Possible: The Abundant Life
We want to bring you hope. Wow, this Easter season has been a challenge and very different as we are in the shadow of CoVid-19. We want to bring you hope. This is the fourth and final week of our Easter message series we call Possible.
Hope is having the faith and confident expectation that goodness is coming to us. Last week we talked about three degrees of hope: casual hope, precious hope and ultimate hope. We also said God, and his plans, are our ultimate hope. We learn God’s plan by listening to the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
In the morning the shepherds would come to collect their sheep. The shepherd of the sheep would be recognizable to the guard, so he would let him in. Once the shepherd enters the sheepfold, he calls out to his sheep. The shepherd would have a special call for his sheep, and the sheep knew the voice of the shepherd. They heard that voice every single day so they became accustomed to that voice.
So when they heard the call of the shepherd, they would follow him. Of course to any casual observer, all sheep seem the same.
But the good shepherd knew each sheep personally and had given each sheep a name. The shepherd would then lead them out of the pen into the fields.
Aren’t there certain voices YOU recognize. They bring comfort and security. As a kid, you recognized the voice of your parents. Maybe you can recall a time as a child when you were separated from your parents at a supermarket or the Mall. You were scared and alone, and then you heard the voice of your parents and you knew it would be ok.
Now you are older and perhaps it might be the voice of your spouse or a good friend. When you hear their voice or their greeting you perk up, and their voice brings joy to your heart. In the same way, hearing your name also gets your attention. The sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. We especially love hearing our name said in a place where we feel all alone or on our own. It is that feeling of being at a party when you don’t know anyone. You feel out of place, and you hear a friendly voice call out your name. There is a joy in knowing someone knows you and is glad you are there.
Jesus says that he knows the name of his sheep. He calls his sheep, his people, his followers by name. He knows them well.
The shepherd would lead his sheep out of the pen, provide direction, protection from wild animals, and lead to places of provision –food, water and rest.
Notice Jesus says the shepherd walks ahead of the sheep. He does not walk behind. He leads them to places of provision. The very word “leadership” is developed from the shepherd imagery, where the shepherd goes ahead of the flock and encounters the problems of the flock first. The shepherd goes ahead of the sheep and scouts out problems. The problem might be an attack from wild animals. The problem might be a wrong turn that would have led the sheep falling off a cliff. In the Middle Eastern desert, all the terrain looked the same so it could be easy for the sheep to take a wrong turn. The shepherd goes before, so he knows what is coming.
Do you know that Jesus has already been to your future? He walks ahead of you. Your future is not a surprise to him. He walks ahead of you. He knows the wrong turns and the cliffs you need to avoid. He sees the things that are going to attack your heart, your mind. He knows the events that are going to fill you with fear or concern or worry. He knows the pitfalls and problems, but he also knows the places of provision where you can find provision for your heart, your soul, your mind, your body. He walks ahead of you and wants to lead you to a place of provision.
Sheep are simple animals, but here is something they get right. They are smart enough not to follow the voice of a stranger. While they follow the voice of the shepherd who cares for them and meets their needs, they run from the voice of a stranger.
People often or generally follow the voices that are familiar to them. You follow the voice you recognize, sometimes whether it can help you or not. Have you ever walked in on a friend or family member or a teenager listening to someone – a youtuber or a radio talk show host or a news station and immediately it grated on you. Instantly you were annoyed and maybe even concerned about who they were listening to. You thought that voice was leading your friend or family member to a bad place. You could see so clearly that they were leading the person into fear or bitterness or anger – things that were not good.
Have you ever thought about that for yourself? Are there some voices that you listen to because they are familiar to you, but if you stepped back and evaluated them you would admit that they are not filling you with hope and confidence in the future, but with fear, anxiety, and worry for the future.
Jesus says his sheep listen to his voice and they don’t follow another. He also contrasts himself with a thief. There are thieves out there looking to steal your joy and peace of mind. They are the thieves of worry, fear, anger, anxiety, distrust, discord.
They kill and destroy your future and your relationship. When you listen to those voices they rob you of life. Jesus said he came that you might have life and have it more abundantly. As you listen to the voice of Jesus, he leads you to abundant peace, abundant joy, abundant confidence in the future.
So here’s the one ultimate hope we should have during this time, and all times. We ought to grow in our intimacy with Jesus, so we can hear the voice of our shepherd. If we learn to better hear and discern the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, he will lead us to a place of provision. If we learn to hear his voice, we know we have a future full of hope because he is the Good Shepherd who has already laid down his life for us. He is the Good Shepherd who goes before us.
Jesus has the words to bring life, abundant and eternal life. This does not mean his words are always easy to hear. Sometimes they are challenging, especially if we have wandered off course. Jesus wants to protect us. The abundant life comes from listening to the voice of Jesus, becoming more and more familiar with his voice so we follow him and not the voice of strangers who do not have our good in mind.
There are three steps we can take to learn to hear Jesus’ voice. These steps are simple but they are not something you do only once. You have to come back to them over and over again.
The first is to ask Jesus to let you hear his voice. We have to want to hear from Jesus enough that we ask him to speak to us. Jesus respects our free will and autonomy. He wants to speak to us, but we have to ask to hear his voice. We have to invite his voice into our lives. So ask Jesus to hear his voice.
Second, turn down the noise. You need some space and silence for Jesus. It is impossible to hear Jesus if you have all this other noise going on in your life. Jesus does not talk to us out loud but in our hearts. The only way we can hear him is by having quiet time and periods of silence.
The third key to hearing Jesus’ voice is to read the Gospels. They tell us what he said. And Jesus has some specific words for you. He knows your name and knows you personally. But in order for you to hear what he has to say to you, you need to become familiar with the Gospels. You recognize the voice of a loved one because you know how they speak and the words they use as well as their tone of voice. You will recognize Jesus’ voice if you become more familiar with the words he used and how he interacted with people in the Gospels. This week start reading through one of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Just choose one of them. If you are like me and wondering which one is the shortest, it is Mark. So why not start there?
Pay attention to how Jesus addresses people. Imagine the tone of voice he used in speaking to people and addressing them.
In the old testament there is a famous psalm about a shepherd. Maybe you really need to hear those words today…
The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.
He leads me down the right path for his name sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I fear no evil for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff they comfort me
You set a table in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and kindness will follow me.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.