know what to do, and they didn’t know where to go. When he looked at them, they were aimless, and they were confused—the crowd. Have you looked at crowds lately?

Wouldn’t be a good talk if I didn’t finish with at least two quotes from songs—first from Paul Simon. So, he and his girlfriend take a bus to go and look for America. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? How do you look for America? We’re in America. And as they take their journey, he writes these words:

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping;
“I’m empty and aching, and I don’t know why,”
Just counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.
They’ve all come to look for America.[28]

They look out the window, and the dream of this country is fading before their eyes. And so they say, “Well, we could just count the cars.”

And in that same era, Lennon and McCartney introduce us to Father McKenzie, who’s “writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear,” ’cause “no one comes near. Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there. What does he care?” Look at “all [those] lonely people. Where do they all come from?”[29]

Our responsibility, church, is not to go out and share our opinions with the world. If some of us shared the gospel as much as we share our opinions… Yeah? “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your [heart].”[30]

Let us pray:

Our God and our King, we thank you that you are the Great Shepherd—that in Jesus you have come to us. He doesn’t shout aloud in the streets. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t draw attention to himself. He comes to bind up the brokenhearted, to heal the wounds, to grant sight to the blind and freedom to the captives.[31] What a wonderful Shepherd! Thank you that when you draw us to yourself, we are then led out by you. You lead us from the front. Every day and all the way we might look to you. Help us, then, to do so, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] Isaiah 40:11 (ESV).

[2] Ezekiel 34:4 (ESV).

[3] Ezekiel 34:4 (ESV).

[4] 2 Samuel 5:1–2 (ESV).

[5] Psalm 78:70 (ESV).

[6] See John 8:59.

[7] Luke 4:18–21 (paraphrased).

[8] John 8:32 (ESV).

[9] John 8:33 (paraphrased).

[10] John 9:12 (ESV).

[11] John 9:22 (ESV).

[12] Luke 2:25 (ESV).

[13] Luke 2:29–32 (ESV).

[14] Luke 2:33–35 (ESV).

[15] Luke 18:11 (ESV).

[16] Wikipedia, 2024, “Speech Recognition,” last modified January 29, 2024, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_recognition.

[17] H. V. Morton, In the Steps of the Master (London: Rich and Cowan, 1934), 155.

[18] Tommy Walker, “He Knows My Name” (?).

[19] Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (1846).

[20] Psalm 19:1 (ESV).

[21] See Romans 1:20.

[22] See Ecclesiastes 3:11.

[23] Psalm 19:1–3 (KJV).

[24] Psalm 19:7 (KJV).

[25] Isaac Watts, “The Heavens Declare Thy Glory, Lord.”

[26] See Hebrews 1:3.

[27] Charles Austin Miles, “In the Garden” (1913).

[28] Paul Simon, “America” (1968).

[29] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” (1966).

[30] Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15; 4:7 (ESV).

[31] See Isaiah 42:2, 7; 61:1.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.