VOICES IN THE NIGHT
A sermon based on John 10:3b-5, 11-18
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
April 25, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
[The Good Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. John 10:3b-5
I am sure that many of you recognize the name of Will Rogers. He was known as “The Cowboy Philosopher” and gained fame as a vaudeville performer, a syndicated newspaper columnist, a motion picture actor and as a humorist. (As I conducted research for this sermon, I was surprised to learn that Will Rogers was the highest paid actor in Hollywood at the time of his death in 1935. I had no idea…) He was renowned in his day for his sharp wit, folksy style, his Midwestern drawl, and his homespun take on politics and life. One of my favorite Will Rogers’ comments on politics is this one: “The Washington Monument is the only thing in our nation’s capitol that has a point to it.” (And that is still pretty much true today, isn’t it?)
Here are a few choice zingers and one-liners from the mind of Will Rogers: Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier’n putting it back in. The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than the game of golf. I have a scheme for stopping war. It’s this—no nation is allowed to enter a war until they have paid for the last one. Here are four things that everyone should never do: Never squat when wearing spurs, never slap a man who’s chewin’ tobacco, never kick a cow pie on a hot day, and never miss a good chance to shut up. 1
For our purposes today, I want to mention one last bit of wisdom from Will Rogers. This is one that has some bearing on the sermon text for today. Will Rogers is quoted as saying, “If you are think that you’re a person of some influence, then try ordering someone else’s dog around.” It seems to me that our Lord Jesus says something similar in today’s passage from John 10. Only, instead of taking about dogs and their owners, Jesus is talking about shepherds and their sheep…
Today is the fourth Sunday after Easter. In many churches, it is nicknamed “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the scriptures chosen for the day usually include the 23rd Psalm and the text in John 10 in which Jesus refers to himself as “The Good Shepherd.” The image of Jesus is probably one of the most
1 www.ompage.net/Text/Will_Rogers.htm (Accessed April 20, 2021)
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popular and enduring images that people hold in their hearts. The older that I have gotten, I find that the popularity of the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is both more puzzling—and more comforting than it has been in times past.
It is puzzling because we are so far removed from having direct experience of sheep and shepherds than when, say, the 23rd Psalm was written over 2500 years ago. In those days, Israel was primarily an agrarian society. Many, if not most of the people of biblical times, were farmers. They lived close to the land. I have moved around a fair amount in my life. I have lived in big cities and in small rural communities. In all that time and in all those places, I would have to confess that I have never personally known anyone who made their living as a sheep rancher.
Out in western Kentucky, sheep ranching is much more common than in many other areas of our country. Indeed, in that region, barbecued lamb and mutton is something of a local specialty. While I was going to school in Louisville, I had the opportunity to go to that area of the state on a number of occasions. But even there, I never remember meeting a shepherd…
And I imagine that most of you would also confess that you probably have never met a shepherd personally either. So it kind of puzzles me why the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd speaks so powerfully to so many people even today.
But on the other hand, the image of the Good Shepherd seems to speak more meaningfully to me with the passing of time. Let’s just tell the truth: life is not easy. Life is hard. And it seems like the older that we get, the harder it sometimes becomes. Bible scholars tell us that the gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be written. And when John wrote it, he was no doubt quite an old man. So perhaps it should not come as a surprise to us that, in his old age, the image of the Good Shepherd meant so much to him…
As we age, we find ourselves in the midst of living our lives in the face of uncertainty…we find ourselves confronting the reality of our declining physical abilities (and sometimes mental abilities as well) as we get older…we find ourselves in the middle of a world that so often seems to be spinning out of control and sometimes makes little sense to us…In such situations, the knowledge of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a comfort. NO—it is not just a comfort. It is a great comfort. It is reassuring to know that whatever happens in the midst of the chaos which surrounds us—and the chaos which sometimes includes the chaos going on inside of us—there is one who watches out for us and cares for us. One who can lead us through the labyrinth that life often seems to be. One on whom we can count to protect us and guide us in spite of everything…
And I think that is the part of the image of the Good Shepherd which speaks so clearly to us. We all desire someone who will watch our back—someone who is greater than us who can care for us. We may not know much about sheep and sheep herding—but we all know what it is like to rest in the grace and love of someone who cares for us more than any other. And that one is Jesus…
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For the remainder of our time together, I want us to focus on our Lord’s words concerning voices—the voice of the Good Shepherd and the other voices which compete for the attention of the sheep. He says in verses three and four that the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
The truth of the matter is that we are all bombarded by a host of other voices that attempt to influence us. Some voices that we hear are the voices that would make us afraid. Advertising and marketing people long ago learned that fear can drive people to buy whatever it is that they are selling or to vote for whatever candidate that they are promoting. The voice of fear is a potent weapon and there are plenty of people in our society who are not afraid to use it for their own ends.
But fear is not a spiritual value. When Paul was listing the fruits of the Spirit that characterize the life of the believer in Galatians 5:22-23, he listed virtues like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Notable by its absence is any mention of fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not yet made perfect in love.”
Another voice that competes with the voice of the Good Shepherd for the attention of his sheep is the voice of material possessions. Many in the church are distracted by the voice of consumerism and the lure of “the good life” in contrast to the call of Christ. Jesus knew that would be the case. And he addressed it in the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds.
You remember the story that he told. A farmer went out to sow seed in his field. Among the kind of soils in which the seed fell was the seed that fell among the thorns. At first, the seed sprung up all right. But eventually weeds grew up alongside the plants and took the life right out of the plants. In explaining the parable to his disciples, Jesus said that the soil with thorns represented those who let “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”2
Such voices contrary to the Shepherd’s in the church are as old as the New Testament itself. In 2 Timothy 4:10, the Apostle Paul writes that one of his co-workers in his mission, a man by the name of Demas, had deserted him because he loved the world. The siren call of riches and of the world proved too much for Demas…
Another voice at odds with the voice of the Good Shepherd is the voice of those who would try to restrict the gospel message. These are the people would preach that the gospel is really only for people who look like us, sound like us, talk like us and think like us. They would try to put limits on who can be a part of God’s family…and who cannot…
2 Matthew 13:1-23 is the entire parable. Jesus’ explanation of the seed among the thorns is found in verse22.
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Sometimes they even try to use the Bible to support their proclamations to exclude others from being able to be a part of the Kingdom of God. It’s a particularly dangerous characteristic—using the Bible to teach contrary to its true meanings…
These are people who would say that you have to believe a certain way or promote a certain agenda in order to be counted as a faithful Christian. That is not the truth of the gospel. Preachers—famous and otherwise—who do so are not proclaiming the gospel message. Instead, they are the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees. It is a title at which they would deny and likely bristle at. But it makes it no less true. That is because, just like the Pharisees that hounded Jesus and eventually had him murdered, these in the church are those that hold that their interpretation of what the Scriptures say and their own tradition is nothing less than the voice of the Shepherd himself. But those voices are not the voice of the Shepherd.
Anyone who would try to put limits of the all-encompassing love of God to those who truly desire him is simply off the mark. It does not matter what their title is…or how many degrees they may have…or how popular their TV show may be…or how many books they have published. Jesus said that the gospel message could be boiled down to just two things: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” To insist on other requirements to enter the Kingdom is not the word of Jesus. It is a voice that is not of the Lord…
Friends, Jesus said that his sheep will recognize his voice and that they will follow him. But with all the voices both within and without the church, it can sometimes be difficult to discern the voice of the Shepherd over the noise and din of these other competing voices. So the question might be asked, “How can we discern the voice of the Shepherd? How do we know when it is truly the Shepherd that is speaking to us?
I do not have a sure-fire, never-fail answer to that question. There have been times in my life when I could not say that I was definitely hearing the voice of the Shepherd until sometime afterward. But this one thing I do know: it is difficult to discern the voice of the Shepherd if you are not conversing with him regularly.
Taking the time to seek God in prayer is an essential element of being able to hear him speak. Dan Sutherland, former pastor of the Flamingo Road Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida expressed it like this: “The problem with not spending time in prayer is simply this: those who talk with God most usually hear God best. And those who do not talk to God often usually do not hear Him at all.”3 Developing the habit of regular prayer is essential to being able to hear the voice of the Shepherd and to follow him more closely.
3 Dan Sutherland, Transitioning—Leading Your Church through Change (Waco, TX: Zondervan, 2002). I do not remember the page number.
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As the sermon draws to a close this morning, I would ask, “What about you?” Are you able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd over the noises of the other voices competing for your attention? Hearing and following the voice of the Shepherd is the path to the abundant life that he promises. It is my prayer that you will seek to hear the Good Shepherd. And then having heard, that you will follow him in his way, for he has said, [The Good Shepherd] “goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
To God alone be the glory! Amen.