John 10:3-5, “The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out…the sheep follow Him for they know His voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
The sheep recognize the VOICE of the Good Shepherd and so they follow Him, while at the same time, they do not follow strangers because they do not know the VOICE of strangers. What is the significance of this emphasis on “voice”?
One thing we can say is that “voice” implies more than just communication. Ten different people can say the exact same thing, but if one of those people is your dearly loved mother who has been gone for many years, her VOICE will stand out of the crowd. Why? Not because she spoke any different CONTENT, but because of the specific QUALITY of her voice…because something of herself—of her identity—is bound up in the uniqueness of her voice. It is the way her personal identity is imprinted in and communicated through her voice that causes her’s to stand out from the others’.
So, voice implies not just content-communication, but personal-revelation. The VOICE of the Good Shepherd is the unique quality of His personal identity. However, a voice is heard only when a word is spoken. What, then, is the WORD that Jesus speaks? The WORD that His Sheep hear and in which they recognize the VOICE of His unique identity?
Ultimately, the WORD that Jesus speaks is Himself (1:1, 14)…..The entirety of the incarnation is the content of this Word (this Word who is God), and the character of Christ’s incarnate life is the voice by which the identity of the Speaker (the Speaker who is God) is revealed. And both of these aspects (Word and voice) come together on the cross. Yes, on Calvary the full content of the God-revealing Word is summarized and perfectly embodied, AND on Calvary the essential quality / the personal identity / the VOICE of the Speaker is discerned with greatest clarity. The crucified Jesus is not only the totality of WHAT God says (word), but the essence of WHO God is (voice)….and when once the sheep have heard and received THIS word spoken in THIS voice…they can never follow any other voice.
There are MANY other voices in this world! Some of them saying things that flatly contradict the Shepherd, some of them saying things that sound like they could have come from the Shepherd…but the Sheep distinguish between these voices by KNOWING the voice of their SHEPHERD and knowing it on CALVARY. Oh, how crucial it is for us to see our God, hear our God, know our God, and feast upon our God at the resurrection-illumined CROSS! Only there—where the Shepherd lays down His life under the wolf-pack of death and judgment that we have earned—only there do we hear and discern the inimitable essence of our God’s identity….
Only when the voice of our Shepherd speaks Himself, moment by moment, from Calvary into our heart by the Spirit—only then can we discern the difference between the voice of Strangers and the voice of Truth….whatever fails to harmonize with HIS VOICE is a thief, a liar, and a robber and has no business in the lives of His sheep. May God give us grace to discern!
And, in closing, let me make just one more observation. Above, I have been assuming that the content of the word spoken by the voice of our Shepherd is ultimately Himself. The content of God’s word is GOD. But in John 10:3 it implies that the content of the Shepherd’s word is the names of His Sheep (“He calls His own sheep by name”); is there incongruity here? I do not think so for a number of reasons, but I will share just one below:
When God declares Himself to us in Christ, He declares Himself—most supremely—as LOVE (now, in order for that to be a true statement, “Love” cannot be defined however we want, it must be defined by the wrath-absorbing cross, 1 John 4:10)….at the cross, God declares Himself to be Love…..and yet, at the same time, that is also the declaration of OUR OWN true name. How is that? Because, if we have truly known God at the cross, then we have known Him as LOVE….and the moment we know God as Love, we simultaneously and necessarily know ourselves to be Beloved….Thus…to know the Name of God on Calvary as Love IS to know our own true name spoken from Calvary—Beloved.