"... He calls His own sheep by name ..." (John 10:3)
We have heard the saying. The thing about Christianity is that it's about God's love. True. "God is love ..." says the apostle John (1 John 4:16) and "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10) But there is more to say, and that is captured by the simple phrase, "He calls His own sheep by name". (John 10:3)
There are a lot of religions and sets of belief that talk about love. And from the philosopher to the crooner singing love ballads, to the fellow in the bar, everyone has an opinion. And we will opine our ideas of love and theories of what it is all about. All of that is about love in the "abstract." You can go on about how love is sacrificing, or sharing, or caring, or being kind even when you do not feel like it.
Many years ago I read "The Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi." He had what sounded like a noble idea of love. It was to care about every living thing as deeply as you care about yourself. In theory he talked about love in caring about the animal or even the insect. He complained about Christians falling short of what Jesus taught about love. But he too struggled with putting his ideas of love into practice, even with those closest to him.
In contrast, Jesus said, "He calls His own sheep by name". This is different. It kind of sneaks up on you all this means. This is not the abstract idea of love. It is personal. And it is particular.
In the encounter with Jesus, one person after another in the Bible learned that love was not an abstract fluffy type of I'm-not-quite-sure-what-it-is kind of thing. It was particular to each one. Peter needed prompting and guiding. Nicodemus needed his scholarly learning challenged. (John 3:1-15) The leper needed Jesus to touch and heal him. (Matthew 8:2-3) The deaf man needed Jesus to put His fingers in his ears and look up to heaven and sigh. (Mark 7:32-35) The woman at the well needed to see herself and then see the Savior. (John 4) Thomas needed Jesus to face down his doubts. (John 20:27-28) The rich young man needed to be told to get rid of his love for possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22) The thief on the cross needed to hear the Savior praying for those who swung the hammer. (Luke 23:32-43)
Martin Luther told how Jesus caught hold of him through the verse in Romans, "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe", (Romans 3:21-22) and then he ended up hammering a piece of paper to the church door. Four simple words, "the righteousness of God," that it was not God's demand that we be righteous, but instead the righteousness of Jesus Christ in our place, taking away our sin and making us righteous in the sight of God. And with that Jesus caught hold of his soul, opened up heaven, gave him the joy of eternal life, and sent him to tell everyone he could find.
Each one is different. Each one is known by Jesus. My favorite illustration about this is Nathaniel, who is stopped in his tracks by the words, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." We have absolutely no idea what that meant, whether it was a moment of spiritual insight, spiritual struggle, or just nothing much. But Nathaniel knew. "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel."
I continue to be amazed at the incredible number of ways that Jesus calls us to know Him. How many different verses does He use to catch hold of different men, women and children that He is bringing into His kingdom. Someone once asked, "Couldn't God have just told us, 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.' and left it at that?" Well, not really, because Jesus is in the business of calling His own sheep by name. And there are a whole lot of different sheep. I am pretty sure that a lot of Christians I know have their own very particular story about how, deep inside the soul, the Good Shepherd called you "by name."
He knows us long before we know Him. He knows our beliefs, attitudes, moods, and needs deep within our soul. And He calls us, each one in a particular way. One of the most curious I have heard was a fellow who said he came to faith as an atheist. So I said in my own mind, "Hunh?" and waited for him to explain. And then he said he didn't seem to be able to seek out God or find God, much less even want to believe in Him. And then he ran across a verse in the Bible that said exactly that same thing, "... not that we have loved God but that He loved us ..." (1 John 4:10) And Jesus took hold of him. "So," he said, "I stopped even trying to be religious and simply believed Jesus." I spent a bit of time trying to trace the path and see how it held together; and then I came to the conclusion that, "Yes, it does make sense, but even more than that -- Jesus is really good at what He does!" "He calls His own sheep by name" and it is amazing!
My own particular hook is a little part of a verse in John 17. "Father, I want them to be with Me ..." (John 17:24, a bit of a paraphrase) It hit home one day, realizing that this is a personal thing. Jesus wanted me to be with Him. It wasn't numbers, or kingdom, or anything else. It was personal. It's what Jesus said, "He calls His own sheep by name."
Lord Jesus, thank You that You know each one of us personally, and thank You for calling each of us to be a part of Your kingdom, to see and share Your glory and to live for all eternity. Thank You for being my Shepherd, even now, that each day, and whatever each day brings You call Yourself my Shepherd and call me Your sheep. Guard and keep me so I can be with You and see Your glory. Amen.