The Festival of the Dedication of the Temple took place in Jerusalem during the winter. Jesus was walking on Solomon’s porch in the temple courtyard.
The Jews surrounded him. They asked Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I have told you, but you do not believe Me. The things that I do in My Father’s name testify on My behalf. However, you do not believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep respond to My voice, and I know who they are. They follow Me, and I give them eternal life. They will never be lost, and no one will tear them away from Me. My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than everyone else, and no one can tear them away from My Father. The Father and I are one.”
Many people, even Christians, ask, “What is God’s will for me?” What is meant when they say that is they want help and guidance for specific decisions in their lives. Often we want this for big decisions, when whatever we decide could have significant effects on our lives and the lives of the people we love. We sometimes think in our frustration, “If God would just come down and talk to us!”
This is what is so intriguing about what Jesus said as recorded in the passage for today. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” We listen to His voice! You have actually already listened to His voice and have followed Him. I can actually point out how you have followed in some things.
What lead you to come to church today? The voice of Jesus, our Shepherd has urged you to come. In one way or another, you felt that you needed to come. If you say you came because your parents made me, then it is because your parents heard the voice of Jesus and responded for you. And you, parents, what moved you to have your children baptized? You have heard the voice of Jesus our Shepherd calling us to bring our children to Him.
So, yes, you have heard the voice of our Shepherd. You understand how all this holds true in your spiritual life. But that is not the original question is it? The original question was, how do we receive guidance and direction for decisions that we make during our lives out there in the ‘real world’?
Perhaps we have hit on something here! Is there a difference between your spiritual life and your life in the ‘real world’? Sometimes we think that there is. We often separate our ‘spiritual lives’ for our ‘real world lives’. Sometimes it is hard for us to see how our Lord has anything to do with such things as our work, our economics, our health, our home, and so on. It is as if we lead two distinct, separate lives: one spiritual, and one secular.
But God has never seen our lives this way. He has never seen a separation of the ‘spiritual life’ and ‘real world life’. It is all one thing to Him. He calls it simply LIFE. Let us think about the words of the 23rd Psalm. It gives a day by day, step by step, picture of sheep and shepherd together. The Shepherd leads, the sheep follow. Most significantly, it is not a story of a sheep and shepherd within the confines of a sheep fold! It is not just about our time in church. It is about sheep and shepherd everywhere together. It is about a sheep following his shepherd as they travel through the ‘real world’ together.
The 23rd Psalm is a repeated favorite at funerals, because of that part that speaks about going through the valley of the shadow of death in safety. But it should also be a favorite when things are going well in life, when we are enjoying the green pastures and quiet waters. Our shepherd is every bit as important in those places as in the more frightening places. For the shepherd is not merely a protector but a guide also. And His voice can be heard in every aspect and every area of our life, if we would care to listen. But some time we do not care to listen; especially when we feel things are going well. For it is when things are going well for us that we forget that we are sheep. We begin to think that we have more status than sheep. It is in those times that our own pride distracts us from hearing the voice of our shepherd.
So how do we listen again? How do we hear the guiding voice of our shepherd in all the places of our lives? It would help if we stopped talking so much. The noise of our own voices is distracting. And once the noise stops, if we listen, listen carefully and look around, we will begin to see the Shepherd at work and hear His voice as well. When we let ourselves get distracted, we feel we have no where else to turn. Those are the times we get ourselves into trouble. The circumstances of life show that we are in fact still sheep. But it is so much better if we would stop, listen, and look around before trouble happens.
What I am saying is that we must humble ourselves. We must admit that we are indeed sheep or else we will be forced to admit it by circumstances of trouble in our lives. We must confess our sins of personal arrogance. When we confess that all we are and all that we have are gifts given to us by God, that is what God has been waiting for. He has been waiting for us to come forward and admit to Him that we are not what we have been pretending to be. When we come to Him in humility instead of arrogance; with contrition instead of pride, we begin to hear His voice again. We will begin to know the real strength of following Him.
But how? In the letter to the Hebrews it says, (Hebrews 1:1-2) In the past God spoke to our ancestors at many different times and in many different ways through the prophets. In these last days He has spoken to us through His Son… What does He say? Through Jesus and what He has done God says “I love you.” “I shed My blood for you.” “I have redeemed you” “I forgive you.” “I came so that My sheep will have life and so that they will have everything they need.”
That is what I have meant when I referred to ‘real life’ (to have everything we need). ‘Real life’ does not really start until you live it under the forgiving guidance of our shepherd. We all have sins in our past that may still bother us. But that is marked paid for by the blood of Jesus. Do you remember the picture of the rejoicing shepherd who found His lost sheep and is now carrying it back on His shoulders? The Shepherd is Jesus and we are the sheep. He is happy that He has found us. He gives us permission to be happy also. And the future, with all of its twists and turns, the shepherd knows about that as well. He wants to be there with us, helping us to make the right decisions.
Now there is the big question of the day. How does God help us to make the right decisions in real life. Throughout history people have had some special place where they would go whenever they wanted help in making a decision. But the answers would always be vague enough that they could be interpreted in whatever way the seeker wanted to interpret it.
A lot of people would like to treat the Lord this way, as a type of oracle, magic crystal ball, or some answer man. But God has never been that way. He was never meant to be a mere ‘go to guy’. By everything that He has done through His Son, which is revealed to us in the Bible, it is clear that He is much more than that. He is a companion, mentor, savior, shepherd – Someone who loves us deeply and would be with us all the time. We were created to live in His presence. We are restored to His presence through the forgiveness of sins. We are kept in His presence by forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. The more familiar we become with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit helps us to live our lives to be more like Him. We begin to know what is right and good and true, the will of God. We would like to say, “If He would only come down and talk to me!” He does talk to us – in His Word. He has been talking to us since we were baptized. The more we are acquainted with His Word the more we grasp what Jesus said in the words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Amen.