Jesus Knows His Sheep

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them.” (John 10:27)

Jesus knows those who are his. What is this knowledge?

John 10:3 is a close parallel to verse 27. It says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

So, when Jesus says, “I know them,” this means at least that he knows them by name; that is, he knows them individually and intimately. They are not anonymous, lost in the flock.

John 10:14–15 provides another insight: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

There is a real similarity between the way Jesus knows his Father in heaven and the way he knows his sheep. Jesus sees himself in the Father, and he sees himself in his disciples.

To some degree Jesus recognizes his own character in his disciples. He sees his own brand mark on the sheep.

He is like a husband waiting for his wife at the airport, watching as each person disembarks from the plane. When she appears, he knows her, he recognizes her features, he delights in her, she is the only one he embraces.

The apostle Paul puts it like this: “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (2 Timothy 2:19).

It is hard to overemphasize what a tremendous privilege it is to be known personally, intimately, lovingly by the Son of God. It is a precious gift to all his sheep, and it contains within it the promise of eternal life.

What It Means to Love God

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.(Psalm 63:1–2)

Only God will satisfy a heart like David’s. And David was a man after God’s own heart. That’s the way we were created to be.

This is the essence of what it means to love God: to be satisfied in him. In him!

Loving God will include obeying all his commands; it will include believing all his word; it will include thanking him for all his gifts; but the essence of loving God is enjoying all he is. And it is this enjoyment of God that glorifies his worth most fully.

We all know this intuitively as well as from Scripture. Do we feel most honored by the love of those who serve us from the constraints of duty, or from the delights of fellowship?

My wife is most honored when I say, “It makes me happy to spend time with you.” My happiness is the echo of her excellence. And so it is with God. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

None of us has arrived at perfect satisfaction in God. I grieve often over the murmuring of my heart at the loss of worldly comforts. But I have tasted that the Lord is good. By God’s grace I now know the fountain of everlasting joy.

And so I love to spend my days luring people into joy until they say with me, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

What Makes Jesus Rejoice

In that same hour he [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)

This verse is one of the only two places in the Gospels where Jesus is said to rejoice. The seventy disciples have just returned from their preaching tours and reported their success to Jesus.

Luke writes in verse 21: “In that same hour [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”

Notice that all three members of the Trinity are rejoicing here: Jesus is rejoicing, but it says he is rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. I take that to mean that the Holy Spirit is filling him and moving him to rejoice. Then at the end of the verse it describes the pleasure of God the Father. The NIV translates it, “Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

Now, what is it that has the whole Trinity rejoicing together in this place? It is the free, electing love of God to hide things from the intellectual elite and to reveal them to babes. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”

And what is it that the Father hides from some and reveals to others? Luke 10:22 gives the answer, “No one knows who the Son is except the Father.” So, what God the Father must reveal is the true spiritual identity of the Son.

When the seventy disciples return from their evangelistic mission and give their report to Jesus, he and the Holy Spirit rejoice that God the Father has chosen, according to his own good pleasure, to reveal the Son to babes and to hide him from the wise.

The point of this is not that there are only certain classes of people who are chosen by God. The point is that God is free to choose the least likely candidates for his grace.

God contradicts what human merit might dictate. He hides from the wise and reveals to the most helpless and unaccomplished.

When Jesus sees the Father freely enlightening and saving people whose only hope is free grace, he exults in the Holy Spirit and takes pleasure in his Father’s election.

Seven Sources of Joy

In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (2 Corinthians 7:4)

What is extraordinary about Paul is how unbelievably durable his joy was when things weren’t going well.

Where did this come from?

First of all it was taught by Jesus: “Blessed are you when people hate you. . . . Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22–23). Troubles for Jesus compound your interest in heaven — which lasts a lot longer than earth.

Second, it comes from the Holy Spirit, not our own efforts or imagination or family upbringing. “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy” (Galatians 5:22). “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Third, it comes from belonging to the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Fourth, it comes through faith, that is, from believing God. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25).

Fifth, it comes from seeing and knowing Jesus as Lord. “Rejoice in the Lordalways” (Philippians 4:4).

Sixth, it comes from fellow believers who work hard to help us focus on these sources of joy, rather than deceitful circumstances. “We work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Seventh, it comes from the sanctifying effects of tribulations. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4).

If we are not yet like Paul when he says, “I am overflowing with joy,” he calls us to be. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). And for most of us this is a call to earnest prayer. Because a life of joy in the Holy Spirit is a supernatural life.

Truer Knowledge Brings Greater Joy

And all the people went their way . . . to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:12)

The only joy that reflects the worth of God and overflows in God-glorifying love is rooted in the true knowledge of God. And to the degree that our knowledge is small or flawed, our joy will be a poor echo of God’s true excellence.

The experience of Israel in Nehemiah 8:12 is a paradigm of how God-glorifying joy happens in the heart. Ezra had read the word of God to them and the Levites had explained it. And then the people went away “to make great rejoicing.”

Their great rejoicing was because they had understood words — the true words of God.

Most of us have tasted this experience of the heart burning with joy when the word of God was opened to us (Luke 24:32). Twice Jesus said that he taught his disciples for the sake of their joy.

  • John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
  • John 17:13, “These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

And what we mainly see in the word is the Lord himself — God himself — offering himself to be known and enjoyed. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21).

The point is that if our joy is going to reflect the glory of God, then it must flow from true knowledge of how God is glorious. If we are going to enjoy God duly, we must know him truly.

Children of a Singing God

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.(Mark 14:26)

Can you hear Jesus singing?

Was he a bass or a tenor? Was there a down-home twang to his voice? Or was there an unwavering crystal pitch?

Did he close his eyes and sing to his Father? Or did he look into his disciples’ eyes and smile at their deep camaraderie?

Did he usually start the song? Or did Peter or James, or maybe Matthew, do it?

Oh, I can hardly wait to hear Jesus sing! I think the planets would be jolted out of orbit if he lifted his native voice in our universe. But we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken; so, Lord, go ahead, do it! Sing!

It could not be otherwise but that Christianity be a singing faith. The founder sang. He learned to sing from his Father. Surely they have been singing together from all eternity. Don’t you think so? Would not infinite eternal happiness in the fellowship of the Trinity sing?

The Bible says the aim of our singing is “to raise sounds of joy” (1 Chronicles 15:16). No one in the universe has more joy than God. He is infinitely joyful. He has rejoiced from eternity in the panorama of his own perfections reflected perfectly in the deity of his Son.

God’s joy is unimaginably powerful. He is God. When he speaks, galaxies come into being. And when he sings for joy, more energy is released than exists in all the matter and motion of the universe.

If he appointed song for us to release our heart’s delight in him, is this not because he also knows the joy of releasing his own heart’s delight in his own image in his Son by his Spirit in song? We are a singing people because we are the children of a singing God.

The Key to Radical Love

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12)

One of the questions I posed while preaching on loving our enemies from Matthew 5:44 was, How do you love the people who kidnap you and then kill you?

How can we do this? Where does the power to love like this come from? Just think how astonishing this is when it appears in the real world! Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?

I believe Jesus gives us the key to this radical, self-sacrificing love, described in Matthew 5:44, earlier in the very same chapter.

In Matthew 5:11–12, he is again talking about being persecuted, just like he was when he said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What is remarkable about these verses is that Jesus says that you are able not only to endure the mistreatment of the enemy, but rejoice in it. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you. . . . Rejoice and be glad.”

This seems even more beyond our reach than praying for our enemies or doing good to them. If I could do this humanly impossible thing — namely, rejoicein being persecuted — then it would be possible to love my persecutors. If the miracle of joy in the midst of the horror of injustice and pain and loss could happen, then the miracle of love for the perpetrators could happen too.

Jesus gives the key to joy in these verses. He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” The key to joy is faith in God’s future grace — that is, being satisfied in all that God promises to be for you. He says, “Rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.” Our joy in persecution is the joy of heaven streaming back into this moment of horror and setting us free to love. So, this joy is the freeing power to love our enemies when they persecute us.

If that is true, then the command to love is implicitly also a command to set our minds on things that are above — all that God promises to be for us — not on things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:2).

The command to love our enemy is a command to find our hope and our deepest soul-satisfaction in God and his great reward — his future grace. The key to radical love is faith in future grace. We must be persuaded in the midst of our agony that the love of God is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Loving your enemy doesn’t earn you the reward of heaven. Treasuring the reward of heaven empowers you to love your enemy.