The Good Shepherd

November 25, 2018 ()

Bible Text: John 10:1-30 |

Series:

The Good Shepherd | John 10:1-30
Brian Hedges | November 25, 2018

Please turn in your Bibles this morning to John, the 10th chapter. While you’re turning there, let me just relate something I read just last night. I’ve been rereading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and last night I was reading the chapter where two creatures, these hobbits, find themselves deep in a forest, and they encounter the creature named Treebeard, or he’s known to them as Treebeard, and they’re exchanging their names and their backgrounds.

They ask Treebeard to tell them his name in his own language, and he says that he can’t do it because it would take so long. But then he says this. He says, “My name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language.”

As I read that I thought, well, that’s exactly what we’re discovering as we work through the gospel of John and we come across these statements about Jesus and from Jesus where he gives us a name. He says, “I am” something, and then he gives a name, he gives an image, a metaphor, that tells us something about him. This morning we’re looking at his name as Shepherd. He says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd gives his life for the sheep,” and I thought, you know, the whole story of redemption is right there in that name.

“All we like sheep have gone astray, we had turned each one to our own way,” and Christ, the great Shepherd, came to seek and to save those who are lost, and we have now returned to Christ, the shepherd and overseer of our souls. At the very end of time, our great hope, found in Revelation chapter 7, is that there will come a day where "the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." All of that story of redemption is contained in this one name, one of many, the name Shepherd.

So this morning we’re going to dig into this name, this image for Jesus as our shepherd. We’re doing it in John chapter 10. This morning I want to read verses 1 through 30. Last week we looked at verses 7 through 10 and the image that Christ gives as the door, he is the door of the sheepfold; but this morning I want us to dig into this image of shepherd, so I want to read this entire passage, and we’ll finish looking at John chapter 10, the last part of the chapter, next week. So, John 10:1-30. You can follow along in your own copy of God’s word or you can read on the screen.

“‘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. So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.’ There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’”

This is God’s word.

So there are three things I want us to examine together from this passage that are just different ways of unpacking this metaphor. I want us to look at:

I. The Threats to the Flock
II. The Heart of the Good Shepherd
III. The Marks of the Sheep

I. The Threats to the Flock

First of all, just the threats to the flock, and I want us to kind of understand something of the context in which Jesus is speaking, the background behind what he’s saying, and then how he, in particular, describes these threats. So look at a couple of places.

(1) First of all, in verse 1 and again in verse 8 and verse 10, Jesus talks about thieves and robbers, right? Verse 1, “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.” Verse 8, “All who came before me are thieves and robbers…” Verse 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Okay, so there’s one of the threats: the thieves and the robbers, the strangers. These are the ones who are not true shepherds. They make it into the sheepfold, into the pen, but they don’t come in by the door, they come in illegitimately, they don’t have a right to be there, and their purpose is destruction. They come to steal, to kill, and to destroy. That’s one of the threats.

(2) Here’s the other threats, in verses 12 and 13: the hired hands and the wolves. Verse 12, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

So when you look at those passages and the different metaphors that are used, it shows us that there is a variety of threats, different kinds of threats to the flock and different kinds of threats to the church.

There are threats we might think of as mercenaries. Okay, the mercenaries would be the hired hands, right? It’s like a gun for hire. These are the ones who are hired to take care of the flock but don’t actually do it; they fleece the flock. The background of this is, of course, the Old Testament, Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34, where God indicts the leaders of Israel, the priests and the prophets who are called to be shepherds of the flock, but rather than being true shepherds of the flock, they fleece the flock for their own advantage. It’s a warning against people who use the sheep and abuse the sheep rather than really tend the sheep, rather than really love the sheep. They’re the mercenaries. They’re the hired hands. They’re not true shepherds.

And then there’s a warning, of course, against predators. The thieves, in a sense, are predators, they’re preying on the sheep, they’re stealing, killing, and destroying; and, of course, the wolves that come to snatch and to scatter the flock, they are predators of the sheep. And there are sometimes predators within the church. There are those who prey upon God’s people.

We might think, for example, of Acts chapter 20, where the apostle Paul warns that wolves are going to come into the flock, devouring the flock, and he’s warning against false teachers and false teaching, those who will come and will teach things that are not true, and the effect is that it devours the flock. That’s the imagery here, and it shows us a variety of threats.

Now, the immediate context I think is also important to note. John chapter 10 follows John chapter 9. Now, it’s been two weeks since we’ve been in John chapter 9, so I have to remind you of what was there. In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a man who has been blind from birth, and do you remember what happens to this blind man who’s been healed? He gets kicked out of the synagogue! He gets excommunicated by the Pharisees, by the leaders of the synagogue. They kick him out. They drive him out.

John chapter 10 seems to follow right upon that event in John chapter 9. You have to remember that in the original manuscripts, in the original texts, there were no chapter and verse divisions. So when Jesus says in verse 1, “He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber,” he’s speaking exactly into that context of these religious leaders who, rather than caring for this blind man who has been healed and receiving him, they excommunicate him because of his faith in Jesus. Jesus is in effect saying that the current leadership of the synagogue, the current leadership of the Jewish people, are false shepherds under the indictment of Jeremiah 23, and then he is calling attention to himself as the true shepherd of the sheep.

I think as we think about the application for ourselves, this reminds us, first of all, that there are many, many threats to the flock. There are threats both external and threats internal. You might remember the line of that old hymn, “Is this vile world a friend to grace / To help me on to God?” Of course, the implied answer is no, the world is a threat.

But a passage like this reminds us that there are threats not only in the world, there are threats, sometimes, in the church. There is false teaching sometimes that happens within in the church, and I think especially when we look at the broader church today. I’m not thinking so much of our own context right now, though we should always be on guard, but when you look at the broader church today, those who speak in the name of Jesus, certainly within the broader church today there’s false teaching and there are false teachers. There are those who are fleecing the flock. There are those who are out to get gain by means of the people of God, and they care nothing for the sheep. They’re not building up the sheep. They are tickling itching ears and they are, ultimately, harming the sheep, and we have to be wary of those threats.

This also shows us the weakness and the vulnerability of the sheep. It shows us our weakness and our vulnerability. We’re going to look at the marks of the sheep here in a little while, but I’ll just anticipate a little bit, and here’s one thing that marks sheep: sheep realize that they’re weak, they realize that they’re vulnerable, they realize that they’re dependent on the goodwill of a shepherd to protect them and to care for them. We need to recognize that as well. We need to recognize our weakness and our utter dependence on Jesus Christ.

Above all, this passage shows us our need for a true shepherd. It shows us our need for Jesus, and it sets us up to then understand what it is that Jesus does for us.

II. The Heart of the Good Shepherd

That leads us to the second point, the heart of the good shepherd. Jesus refers to himself three times as a shepherd in this passage; in verse 2 he is, obviously, the shepherd to whom the gatekeeper opens. The imagery changes a little bit throughout the passage as he calls himself the door in verse 7, but then again he returns to the imagery of shepherd in verses 11 and 14, when he says, “I am the good shepherd.”

What is it that Jesus as the good shepherd does? What is his disposition towards the flock, his heart for the sheep? What does he do for the sheep? I love this passage; it shows us so much about the work of Jesus and the heart of Jesus for his people, and I want to show you five things that Jesus as our shepherd does for us as the sheep. Okay? Five things about the heart of the good shepherd.

(1) Here’s the first. First of all, he knows the sheep. He knows the sheep. This shows us the intimacy that he has with his sheep.

Look at verses 14 and 15, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me...” Notice how he calls them “my own.” “...just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” So, there is such a deep knowledge of the sheep that he grounds it in his knowledge of the Father. He says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, so I know the sheep.” He knows the sheep. And then in verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.”

We know that this word “know,” as it’s used in Scripture, often carries the idea of a deep and intimate kind of knowledge. “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.” So, in that passage it’s a euphemism, of course, for sexual intimacy. In other places it’s a word that conveys the idea of deep, personal, intimate relationship. So, for example, in Amos 3:2 God says to his people Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”

Now, he’s not saying that he doesn’t know about all the other families of the earth. When he says, “You only have I known,” he means that he as a deep and personal relationship with them, with the sheep.

Do you remember how Jesus in Matthew chapter 7, speaking about the last day of judgment, says that “on that day, many will come to me and say, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” And Jesus says, “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity.’” “I never knew you.” It doesn’t mean he doesn’t know about them; it means that there was no relationship.

So, when Jesus here calls the sheep “my own” and he says, “I know the sheep,” it means that he has a deep and personal and intimate understanding of who you are, a deep and personal and intimate relationship with you.

Shepherds in the ancient near east knew their flocks well, and one of the reasons they knew their flocks so well is because they didn’t raise sheep to butcher them, they raised sheep so that they could gather their wool, they could shear their wool. So they would have the same sheep, sometimes year after year after year, and these sheep would become almost like household pets. There would be a deep knowledge of the sheep. They would know the idiosyncrasies, the personalities of these sheep. They would know their every need.

Brother and sister, I just want to encourage you this morning that Jesus Christ as your good shepherd knows you. He knows you! He knows what you’re going through right now. He knows what your needs are this morning. He knows the ways that you’re suffering, he knows the ways that you’re struggling, he knows the season of life you’re in.

You know, the older I get the more I come to understand and realize that each season of life has both its joys and its challenges. I’ve been through a few seasons now. I’ve been through childhood and adolescence and young adult, I’ve been through early marriage, and I’ve been through what I call the dark ages, the preschool years. We survived that. We now have teenagers in the home. Many of you are much, much further down the road; you’ve been through the empty nest years, some of you are in your senior years. Some of you have experienced great losses, and these seasons, they come with incredible challenges.

The one person who knows every season of the heart, every season of the life, the one person who knows your needs, whatever season you’re in, is the good shepherd. He knows you through and through. He knows the sheep with this deep and personal and intimate knowledge and understanding. He loves us as his sheep. We can take great comfort from that, that the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, is our shepherd, and he knows us and he cares for us.

(2) Here’s the second thing: he not only knows the sheep, but he calls the sheep. He calls the sheep. Look at verses 2 through 4. “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.”

He calls the sheep. Now notice, they are his sheep before he calls them. They belong to him, he owns the sheep, they are his own sheep, but then he calls them. He calls them.

I just can’t help but think of Romans 8:30, where you have that great chain, the golden chain of salvation, where the apostle Paul says that “those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified.”

The effective calling of Christ as he draws people to himself. He calls his sheep by name! That’s something that every Christian experiences. That’s how you became a Christian! You became a Christian because Christ called you.

Now, what does that look like? What is that call? Well, it of course involves the call of the gospel. We hear the offer of the gospel, we hear the plan of salvation, we hear the gospel preached or shared with us and the invitation to trust in Christ. We hear that, and that’s what we call the external call.

But you know, for that to really take root in someone’s heart, there’s something else that happens. You know this by experience. You know, many of you experienced this, that you lived perhaps many years as someone who was familiar with Christianity, you’d heard about Christ, some people had witnessed to you, maybe you’d been raised in the church; but then, suddenly, there came the point when it all became personal. There came the point when all of a sudden you saw your sins, you saw, “I am a sinner, even me, and I need salvation. I need Christ,” and you responded in faith and repentance to the voice of the shepherd who was calling you.

I want to ask you this morning, has that happened to you? Have you responded to the call? Have you heard that call? Have you heard the voice of the shepherd? This is what the shepherd does: he calls his sheep.

(3) Number three, notice this, he lays down his life for the sheep. Five times in this passage you have this language of laying down his life. I won’t read all the verses here in sequence, but let me just point out a couple of things. Obviously, in verse 11 you have it, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That’s repeated again and again.

What does that mean, that he lays down his life for the sheep? The word that’s used here, the preposition, “I lay down my life for the sheep,” the preposition huper (‘υπερ), carries the idea of substitution. It carries the idea of an exchange, a sacrifice. It’s the idea that Christ dies on behalf of the sheep, he lays down his life on behalf of the sheep, in their place, in their stead. It reminds us that Christ is our substitute.

Now, the image that’s suggested here is of a shepherd who’s willing to put his life between the sheep and any predator that will come to attack the sheep. You might think of David, the shepherd boy in the Old Testament, who delivered his father Jesse’s sheep, defending them from predators like bears and lions, right? Well, that’s the image here, but Jesus goes all the way, and he actually laid down his life for us, to rescue us from the snatching jaws of our enemy. It shows us here Christ’s substitution on our behalf, that sweet exchange that the old writers speak of, that Christ, who is the just, died for the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous, Christ taking our place, dying in our stead on the cross. This is what he does as the shepherd.

Notice this: this is so precious in the sight of the Father that God the Father has a special regard for his Son because of it. Okay? Look at this in verse 15. He says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” He says, “For this reason the Father loves me.” That’s really interesting, I think, because I think it’s obvious from Scripture [that] the Father loved the Son from all eternity - he’s always loved the Son, right? This is our basic Trinitarian doctrine, that there’s always been this eternal love relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. They’ve always existed in perfect love and communion with one another.

But Jesus here says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life for the sheep.” You know what I think it means? I think it means that the Father has a special affection and love for his Son because his Son is willing to die for the sheep. The reason is because the Father loves the sheep so much.

That should give us great encouragement to come to Christ, to trust in Christ, to trust his sacrifice on our behalf. God wants to bless us, he wants to forgive us, he wants to receive us for the sake of his Son. He gave his Son for that very purpose. He loves his Son because his Son gave his life for the sheep, laid his life down.

One more thing to notice here, in verse 18, and that’s this, that Jesus lays down his life voluntarily. He has authority, he says, to lay it down and authority to take it up. Don’t ever think that Jesus was merely a martyr when he died on the cross. He gave himself to this death! He laid it down voluntarily. He laid down his life, and then he took it up again. It shows us the great victory of his work on the cross. In fact, there are three words starting with v that have sometimes been used to describe the atoning work of Christ: it’s vicarious (that means he died as a substitute), it’s voluntary (he laid down his life of his own accord), and it’s victorious (he took it up again in the resurrection). Christ is our substitute.

(4) And then, number four, the fourth thing that we see about the heart of the good shepherd is that he gathers the sheep. He gathers the sheep. Look at verse 16: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

I think it’s pretty clear that here Jesus is speaking about the Gentiles, “other sheep that are not of this fold,” not of the Jewish fold. He’s thinking about the mission of the church and of his own mission to gather into one all of his people who are scattered abroad across the face of the earth, people from every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation.

And notice that it says, “I must bring them also.” “I must bring them also.” In other words, Jesus is committed to the evangelization of all the peoples of the world, so as to bring his sheep, all of his sheep, into this one flock.

This has been one of the great comforts of missionaries throughout the history of the church. It is the verse that is on David Livingstone’s tombstone. David Livingstone was one of those pioneer missionaries into the inland of Africa, and some years after Livingstone had died there was another missionary, named Peter Cameron Scott. He was a Scottish guy, he was born in Glasgow, 1867. He eventually became the founder of the Africa Inland Mission, but his early experiences on the mission field were really hard.

He goes into Africa, he caught a fever, his brother John came to work with him, his brother John became really sick and then died, and he had to retreat, go back to the U.K. to bury his brother, to find his health restored once again. He was so discouraged that he had lost hope for his work as a missionary, until he visited David Livingstone’s grave. When he did, he read these words, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold. Them also I must bring.” That’s what renewed his hope, it’s what renewed his courage, and he went back to Africa, had much greater success, and founded the Africa Inland Mission.

A number of years ago I was visiting one of the churches my dad has regularly preached at for years, and that particular Sunday I met a couple who had just come off the mission field. As they began to tell their story, it was really interesting that earlier in their Christian lives they had heard about the doctrines of grace, they had heard some of these doctrines of Reformed theology and had been very resistant to it, the doctrine of grace. But when they went to the mission field, that’s when it all came together, because that’s what gave them hope to press on, in spite of all kinds of difficulties. That has often been the case for missionaries, taking comfort in this promise: “Other sheep I have that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Christ is committed to the mission of bringing his sheep home. We should be committed to that mission as well.

(5) And then finally, number five, Christ as our shepherd protects the sheep. He protects the sheep. Look at verses 27 through 30. He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

That word “snatch” is the same word that’s used back in verse 12 of the wolves who snatch and scatter the sheep. It’s a word that carries the idea of seizing or plundering or carrying away. Jesus here is saying that “my sheep can never be plundered. My sheep can never be snatched away from me, they can never be carried away, because I hold them in my hand.” Having given his life to purchase them, having called them by the power of his voice, Christ then keeps his sheep, he secures them, he protects them, he keeps them from being lost.

Sometimes we sing the words of this great contemporary hymn,

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
Till he returns or calls me home;
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

I want you to know, Christian, that however much you suffer temptation, however many enemies you face, however many struggles you encounter in your Christian life, that the commitment of Christ as your shepherd is that you can never be lost. You cannot be plucked from the Father’s hand, from Christ’s hand. You cannot be snatched away. He protects you, he secures you, he continues to work in your life, to preserve you in faith and in salvation, to keep you close to himself.

III. The Marks of the Sheep

So we have the heart of the good shepherd, we’ve seen the threats to the flock. I just want to conclude in this way; I want us to think for a few minutes about the marks of the sheep. This passage is mostly about the shepherd, so our focus has been mostly on what Christ has done for us. But the question then for us is this: am I one of his sheep? Am I a true Christian? How do you know?

I grew up on a ranch. I don’t know if you knew that or not; I grew up on a ranch, so we had cattle on this ranch. My dad watched the cattle to pay rent to our landlord, and there were maybe 60, 70 head of cattle on this ranch. Of course, any rancher that has cattle is going to somehow mark the cattle. In the old days they branded them, right? On our ranch they had tags in their ears.

I was reading in Spurgeon this week, and Spurgeon, in one of his sermons on John 10, says that the sheep have an earmark and they have a footmark. Here’s the earmark: they listen to his voice. And here’s the footmark: they follow him. Let’s consider each of those just briefly.

(1) First of all, they listen to his voice, they hear his voice. Look at verse 27. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them…” Go all the way back to verses 3 through 5: “The sheep hear his voice [the shepherd’s 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.”

What does this mean? What does it mean that the sheep hear the voice of Christ? Well, of course it means that we respond to his call. It means we respond to the call of the gospel with faith and repentance. But I think it also means this, that true believers have what we might call a spiritual instinct. It means that we have a radar, an inner radar that is attuned to the voice of Christ, our shepherd. We know his voice.

I think this is something that’s true of the Christian, that the Christian has, through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, a sensitivity to the voice of Christ as Christ speaks through his word. Sometimes a Christian may not be able to articulate this clearly, but they still know. They know the difference between truth and error. They know the difference between the demands of the law and the promise of the gospel. They know the difference, they can detect the difference between the work of the Spirit and the works of the flesh, because they have this instinct, this spiritual instinct. They are attuned to the voice of Christ.

The apostle John says in 1 John 2:20 that “you have been anointed by the Holy One and you have all knowledge.” Now that doesn’t mean, of course, that we know everything we could ever possibly know, it doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn and to grow and develop in our understanding of Scripture; but it means that the presence of the Holy Spirit, the anointing within us, gives us this spiritual instinct, this discernment, so that we can discern the good from the evil and the true from the false, we can discern the true voice of God speaking through his word, and we hear his voice, we listen to his voice.

(2) The sheep not only listen to his voice, they also follow the shepherd. Follow him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” You see the same thing in verses 4 and 5.

What does this mean? It means that we follow his guidance, his leadership. It means that we follow his commands in obedience, it means that we follow his example in imitation, that we are seeking to become more and more like Jesus Christ.

I love some of the great hymns of the Wesleys, especially of Charles Wesley. There’s a hymn that many years ago became very precious to me, and I still love this hymn and cherish it. It’s a hymn that’s all about this desire, the desire to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to be like Christ. I just want to read these words to you. See if this resounds in your own heart. See if this could be your prayer this morning.

Oh for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels thy blood
So freely spilled for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.

A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true, and clean,
Which neither life nor death can part
From him that dwells within.

A heart in every through renewed
And full of love divine;
Perfect and right and pure and good,
A copy, Lord, of thine.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” “They follow me.” Are you seeking to follow Christ this morning? Are you seeking to imitate him? Are you seeking to know him?

I’ll end with a story. This is a story about a famous actor who was an after-dinner speaker at a big fundraising event, and he was well-known for his voice, and he was known for being able to recite many poems from memory, and sometimes he would ask the audience, “Name a famous poem, and I’ll recite it for you.”

He did this at this great event, and no one raised their hand, nobody asked for a poem to be recited. Finally an old man, who was actually an old Christian, who’d been a pastor, said, “Recite for us Psalm 23.”

The actor was slightly taken aback, but he agreed that he would read the psalm, provided that the old man would recite it after him. The old man reluctantly agreed to do so.

So the actor recited Psalm 23 with perfect diction, perfect inflection of voice, a wonderful performance, and received a standing ovation. Afterwards the old man, in a broken, scratchy, old voice, not with perfection, but with real sincerity, read the words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul, he lead me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

He recited the whole psalm, just like that. By the time he had finished there actually wasn’t a dry eye in the house. There was a huge emotional reaction from the crowd. When it was all over, the actor went to the old preacher, and then he said to the guests, “Do you know what the difference was between his version and mine? I know Psalm 23; he knows the shepherd.”

I want to ask you this morning, do you know the shepherd? “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Do you know the shepherd? Do you know Jesus this morning? The good shepherd! Do you know that he knows you? Have you heard his call? Have you trusted in his sacrifice, the giving of his life for your sake? Are you with him in his mission, and are you confident in his ongoing protection in your life? Do you know the shepherd?

If not, then we invite you this morning, in a simple act of faith and trust, to look to Christ, ask him to forgive your sins, place your trust in him, give your life to him. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved by the good shepherd. You will begin a lifelong journey, a story of an intimate relationship with Christ, the shepherd, and you as his sheep. Let’s pray.

Gracious Father, we thank you this morning for Christ, who is our shepherd. Thank you for this wonderful passage of Scripture that discloses to us so much of the heart of Christ as our shepherd. Thank you that he knows us and loves us and cares for us and calls us, feeds us, leads us, guides us, and protects us. Thank you especially for the truth that Christ loved us to the very end, that he laid down his life on our behalf.

This morning we say in response that we trust in Christ as our shepherd, we believe, we receive this message, the message of the gospel, with all of our hearts and all of our souls. We confess that we have often strayed. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” We are so grateful that you have sought us out. Just as Christ the shepherd seeks out the one lost sheep, so he sought each one of us who believe out this morning. Lord, we thank you for this grace, we thank you for this gift, and we pray this morning for any who do not know Christ, that right now, in this moment, they would turn to Christ and believe and receive salvation.

As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that we would come with faith, we would come with hope in our hearts, that we would come not just to eat the bread and drink the juice, but to feed on Christ, who is the bread of life, that we would come to know our shepherd and to be in close relationship with him. We ask you to meet with us in these moments by your Spirit. Draw near to us, convict us of our sins, help us to repent, convince us of the good news of the gospel, help us to trust it, and remind us of the great love that you have shown for us in the death of your Son. We pray it in Jesus’s name and for his sake, Amen.