“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. (John 10: 1-6)
Jesus’ words really shouldn’t have been that difficult for the Pharisees to understand in a time when shepherds and sheep were so common in Palestine. As herd animals with no natural defenses, sheep are dependent on shepherds to guide them to food and water, and to ensure their safety from predators. Their one advantage is the ability to distinguish between individual human voices and recognize their legitimate protectors. Potential thieves aren’t able to lure sheep away by smooth talk, because they can’t produce the same voice pattern as the authentic shepherd.
The Pharisees couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying because they were the ones who couldn’t recognize the voice of the One who came to be their Shepherd. In fact, they were the thieves and robbers who had misled the sheep — or tried to.
Jesus was saying that true followers of God will recognize and follow Him. The Pharisees who were trying to refute Jesus, and ultimately to kill Him, were following Satan in his goal of stealing joy, killing hope and destroying any prospect of eternal salvation.. Old Testament prophets had often warned against such false shepherds.
The Pharisees’ hearing problem stemmed from the great pride they took in their leadership position. That sense of their own importance made them deaf to divine leadership. They were too full of themselves to hear God speaking, to see Him in the flesh. Everything was viewed through the impermeable fog of their own self-interest — like Vaseline smeared on lenses. They were mortally offended by the truth, regarded casting out demons as itself demonic, and made miraculous healing about sin. They wanted to be the gatekeepers — the ones who decided who could be saved and how. They rejected whatever didn’t fit in with their understanding, that threatened their comfort.
We can also struggle with the truth when it threatens our comfort — our sense of how God should look, sound and act. Some are very uncomfortable with the truth, plainly stated, that Jesus is the only way to salvation; that hell is real; and that God has an enduring moral standard, to name a few. But when we’re confused, we can gain comfort and confidence from the assurances Jesus gives in the next verses:
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Jesus calls His sheep, leads His sheep, and goes on ahead of His sheep. Once we know the Shepherd, we know where and when to go because we know His voice and follow it. We learn to recognize His voice by listening to it through Scripture; by HIs Word that vibrates with love, forgiveness, wisdom and life.