140511 I Peter 2:19-25

Last Updated on Monday, 12 May 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: I Peter 2:19-25
Theme: It's A Good Thing We Have A Good Shepherd

What is the theme that ties together today's Scripture readings? Even though Pastor Schmidt already announced that the fourth Sunday of Easter has been designated as Good Shepherd Sunday, the answer to that question might not be as obvious as you think.

In the first lesson from Acts there isn't any mention of a shepherd or sheep. Instead we are introduced to Stephen, a man who was full of faith (Acts 6:5) and who ultimately died because of his faith. When Stephen called his countrymen to account for killing Jesus, they stoned him to death and made him the first Christian martyr.

In John 10 Jesus calls himself the gate for the sheep, but he also talks about thieves and robbers and wolves who pose a threat to the flock. David describes the Lord as his shepherd in the psalm of the day, but in between beautiful verses about green pastures/quiet waters and dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, he recognizes the reality of the valley of the shadow of death and the presence of powerful enemies.

One of the main themes of I Peter (the subject comes up in every chapter, including today's second lesson) is standing firm in the face of persecution. Peter doesn't make excuses. Peter doesn't dance around the issues. He puts it in plain Greek: Christ suffered. You will suffer. In fact, as a Christian you have been called to suffer.

Suffering. Persecution. Danger. Intimidation. God's Word makes it clear that if you are a follower of Jesus, these things will be a part of your life. You will be harassed. You will be attacked. And you will not be able to survive on your own. This is where the theme of the day comes in. This is what makes the fourth Sunday of Easter is so meaningful. This morning Peter reminds us why...

IT'S A GOOD THING WE HAVE A GOOD SHEPHERD

I. He is the source of our salvation
II. He is worthy of our imitation

The people on the receiving end of I Peter were not lifelong Christians. Most of them had been raised as pagans, and they had lived like pagans. Peter's laundry list of their past sins includes: "debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry" (4:3). This background helps us understand what Peter meant when he told them: "You were like sheep going astray..." (25a).

Before these Christians became Christians they hadn't just wandered a little ways off the straight and narrow. They had charted a course in the opposite direction, ignoring every law, indulging every sinful desire. They weren't cute, cuddly little lambs who made a few small missteps here and there. They were obstinate, defiant full-grown adults who were deliberately marching away from God down a path of self-destruction.

"But now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (25b). The good news is that these straying sheep had come back to the fold, but coming back wasn't their own idea. They didn't come to the conclusion that the grass wasn't greener wherever they had wandered. They didn't recognize that they were in great danger and decide to run back to safety as fast as they could. These sheep had to be brought back into the fold, and their Shepherd paid a huge price to retrieve them.

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (23, 24).

Before Peter mentions what Jesus did to save the sheep, he draws our attention to what he didn't do. When his enemies spit on him, he didn't spit back. When the Roman soldiers beat him until he bled, he didn't fight back. When Jesus was challenged to come down from the cross and save himself, he could have. He could have saved his life and taken the life of every one of his enemies on that hill, but he didn't. There was no retaliation. There were no threats. Instead there was complete confidence in Jesus' voice when he called out: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

It doesn't seem fair, does it? It doesn't make sense either. The world's only sinless man sacrificed himself to pay for the sins of the world. In Jesus' death we have life. In Jesus' wounds we are healed. These paradoxes are connected with the theme of this Sunday in the poetry of a Lenten hymn: "What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander" (CW 117:3).

We are the sheep Jesus came to save, and I think most of the time we like to think of ourselves that way. Maybe we can even see ourselves in that famous painting of Jesus surrounded by sheep holding a little lamb in his arms. But there is another image we need to see on Good Shepherd Sunday. We need to picture our Shepherd, not resting on a grassy hillside, but hanging on a wooden cross. We need to understand that Jesus had to suffer and die on that cursed tree because his sheep love to wander.

We want to do our own thing. We want to go our own way. We think we know what's best for us. Sometimes we even think that we know better than God. If you were the shepherd, if your flock consisted of stubborn sheep like that, what would you do? Would you say: "If you don't want to follow me, that's fine. That's your choice, but from now on you are on your own. If you get into trouble, if you are in danger, don't come running to me."

You and I might react that way, and we could make a pretty strong case that we would be well within our rights to respond that way. It's a good thing Jesus wasn't interested in exerting his rights. It's a good thing that Jesus doesn't think the way we do. It's a good thing that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. No matter how many times we wander, he will never forsake us. No matter how far we stray, he will never stop loving us. Our Good Shepherd loves us and forgives us, and he gives us an example to follow.

If your heart has been opened to receive the glorious riches of God's grace, if you want thank God for the gift of saving faith, Peter suggests one way to put your faith into practice: "It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God" (19, 20).

When Peter wrote these words, he was addressing a specific group of people, Christian slaves (see verse 18). Slavery in the Roman Empire was very different from slavery in America. In the first century slaves could earn money and own property and even buy their freedom, but there was a downside. Some masters were harsh, and when Christian slaves were mistreated by their masters they had a choice to make:

Do I hold a grudge? Do I grumble and complain? Do I wait until the time is right and then take revenge? Or do I do something radically different? Do I do something totally unexpected? Do I bear the burden willingly? Do I forgive my master because I know how much I have been forgiven?

It wasn't just first century slaves who found themselves in these situations. Every Christian who lives in an unchristian and more and more anti-Christian world will be confronted by the same questions. And when you are, I want you to remember Peter's answer: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (21).

Enduring hardship shouldn't be considered a necessary evil. Don't think of suffering as a Christian or suffering because you are a Christian as a burden. It is our calling from God. It is a blessing from God. That's not my idea. The concept didn't originate with Peter. Those words come straight from the mouth of the Good Shepherd, who said: "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man" (Luke 6:22).

There it is in black and white. When you are excluded you are blessed. When you are insulted you are blessed. When you suffer for the sake of Jesus, you are blessed. Those words are easy to read, but not so easy to accept, such a challenge to put into practice, and definitely too difficult to accomplish on our own. Sheep can't come to the Good Shepherd on their own, and they can't follow in his footsteps on their own either.

That is why Peter includes that all-important phrase, "for you." Suffering for Christ is possible only because Christ suffered for you. He did what you can't do. He did what you and I could never do. First and foremost, Jesus Christ came to earth to be our Savior, but our Savior is also our role model. He gave up his life for us, and by the way he lived his life he gives us an example to follow.

Picture a child as he sits at a desk learning to write his letters. He places a blank sheet of paper over an alphabet template and carefully traces the outlines. With each stroke his confidence grows. With every exercise his penmanship improves. This was the one of the ways the Greek word translated, "example," was used, and it is an interesting way to illustrate our lives of Christian sanctification (our walk of faith as a children of God).

Jesus' life is our template, and it was perfect. As Isaiah prophesied and Peter repeated, "he committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth" (22). We are like the students who are trying to copy the letters. We want to be like Jesus. We want to imitate him. We want to follow his perfect example. But sometimes we go below the line. Sometimes we go outside the lines. Some of our weak attempts are better than others.

Because of the sin we have inherited and the sins we have committed, our "penmanship" will never be perfect on this side of heaven. There will always be room to improve. There will always be room to grow. But the more time we spend with our Good Shepherd, the more we spend time in God's Word, the more closely we will follow in his footsteps...even if following him means that we might have to suffer.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Being assaulted by your enemies. Facing the threats of thieves and robbers. Suffering because you are a believer. All of these not-so-pleasant images can be found in today's Scripture lessons, and taken together they all remind us of one thing: It's a good thing we have a Good Shepherd. Jesus leads and guides and guards his flock. He loves his sheep. He gave up his life for the sheep. He gives us hope and peace. He gives our lives purpose and meaning. And he has given us a perfect example to follow as we follow in his steps. Amen.

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