Scripture Reading: John 10:1-30
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Our text this morning/evening is the New Testament equivalent of Psalm 23. It speaks of our Shepherd and of all His care for us, His sheep. In New Testament language it reminds us that He, our Shepherd, is Jehovah. In the same New Testament language it speaks of how He leads us beside still waters and in green pastures, and of how He protects us and blesses us.
Because this passage is in the New Testament it speaks in more detail than does Psalm 23 from its Old Testament perspective. It tells us things about our Shepherd that we do not learn from Psalm 23. That should not surprise us, for though the New Testament is always concealed in the Old, the Old Testament is always more fully revealed in the New.
One thing our text tells us that we do not learn from Psalm 23, is that when our Shepherd leads out His sheep - leads them out to those green pastures and still waters - He calls them by name. The text is speaking of the call of Gospel, especially of what we refer to as the internal or efficacious call of the Gospel, but describes that call in a unique and wonderful way.
In one sense the call of the Gospel is heard by all, but in this sense it is addressed to and heard only by sheep. So I ask you, Do you know what it means to be called by name by the Shepherd? Have you been so called by Him? Have you experienced the joy of hearing the good Shepherd Himself call you by name and lead you out? That you may know and experience this great blessedness more fully I call your attention this evening to the text using the theme:
CALLED BY NAME BY JESUS
I. WHO CALLED
We must look first of all at those who are called by Jesus and at the way they are described in our text. That's important for it explains why they must be called and even more importantly why they must be called by name. That Jesus comes calling is explained by the fact that we are His sheep.
Those who are called are described first of all, therefore, as His own - as belonging to Him. When Jesus describes the sheep as His own, then He is identifying them as the elect. Those little words "his own" are a reference to God's eternal and unchangeable decree of election.
You might think that the sheep belong to Jesus because He purchased them, which, of course, He did by His death on the cross. That is not, however, what Jesus is thinking about in our text. The sheep do belong to Him also as His own purchased possession, but when Scripture refers to God's people as Jesus' own, it is referring especially to God's eternal counsel of election. That is clear from the rest of the chapter which speaks over and over again of election.
If you ask, How is it that these sheep belong to Jesus?, the answer of Scripture is always that God gave them to Him. Jesus speaks of that in this chapter, in verse 29: "My Father which gave them me, is greater than all." And if you ask, When did the Father give these sheep to Jesus?, the answer of Scripture is, In eternity. Jesus hints at this in verses 14 and 15 where He says that He knows His sheep in the same way that the Father knows Him and He knows the Father - eternally.
Isn't that a beautiful description of election? Election is not just the choice of some to be saved, but the Father's giving certain persons to Jesus to belong to Him forever. If you are elect then that is what your election means - you belong to Jesus and are His own, not just in time but from all eternity.
We might notice, too, that this election is personal. It is not a general number who are chosen, but particular persons. As a result, when Jesus comes He already knows each of His sheep by name, so that when He calls them, He is able to call their names and so bring them to Himself.
That decree of election is the first reason for this call of Jesus. Jesus finds and gathers His own by this call of the Gospel and makes them His own in fact and in time. It is by the call of the Gospel, therefore, that the decree of election is worked out in time. By that call He accomplishes God's purpose and does what God had eternally planned when He gave these sheep to Jesus in eternity.
But lest those who are elect be puffed up with pride and think that they are something in and of themselves they are also identified as sheep. The elect are Jesus' own, but they are His own sheep. That reference to them as sheep is not complimentary, but most uncomplimentary. The Word of God in describing us as sheep is not thinking of a little, fuzzy, cuddly creature, but is identifying us as sinners.
I have had some limited experience with sheep and can tell you that the Word of God could hardly have found a more uncomplimentary way of describing us. Sheep are not only among the stupidest of all beasts, but in their foolishness and stupidity, they are especially inclined to wander and go astray. It is almost impossible to keep sheep fenced in. They never stay where they belong, and when they have gotten out they can seldom find their way back, but usually run, all in a panic, further and further from home. The Word of God in Isaiah 53:6 reminds us of this when it says: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way."
By this description, therefore, we are reminded of our sinfulness and of the fact that our sinfulness is apostasy, turning away from and going astray from God Himself. By every sin we go astray and separate ourselves from the living God and from the blessings that are found in Him alone.
Therein lies the second reason for this call. When the Shepherd comes in time to take possession of His sheep whom the Father has given Him in eternity, He does not find them gathered together and waiting for Him, all huddled together peering up in expectation of His arrival, but He finds them all lost and gone astray, scattered and blinded and in danger of perishing. It is by this call that He finds them, rescues them, gathers them to Himself, and brings them into His fold.
That, then, is the description our text gives of those who are called, of you and of me. On the one hand, it is a very wonderful and comforting description insofar as it speaks of God's election, but on the other hand a very humbling description insofar as it reminds us of our rebellious sinfulness. It tells us why the first great work of the Shepherd is to call His sheep - He must call them because they are perishing in their sins, and He must do so according to the will of God, to bring to pass God's eternal and inscrutable decree of election.
II. HOW CALLED
That brings us to the heart of our text and to the fact that when Jesus calls His sheep He calls them by name. We must notice that Jesus not only comes calling, but when He calls He calls His own sheep by name. That, as I have said, is a unique and remarkable description of the call of the Gospel.
We must note, too, that it is Christ who calls. The text is one of the many passages of Scripture that teach us the important truth that Christ Himself is heard in the preaching of the Gospel. That truth has been attacked, even in our own churches, but it is crucial. If Christ does not make Himself heard in the preaching of the Gospel there is no possibility of anyone being saved under the preaching and the preaching is no longer the power of God unto salvation. Jesus says again in verses 27 and 28 of this chapter: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life." That is the truth that lies at the heart of our text insofar as it speaks of the preaching of the Gospel.
When, however, we speak of the call of the Gospel we usually distinguish between the external and the internal call. Both are at least implied here, though the text is speaking especially of the internal call.
The external call, as you know, is simply the preaching of the Gospel itself, as it is heard by everyone who comes under the preaching, including many who are never saved. To use the words of our text, when Jesus comes calling, everyone within hearing hears the sound of His voice - hears Him calling His sheep. That call does not get beyond the ears of those who hear it, or if it does, it only serves to harden them.
Those who hear, but do not obey - who do not repent and believe and come to Christ - are damned for their disobedience. It is Christ Who calls, as we have seen - Christ Who is the Son of God, the One Whom God has appointed a Prince and a Savior. If His voice were not heard in the preaching, the Gospel would have no hardening and condemning power. Nevertheless, that voice of Christ as it is heard even in the external call is not by itself sufficient to save anyone.
The reference here is especially to the internal call. That internal call is the word of the Gospel as it penetrates beyond the ear and reaches the hearts of those whom God has given to Christ. That call changes their hearts and powerfully and sweetly draws them out of spiritual death and sin into the fellowship of Christ. That call of the Gospel is irresistible, or as we say, efficacious and saving. It is that, of course, because it is Christ Himself who speaks through the Gospel, who makes Himself known to His people, and who by His Holy Spirit applies the Gospel to them.
That internal call, as our text reminds us so forcefully, is particular. It is addressed only to the sheep, so much so, that the sheep hear their own names called when the Gospel is preached and that internal call comes to them. That is one of the doctrinal treasures of our churches - the great truth that the promise of the Gospel and its internal call are only for the elect. That truth is plainly taught here in our text.
It is, then, that internal call which is being described here in our text - a call which is designed for the elect and by which Christ calls His sheep to Himself and saves them. I know of no other passage which describes the internal call of the Gospel in that way. The question is, however: What does it mean that Christ calls them by name? How does it happen that the sheep hear their own names called? Do you know? Have you heard your name called in the preaching?
Does this mean, as some think, that in some special and private way a person hears the voice of Christ calling - that he hears a voice in the night, or receives some special revelation, addressed only to himself, which assures him of his place in Christ? We know that God gives no such special revelations - not since the Scriptures were finished. He speaks only through the preaching of the Gospel accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Canons confirm that for us. In Head 5, Rejections of Errors, Error 5, they reject the notion that "without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life."
Jesus does not call His sheep by name through some special revelation, therefore, but through the preaching of the Gospel. There is no other call of Christ than that which we hear in and through the preaching.
But what is that name by which He calls each one of us? Is it the name our parents gave us? If not that, then what is it? That it is not the name our parents gave us is obvious. No one hears Christ calling him or her by that name in the preaching. Even the preacher cannot address individuals by name in the preaching, for he does not know who are Christ's sheep and who are not.
The name to which Scripture refers here is not our natural name, but our spiritual name. Indeed, we have many such spiritual names, though Jesus calls us especially by one or another of them at particular times in our lives. When we hear Jesus calling us by those names we know that He is calling us - that the name by which He calls is our own.
What are those spiritual names? They are the names which describe our spiritual condition and need at a particular time in our lives. One of those names is given in Matthew 11:28. There Jesus says: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The spiritual name there by which He calls His own is the name "Laboring one" or "Heavy Laden One." Do you recognize that name as your own? If God has worked in your heart, then you do.
Other such names are recorded in other passages of Scripture. In Isaiah 55:1 and in Revelation 22:17 the name is "Thirsty one." In Matthew 5 we have a whole series of those names by which the citizens of the kingdom of heaven are identified: "Poor in Spirit, Mourning One, Meek, Hungry for Righteousness, Merciful, Pure in Heart, Peacemaker, and last, but not least, Persecuted One." In our text the name is "Sheep."
Really, though, there is only one name, for all these names add up to the name "Sinner" and then, too, "Sinner Saved by Grace Alone."
You might ask, however, how it is that this call of Jesus is particular and addressed only to the elect. Are not all men sinners, laboring and heavy-laden under a burden of sin and guilt and in desperate need of the saving grace of God? In one sense, of course, they are, but in another they are not. He is not denying that all are sinners - not denying the doctrine of total depravity - but saying that there are, by the grace of God, some who know themselves to be sinners. Those He calls by their spiritual names, having been regenerated and renewed by God's Spirit, recognize themselves as sinners and flee to Jesus. When Jesus calls us by these names, then He is calling us as those who know that these are our names. We know that by grace and by the work of the Spirit. Indeed, it is the call of the Gospel itself, the voice of Jesus calling, that convinces us that these are our names.
It is in this sense that we must understand Luke 5:32. When Jesus says: "I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance," He does not in fact mean that there are some who are righteous in the sight of God and some who are sinners. He means that there are some who think themselves righteous, like the Scribes and Pharisees, and some who by grace know themselves to be sinners.
Not everyone, therefore, knows himself by these names, though everyone is in the sight of God a totally depraved sinner. You can test that in the case of your unbelieving neighbor. Tell him that his name is "Sinner, Hell-bound and Ready-to-be-Damned Sinner," and he will laugh at you. He will say, "I have faults, I know that, but that is not my name. You've mistaken me for someone else. My name is in fact, 'Not-Such-a-Bad-Person,' or 'Pretty-Decent-Fellow.'"
That internal call, therefore, is very much a particular call. It is not a general call that goes out to all, but is very particularly directed to those sheep who belong to Jesus, whose names He knows, and who, by His grace, know their own spiritual condition and great need.
When Jesus sends out the call of the Gospel, then, and says, "Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden," the sinner by the grace of God responds and says; "That's me. That's my name. That's who I am. I don't know why He would be calling someone like me, but there can be no doubt about it that it's me He's calling. I must go to Him and I will go to Him. Perhaps He is able to take away my burden of guilt and to give me rest from this awful burden of guilt I carry and from all my sinfulness."
Sometimes that call comes so clearly that the sinner, sitting under the preaching of the Word thinks that the preacher is preaching directly at him - that somehow the preacher has found out all his sins and wickedness and is pointing the finger directly at him. It is not the preacher, of course, but Christ in the preaching Who does that, calling His sheep by name.
He does for us, then, what He did to the Samaritan woman, first awakening in her heart a thirst for the water of life by telling her of her sins, and then showing her Himself as the fountain of those living waters and in that way calling her by her spiritual name. No wonder she was so excited! No wonder, either, that the publicans and sinners loved Him - they knew beyond a shadow of doubt that He was calling them, as undeserving and wicked as they were.
That is how Jesus calls His sheep by name. Have you been so called by Him? Do you recognize those names in Scripture as your own? If you do, you not only must come to Him but you may come, for it is not those who think themselves righteous, but those who truly know their sins and themselves to be lost sinners that He calls, and to them He promises every blessing.
III. TO WHAT CALLED
There is one other thing of which the text speaks. Jesus not only calls His sheep, but He leads them out. Do you know what that means?
Verse 9 explains it: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture." He leads them in green pastures and beside still waters. In other words, Jesus not only calls His sheep by their spiritual names thus showing them their need, but He also gives them exactly what they need and lack.
The pastures are, of course, the pastures of the Word of God, and especially that Word with all His promises and assurances of salvation. In those pastures the elect, having been called by Christ, find all that is necessary to supply their spiritual needs. Their Christ gives them what they lack and what by grace they desire. To the hungry He gives Himself as the bread of life. To those who thirst He gives living waters. To those who are weary He gives rest - rest for the soul. To the sinner He gives righteousness and eternal life.
Nor does He cease to call His sheep by name and lead them out, but having found them by His call He also cares for them and continues to call them in order that they may always follow Him and find in Him and with Him all things necessary for their salvation. Every time the Gospel is preached in purity and in truth, Christ reminds of what we are in ourselves and shows us Himself as the fountain and source of every blessing of salvation.
And in the end He leads them out of this world into the next - out of sin and death into life eternal. But then He calls them by a new name, for then, through the resurrection of the body and their glorification they are sinnersno longer. This is the promise of Revelation 3:12: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name." Not the old name, but Christ's own name shall then be ours, and all our needs shall be satisfied.
So I ask you again, "Has He called you by name? Does He call you by name today? Will you have His new name written on you when you leave this life and enter eternity?" May God grant it.
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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