John 10:2-5 (NIV): The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He 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.”
Jesus is indeed the good shepherd of the sheep. Even today He knows those who belong to Him, and calls them each by name. And those who belong to Him hear Him, know His voice, and follow Him out of the security of the sheep pen, and out into the world.
Many people who take comfort in the image of Jesus as their shepherd still have a couple of problems: they don’t know His voice, so they don’t get moving when He calls, and they don’t follow Him out into the world; they just want to be taken care of in the safety of the sheep pen.
When Jesus left for heaven, that was not the end of His work here in the world – it was just the beginning. Luke got it exactly right in his intro to the book of Acts: In my former book (the gospel according to Luke), Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven (Acts 1:1-2a NIV). Everything recorded in the gospels was just the beginning – His work was far from accomplished. In Acts, Luke tells us how Jesus, through His Spirit-filled followers, completed the next phase of His mission. And in every age since then, in every place that Jesus has followers who will listen for, hear, and obey His voice, He is still working His mission to change the world by making people into new creations.
Every day Jesus is still calling His sheep out of the pen and into the hazardous world around us – like sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16). But He is not calling us out for a leisurely stroll along peaceful streams, or merely to loll around in green meadows. There is the work of the kingdom to be done. When He calls us out, He goes before us, leading the way to where the harvest is ripe.
But only those who truly belong to Jesus are able to hear His voice. Only those who hear and listen are able to follow Him out of the pen and into the world. And only those who follow Him closely are able to see and take advantage of the opportunities that He leads us to, and bring in an abundant harvest.
Father, help us to keep our ears open to the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd. Help us to follow Him closely every single day into the world, so that we can continue His mission. Help us to see where He is leading, so that we can reap an abundant harvest for Your kingdom. Amen.