My Mum often used an expression when playing the piano: “I’m playing the wrong notes with confidence!” Hearing so many Christian leaders say so many different, even contradictory, things, is it possible that many of us are “saying the wrong things with confidence”? Speaking with confidence doesn’t make things so.
Of course the internet is only making things worse. You don’t need too many clicks to hear differing voices on so many issues; do this, don’t do that, vote this way, vote that way, think this, thank that, and on it goes.
With so many confident, competing, and often less than complimentary voices, how do we know to whom we can listen with confidence?
In the days of Jesus there was no shortage of voices clamouring for people’s attention, leaders speaking with great confidence. There were the Pharisees, “listen to us, and let us become better than everybody else.” There were the Zealots, “listen to us, we are better than the Romans so help us kick these Romans out.” There were the Saducees, “listen to us, life is better with the Romans, so lets just get along with them.” There were the Romans, “listen to us, our Caesar is divine, we build great roads, and besides, if you don’t listen to us, we will crucify you.”
Among all these voices, another speaks up, it is the voice of Jesus:
Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. . . . I myself am the shepherd.John 10:1-5,11 (MSG)
There is one true shepherd we can follow with great confidence; Jesus.
In this passage Jesus is not just speaking about himself as the good shepherd, he is also speaking about the other leaders of the people. They were saying the wrong things with confidence. Even though they thought they had it right, they were so far off that Jesus called them sheep stealers and hired-men. We should note here that all these religious leaders thought that they were honouring God, and that by following them people would be honouring God. Even people who think they are honouring God may say the wrong things with confidence. Perhaps that sometimes includes you and me?
In fact, let us consider the Christian teacher, living or dead, that we hold in the highest regard, for whom we have the greatest respect. You likely have someone in mind, it’s probably not me. We have great confidence in what they tell us. Yet they likely got some things wrong and at some point have said the wrong things with confidence. Every Christian leader will stand before our Lord someday and have their theology corrected. That includes me, of course.
There is one true voice for the sheep to listen to, and that is the true shepherd. Am I as a pastor helping people hear his voice, or are people under my care only ever hearing my voice? I sometimes say the wrong things with confidence. We can always have confidence in Jesus.
We can listen to Jesus with confidence because he is the true shepherd, but also because he is the good shepherd:
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.John 10:11-13 (MSG)
Even good religious leaders will try to protect themselves. We can imagine many pastors who, if they were pastors today, would be highly revered, yet in Germany in their day did not raise a voice against the Nazi regime. Perhaps some were blind to what was going on. No doubt some were quiet out of fear. Or we can imagine those who today would be known as great pastors and leaders, yet in their day they did not speak out against slavery. Perhaps some were blind to the sin of it, but we can be sure some kept quiet out of fear.
Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to speak the true things that would get himself killed. He did put our well being before his own, he did lay down his life for us, for the forgiveness of sin and our reconciliation to God. He did fearlessly speak the truth and he did get killed for it. He is the Good Shepherd. We can listen to his voice with confidence.
Jesus is the true shepherd, Jesus is the good shepherd, Jesus is also the God-shepherd. What do we mean by that?
Let us consider these words from the prophet Ezekiel:
Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.Ezekiel 34:1-4 (NLT)
The leaders, both religious and political, had done an awful job. They were supposed to be taking care of the people, but were taking care of themselves. Perhaps, sadly, that sounds like some religious or political leaders we can think of today?
Let us go on to consider the promise of God:
For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GODEzekiel 34:11-15 (NRSV emphasis added)
It is in Jesus that the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 finds its greatest fulfilment. God has come to us, in Jesus. The LORD is our Shepherd and Jesus is the Shepherd. God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, takes care of the sheep like no one else can.
Since Jesus is the true shepherd, the good shepherd, and the God-shepherd, are we tuned into His voice? Or have we become too dependant on certain voices claiming to speak for him? There are many who help us hear the voice of Jesus, but there are none who can take his place.
The best way to learn someone’s voice is to spend a lot of time listening to them. Therefore we can seek to grow in prayerfulness. We can commit to attentive and thoughtful reading of the Scriptures, especially spending time with Jesus in the Gospels, paying attention to his teaching, but also the example of his life.
With so many saying the wrong things with confidence, let us tune in to the voice of Jesus.