The Master’s Voice
by Greg Albrecht
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, 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 they did not understand what he was telling them.—John 10:1-6
John 10:1-6 uses the image of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God. If you are a student of the Bible, then you are familiar with this image.
Our first reaction to this word picture is to think of the care and concern that the shepherd has for his sheep as being an illustration of the comfort and assurance God provides for us. We may also think of that well-known passage in Psalm 23.
Beyond that, in the Gospel of John we read that Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls, cares for us to the extent of laying down his life for us.
But, there is another note sounded in our passage today, added to the care and concern that the Lord has for us. Our passage talks about our Master’s voice and how we, as his sheep, know that voice and respond to it.
The famous trademark I had in mind when I gave today’s sermon its title, The Master’s Voice, dates back to the early 20th century. The trademark and its image was widely known and used by the mid 20th century.
“His Master’s Voice”—often abbreviated as HMV—is a famous trademark in the music business. For many years the trademark and its image appeared on old phonograph records produced first by the Gramophone Company, then by Victor and later by RCA Victor and still later by EMI.
The trademark is “His Master’s Voice” and the trademark image is taken from a painting of a dog named Nipper listening to an old wind-up gramophone, the kind that had a horn-shaped speaker and played the old cylinder phonographs. Nipper is depicted as listening intently to the horn-like speaker of the gramophone.
This image resonates to those of us who remember that image on old phonograph records—the Long-Play 33 rpm variety, which typically included 8-10 popular songs, and the shorter 45s, which offered one song on each side.
So it is The Master’s Voice that we listen to—The Master’s Voice enables us to stay on the right path, in close relationship with our shepherd. The Master’s Voice is a distinctive voice that we can come to know.
With apologies to those who had a hand in the original trademark and its image, for the purpose of this message I’m adapting “His Master’s Voice” to The Master’s Voice and the image of a dog to one of sheep.
In our passage, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Lord our Shepherd, in contrast to false shepherds. The sheep, Jesus says, know the voice of their shepherd, the good shepherd, the true shepherd.
As we begin reading our passage, we note that Jesus begins talking, saying I tell you the truth. Many of us recall, and may still prefer to use the Authorized King James Version, which translates this as Verily verily. In the Gospels, Jesus uses this statement as a prefix to a significant statement; it’s an indicator, a road sign if you wish, calling our attention to something important that Jesus is about to say.
When Jesus says I tell you the truth, he is telling us that what he is about to say is important, and the vast majority of the time he is also saying that what he is about to say is connected to what has just happened, or what he has just taught us.
So, I tell you the truth is also a connector, from what has just been said to what is about to be said. As we begin reading John 10, we are reminded by this introduction, I tell you the truth, that what is about to come is important and spiritually significant, and that it is connected to the events of John 9.
What happened in John chapter 9? Jesus healed a man blind from birth. When Jesus gave him his physical sight, the religious establishment (represented by the Pharisees) was upset. Instead of celebrating the man’s healing, the Pharisees, the false teachers, were upset. They interrogated the blind man, they interrogated and intimidated the blind man’s parents, threatening them with excommunication from their religiously dominated culture if they attributed their son’s healing to Jesus.
The parents of the formerly blind man, now healed by Jesus, eventually crumbled under the pressure exerted by the Pharisees, and told the religious authorities to concentrate their investigation, their interrogation, their inquisition if you like, on their son, who they said, was old enough to talk for himself.
When the Pharisees insulted him, the man who was formerly blind held his ground. By their actions these false teachers revealed that they were the ones who were blind, spiritually. They were the ones who were held captive by bad news religion. They were prisoners of religious legalism.
Jesus concludes this amazing chapter, giving us incredible insight into the depths to which religion will go to deceive, intimidate, manipulate and control those over whom it has power. Jesus concluded this chapter by talking about how religion can result in spiritual blindness (John 9:35-41).
Like this formerly blind man, you may have received, by God’s grace, spiritual sight. I was once spiritually blind, but by God’s grace, I now see. Like this formerly blind man, you may have had your own negative experiences with religion. I certainly have had my own unforgettable experiences with religion. And like the formerly blind man, you too may have had the experience of receiving God’s grace, and then, being released from the religious dungeon of darkness in which you were once held captive, you may have been libeled, abused and insulted by your former fellow inmates and taskmasters.
This is the background, the connection, that Jesus wants us to make as he says, I tell you the truth as he begins our keynote passage. Jesus then begins to teach us not simply about spiritual sight and vision, but about spiritual hearing. He uses the metaphor of sheep.
It was a common practice at the time that sheep would learn their shepherd’s distinctive voice, so that when several shepherds were grazing their sheep, and when it came time for the shepherds to part ways, all the sheep needed to hear in order to follow their rightful and true shepherd was his voice. The Master’s Voice.
Are we, as God’s sheep—the sheep of his pasture, listening to the voice of the Lord our Shepherd, or are we allowing ourselves to be attracted and seduced by the voice of religion?
The voice of Jesus can be heard in many different ways. There are times when we hear his voice coming to us from non-religious sources. Sometimes, what we hear from sources that are all decked out with religious outfits, with a big church building with stained glass, is not Jesus at all.
We can start listening to religion and all of its traditions, hierarchy, institutionalism, ceremonies, rituals and so-called “authority” and think we’re actually listening to the Lord our Shepherd. We can become influenced by religious stuff. We can get so impressed with the pomp and ceremony, with the glitz and glamour of religion that we fail to recognize the voice of Jesus.
How can we know about the voices that we hear? How can we know if we are listening to Jesus and his representatives, or to pied pipers who will lead us into religious swamps of spiritual despair and destruction? When you hear a sermon, when you read a book about Christianity, when you listen to a preacher on radio or television, always listen for Jesus.
• Ask yourself if this message is all about Jesus, or is it about something else? Is this teaching Christ-centered?
• Ask if the preacher is basing his message on the Bible or on some self-help, feel-good principles?
• The pastor may dress in flashy suits and may sport a smile that would make any politician proud, but is he directing you to Jesus Christ?
• Is the sermon, the book, the church or the ministry directing you to the grace of God, or to formulas, points of purpose, steps to success, programs that are about what you can do to change your life?
• When you listen to the message, are you learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and a grace-based interpretation of the Bible, or are proof texts from specific places in the Bible being used to keep you enslaved to denominational dogma?
• Pastoral preaching that is echoing the voice of the Lord our Shepherd will always shine the spotlight on Jesus Christ. Authentic Christian teaching will base its authority and its appeal on the grace of our Lord and his goodness, not on religious rituals, rigors, regulations and rules.
• Authentic Christianity will lead you to a personal relationship with the Lord. That’s the voice of the Lord our Shepherd. The voice of our Shepherd is more that just academic lectures filled with facts and information about the Shepherd. The voice of our Shepherd is about how we might more closely know him, not just know about him.
• The voice of Jesus is not the same as religious dogma.
• The voice of Jesus is not one and the same as grinding any specific political axe.
• The voice of Jesus is not about intriguing, sensational speculation, it’s about calm assurance of who we are and where we are going, as his sheep.
• The voice of Jesus will not drive you—it will invite you to follow him.
• The voice of Jesus is not confusing bedlam, with yelling and screaming—it’s not threats and intimidation—it’s not outlandish promises of how you will be healed from all your physical problems and delivered from all your financial challenges.
• The voice of Jesus will not manipulate you and use you.
• The voice of Jesus will not demand 10% of all your income, it will encourage you to give out of a willing heart.
• The voice of Jesus will not lord it over you. The true voice of The Master will serve you—for truly he came to serve, not to be served.
There’s only one true Shepherd. As his sheep, we know the voice of our Master and listen to him. There are many competing voices, many who call to us in the name of the Lord, but they are not the voice of the Master.
There’s only one true Shepherd. He is available to us all, regardless of church affiliation, or lack thereof. His voice transcends denominational barriers.
Sometimes we can hear Jesus’ voice in a brick-and-mortar church, in a building with a sign outside that identifies itself as a church, and sometimes Jesus’ voice is nowhere to be heard in such an environment.
Sometimes, as Revelation tells us, Jesus stands outside the doors of a church and knocks, asking those who are inside, those who are caught up in religious programs and religious activities, to let him in (Revelation 3: 20).
Sometimes we can hear his voice outside of church walls, and sometimes we don’t. The Master’s Voice can be heard regardless of the physical location in which we find ourselves, for it doesn’t depend on physical locations to be heard.
The Master’s Voice doesn’t need religious amplification. The Master’s Voice is powerful and distinctive enough to be heard above the Tower-of-Babel-like babble of religious voices heard in Christendom.
Listen for The Master’s Voice—he will lead you to his peace. You will dwell with him and in him. You will find rest for your soul beside the still waters he provides.
No matter what you have done, no matter how deep the problem you might find yourself in right now, no matter how dark and dangerous the valley of the shadow of death in which you find yourself right now might be—he is there for you.
Listen to him. Listen for him. Listen to The Master’s Voice.