Imagine, if you will, that a conscientious and honest man were to discover an obviously well-loved and expensive looking dog wandering his yard, and having secured this dog, and advertising around that he is looking for its owner, he then has two different individuals arrive at the same time claiming to be the dog’s owner. Rather than simply handing the dog off arbitrarily to one or the other of the claimants, it would seem feasible to put the matter to some sort of test. Let us then suppose that both individuals, placed apart, were to call the dog by any name they chose. If the dog were to happily respond to one of the names and moreover were to speedily scamper to the one calling that name, leaping and cavorting, and if upon a doing the test the second and third time the dog repeatedly went to the same person, licking the face, jumping up in excitement and in all ways responding with affection and recognition, we might be forgiven for thinking that this individual, and not the other, were the rightful owner.
We give names to children and pets anticipating that they will learn their names and respond when called. Moreover, over time, we do not just learn to respond to our names, but even to the sound of a familiar voice calling that name, so that a child, though they may not see the face, will know their mother calling that name, even if another woman were to be calling the same name at the same time.
Another sort which are given names, and which can learn to respond to the sound of that name, are sheep. It is said that in certain parts and times shepherds would sometimes huddle their sheep together in common corrals in the wilderness for protection and safety in numbers. Come morning, the shepherds could stand outside the pen and call their sheep to them individually, one by one, and the sheep would go with their regular shepherd, whom they knew, rather than responding to another.
This practice is what Jesus alludes to in the Gospel of John, when He says, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and 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. (John 10:2-5; ESV)”
Imagine if you will, a lost soul, gone astray, discovered by a kind and loving God. God wants to know to whom this soul belongs, and two step forward to claim it. One is His Son, and one is Satan. The matter must be put to some sort of test, so both call to the soul, by name, bidding him to come to them. To one of them, the soul responds, speedily and cheerfully, practically bouncing with excitement to be with the one they know the best. But to whom does the soul go?
Jesus is calling men, by name, offering salvation and life eternal. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28),” and, commands us to “repent and be baptized (cf. Acts 2:38),” in His name that we might have the forgiveness of sins, telling us that, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16a).” But to all who obey Him and answer His call in faith, He gives them the right to become children of God (cf. John 1:9-13).
But Jesus is not the only one calling. There is another who would shepherd men, though not for their good. He is a wicked deceiver who offers the treasures and the pleasures of the world. He tells us to serve ourselves, embrace this world and the things of this world, but he knows that when we do so we turn away from God and become enemies of God (cf. James 4:6). The Bible warns us about him, saying, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).”
Both are calling to you. To which do you respond? Which one is most familiar and welcoming to you? When you hear the voice of Christ calling you to righteousness, self-control, life and salvation, do you respond eagerly to the sound of your name, joyfully running to embrace the Good Shepherd? Or when you hear the voice of the devil calling your name, tempting you with sundry sin, is it to him that you run, bounding toward the opportunity to please yourself? This is the test of the sheep, for the sheep knows their shepherd and answers to their name when their shepherd calls. This is the question we must answer for ourselves, and one which we do answer, day by day, as we respond to one or the other.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.