As followers of Christ, we must choose the posture of hearing, listening, and following God’s voice just as sheep hear and follow the voice of their shepherd.
September 6, 2023
Speaker: Greg Sanders
Passage: John 10:27-30
I want to share some things the Lord has been putting on my heart while I was away. We were out on sabbatical, which was great. Generally, I have had a historical deal with the Lord during my sabbatical, which is that I don’t want to think about church. Because if I think about church, then my brain will spin up and I won’t be able to rest. So that lasted nine days.
Because we were someplace where the time zones didn’t quite line up, I kept waking up at three in the morning. The first night, I just thought it was the time change. The next couple of nights, I realized it was the Lord. I’d wake up with the same thought in my mind, the same verse in my mind, and I realized the Lord was dealing with some things.
It was an interesting place to begin. I was in Matthew 25 in my head. That’s where Jesus is talking about the sheep and the goats. Just sheep and goats. Ironically, I couldn’t shake that phrase about sheep and goats. I wrote down in my journal, “What makes a sheep a sheep?”
Then I started laughing because I realized that was a dumb question. So I did what all Bible scholars do: I went to Google and typed in “what makes a sheep a sheep?” Nothing really showed up because it’s a dumb question.
So I Googled again, “What’s the difference between a sheep and a goat?” because I was thinking through Matthew 25. If you’re familiar with Matthew 25, you remember that this is where Jesus takes humanity, and he divides them into sheep and goats.
I thought that was just a really interesting idea. According to Google, sheep and goats are different animals. It’s not like there’s a moment in time when a young sheep decides, “I’m going to be a goat.” And there’s not a moment in time when a baby goat says, “I’m going to be a sheep.”
It’s a really odd analogy that Jesus would use. All of a sudden, something that was human, he says, you’re going to be two different species. So, obviously, it’s an allegory. As I was studying, the Lord took me to John 10, almost as if to say you’re missing the point. The point is,
what makes a sheep a sheep? Maybe the better question is, what makes a sheep my sheep?
John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
That verse began to blow up in my head for weeks. “My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” Historically, I’ve used this verse to prove God speaks. Because Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice.”
That wasn’t what the Lord was impressing on me, and I want to take us into that. Let’s look through the phrases in this verse. The phrase “My sheep” is an interesting phrase. It’s a proprietary term. Jesus is intentionally saying something akin to the shepherd’s language.
The people He’s talking to would have understood the shepherding language because, in that region, shepherding sheep was really common. Goat herders were also very common, so they would have understood what He was saying.
It was akin to a shepherd saying, all of the sheep in my flock have a black spot on their hind leg. Those are my sheep. That’s how I know where they’re at. That’s how I know when they hang out with other herds. I know that they are mine because they all have a black spot genetically. That’s how they’re born.
He’s using language to identify His sheep. It authenticates them. Think about it this way: He essentially says those are the sheep under My care. He’s giving a unique qualifier that My sheep hear My voice. They know when it’s Him speaking. The term here for “hear” means “to listen,” as in to pay attention or give an audience to someone and to understand. It’s not just the ability to hear the voice. It’s the ability to understand what’s being said.
Carried in this definition is an implication of obedience. It’s an implication of following what is spoken. Jesus says that His sheep, the ones He claims as His own, hear His voice. Again, He is using shepherding language.
Considering I started seeing the theme of the Lord talking about the shepherd’s language, He’s talking to shepherds, so I began to study. I researched how shepherds govern sheep. A bunch of church stuff pops up, so I had to be a bit more specific. How do real shepherds lead real sheep? That was my Google.
I came across this incredible phrase. I read this and I started laughing because there are so many hidden little gems in this. Sheep are valuable in that they produce wool, meat, and milk. They also naturally herd, meaning that keeping a flock of sheep together is pretty manageable, which I laughed at. They naturally herd. Isn’t it interesting? All through the Scriptures, He calls us sheep and sheep are intended to be together.
However — this one gets interesting — when sheep feel threatened, they only have one defense. They huddle together and run away. As a pastor, these are really funny lines that just have a lot of pictures that you probably don’t get. But I watch people when they feel threatened, what they end up doing is they find a few other people that will join them in their sense of threat, and they leave. All of a sudden, I realized, that’s what sheep do. That’s not what we’re going to start with talking about just a cool little factoid.
The only way a shepherd can get a sheep to go where he wants it to is to gently lead it along, walking ahead of it. The shepherd will use calls and phrases to direct the sheep. Eventually, the whole flock will come to know and recognize the shepherd’s voice and words.
The picture that is being used here is that a shepherd will walk ahead of the sheep, giving vocal cues. The sheep are aligned behind near enough to hear, and they learn how to respond to what’s being said. Those sheep hear the shepherd’s voice.
The word that caught me in that little paragraph was the word “eventually.” It didn’t catch me out of funniness. It caught me out of the process. “Eventually” means there’s a process in this hearing thing. We’re not going to come into faith with the ability to instantly hear the voice of God. Yet Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice.” We can never ever buy into the lie that I just don’t hear God.
My question then became, so what is the process? What does it look like to hear? Because I don’t know about you, I want to be a sheep. I want to be a real sheep. Not a fake sheep. I sure don’t want to be a goat. I don’t know about you as a follower of Jesus, but I want Him to be able to say that’s one of My sheep. So, what is the process of learning this?
If we look at sheep in the natural, the first aspect of this process is history. Sheep develop an understanding of the tonality of their shepherd’s voice through being in the shepherd’s flock and hearing the voice often. Often means time.
That sure flies in the face of our culture. Many people will say, I prayed once, I didn’t hear God, now I’m out. This is ridiculous. This faith stuff’s not for me. Really? You went to the gym one day and got super swole, and that’s all it took?
Often means time. I’d love to submit to us that hearing His voice requires placing yourself in the arena of His voice. What do you mean? How do sheep gather? We’ve just been educated that they live in herds. What happens if, when we gather, worship, pray, and do life together, it increases our ability to hear individually?
What happens if He never intended us to have an individual, unique faith? He always intended it to be in a community. We learn to hear Him better together.
We have so individualized this thing that I think we’ve missed the truth. Jesus spoke about us as a collective group that He intends to lead as a group.
There is a gross, modern misunderstanding that we just have a unique and individual relationship with Him that allows us to break off anytime we want. That’s not how He created this thing.
What’s my point? We’re not going to learn to hear His voice immediately. But we anchor ourselves into the herd He put us in, the herd of faith, which is a funny phrase, but think about it. We learn together.
As I was studying sheep, going back to my aforementioned question, what makes a sheep a sheep? When baby sheep are born, little lambs, and they’re brought into the herd, they don’t know what the shepherd’s saying. They don’t even know what the shepherd’s voice sounds like. So they learned to follow the shepherd by following the other sheep that have been there for a while.
All of a sudden, I realized we have this insane responsibility to be a people of H is voice so that when He adds other people who are coming into faith and they don’t know what’s going on, all they have to do is watch our lives.
Paul talks about this in Corinthians. He says, follow me the way I follow Christ. In other words, if you will make your life look like my life, you’ll end up at Jesus. Could I submit to us that that is the expectation of heaven for each of us as a disciple? That we could say to the world around us, follow me the way I’m following Him, and you’ll end up at Him. Instead of this grossly modern phrase, “Don’t look at me, I’m just a fallen sinner.” What that means is, “Don’t look at me, I’ve quit letting Jesus lead me.”
Our job in the city is to be a place that teaches other sheep how to hear His voice. We need to commit to be people who hear His voice. Real sheep. Then we’d be able to say, “Come on. Come with us. We’ll teach you how to hear Him.”
The second thing in this process is proximity. A fundamental requirement for a sheep to hear the voice of the shepherd is proximity. What does proximity mean? Closeness, nearness. I run a company that sells audio, video, and lighting. We install it in churches all over the nation.
When we’re talking about a microphone, one of the things we talk about is proximity. Certain mics can pick things up better from a distance than up close. But if you have a singer, my greatest pet peeve in the world is singers who hold their mics away from their mouths. We call it the proximity effect. It creates feedback. So you just tell them to put the mic up by their mouth, and they’ll sound way better.
Nearness. The nearness to the spoken voice determines an ability to hear it. When a sheep wanders off and it’s a long way away from the shepherd’s voice, it can’t hear. Then the sheep starts to say things like, “My shepherd doesn’t talk to me,” no, that’s not true. You’re just not where your shepherd’s talking. You left where his voice was being spoken. In your arrogance, you assume He’ll just follow you and speak. Eventually, He will when you’ve found yourself in a thicket and you’re stuck. But I want you to consider when He finds you, where does He take you? Back to the herd. He takes you back to the flock. He returns you to where you should have never left.
What does it look like for this proximity thing? I’ll just give you two words: intentional nearness. We stay close to Him. We spend time with Him. We make space in our lives for His voice.
If you say, I don’t have time for that, it’s a problem.
If He says, “My sheep hear My voice,” and your response as a sheep is, “I don’t have time to hear Your voice.” What do you think that makes You? A goat, and not the greatest of all time. We must choose to quiet our pace, quiet the noises around us, and listen to His voice.
One of the greatest revelations in my own quiet time was the revelation that God already knew everything. I didn’t need to tell Him anything. It absolutely revolutionized my prayer journey because it made my prayer journey about listening. I’ll ask questions, I’ll get answers, but I quit showing up to impress.
Let me state this more clearly. If you’re not creating an environment to hear His voice, you won’t. There’s a modern answer or justification for this concept that I can’t stand. People say things like, “I don’t need to hear His voice.” Or, “I don’t believe He talks.” Or, “I can’t hear His voice.” All of those are born in hell. They’re blatant excuses that ignore and violate what Jesus said. He said, “My sheep, hear My voice.”
Why would you say they’re born in hell? You don’t think you have an enemy that would love to reinforce in your mind that you can’t hear God and He doesn’t want to talk to you? Why? Because He doesn’t love you enough to talk to you. You’re not one of the special ones that He talks to. You’re just a dumb person that He has no concern about. So quit trying to hear. Doesn’t that feel like that might be a demonic agenda?
Doesn’t it make total sense that you may feel like every time you sit down to hear His voice, you can’t shut your brain off? I never think about how the dishwasher is loaded. Then I sit down to pray, and all of a sudden, I’m thinking about it.
My favorite thing the enemy does is when you sit down to spend time with the Lord and he whispers prayer needs. So you want to call somebody and talk to them about their prayer needs. No, it’s a distraction. He said His sheep hear His voice.
The third thing it takes in this process with history and proximity is trust. Sheep have to be willing to follow what they hear. In my research, I realized that the shepherd has a unique posture. He walks in front of the sheep and calls out commands. He doesn’t stand up and say, “Here’s the deal for today. We’re going to go 30 paces down here, then we’re going to take a right, we’re going to find some grass, we’re going to hang out there for a bit, we’re going to go another 40 paces forward, and then we’re going to circle back.” He doesn’t do any of that. He just takes a walk.
If they want to hear His voice, they have to follow. I think we’ve tried to make this whole thing about if Jesus was to leave the flock behind to come find me. That isn’t how it works when you’re dealing with the Sovereign King of the universe.
Again, which realm do you think that idea is rooted in? You have an enemy who has an agenda to keep you from hearing. A lot of the constructs of the mind that we come up with are rooted outside of heaven because they’re intended to keep us from leaning into hearing.
The shepherd will just make calls, and the sheep do it. It’s that simple. The sheep trust the shepherd. Can you imagine what it would look like if a herd of sheep, every time the shepherd said we’re going to go right, stopped to have a powwow to decide if they think it’s right to go right? No. They don’t do that. They just trust where he says to go. They just assume he knows better than we do.
Isn’t it interesting that in the sheep and shepherd analogy, the sheep and the shepherd are very different species? Could I suggest to you that God is not just one of us? He is God all by Himself, fully unique. We have aspects of Him but He is nothing like us. He’s very different. He is God all by Himself.
When He says, “Go here,” He isn’t asking. The same thing that causes a sheep to get separated causes us to get separated: our independent need to lead ourselves. The only thing that causes a sheep to leave the herd is when it gets distracted and wanders off. The same happens with us; we get distracted from the main objective and wander off.
We chase things that we think are great, shiny, and good. Then we wake up one day and realize we got so far off base.
I know some of you are like, “What about the shepherd that leaves the 99 for the one?” If you get far enough off base and you leave where you’re supposed to be, He is that gracious, He is that kind, and He is that gentle that He comes and hunts us down. Where does He take us back to? It’s not like He shows up and goes, “I’m so sorry. I get it. I know, life’s tough. How about you just stay here and hang out? I’ll do a special deal for you. They can be over there. You’re here. It’s cool.” It’s not what He does at all. His answer is, hey, come on.
Sometimes, the dynamic tension points that irritate us the most in the herd He put us in are important because they’re things He wants to fix in us and others. If we just bail out of the situation, none of that stuff gets fixed.
Part of trusting our shepherd is to live in the system He created. His Church is His system. Hearing His voice is His system. This weird, modern idea that we can have faith in Christ but not ever talk to Him is wrong. It’s dangerous. It’s sure not born in the scriptures.
I think His answer to us would be, I want to be the Great Shepherd for you. In order for me to be that, I need you to do what I said and trust Me. If you take care of your part of the equation, I, the King of Glory, will take care of Mine. I’ll make sure you’re cared for. I’ll make sure you’re covered. I’ll make sure you’re protected. I just need you to trust Me.
How many dads have ever had to have that conversation with their young sons at six or seven or eight who decided they knew what was best in a public forum and they want to just take off on their own? I vividly remember being in Disneyland and having to say to my youngest son, “If you just trust me, I want you to hold my hand for a reason. Because if I can’t find you in this mess of people, we’ve got a problem.”
Perhaps we go back to the root and go, I’m going to trust Him. He said, “My sheep hear My voice.” I’m going to start building the place to hear His voice. He says, “I know them, and they follow me.” Two phrases. “I know them” and “they follow me” are the results of hearing His voice.
You can’t get to know Him without hearing His voice. You can’t follow Him without hearing His voice.
Some of us have done a great job of following Him out of the scriptures. But that’s a portion of His voice. It isn’t the totality of His voice. When we just follow Him out of the scriptures and we don’t have that intimate personal encounter, which by the way, if you read the scriptures is what it’s full of. The intimate, personal encounter where God speaks to people. When you only lean into the scriptures, you run the risk of leaving it to your mind. It’s really easy to begin to create a faith that works for you.
We can’t know Him until we come into living in His system and creating space and time to hear Him. Let me go one micro step further. If we aren’t willing to live in His system, we will end up following something or someone other than Him. Hardwired in this, “My sheep hear My voice,” isn’t just information. It’s a warning.
To be My sheep, you have to hear My voice. To hear His voice means we pay attention and we obey what He says. I have two questions for us. First, what voice are you listening to?
We have a responsibility to choose the voice we follow. Jesus said if we’re His, it’s His voice we follow. That means we also have a responsibility to quiet the other voices around us. Let me give you a more mild list of some of the other voices around us. The voice of social media. The voice of media in general. If you’re learning your life perspective from Fox, CNN, or NBC, you’re going to be led astray.
The voice of gossip. That’s the one the enemy loves in the church. People love to talk. Sometimes the Kingdom answer is, “I need to get His mind on this, not yours.”
The voice of critical spirits. I remember Pastor John Stocker. Right before he left Rez, I went and listened to the last six weeks he was there. He taught a message that changed my understanding. He said, “If you strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter.” You can always figure out what the enemy is doing in the body of Christ because it always deals with people wanting to attack leadership.
The enemy loves to cause people to bite into a critical spirit and attack leadership. Jesus said, “If you strike the shepherd, the sheep scatter.” When I heard that, the tactic of the enemy was just exposed. That’s why we deal with this so much in the Kingdom.
How do we fix that kind of stuff? We never let ourselves talk until the King gives us a right to speak to it. If we see and feel stuff, we take it to the King. Bring it to Him and say, “This is what I see, this is what I feel. Can you give me Your perspective?”
You and I are under the authority of Him. We’re not permitted to go on about our own business. Last time I checked, as John Wimber so eloquently said, “The deal is I gave all of myself to Him, and I got all of Him for me.” There is no middle ground. He gets all of me, and I get all of Him.
Therefore, I’m crucified with Christ, but I’m still alive. But this life I live, I don’t live according to the flesh, according to what I think, according to what I see, according to what I feel. No, I live it now according to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. That’s Galatians. That Paul’s entire teaching.
We are to be dead to ourselves and alive to Him. What kind of God wants me to be dead to myself? The kind that saved you.
Sometimes there’s the voice of our own wounding that we listen to louder than His voice. We get hurt and we let it resonate in our head. Instead of going to Him and saying, “I got hurt. What do you want me to do?” We know what He’s going to say: forgive.
I don’t want to forgive. They don’t deserve my forgiveness. Do you know how bad they hurt me? You’re talking to a King who willingly died, took nails through His wrists, and had nails driven through His ankle bones. He allowed a whip to be laid to His back, hamburger to be made of His back, took a crown of thorns on His head, and He was absolutely pure and innocent and had no reason to die. But He took all that pain for one reason: so He could emancipate humanity. Yet Him asking us to let go of our wounds is too big a deal?
Sometimes we listen to the voices of other people’s opinions. I have a phrase that I say inside my head a lot when people are talking to me. “You’re not Jesus.” I just let them talk. I don’t tell them that because it would be a little mean. But in my head I’m thinking, this isn’t from Him.
Can I call us to caution? This next year, we will face what we faced three years ago. Sometimes, the voice of politics leads the church, and it’s got to stop. We have a King who wants to lead us. There is no elected leader that’s been called to oppose Him. You and I have one King. We have one allegiance. It’s to Him and Him only. It’s to the Scriptures. It’s to the family of God. Everything else you can have an opinion on, but it cannot be allowed to lead you because it’s not born of Him.
Jesus is great at helping us sort politics. My favorite thing was when they came to Him and said, “Do you pay your taxes?” He responds, do you think the King of Glory pays taxes to an earthly king? He’s a subject in My system. He should be paying to Me. Then he looked at his disciples and said, go cast your line, pull out a fish. Whatever comes out of its mouth, pay it to him.
Miraculously, they cast their line, they pulled out a fish, and there’s a gold coin. It’s got Caesar’s picture on it. He looks at it and says, it’s not my picture, give it to him. He had every right to look at that question and say, no, in fact, go tell them they owe Me tribute right now. Or I’m going to snap my fingers and out they go.
We have to make sure His voice leads us. Not a political voice. Let me stay on this soapbox a wee bit longer. If you struggle because you’re so easily persuaded, get off social media. Shut the news off if you have to until your heart is ready to hear all this chaos and still be able to go, “What do you say, King?”
Are you saying not to vote? No, I’m not saying not to vote. I’m saying get on your face with your pamphlet and cry out to God for wisdom. Go to the Scriptures. Look at the issues. Yes, all of that. We are in this country with an agenda and with a responsibility to be phenomenal citizens. I’m not saying we don’t. I’m saying if we let this nation lead us before our King leads us, we’re in sin.
I watched it for the last three years. It has done nothing but destroy the Kingdom of God. We’re walking into another year where we’ll see it and I’m just saying make a line in the sand. I’m not doing it anymore. Church, if it isn’t Him, it doesn’t get to lead us. If it isn’t Him, it cannot lead us.
My second question is, are you following what you hear? When He speaks, it’s not a suggestion. If we want to be the sheep of this shepherd, we have to choose a posture of hearing, listening, and obeying His voice. Some of us have bought the lie that this is a belief set and He doesn’t speak.
I’m just going to call it what it is. It’s a lie. If you’re not hearing, it’s not because He doesn’t want you to. If you’re not hearing, it’s not because He’s not speaking. Sometimes, it’s just because we haven’t made space. Sometimes we’ve got sin patterns that we absolutely know beyond a shadow of a doubt are not Him, but we are unwilling to lay those down because we’ve decided that our sin is more valuable than His voice.
Would you put your hand on your heart with me, please?
Lord, as always, if anything that came out of my mouth wasn’t from You, strike it from the record, please. At the same time, I feel like You were digging in on us a little bit. All we want to do is be a people of Your voice, who hear Your voice, who let go of our independence to live the way we want to.
Holy Spirit, only You can bring that revelation, and only You can bring that appetite. My heart cry is that there will be an appetite as we leave today to re-posture ourselves to hear You and to be a people led by You. Not just in and around Your system. But being guided by Your voice. May Your face shine upon us today. We love You, and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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