We cannot leave this good shepherd trilogy without considering one final question, “Who are the sheep of God’s pasture?” Or to make the question more personal, “Are you one of Jesus’ sheep?”
Not All are God’s Sheep
We’ve already seen one reason Jesus chose the shepherd imagery for His stories. To call Himself “the good shepherd,” Jesus purposefully applied an Old Testament title for God to Himself—“The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1)—an unabashed claim to be God in human flesh.
But there is another reason Jesus chose the shepherd/sheep metaphor. It is because embedded within that imagery is a warning. Sheep were not the only animals to roam the fields of Israel. Goats also roved the countryside—goats that did not belong to the shepherd’s flock. Not everyone is Jesus’ sheep.
In Matthew 25, Jesus made this warning clear, cautioning of a coming day when He will separate His sheep from the shepherdless goats—“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
There are just two categories of people. You are either a sheep or you are a goat. And one day both will stand before Jesus. “He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left, and to the sheep He will say, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:33-34). Only Jesus’ sheep receive God’s blessing. Only sheep enter the safety of God’s fold. Only sheep will be satisfied in God’s presence. Which leaves the goats to hear, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
What a contrast! While the sheep walk beside still waters, the goats are sentenced to eternal fire. You are either one of Jesus’ sheep or one of the shepherdless goats. There is no third category. This is why we cannot leave this trilogy without asking the question, “Are you one of Jesus’ sheep?” Eternity is at stake.
But how can you answer that question? How can you know if you are one of Jesus’ sheep? Let’s return to Jesus’ first story, this time focusing on how the sheep respond to the good shepherd.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:1-5, emphasis added).
Sheep Respond to the Shepherd’s Call
First, Jesus’ sheep respond to their shepherd’s call. In Jesus’ words, “the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name.”
In the first century shepherds called their sheep pet-names based upon personal peculiarities of the sheep, with names such as Spot, or Gimpy, or Fluffy. Some shepherds would sing to their sheep or play a musical instrument to gain their sheep’s attention. Even today, shepherds use distinct calls and whistles, chirps and purrs to summon their sheep.
With the good shepherd, it is no different. “He calls his own sheep by name.” And what is Jesus’ call to His sheep? “Jesus came…preaching the gospel of God, and saying…‘repent and believe the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
The call of Jesus is twofold— “repent” and “believe”; two words vital to understand. Repent means “to turn” and believe means “to trust.”
The good shepherd calls you to recognize your failure to meet God’s holy standard of righteousness, confess your sinfulness before Him, and then actively turn from your sinful ways—He calls you to repent.
But turning from sin is only part of Jesus’ summons. He also calls you to believe—believe that Jesus is God in human flesh; that He is the shepherd who laid down His life to pay for your sins; and that He is the living shepherd who rose again from the dead.
That is Jesus’ call—and His sheep respond to that call. They repent and they believe.
Have you responded to the good shepherd’s call? Will you confess your sinfulness before Jesus? Will you actively turn from your sin? Will you believe that Jesus is the only savior from sin? Jesus’ sheep answer “yes” to those questions.
Sheep Follow the Shepherd’s Lead
Second, Jesus’ sheep follow their shepherd’s lead. “He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him.” If there is anything that characterize sheep, it is that they are followers. Its instinctive, even if it means following their leader into a slaughterhouse or over a cliff.
So, too, following the shepherd is instinctive to the sheep of Jesus’ flock. “My sheep hear My voice…and they follow Me” (John 10:27-28). You follow His lead. You obey His voice. You go where He takes you. You walk “in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). And Jesus’ promise to all who follow Him in obedience? “I give eternal life to them” (John 10:28). The faith that saves is the faith that follows the shepherd’s lead.
Are you willing to give up your own autonomy and submit your life under Jesus’ leadership? Do you desire to do what He commands? Will you avoid what He forbids? Will you love what He loves? Will you walk in paths of righteousness? Again, Jesus’ sheep answer “yes” to those questions.
Sheep Love the Shepherd’s Voice
Third, Jesus’ sheep love their shepherd’s voice. “The sheep hear his voice…they know his voice.” Sheep have excellent hearing. A sheep’s ear can hear wider frequencies of sound than the human ear is capable of registering. But there is no sound more calming, no tone more reassuring to the sheep than the voice of their shepherd. They know what the shepherd’s voice means—care, comfort, guidance, protection. Sheep love their shepherd’s voice.
It is the same with Jesus’ sheep—they love His voice. Their ears are attuned to His words. They love His Bible. They find comfort in His message of salvation. They love Jesus’ voice more than all the competing voices this world offers. “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus’ sheep flee from every worldview and gospel contrary to the words of Jesus. They follow only one voice—the voice they love, the voice of their shepherd.
Do you love Jesus’ words? Do you love the Bible? Are you drawn to read the Scriptures? Does the message of salvation through Jesus alone stir your heart? Again, Jesus’ sheep will answer “yes.”
Who is Jesus? is the most important question you will ever answer. And my prayer is that your answer will be, “He is my good shepherd” in the fullest sense of what that means—that you will believe Jesus is God in human flesh, the Savior from sin who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, the only door that leads into God’s pasture, the shepherd who laid down His life to pay for your sins, and the one who conquered death by rising again from the dead.
But my prayer is more than for you to possess mere intellectual belief in Jesus. My prayer is that you would believe Jesus to the point of obedience—turning from your sin, following Him in paths of righteousness, and loving His Word.
Is Jesus your shepherd? Are you one of His sheep?