4 "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
5 "Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."
In the 1890s, English artist Francis Barraud painted an iconic image called "His Master's Voice," featuring a little fox terrier listening to a gramophone. Many of us today recognize the image as the trademark of RCA Records, who had bought the US rights to the image in 1902 and have since used it worldwide. The painting was in fact inspired by a real event. When Barraud's brother Mark had died, the artist inherited his brother's dog Nipper, a rare Edison gramophone, and several recordings of his late brother's voice. Francis Barraud found that whenever he played his brother's voice through the machine, Nipper would come and sit by the gramophone trumpet and listen. Little Nipper remembered the sound of his late master's voice, even when played on the scratchy gramophone.
But how many of us really recognize OUR Master's voice?
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, as He so often does, likens His followers with sheep. It is a common theme in the Bible, and no wonder!
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
We have wandered away from the teachings of God, strayed from the green pastures to which He tried to lead us, broken away from the flock and each gone our own way. Never mind that we are safer together than apart, never mind that we are best watched over by a loving Shepherd, we keep finding ways to do whatever we want and go our own way. But God is calling, Jesus is calling, the Holy Spirit is calling.
But how many of us recognize our Master's voice?
In today's passage, Jesus tells us that His own sheep know the sound of His voice, and more importantly they DON'T know the sound of a stranger's voice. His own sheep recognize the voice of their Master, and they flee from anyone else. But do WE do that?
All too often, we hear something that sounds sort of like something Jesus would say. We hear someone telling us to love behaviors that the Bible explicitly tells us are sinful, and yet when the lie is couched in the rhetoric of "Jesus loves everyone," then we fall for the lie and accept sin in our midst. We hear a leader tell us that they heard such-and-such from "a voice from God," and so we follow him or her, no matter what horrible things they are doing. But the worst is when someone twists the Word of God itself, a problem which started with Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"
2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;
3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' "
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.
5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Not only did Eve not remember or tell the Word of God correctly, but the serpent went further and distorted the meaning of God's words. Even today that happens far too often, and many well-meaning worshipers of God are led astray by church leaders who distort the words of the Bible to suit their own ends--whether to allow sin or to puff themselves up as leaders. I recently read an interview with a pastor at one of the biggest churches in America, and he said he knowlingly soft-coats the teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ--intentionally neglecting teachings on sin and salvation--in the hope that more people will be won over to a Jesus who simply loves us and who wants us to be prosperous.
49 "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
50 "But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!
51 "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division."
Jesus had His calm days, and He certainly showed compassion and mercy, but He was not "meek and mild" when it came to condemning sin and false teachings!
How many of us can recognize our Master's voice?
I keep coming back to that because of this "faithless and perverse generation." (Matthew 17:17, Luke 9:41)
We are faithless because we have lost faith in the things that matter--namely, God Himself. We search for meaning in anything and everything, and we read or listen to whatever teaching we can get, or we follow after strange teachers, all in a vain hope that we can gain some measure of transcendence. We want to rise above this broken world, and so we look in human philosophies, we cling to the teaching of the moment, or we fall prey to addictions which give us temporary relief but no true satisfaction. None of that really fulfills, none of it sticks with us, and so we move on to the next tuft of grass to fill our sheepish bellies. Sometimes we may wander through deserts and mountains until we find something that is like a green pasture, and suddenly we feel like THIS is the spot where we need to be--this diet, this book, this job, this mate, this entertainment, this pet, this president. Our faith and our allegiance keeps shifting, and yet none of it lasts, none of it gives love so freely nor forgives so fully, nor is so holy and good and gracious as Jesus Christ.
We are perverse because we are twisted out of shape. We are not who we should be, and the sad fact is that we KNOW this. We know we are not the men and women we ought to be, and we know that this world is not what it could be. We know this, and yet we follow after whatever is the teaching of the day, whether it is soft-coated gospel or pop psychology, whether it is the latest cause espoused by an entertainer or simply the vote-grubbing platform of a political party. We grab onto whatever we think will change this world and change our lives, and we are constantly twisting this way and that with our feet mired in the sins we hope we don't have to give up.
But how many of us really recognize our Master's voice?
How can we even know our Master's voice? It is utterly simple: read the Bible. Don't just read the bits and pieces a pastor mentions on Sunday mornings, nor the little snippets in daily devotionals. If that's all the Bible reading you ever did, then it would take you FOUR LIFETIMES to finish the whole things--and we each only have ONE lifetime. No, I am advising you to read the whole Bible from cover to cover. Read about Abraham and the lineage of the Israelites. Read about the Judges, about the Kings, about the slavery in Babylon and Assyria. Read about the prophets who risked their lives for their own faithless and perverse generations. Read about Jesus and the Apostles, and about the churches to whom Paul so lovingly addressed his many letters. Read about the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ as seen by the apostle John. And then...READ IT AGAIN. The reason little Nipper responded to the sound of his late master's voice is because he had heard his master so often. The dog had long listened to calls to play and run and walk and feed and come home. And even though Nipper didn't SEE his master, he still knew that sound, that voice which meant all the world to him.
If we are to avoid responding to the voice of Satan, avoid being lured away from the flock by false teachings and self-serving lies, then we must come to know the voice of God. And we come to know His voice by listening, by reading, by discussing His Word with others, and by spending time with Him every day in prayer. Take the time to read the Bible, to meditate on it daily, and you will find that His voice is the loudest and strongest sound in your life. You will see His grace in everyday things, notice His mercy in the daily gift of life, and hear Him singing over you when you are in dire need of peace and love. Read the Bible and listen to God's still small voice speaking to you, and then you will find that when the devil comes calling, when men and women seek to lead you astray, you will flee from them and draw closer to God. He will lead you by still waters, cause you to lie down in green pastures, and He will restore your soul. (Psalms 23) Read the Word of the Loving Shepherd, and allow His Holy Spirit into your heart to bring to remembrance all that He has said. Know your Master's voice, and let Him lead you home.
O Father, O Loving Shepherd, O Beautiful Lord, O Savior, thank You for Your Word which so fills my heart and mind. Thank You for never ceasing to speak to me, for continuing to address my daily needs with words and deeds and love. Help me, dear Lord, to know Your voice well and never be deceived by the lies of Satan or the world. Open my eyes to see and my ears to hear, so that I may respond to my Master's voice when You call. Amen.