We come to know Christ in the same way that sheep came to know their long-time shepherd. We get to know him by experience: following him year after year, slowly learning that He is worthy of our trust. From how He treats us, we start to learn the depths his character: his mercy, his patience, his power and wisdom. This is the intimate awareness that comes from reading his Word and seeing how everything the Bible says about Christ is true. By walking with Christ by faith, we come to know his heart and to love him deeply.
Nobody wants to feel like they’re just a number.
But this tends to happen when dealing with a big organization like a bank or the government. Then you’re just another account number, just another taxpayer. Sometimes the bank sends a nice letter, “We really care about you and we’re grateful for your business”—but you realize that they sent the same letter to 500,000 other addresses! What do they really know or care about who you are?
But each of us has a name. Each of us has a personal history, an often-complicated story of where we’ve come from and what has shaped us. We have our limitations, some strengths and talents, and a handful of dreams that we cherish for our lives. In a way, we’re a simple people, yet still so complex. How good it is then, that Christ knows our name and cares for us. He says in John 10:14,
I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and am known by my own.
Back in New Testament times, a shepherd’s task was both physical and verbal. Jesus in John 10 describes how a shepherd would speak to his sheep. For there were many noises to startle the sheep: maybe a loud roll of thunder to send them into a frenzy, or the distant roar of a lion to make them panic.
Above the din and danger comes the shepherd’s voice. He calls out warnings, he pushes with encouragement. And his sheep listen. For the sheep are used to his voice; they can recognize and respond to it. Jesus says about this work of the shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3).
To better appreciate what Jesus is teaching, we should know how close a bond could develop between a shepherd and his sheep. As he tended the same group of animals, year after year, seeing them grow, watching them walk, he got to know his sheep well—and they got to know their shepherd.
Like human beings, probably all sheep are essentially alike. Probably every sheep is by nature timid. Probably every sheep enjoys a fresh tussock of grass. Yet each sheep has its own traits and qualities, and a good shepherd knows this.
One of his sheep is afraid of heights.