1 Pt 2:21-25
It should be obvious that we find today to be meaningful. The Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Easter – Misercordias Domini – have caused many to call today “Good Shepherd Sunday.” In the Old Testament reading God says, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
In our text, the Epistle lesson, Peter says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” And of course, in the Gospel lesson Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
This theme catches our attention because we are, after all, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. The defining feature of this congregation is the window behind me that depicts Jesus lovingly holding a lamb in his arms. It is now illuminated at night so that those at evening services and those driving by on Westminster Drive can see it. This image appears on our church stationary, on our t-shirts and even on my business card.
And in fact, the Good Shepherd connections don’t stop there. In a timing that almost seems to have been scripted, I officially announced my acceptance of the call to Good Shepherd on Good Shepherd Sunday in 2006. Now almost ten years later, it appears that it was meant to be.
Good Shepherd Sunday has a warm and fuzzy feel – kind of like that lamb Jesus is holding in our window. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd calls to mind the tender and caring love of our Lord. He is the one who like a shepherd gathers in his sheep and cares for them. Or as our text says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
Now this is certainly all true. And more than that, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has done the unthinkable. As our Lord says in the Gospel lesson, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus is the One who has given himself as the sacrifice for our sin. That is what almost all of our text today is about.
Peter tells us that “Christ also suffered for you.” And then he goes on to use the words of that Old Testament text the proved so crucial for the early Church’s understanding of what had happened on Good Friday. Weaving in the words of Isaiah chapter 53 about the suffering Servant, Peter tells us, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
Jesus Christ the sinless One bore your sins in his body on the tree. Sinners who sin cannot live with the holy God. And so Jesus became the sinner in your place. He received the judgment that you deserve for all of your selfish actions. He received God’s wrath for all of the angry words you speak. He died for you, and then on the third day God raised him from the dead. Because of this Peter can says, “By his wounds you have been healed.”
Not long ago we had gone out to take care of some errands. We usually go out through the garage to the van. The door into the house from the garage has a glass screen door that has the usual mechanism to close it. To be honest, ours causes the door to close very slowly.
We left the house and returned more than an hour later. As we pulled up to the house we saw an unexpected sight. There, sitting next to the garage door, were our two dogs, Luther and Noel. What had happened is that sometimes, the last person out forgets to shut the door into the house as they walk out into the garage. The screen door closes slowly, and the dogs who have followed us to the door slip out before the screen door closes. In this case we must have been in such a hurry that not only did we not notice this – we also didn’t realize that the dogs had gone outside the garage.
The dogs were outside the house, unattended for an extended period of time. But when we returned, there they were, sitting next to the garage door. Luther and Noel are not dumb. They know where home is. They know they have it really good. They didn’t wander off.
While the dogs were too smart to wander off, you and I are too dumb not too. Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. Sheep, as you have heard many times, are proverbialy dumb. They wander off. Though we had wandered off into sin, by his death and resurrection and through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Means of Grace, Jesus has brought us back to himself. And even when we stumble in sin, he continues to bring back repentant sinners.
That’s all good stuff. It’s all true stuff. It’s the kind of stuff you expect to hear on Good Shepherd Sunday. But our text from 1 Peter also contains a surprise. There is something here we probably don’t expect.
Peter begins our text by saying, “For to this you have been called.” “This” refers to the previous three verses in which Peter has said, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
Our translation says “servants,” but Peter here is clearly talking to slaves. Peter says it finds favor in God’s eyes when a Christian slave suffers unjustly because he or she is mindful of God. The apostle says that it finds favor in God’s eyes when a Christian slave does good and suffers because of it.
And before you think that these words and this idea do not apply to you because they are addressed to people in the situation of ancient slavery, consider what Peter says in the next chapter. There he writes, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”
Peter says this and then adds, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” It is the exact same argument as in our text where the apostle explains, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you.”
Jesus Christ’s suffering and death for us has not only provided our salvation. In our text Peter declares, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” When Jesus suffered unjustly, yet continued to trust the Father’s will he was providing the model for us to follow. When he was reviled yet did not respond in kind he was showing us how we are to live. And so Peter can say in the next chapter, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” You are called to follow Jesus in doing what is right even in the face of suffering, “because,” Peter says, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
Jesus’ suffering and death is an example for us. Yet we would be in trouble if that was all there was to it. After all, we would simply be cast back on our own resources. However Jesus did not just die. As we have been celebrating since Easter, he also rose from the dead. And this fact has changed everything for us. Peter begins this letter by announcing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
The new life of the resurrection has already begun in us. Peter says we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. How did this happen? The apostle explains this as he talks about how Christians are to treat one another. He writes, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
The Holy Spirit has given you new life through the Word. You know that you have new life because you have received rebirth through the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism. Now through the work of the Spirit, the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives you hope. We know how the story turns out. We have already gotten to peek at the end of the book. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has shown us where we are heading, and the Spirit who raised Jesus is at work in you. He will do that same thing for you on the Last Day, and already now the Spirit provides the means by which you can follow in Jesus Christ’s steps.
Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who has given his life for us his sheep. He suffered for us as he bore our sins in body on tree, and by his wounds we have been healed. His trust in God the Father as he faced suffering and his willingness to suffer for doing what is right in God’s eyes provide an example to us. Peter says in our text, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
But Jesus is the One who rose from the dead. And we are enabled to walk in his steps through the work of the Holy Spirit. We have been born again to a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection. The Spirit has caused us to be born again through the Word and now we can follow in Jesus’ steps because we know where they lead – resurrection and eternal life with Christ.