Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| April 30, 2006| 1 Peter 2:21-25
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth:” who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25
Years ago I had a conversation with my cousin in law. He was raised Baptist and had become a Lutheran when he married my cousin. He still had questions about certain Lutheran teachings. We teach that a sinner is not able to cooperate with God in helping to bring about his conversion to the Christian faith. Our conversion – being born again – is entirely the gracious work of God. He had been taught that you become a Christian by your own choice. By your own free will you choose Christ to be your Savior. He knew that these were two different teachings, but he didn’t understand what difference it made which teaching was correct. After all, he argued, what’s important is that we are believers. It’s not so important how we became believers. What difference does it make whether it was our choice or God’s choice? What’s important is that we believe in Jesus as our Savior.
But it does make a difference that God is the one who does the choosing. It does matter which teaching is correct. It makes a big difference. God chooses us. Jesus said:
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask in the Father in My name he may give you. (John 15:16)
He chooses us. We bear good fruit, we pray, we live Christian lives only after He chooses us. We choose Him only after He has chosen us and changed us. He makes the unwilling willing. If it were up to us to choose, we would not choose Jesus. We would not choose the Christian life. We would not choose to imitate Jesus. We would not choose to follow His footsteps.
St. Peter tells us in our text that we were called by God to suffer. We were called to follow the example of Jesus. Jesus was reviled, slandered, mocked, and shamed. He was crucified. Tell me, is this what we would choose if the choice were up to us? Of course not! We would choose the easy road. We do our level best to avoid discomfort, pain, suffering, and persecution. We choose our words and actions to avoid unnecessary pain. Furthermore, when we are abused and insulted we do not by nature respond as our Lord Jesus did. We don’t want to turn the other cheek. We may know that we should simply entrust ourselves to Him who judges righteously, but is this what we choose to do when the choice is left up to us?
We are chosen. God elected us in Christ Jesus before time began. We are called. Last week we talked about the divine call into the office of preaching. Our pastors must be called by God. God sends His preachers to preach. The divine call places the preacher under obligation. He is to say what God tells Him to say. He may not deviate from God’s word, whether to the left or to the right. If he sets aside the faithful preaching of God’s word – whether for fear or favor – he is no longer a minister of Christ. He has become a hireling. Listen to what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says of such self-serving preachers:
But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.
A preacher who will not preach the truth is less than useless. This is why is it vital that we listen only to pastors who are bound to preach only the pure doctrine of God’s word. The pastor does not choose what he must preach. Jesus, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, has already made that choice for him. The divine call of a man to be a pastor does not exalt that man. It places him under authority, the authority of Jesus Christ.
Similarly, every Christian is called by God and is under the authority of Christ. Every Christian is called by God in Holy Baptism. Not all Christians are preachers. But all Christians are called out of the darkness of unbelief into the light of God’s truth. All Christians are called to confess the true Christian faith. As Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32) All Christians are called to die to sin and live for righteousness. All Christians are called to imitate Christ, to receive willingly the cross that God places upon them. This is a divine call. It is from God. It is to the life that God has chosen for us. This is not a matter of human choice. It is a matter of divine election. He calls us and we follow.
You don’t need to know in any detail God’s plan for your life. That’s good because God is not giving us the details. We don’t have to try to delve into His hidden will and extract what He hasn’t already made perfectly clear in the Holy Scriptures. We are simply to imitate Christ. When we do we will receive what Christ received. He is the example that God sets before us. His life is the life we live. In fact, it is in living lives that are joined to Christ’s life that we find true joy even in the midst of suffering. The cross of Christ on which our sins were removed lightens for us every cross we must bear.
Jesus made it clear. He said:
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
How can this be? We lose our lives in order to gain them? It doesn’t seem to make any sense. It makes sense only in light of Christ’s suffering for us. When we set out to imitate Christ we must remember two things. First, that we are called by God. We don’t choose this life for ourselves. God has chosen it for us. Second, that our imitation of Christ is not done in an effort to save our lives. We don’t save our own lives. We lose them. This is crucial. We lose our lives for Christ’s sake. Why? He suffered for us. That’s why. It is in His suffering for us that our suffering finds true value. Otherwise, suffering is just going through senseless pain. If Christ did not suffer for us, there would be no point to our suffering. But since Christ did suffer for us He bore our sins in His body. His suffering takes away our sin. Now when we suffer we do so as children of God, as saints who are washed clean of all our sin. When we suffer as Christians we are not being punished by God. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree. In bearing that sin, He took its load off of us. It cannot burden us. Our suffering cannot be for us a sign of God’s displeasure. It must rather be a sign of God’s grace.
Grace isn’t something one chooses for oneself the way you choose a Ford or a Chevy. It’s not like applying for this job or to that school. In such cases you are at least to a certain degree in charge of your life. But God’s grace in Christ takes our lives out of our hands and puts them in better hands. God’s grace in Christ seeks us out. As God promised through the prophet Ezekiel:
Thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”
God’s grace seeks us out when we are lost without any idea of where to go. We are like sheep, hopelessly lost, in danger of wolves and every other fierce predator. We cannot help ourselves. There is only one way back to God and that is through Jesus, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. He is our Shepherd and our Bishop. That is, He feeds us and watches over us. He knows our weaknesses. How could He not know them when he bore all our sins on the cross? In knowing our weaknesses He feeds us with just the right food our souls require. He tells us that our sins – though they are like scarlet – shall be as wool. He tells us that we are His precious saints. Our lives are covered by His life. His life is our life. His righteousness is ours. His innocence is ours. His suffering had brought this to us. Knowing that He is ours and we are His we aren’t afraid to face whatever persecution may come to us.
Suffering under the cross is a sign of God’s grace. If we suffer because of our own sins, obnoxious behavior, or foolishness, that’s not a sign of anything at all except that you reap what you sow. When Jehovah’s Witnesses have doors slammed in their face, this is not a sign of God’s approval, though they may think that it is. Witnessing to lies gains nothing but God’s judgment. But when the Christian suffers on account of the fact that he is a Christian he gains something more precious than any amount of money. He is honored by God. We need to learn how to recognize it when we are being honored by God. Otherwise we will misinterpret the honor and think that it is a curse.
It is necessary that when we imitate Jesus we be treated as Jesus was treated. They say that no good deed will go unpunished. That’s not just a cynical observation. It is truer than we know. Jesus never sinned and never said anything deceitful. Yet He was hated. When He healed the man born blind they hated Him for it. When He raised Lazarus from the dead their hatred took form in a firm resolution to have Him killed. Why? The pure love of God does this. It shows sin to be sin. The light shines in the darkness and those whose eyes are blinded by it will lash out against it, try to darken it, to put it out, to remove that light that exposes the evil of sin. Know that when you stand on God’s word and confess it, you will be opposed. When you say what comes naturally to a Christian to say you will not need to search for persecution. It will come. And that’s the way it must be as long as we are living as Christians in this world. We know this is so. Knowing this, we accept this as a fact of life and we entrust ourselves to Him who judges righteously.
But how do you entrust yourself to Him who judges righteously if you aren’t righteous? You cannot. If you are not righteous the One who judges righteously will surely judge you and condemn you. This is why people who don’t have the forgiveness of sins must spend their lives judging others. They know of no other way to live because only in this way can they deflect God’s judgment away from their own conscience. But we belong to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, who purchased by His own blood the lives He feeds and protects. When we entrust ourselves to God, we do so in full knowledge that Jesus bore all our sins in His body on the tree. This means that we are forgiven. All our sins are forgiven, never to rise up to accuse us again. We have nothing to fear from the God who judges righteously. We can confidently entrust ourselves into His hands without any doubt at all that he will defend us. We don’t need to do God’s work for Him. He’s perfectly capable of doing His work without our help. He called us to faith. He called us to the lives we live by faith. Just as He didn’t need our help to call us to faith in the first place, He doesn’t need our help to punish those who do us wrong. Jesus entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly. Since He is ours and we are His, we can do the same.