Those Other Sheep

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 10:16-18

And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.

John 10:16 rsv

A NEW VISION

In this century a select circle of persons has been able to see our world in an entirely new way. I’m speaking of the American astronauts. A number of these have embarked on the enormous adventure of a trip to the moon. From that vantage point, they’ve been able to gaze at Planet Earth. They have seen what no human beings had ever beheld before. Looking back in this direction, they have seen the earth as a gorgeous blue and white ball, suspended in a sea of blackness. Can you imagine what it was for them when they first saw an “earthrise” on the moon?

In the opinion of many, this new vision of the earth may be the most significant event yet in our efforts at space exploration. Through these astronauts and their cameras, all of us now have been given this perspective, and with it a new sense of the beauty and preciousness of the earth. We realize as never before that all of us on earth are fellow travelers through the void on this planet pulsing with life. We can never be the same again because we’ve seen the earth now in a new way. We’ve looked at it wistfully from afar and seen its incredible loveliness. What a debt we owe to these brave astronauts!

We owe this same kind of debt, in a different way, to artists. They too help us to see in the world what had before escaped our notice. They “skin our eyes,” as it were, opening them to beauty unimagined. The story is told of Joseph Turner, the English painter, that once while painting a sunset, he was criticized by a lady observer. “I’ve never seen any colors like that in the sky,” she complained. “No, my dear lady,” Turner answered, “but don’t you wish you could?” Yes, artists communicate to us a vision that we haven’t experienced before. They help us to see the world in a new way.

But perhaps we need another kind of vision even more, a new way of looking, not at this beautiful earth, but at the people on it. How do we see them, the billions of our fellow human beings, in the world today? The dictator may see them as so many pawns to move around on the chessboard of his power. The politician may number them as voters for his candidacy. The advertiser sees them as possible consumers for her product. The racist looks at the “different” ones with annoyance or hostility. The ardent nationalist may see those of other nations as somehow less significant than his own countrymen. To help us see this world of people in a new way, from a different perspective, we need more than an astronaut or even an artist can give us. We need someone who sees a sinning, struggling humankind with steady realism, and yet through eyes of love, with visions of hope. Who can do that? Who but Jesus Christ?

LIKE SHEEP

What did He see as He looked out over the peoples of the world? Listen: “I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” That’s the Gospel according to John, chapter 10:16. Jesus had been speaking of those who trust and follow Him as His “sheep.” In that simple, pastoral way of speaking, a tremendous claim was implied. For centuries, men and women had thought of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, as the shepherd of His people, guiding, protecting, providing for, cherishing His flock. But here the man Jesus claims that role as His own. He is the Good Shepherd. God’s people are His sheep.

Maybe that doesn’t seem to you a very flattering designation for us. “Sheep indeed!” you say. Can that do justice to our powers of intellect, creativity, strength of will, world-changing technology? The Lord surely saw all those gifts and capabilities in people. But He saw us more profoundly as dependent on our Creator, vulnerable to danger, and prone to stray.

What the image of the sheep expressed most powerfully was their value to the shepherd. The sheep are loved. They have a special relationship to the one who herds them. He knows their names. Each is prized for his or her uniqueness, each called by a special name. The shepherd feels toward his sheep as no hired hand, no professional, could ever feel. They belong to him. No danger or misfortune would cause him to forsake them. So precious are they to Him that the Good Shepherd is willing to give His life for the sheep.

OTHER SHEEP

In saying this, Jesus speaks first of His followers, the circle of those who believe in Him as God’s Son and the world’s Savior. But He looks also beyond them to all people across the centuries of time and says, “I have other sheep, that are not of this fold.” That was one of the most shocking things He could have said to the people around Him. To their minds, all of God’s sheep were within one fold, the chosen nation. If you were a child of Abraham, either by birth or as a proselyte, you were in. Beyond that fold, there were thought to be no sheep, only wolves. Or if not wolves, at least outsiders, strangers, far from the circle of God’s care. But here is the word of the Lord about His other sheep, not of this fold. There are more, many more of them, whom He calls by name, whom He leads and for whom He gives His life.

To Jesus His sheep are to be found among all the world’s peoples. The mark of those who belong to Him is that they heed His voice, they hear His call in the gospel, they respond to that call, they obey. They follow and are drawn into fellowship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

And He apparently sees such people everywhere. He can note them where others see nothing of value. He can see the gold gleaming where others have never discovered it, the rough diamonds hidden in ordinary rock. He can look at blasphemers and persecutors and see apostles, on drunkards and sensualists and see future witnesses to His truth. He can find them in jails and ghettos, taverns and alleys and can say, “There are My sheep.” They’ve not heard His call yet. They’ve not yet responded to it, but they’re there and they’re His. They’re waiting to be won.

Wouldn’t it be something for us to see the world in that way? Think of looking at our great cities, not only as crowds, pollution, trouble and crime, but also as the haunts of Jesus’ sheep. Who knows but that some of those who are roaming in street gangs today, who are behind prison bars, who are addicted to drugs, are yet among His sheep? To see the world through the eyes of Christ is to recognize everywhere those whom He means to win, none so far away that they can’t be brought back.

THE GREAT IMPERATIVE

If we see the world in this way, we get a glimpse also of what our task is. Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, them also I must bring.” Hear that imperative note, “I must”? Jesus lived all of His life under the pressure of a great necessity: the will of God. Throughout His ministry, we hear Him saying things like this: “I do as the Father has commanded me . . . I do always those things that please the Father . . . My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 8:29; 4:34). Since it was the Father’s will that these people, these other sheep, should yet be brought in, Jesus lived and labored to see it happen. For this He gave His life. His tears, His agony, His rejection were all endured for this, to bring His sheep, all of them, to the Father’s fold.

I’d like to have that vision, wouldn’t you? I’d like to see my task always as that of bringing others to faith in the Good Shepherd. For the Lord, this was not something optional, not one pursuit among many. It was the one thing He had to do. Think of what it does for any of us to be gripped by a conviction like that. Many things tend to discourage us from the effort to bring others to Christ. Our selfishness whispers to us, “Why bother?” Our laziness cautions us to “take it easy.” The efforts we make are often met with accusations that we are “spiritual imperialists” or hopelessly “intolerant.” And before those charges, we often seem to wilt. Sometimes we meet with rejection. Our labors prove unfruitful and we begin to wonder if it’s worth it. We only steer a straight course through all the hindrances when we’re mastered by a simple conviction that this is God’s will and that we must give ourselves to it.

But that doesn’t say it all. For Jesus, it was more than a necessity. It was also a joy. For Him there was never any difference between duty and delight. For Him this work of bringing in the sheep was not only an obligation imposed on Him by His Father, it was what He loved to do, longed to do more than anything else. And when we see our task through His eyes, it seems not only an iron imperative but a rich privilege: to be able to share in the work of bringing others to God’s fold. Jesus thought it worthwhile to spend His whole life doing this. He thought it worthwhile to come from heaven for this, to pour out His life’s blood for this. Do you see that work as He saw it? We can’t imitate what Jesus did in dying for the sins of the world, but we can begin to imitate the spirit with which He did it.

THE SURE RESULT

Here’s one more element in the Lord’s vision which we can share. We can see the assured results that will follow from our witness. Listen again, “I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” How good it is to know that! Jesus is sure of it. With majestic authority, He promises that when this word of the gospel is brought to people, they will hear it. They will believe.

Let’s be sure of that, friends. Everywhere Christian missionaries, evangelists, witnesses go, among every people to whom they minister, there will be those who hear and believe. Some perhaps may put us off. Some will remain hard and indifferent. Some will even scoff. But praise God, some will believe, and that makes it worth everything. No matter what the group, what the community, what the nation, some sheep are among them whom Jesus Christ will draw to Himself. Our task is to go and find them, go and bring them, or better, to be the agents through whom He will bring them home.

There came a time in the life of the apostle Paul when he was discouraged in his work in the city of Corinth. The Lord stood by him one night and said, “Paul, don’t be afraid. Keep on preaching. I have much people in this city” (see Acts 18:10). That must have encouraged the apostle more than anything he could have heard. The Lord was saying, as it were, “I have many of My own ones here, Paul. You don’t know who they are now. They may be in idol temples. They may be wallowing in moral filth. But they’re Mine nonetheless and I’m going to bring them. They will hear My voice.”

How can we be sure of that? Because of the mighty power of God’s Spirit and the magnetic attraction of the cross of Jesus. That’s what draws people. It’s not the ethics of Christianity, its moral code, its philosophy. These are rich and profound, but they do not constrain people. These never save, never grip the hearts of men and women and bind them to Christ with a love stronger than death. No, what does that is the story of the suffering Redeemer. That’s what masters the heart, grips the will, moves the life – when once we catch sight of His cross. It’s the Good Shepherd giving His life for us who brings wanderers home, who awakens in the hearts of lonely, lost people an awareness of God’s love. Beyond all divisions and barriers, in spite of all distance and differences, He, the one Shepherd, gathers them and makes them one flock.

Do you today belong to the Lord’s sheep? Is He your Shepherd, Brother, Savior, Friend? Have you put your trust in Him, the One who gave His life for the sheep? Have you committed your life, your hope, your destiny to Jesus Christ? If that hasn’t happened in your life, this would be a great time for you to take that step, to know for sure that goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life and that you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Maybe you are one of these “other sheep” that haven’t yet been gathered in, that the Lord still wants to bring home. Hear His word today, trust His love for you today, and then begin to look at the world of people around you through His eyes. Maybe you can be an undershepherd, reaching out to those “other sheep.”

Prayer: Make it so, Lord. Draw us to You and then send us forth to reach those You love. In the name of Jesus. Amen.