John 10:27 – Listening to the voice of Jesus

(Reading – John 10:14-33)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)


At the beginning of this year, our church spent some weeks looking together at the subject of Prayer. In particular, we made use of Pete Grieg's book, How to Pray, along with a series of videos produced by him. We found it very helpful. The seventh of the eight weeks of the series was devoted to the subject of listening to God. I found this theme challenging; to what extent do I seek to listen to the voice of God – to hear what he has to say to me? I have been thinking about this and so I wanted us to look at this subject together this evening. This is not just a message for you, it is a challenge also and especially for me.

Prayer is all about communion with God. At the beginning of Genesis we read of the Lord God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day seeking fellowship and conversation with the man and the woman. Prayer is the enjoyment of God's company and conversation with him to the maximum extent that fallen but redeemed human beings can enjoy such communion this side of glory. It is the Christian's great privilege, necessity and blessing.

And such conversation with the living God is not one-sided. It is not merely us insistently and incessantly talking with God whether in thanksgiving and praise or in demanding things from him. The life of prayer must also involve us in listening to God.

I want to look at this theme particularly in the light of Jesus' words recorded in John 10:27: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." As Christians we not only bear the name of Christ, we profess to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, listening to him and following him. What does this mean?

Jesus' words in Context

Jesus' ministry provoked very different responses. There were the crowds who heard him gladly but who, as we discover at the end of John 6, could easily misunderstand his teaching or even take offence and drift away. The fickle crowds could one minute be welcoming Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, hailing him as their king, but, within a few days, could be crying out for him to be crucified.

Then there were the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees whom Jesus is addressing in the passage we read this evening. They had no time for Jesus and listened to him only to argue with him and to oppose him. We read in verse 24 that the Jewish leaders challenged Jesus saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus replies, "I did tell you, but you do not believe." In other words, Jesus had made it quite plain to them who he was and what God required of them in response, but they had refused to listen; they had turned a deaf ear (and a blind eye) to him.

But there were also his disciples. They had heard the call of the Lord Jesus to follow him and had left everything that had previously been important to them to be with Jesus, to listen to him, to learn from him and to join him in his mission. Remember those fishermen on the shore of Lake Galilee –Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus had called them to follow him and they had dropped everything to do so. Remember Levi/Matthew sitting at his tax collector's booth to whom Jesus said, "Follow me", he had heard the voice of Jesus and left his tax office behind to follow Jesus.

In the passage we read from John 10, Jesus paints a dramatic picture of the contrast between himself and the Jewish leaders. He is the good shepherd who has come to gather together a flock who will be under his care and keeping – unlike the shepherds who have exploited and ravaged the flock. He is the one who will lay down his life for the sheep.

And Jesus also paints a dramatic picture of the contrast between the Jewish leaders and those who are his followers – his flock. Jesus says, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me" (10:14). You Jewish leaders may reject me and even accuse me of being demon possessed but my followers know me and I know them. You do not believe in me, you do not recognise who I am, and so you show that you are not my sheep. In contrast:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29)

These are wonderful words. Not only do they describe the character of his disciples – his disciples hear the voice of Jesus and follow him – they also describe the blessings which belong to those who follow him: they will never perish and nothing in life of in death will be able to separate them from the love of God that has embraced them in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is a love that is beyond our comprehension now, but which we shall enjoy throughout all eternity.

What do Jesus' words imply for us?

Jesus has described his disciples in these words: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." What do these words mean for us?

We are those who have heard the call of Christ. Like those first disciples, many of us here – perhaps all of us – have heard and responded; we have committed ourselves to following the Lord Jesus. Jesus here reminds us that we need to go on listening to his voice and following him. "My sheep", he says, "listen to my voice." "Listen" is present tense, they go on listening and go on following. The call of Christ upon our lives is not a one-off call, it is a continuous call for us to listen, learn and follow. And this is the challenge that I want us to think about this evening; are we continuing to listen to the voice of Christ, to learn of him and to follow him?

One of Jesus' favourite phrases in his teaching of the crowds was to challenge them to have ears that were ready to hear. In Mark 4, at the end the parable of the sower Jesus says, "Whoever has ears, let him hear." And the parable itself underlines the need for us not only to listen to the initial call of Jesus to follow him but to go on listening and following: go on listening and following when trouble and difficulties come our way; go on listening and following in the business of daily life, with the demands of work and family; go on listening, following and bearing fruit.

Again, when we read what Jesus has to say to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the risen Christ challenges us with the call, "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." We need to listen to Christ as churches, to hear what he is calling us to be and to do in our communities, to learn from him what it means to follow him in the context of our society today with all its challenges and opportunities.

We need to be a people who are constantly attentive to the voice of our Saviour who calls us on to follow him and live for him.

How do we listen to the voice of God – to the voice of Jesus Christ, the voice of the Spirit?

I don't profess to being an expert on this matter. I confess that all too often I fail to listen to the voice of Christ as I should, either because of business with other things that clamour for my attention and drown out the call of Christ, or sometimes by deliberately turning a deaf ear to his call. So I am not telling you that this is how I do it: "Listen to my advice and be like me." Rather I am speaking to myself along with you and seeking to encourage us each one and as a church to listen and learn of Christ and to follow him.

A couple of weeks' ago, I was working in the kitchen and Liz, my wife, was telling me what to do. I replied, "I hear what you say." She responded by saying that she hates that phrase. All too often in her work as a midwife people had used that phrase to her, "I hear what you say", before going on to ignore what she said. We must not be like that with the Lord. We need to listen to him, hear what he says to us and then act upon it.

1. Careful meditation upon Scripture

I believe that the first means of hearing the voice of God and the call of Christ, the first means of being attentive to what the Spirit is saying to us is through the careful reading and consideration of Scripture.

God reveals himself to us in a variety of ways. We see much of his glory displayed to us in creation. But he reveals himself most clearly to us, making his character and his will for us clear, through his word – his word written and recorded in the pages of Scripture and supremely through the word incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God's character. Jesus is the "image of the invisible God". He is the Son who shows us just what the Father is like. The world around us is filled with thousands of different views of God. Some consider themselves wise in their denial that there is a god. Others have made gods in their own likeness. Many in contemporary society, if they think of God at all, think of his as an old man in the sky, either full of wrath and just waiting to come down in judgment on those who step out of line, or, on the contrary, a harmless and toothless old grandfather figure.  But Jesus has shown us exactly what God is like. If anyone wants to know what God is like we must answer, "He is like Jesus."

There is so much more that could be said on this theme: so much that challenges our own preconceptions and theology even as Christians; so much that challenges our pastoral theology. But I must leave that aside for the moment.

But I do need to remind you that Christ himself is revealed to us in all the glory of his character and in the insistence of his call upon our lives through the pages of the New Testament and particularly the Gospel accounts of those who were his first disciples. It is as we read these Scriptures and these accounts of Christ – not reading in a cursory or formal manner but with attentiveness to what they are saying that we hear the call of Christ. It is as we accompany our reading of Scripture with heartfelt prayer and an attentive mind that the Spirit applies these Scriptures to our hearts and moulds our minds to understand the will of God and hear the call of Christ.

It is as we read the Scriptures, and especially the Gospel accounts that we get to know Christ and to love him. And the more we know him and love him and gain an understanding of his character, the better we will be able to discern what God is saying to us through his word and by his Spirit.

This is not always easy. Some passages are difficult to understand. Sometimes Jesus makes demands on those who ask to follow him which will leave us asking, "Does he demand this of me? And if not, what does he call me to be and to do in following him?" I frequently wrestle with such questions in seeking to gain a clearer understanding of the Saviour's call upon my life. It is not easy, but we need to read the Gospels frequently; and read them with the intention and desire of hearing the voice of Christ and following him.

2. By listening to preaching of the word

God often speaks to us as we meet together to hear his word preached or to study his word together in groups. We need to come with an expectant spirit ready to hear what the Spirit is saying to us as a church and also to hear what the Spirit is saying to each one of us as individuals.

We believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that he occupies the place of power at the Father's right hand. Jesus is with us and powerful – not just absent and remembered. Do you recall the opening of the Book of Acts, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen…" In other words, Luke is saying that in the Book of Acts we have the record of what Jesus continued to do and to teach. And in the Book of Acts we see Christ at work extending his kingdom through the preaching of his apostles and other disciples. Christ speaks in power through the word preached, and sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago someone was preaching on Intercession as part of our series on Prayer. He spoke of the need for persistent prayer for those who have not yet come to know Christ. He said that the great evangelist D L Moody had a list of 100 people who were not Christians whom he prayed for every day. By the time of his death, 96 out of the 100 had come to know Christ and the remaining 4 came to own Christ as Lord at Moody's funeral.

During that sermon I became more and more convinced that the Lord was speaking to me. We pray for many people on our weekly prayer list, including relatives who do not yet know Christ. Those closest to us are often the ones whom we find it most difficult to talk to about issues of life and death and their standing with God. I was conscious that on the following day we were going to be visiting an older relative who is terminally ill with cancer. I became increasingly aware that Christ was telling me to talk to her about her relationship with God and that a failure to talk to her would be to ignore the call of Christ.

Now we were due to visit my aunt on the way back from a funeral of a man, a little younger than me, whom we had known when I was in pastoral ministry in Walthamstow. He was a lovely Christian, and his funeral was full of testimony not only to the faith and open-heartedness of this man but also and supremely to the love and goodness of the God whom he had known in the Lord Jesus Christ and in whom he had trusted. Even in his hospital bed on the day before his death he was speaking of the goodness of God and of his confidence that death would not be the end for him. This gave me the opening to talk to our relative about the funeral we had just attended and to speak to her of her death and to urge her to trust in Christ who had broken death's power.

Now I tell this story not so that you may admire me as an evangelist – I am all too aware of my failings in this area – but to highlight how we may hear the voice of God and the call of Christ when we listen to the word preach.

Those of us who preach need to have confidence in the power of preaching – the power of preaching to bring people from death to life and to instruct and direct believers in following Christ. Christ is at work in the power of the Spirit as his word is preached, calling into being the things that do not exist. We need confidence in the preached word. And all of us who listen to preaching need to listen with attentive and expectant ears; listen not to judge the quality of the preaching or the length of the message but to hear what Christ has to say to us that we might follow his call. God's word is powerful; it brings worlds into being and builds the kingdom of God. Expect Christ to work in power through the preaching of his word as much today as in the first half century of the Christian Church.

Jesus is alive and has all power in heaven and in earth. Preaching is dangerous. It can turn our world upside down.

3. We hear the voice of Christ through conversation with fellow Christians

It is all too easy for us to deceive ourselves concerning the call of Christ. We need one another that we might be able to hear together what Christ is saying to us.

Talk with one another. Pray with one another. Listen to one another. Seek to listen to the voice of Christ through the counsel of fellow believers.

Only the other day I was reading the remarkable story of the church in Antioch as its recorded for us in Acts 13. We read:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)

It's not clear whether the worship and prayer being described in these verses involved the whole church or whether it was worship and prayer of the leaders. But what is clear is that they were worshipping, fasting and praying together and that together they discerned the voice of God calling them to set apart Barnabas and Saul – soon to be Paul – for the work for which God had equipped them and to which he had called them. It's not clear exactly how they heard the voice of God, but they heard God's call together.

Be open to the voice of the Spirit not only as individuals, but especially when you are with your Christian brothers and sisters, whether in twos and threes or as a church. Seek to discern the voice of Christ. Baptists have a long tradition of seeking to discern the voice of Christ together. We need the spiritual wisdom of one-another.

4. We can hear the voice of Christ through quiet contemplation

This is a large and complex subject and I don't intend to explore it in any depth here. But I will say this; the better we know Christ through his word and by his Spirit, the more clearly we will hear his voice when we spend time in quiet contemplation. It might be sitting quietly and focussing our minds on a verse of Scripture or on some aspect of God's character. It might be walking in the countryside and observing the beauty of his creation or looking at the beauty and intricacy of a flower. It might be looking at a painting or some other work of art.

In the quietness of your heart, be ready to hear what Christ is saying to you – to hear his voice and follow him.

5. Christ can speak to us in the ordinary business our daily lives

We should not think that Christ speaks to us only when we quietly wait on him. Christ can talk to us in the midst of the business of our daily lives and sometimes precisely through that business.

In his book, The Life You've Always Wanted (pp. 155-156), John Ortberg tells how he had one day lost what he calls his "Day-Timer", a notebook similar to what we know as a "filofax" – containing his diary, contacts and other notes. He had lost it by leaving it on the roof of his car and then driving off down a main road. He relied on this "Day-Timer" to manage his day and know where he should be when. As he was driving he realised he hadn't got it and suddenly remembered having left it on the roof of his car. He turned back to try and find it and did find a part containing his contacts on the side of the road about a mile back from where he had stopped and turned round. The diary and rest of the notebook were nowhere to be found.

As he was searching around in a state of increasing desperation, a car suddenly swerved over and stopped by him. A woman opened her window and placed his "Day-Timer" in his hand. She told him, "I found this here. I got a few blocks away and I got this impression that I should drive back here and look for the owner. This may sound strange, but I'm a Christian and I believe that thought came from God, from the Holy Spirit. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?"

What a challenge. Do we believe in the Holy Spirit and in his power to speak into our lives with the voice of God? Are we open to what he has to say to us in the mundane things of life as well as the big spiritual issues?

In conclusion

Be open to the call of Christ and eager to listen to his call and to respond by following him. Like Mary (of Mary and Martha) be keen to sit at the Master's feet and listen to him – to be a disciple.

Be careful how you listen, that you may not mistake other voices as the voice of the Saviour or think that he is speaking when it is only the echo of your own desires. There have been times when I have become sick of the cold and wet British weather and I have said (more than half jokingly) to Liz, "I feel the Lord is calling me to be a missionary to Bermuda!" I know well enough that's just my desire for a bit of warmth and sunshine. Be watchful over your own heart that you do not deify its desires. If you think God is speaking to you, take counsel and pray with others.

Remember that Christ's call is pre-eminently for us to follow him, learn of him and grow in our likeness to him. Far more important than recovering lost items, such as our diary, is to recover the lost image of God for which we were created. He calls us to lives abounding in the fruit of the Spirit – lives marked by "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." And he calls us to follow him in the work of the kingdom. This is his primary call on our lives.

It is vital that we always have an open ear to the voice of the Saviour.


Peter Misselbrook


Christ Church Downend, 16/2/2020; Backwell Baptist Church, 22/3/2020