Two Flocks of Sheep

Some things do not change. We can still learn the lessons that Jesus taught by looking at the way things are done in some parts of the world today. It is hard to see the lessons of the potter who can make of the same clay some vessels for honour and some for dishonour, if our bowls and dishes are produced mechanically in a factory. But if our pottery is still produced by a potter on a wheel and we can see him press down the clay and start again when the pot has gone lopsided, then we are still seeing what Jeremiah and Isaiah saw and can learn the same lessons that are taught in the Old and New Testaments.

So much of everyday life in Bible times depended on the work of the farmer. The principles of ploughing, sowing and reaping have not changed even if the plough is pulled by a tractor instead of with a pair of animals. The story is still told today of the way in which shepherds care for their sheep. Two flocks of sheep shared the same pen at night. Early in the morning one of the shepherds opened the pen, and cried out, “Follow me”, and all his sheep left the pen and followed him.

A Kaonde tribesman was watching the scene and was fascinated. He borrowed the shepherd’s cloak and staff the next morning, went to the pen, opened the gate and called, “Follow me”. None of the sheep paid the slightest attention. He asked the shepherd if any of the sheep would ever follow someone else rather than him. The shepherd replied, “Yes, sometimes a sheep can be so sick that it will follow anyone”.

The Teaching of Jesus

We know how Jesus used the scene which his hearers must have seen many times to teach important lessons for us. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. I am the good shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine”. (John 10:11,14).

The ‘knowing’ that Jesus speaks about is two-sided. The shepherd knows his sheep but the sheep also know the shepherd. Jesus explained that it was because they did not believe in him that some of his hearers were not his sheep. They had asked if he were the true Christ – if he really was the true, good shepherd. They said “Tell us plainly”. He said, ”I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe ... My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life” (John 10:25-28, NIV).

Whether we are of the flock depends on whether we listen to the voice of the shepherd and whether we listen to the voice of the shepherd and believe. This is where so many stumble. They think that belief simply means accepting that Jesus Christ is their Saviour. Jesus makes it clear that belief means much more than that. He speaks of the true sheep hearing his voice, listening to what he says, understanding his teaching, believing in the miracles he did - and obeying his commands. “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Then no-one will be able to snatch the true sheep out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29). Then there is the enduring comfort in the words of Jesus to Martha: “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Continuing to Listen

The listening, believing and obeying are not just something the true sheep have to do at the beginning of their life in Christ. Jesus said that the true sheep hear his voice and know him; in other words the true sheep go on listening even after they have become his sheep. They hear his voice, they continue to listen and continue to obey.

They hear his voice every morning when he calls, “Follow me”, and are confident in his guidance all day long. It is because of the way that other people see that we follow him each day, that we can be recognised as part of the flock of God.

There is another lesson in the story of a Kaonde tribesman. Was it his voice, or his shepherd’s cloak or the way he stood? There was something that was not quite right and the sheep took no notice. Sadly, sick sheep will follow the wrong shepherd. Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ”.

There is a sense in which not only must we be true sheep and followers of our Lord, but we must also be shepherds ourselves. Just as the disciples were part of the true sheep, so it could also be said: “These men have been with Jesus”. There was something about their behaviour, their conversation, their way of life, their honesty, their reliability, that marked them out. It could be seen that they had been influenced by their Master.

It should be the same with us. On the outside, one sheep looks very much like another sheep. They have the same shape, they eat in the same way and their bleat sounds similar. But there is an important difference: “My sheep hear my voice”. Just as those who had been with Jesus in the first century were influenced by him and his teaching and could be recognised by the way they lived so it should be with us. Here is an important question for each one of us: Can we be recognised as his true followers?

“The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: the Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim 2:19).

Bro Mumbelunga Green (Ndola, Zambia)

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