'Tell us plainly' (v.24). As far as we know, Jesus never said the words, 'I am the Christ' about himself. He wanted others to come to that conclusion. He did everything he could to help them - his miracles, the claims he made about himself (such as 'I and the Father are one,' v.30), all these things made it very obvious that he was the Christ, the promised Saviour. Obvious, that is, to those with eyes to see. But those who asked for more proof, for plain statements, were the very people who did not want to know. The main reason they did not want to know that Jesus was the Christ was that Jesus did not fit into their ideas about what the Christ should be like. This conversation took place during a festival (Hanukkah) remembering an earlier hero who had rescued the nation; that was what they were looking for.
'You do not believe because you are not my sheep' (v.26). Not yet, anyway. In Acts we find that a large number of priests became Christians (Acts 6:7) so it is possible that some of those who opposed Jesus at this point were converted later. However, faith in Jesus is inseparable from loyalty to him and belonging to his flock. Sometimes faith in Jesus comes first; people believe, and then commit themselves to him and to his people. Often people first join the flock, and belong before they believe; this is the usual way for children growing up in the church, and for an increasing number of adults looking for a sense of belonging and acceptance. But those who do not believe in Jesus show by their unbelief that they are not Jesus' sheep.
'My sheep listen to my voice' (v.27). One of the marks of those who truly belong to God is that they listen to the Good Shepherd and follow him - they trust and obey. We may have doubts, we may disobey at times, we may complain about what he is asking us to do, but generally we trust and follow Jesus as members of his one flock (v.16). The consequence is not only that we remain within the protection and good guidance of the shepherd, but that we do so for ever - we are for ever safe with Jesus, safe from disaster, safe from death, safe from judgement, whatever happens in this life.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
1. Jesus did not try to convince people who did not really want to be convinced; often he seemed to try to put them off even more! Is there a lesson for us there?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being Christ's sheep?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Tell us about a time when you were followed, either by animals or people. What did it feel like?
'My sheep listen to my voice'. During worship, have a time of 'listening'. Begin with reading Psalm 23, then ask people to listen to God. Remind them that he may speak through the words we've just heard, or through what's going on in our minds - pictures or feelings or thoughts or words. (It might be helpful for some to have paper and pen to write things down.) Lots of what goes on in our minds will simply be ourselves, but some of it may be from God. Pray, 'Speak Lord, your servants are listening', then spend five minutes or so in silence. Afterwards ask people to share what they think they've heard, however insignificant it seems - it may be significant to someone else. If what is said is helpful, let that be acknowledged. If it is not helpful, let it be ignored, but thank everyone for their contributions. If you need to respond by further prayer, do so immediately.