Attached is a video of a shepherd calling his sheep, and the sheep responding from out of the fog, unseen, but running to him.
I think all Christians will agree that in the statement in verse 14, He, Christ, is the Shepherd, and those who follow Him, His disciples, are the sheep He is referencing. The claim is, He KNOWS His sheep, AND that He is KNOWN by His sheep.
In considering such a relationship where each party KNOWS the other, how is that knowledge acquired? How is it trusted? How is it proven?
If I you or I look at the relationships we have with those closest to us in our lives, likely family, spouses or the closest of friends, we can easily find the characteristics that result in the development of such a quality as “knowing” the other party. Some of these include, experience, sacrifice, service, communication, exercising trust, and being trusted, among others.
Let’s explore these relationship building qualities as they apply to us, and to Him.
Christ – How did or does Christ gain experience with us in order to know us? Setting aside the fact that we not only existed with Him in the pre-mortal life where He had experiences with us as our Elder Brother, and that He is a God in His own right – and thus Omniscient – I believe that the primary “experience” through which He learns to KNOW His sheep – is the experience we share with Him through our obedience. As He said in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” He recognizes those who keep His commandments.
Us – How do we engage in sharing an experience with Christ such that we can truly learn to KNOW Him? As stated above, it is through our obedience to His will, His commandments, His standards, through which we learn to know Him. The Savior said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 7:23). He also stated that, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3). So if entering the kingdom of heaven is accomplished through doing the will of the Father, and if the kingdom of heaven (i.e., life eternal) is to know Jesus Christ – then to do His will, to be obedient to Him, is to know Him.
Christ – The fact of Christ’s sacrifice for us is indisputable. In John 10:11 we read, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” Again in John 15:13-14 we read, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” In Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” From this we recognize that He proclaimed of Himself, that He gives His life for “many” (but not all) – the distinction being, while His sacrifice is available to all, not all will partake of His loving sacrifice.
Us – How do we sacrifice in order to build our relationship with Him and better know Him? To sacrifice is to give up something we value, for something we believe, trust or know to be of greater value. To deny ourselves of something, in favor of something greater. In Matt 16:24 we read, “… If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Accordingly, in the Book of Mormon, when the resurrected Lord showed Himself to the Nephites, he proclaimed, “For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.” (3 Nephi 12:30). Likewise Moroni declares, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” (Moroni 10:32). It is plainly evident that our willingness to sacrifice our desires, our wills in favor of His, will yield to us a sure knowledge of Him.
Christ – Christ’s life was defined by His selfless and loving service. There is no questioning His compassionate nature. Early in His ministry we read, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them…” (Matt 9:36). Later when He departed Jericho with a great multitude in tow, He passed by two blind men, of which Matthew writes, “So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.” (Matt 20:34). Compassionate disposition is a hallmark of His nature, and was a staple of His life. During the final hours of His mortal life, while teaching His apostles in the intimate setting of the last supper, and in preparation of introducing the priesthood ordinance of the Sacrament, Christ said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13: 13-15). His service was not limited to those who walked with Him during His mortal sojourn. His post-mortal promise to us is found in John 14:2, 18 – “In my Father’s house are many mansions: … I go to prepare a place for you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” Our mortal and post-mortal Savior, Jesus Christ, exists to serve us in preparation for exhalation and eternal life with He and His Father – John 14:3 – “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Us – How can we learn to know Him through service? What kind of service will bring this result in our relationship with Him? From above we see the example he set for us and his plea to us, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15). He then outlined some suggestions for the service he wishes us to so freely render. In Matthew 25 we read, “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” In the Book of Mormon this same message is echoed by King Benjamin when he said, “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17). There is little doubt that through our service to others we build our faith, we expand the capacities of our love, and we learn to know Him.
Christ – This is one of my favorite characteristics of any good relationship – probably because it is one that yields powerful and almost immediate dividends. Christ communicates with us in distinct and readily available ways. He promised to communicate with us through the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. John 14:26 – “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” And John 15:26 – “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:” Along with the Holy Ghost, He has given us His word, through the prophets as scripture. Hearing Him through the scriptures comes with a great promise of the Lord, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39). Our Redeemer has promised that on an ongoing basis He will communicate with us and that through such we will find Him.
Us – How do we communicate to Him in a way that we may build our relationship and know Him? The Savior not only instructed us how to pray, and to whom to pray in His name, but he implored us to pray always. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matt 6:7). Luke 18:1, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men oughtalways to pray, and not to faint;” In the Book of Mormon we read the words of the resurrected Lord when he showed Himself to the Nephites, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him. Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and prayalways lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.” (3 Nephi 18: 15, 18, 21). Again the precept is clear, through our prayers to the Father, through Him, we will draw near unto Him and be blessed of Him, and there is little doubt that we begin to know He who blesses us along the way.
Christ – A New Testament synonym for “trust” is faith or confidence. To demonstrate His trust or confidence in us, He endows those who follow Him with power. To give an operative gift to a person is to entrust them and demonstrate confidence in them. John 1:12 – “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” There is little doubt that the Lord’s plan includes a great deal of demonstrated trust in us and our abilities to humbly take hold of the promised power in the pursuit of becoming “the sons of God.”
Us – To me this is one of the most underestimated elements of learning to truly know Him. Most Christians I know will gladly proclaim their belief in Jesus Christ. Yet few I know truly TRUST HIM or believe Him – different than believing IN Him. To trust Him, to believe Him, and have that trust be more than lip service, we must act in faith and follow Him. Luke 22:32, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” From the Book of Mormon we read, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” (Moroni 7:33). In the movie The Santa Clause, there is a dialogue between a child and an adult in the which the child corrects the adult by saying, “…seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” Similarly, “knowing isn’t therefore doing,” but rather as the Savior has taught us, “to do, is to know.” We cannot proclaim that we trust, if we do not DO. If we follow Him, by “doing”, by exercising our faith in Him, we will subsequently learn to know Him.
Conclusion: There can be no question but that we have been commanded to learn of Him, to know Him – that when He calls us (i.e., His sheep) we will hear his voice and know Him. This would signify that we must build, nurture and have a relationship with Him. There are many characteristics of relationship building that are required by both parties of any relationship. It is clear that the Lord has proven to us His commitment, trustworthiness, and unconditional love. The remaining question is will we exercise our faith and do that which is required to demonstrate those same qualities on our side of the relationship. Will we truly learn of Him, learn to love Him, have and exercise our faith in Him and ultimately be welcomed home by Him. If not, when He calls, we will not know Him, we will not recognize His voice and we will truly be “as sheep having no shepherd.”