In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a difference between hearing and listening. If you’ve ever had children or been a child, you know this. You can say something, and they might hear the sound of your voice, but it doesn’t mean they heard you. I can be engrossed in a book, and if you talk to me, my eardrums might register the sound of your voice, but I won’t hear you. Maybe it’s like every adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon: wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.
The Jews who surround Jesus in the temple hear Jesus’ words. Physically, they can hear what He’s saying. But they do not hear Him. He says that they do not believe Him because they are not of His flock. Here, hearing is believing, just as, earlier, seeing is believing. Jesus healed a man who was born blind, and Jesus asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The formerly blind man said, “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said, it is the one who is standing here, talking to you. And the man said, Lord, I believe. Seeing is believing. Not believing is not seeing.
Likewise, hearing is believing. The people surrounding Jesus do not believe because they are not of His flock. The opposite is that Jesus’ sheep, who are of His flock, hear His voice. They listen to Him; that is, they believe Him. But it is not a one-time thing. It is not something that happened in the past, but is now over. And it’s not something that is going to happen in the future, but hasn’t happened yet. All of the verbs Jesus uses of those who are His sheep are present-tense verbs. They are currently happening. His sheep are hearing His voice. He is, currently, knowing His sheep. They are, ongoing, following Him. And He is, right now, giving them eternal life.
Whenever Jesus is speaking, His sheep are hearing His voice. They are listening to Him because He is their shepherd, who leads them in and out to good pasture. He cares for them the way that a merely hired hand never would. He lays down His own life for His sheep. They will never listen to the thieves and robbers, because they know that their voices are speaking false words. They do not give eternal life. Peter says to Jesus, his Good Shepherd: You have the words of eternal life. Wherever His sheep are, Jesus knows them. Wherever Jesus goes, His sheep follow. Where Jesus is is eternal life.
And it applies even when Jesus isn’t right there in the same way as He was when He was standing in Solomon’s colonnade. When Paul is speaking to the pastors in Ephesus for the last time, he tells them to watch carefully over the flock among whom they have been made bishops, whom Jesus has purchased with His own blood. How will they watch over those sheep? Certainly not with their own ideas or opinions or words. They will watch over them with the words of the Good Shepherd, who gathers His own sheep and speaks to them. Even if Jesus isn’t there as He was when He was walking around on the earth prior to His ascension; even if Paul isn’t there with them; Jesus will shepherd His sheep by His words and by His gifts.
He is speaking, and His sheep are listening. He is giving them good pasture, of eternal life, and they are following Him. They are still in this world, in the midst of sin and death, and they are following the way that Jesus has already walked, through this world, into death, and out of death into eternal, resurrection life. Here is the promise of the risen Lord: no one can snatch you out of My hand, or the hand of My Father. God has wakened from death the Shepherd of His sheep. What is the nearly the first thing that Jesus does when He is raised? He shows them His hands and His feet. This is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95). It is, specifically, this Lord who is our Shepherd.
And just as Paul teaches us that this Jesus hasn’t stopped doing His work just because we can’t see Him, John delivers to us the outcome of Jesus’ promise. Right now, Jesus is speaking, knowing, leading, and giving us eternal life. But that’s not all: we will see the outcome of all this on the day when the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is the Shepherd who leads us to springs of living water. On that day, nothing in all creation will be able to harm us. Every tear will be wiped away. All things will be made right. No one will be able to snatch us out of those pierced, resurrection Hands. Nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, our Lord. You belong to Him more certainly than you belong to anyone else in this world. He is more trustworthy than anyone else in this world. He will not leave or forsake you.
A dead shepherd couldn’t keep his promises. A dead shepherd can’t keep you from harm in this world or the world to come. A dead shepherd wouldn’t be able to save you from death and bring you into life. But God has wakened from death your Good Shepherd, and He keeps you in His hands.
Today, He does what He promised. He is speaking to you, as you are hearing His words. He knows you, because He has put His Name on you. He is leading you, as you are following Him. And He is giving you eternal life in the very best pasture, the very best food of His body and blood. He will keep you until the day when the journey is finally over and the Shepherd gathers in His whole flock, from wherever they might be, and leads you to the eternal and living water, where there is only life, because there is only Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/11/19