10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.John 10:1-10
“Congratulations, you’ve gone viral!” Before a couple months ago, everyone recognized that as a good thing. Today, you’ve got to qualify that statement by saying, you’ve gone viral on social media and not with the coronavirus. You have seen many stories of people who went from being know by a few friends and family to having national or even worldwide name recognition through social media. Some people are recognized because they have talent like singing or stacking cups really quickly. Others have gone viral because they do not have talent like they tripped while walking down the aisle at their wedding or on the stage for their graduation. Once a person goes ‘viral’ on social media, they begin to have followers. Followers make sure they will continue to see the latest video, soundbite or story from someone who has put out something they found worth seeing, listening to or reading. Some of you may even be hoping to go viral so that you can get a lot of followers. And there are lots of reasons why someone would want followers; some who hope for followers, hope for the fame and fortune, while others hope to help the people who follow them and some just want to make people laugh.
Whether or not you go viral, you are a follower. You may not think of yourself as a follower or the kind of person to seek out the latest viral video, but you do follow others. See, you don’t have to be a follower only through social media or have a smartphone. You can follow someone by watching them on television, by reading their column in the newspaper, reading all of one author’s books, watching all of one director’s movies, listening to all of one songwriter’s songs and even listening to friends and family. You can even follow yourself if you don’t want to listen to anyone else. You and I are followers, and so it is important to know how we determine who is worth following.
Your list for following someone is going to be different from almost everyone else. Some of you want to follow people who are funny because they help you get through a stressful day and relax. Some of you want to follow people who are leaders in your industry because they can help you get more clients or be more effective with your time and processes saving you money. Some of you follow parenting blogs because you could not find the parenting manual you thought was going to be delivered to you along with your child. Some of you follow fitness coaches because they motivate you to workout, eat right and take care of your body. You and I have lots of reasons for following someone and all of those reasons mix together, the serious with the silly, the practical with the parodies, so that we follow lots of different kinds of people. Since we all have different reasons for following different people, can anyone ever say there is one person who rises above the rest that everyone needs to follow?
Yes, there is one person we all need to follow. We’ve all got our own lists of who to follow, and that is fine, but Jesus needs to be on everyone’s list. Jesus needs to be on your list because of what he said in John 10, 9 “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” Those we follow bring some benefit to our lives. Whether you realize it or not, those you follow satisfy at least one of your needs. Jesus needs to be on your list because he satisfies your need to be saved. And, you need to be saved from your tendency to follow. You and I cannot help following, even if you are a person who claims to follow no one, you are still following yourself, and that is someone. We are like sheep then, because sheep follow. When sheep are raised with a shepherd, they learn their shepherds voice and only follow that voice. You and I began our lives with a shepherd and we only listened to his voice, following him wherever he wanted us to go, and that shepherd was the devil. King David admitted how we were all born in sin in Psalm 51, 5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Conceived in sin, we helplessly followed the devil down whatever evil path he chose. Isaiah also spoke of our helplessness as sheep following a wicked shepherd in Isaiah 53, 6 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” Following our own sinful hearts and the path of the devil is a life that needs saving. And, Isaiah revealed who would save us, the Shepherd who gave his life to save his sheep, speaking of Jesus saying, Isaiah 53:6 … “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
God made the list of criteria you need to follow to know who to follow simple. The list begins and ends with the one who can save you. In 1 Peter 2, God gave these words through Peter showing us Jesus is the one to follow, 24 ““He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” Some of the reasons you and I follow others is to get better at things in our lives; we follow people who help us work, eat, parent, relax, etc. better, but we cannot follow anyone who can show us a way to make up for our sins. We cannot save ourselves. Instead, Jesus stood between you and God taking the punishment for all your following after sin. Jesus saved you. Through Jesus you have life, eternal life with God in heaven. Through Jesus you have been healed, the wounds your sins inflict on your soul have been covered with Jesus’ good and perfect life, so that you have no fear or guilt between you and God, only peace and joy.
As a follower of Jesus, you are a precious prize for bad shepherds. Jesus has saved you from the lost sheep, bringing you into his flock and opening your eyes to his unending grace like a pasture of endless rolling hills of rich green grass and clear cool streams to a hungry and thirsty sheep. You are saved by Jesus, but you haven’t reached the final pastures of heaven. Here in this world there are thieves who work at stealing you away from Jesus, as Jesus said in John 10, 10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Thieves are people who work to steal you away from Jesus. Thieves are also the devil and demons attacking your thoughts. Both even work through the blessings God gives you and by twisting the words of the Bible to steal you away from Jesus. King David fell victim to these thieves. In 1 Samuel 17 David told King Saul with confidence that he could kill the huge warrior Goliath and rescue Israel, 36 “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.” David was confident he could defeat Goliath because God had allowed him to defend his flocks as a shepherd from lions and bears. And, God was with him, but later in life David’s confidence set him down a path of adultery and murder. David could slay lions, bears and huge warriors, but sin still affected him. For all of David’s success, he needed God’s forgiveness and God to be the one fighting his battles. In the end, you and I can listen to all David did in his life sitting back in amazement that he killed lions and bears and mighty warriors, but what made David great was God. God made David King over Israel and gave him success in battle not for fame and fortune, but to keep his promise that from David’s line Jesus would be born.
You and I can easily get sidetracked by thieves trying to steal us away from faith in Jesus. Right now, if you are following someone who deals with lions and tigers and bears, and they help your relationship with Jesus, keep following them, but if they do not, stop following them. And, just so it’s been said, you can follow people that help you with funny videos, fitness, finances, politics, religion, etc. And, to help you know which of those is good for you to follow, follow Jesus’ voice, his words recorded for you in the Bible. They feed your soul and were written down for you to read and reference every day. The Bible is your source for forgiveness and eternal life, and for what is waiting for you in the future in heaven. The Bible is also your source to gain wisdom and the ability to identify what is true and what is false around you. As a follower of Jesus, you are also an example to others around you. Since we are all followers, at least one person is following you in some way and they look to you to give them something. Give those around you what they need and give them Jesus.
You may never hear the words, “Congratulations, you’ve gone viral!” But, not everything that goes viral is worth watching. Many people have learned what following means over the last couple of months as we are connecting now more than ever with one another through social media and streaming services. One of the blessings from that is the chance to watch many pastors and Jesus’ followers post videos pointing people to Jesus. As you come into contact with so many viral videos and even those that only get a few views, follow those that share God’s grace with you. Follow those who share the good news with you that it is not your suffering, hard work or achievements that save you. The pressure to be perfect, noticed or good enough in God’s eyes to allow you into heaven or make up for your sins is too much for you. Instead, Jesus suffered for you, he has healed you and he is the greatest viral message this world will ever know because he saved all people. Jesus is not your shepherd for fame, fortune or funny moments, he is your shepherd to save you, who knows your name, who came to this world that you 10 may have life, and have it to the full. Follow the voice of the Shepherd for life. Amen.