Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon| May 5, 2019| Rev. Rolf Preus| 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
Every Christian is a sheep of the good shepherd. The sheep of the good shepherd are those who listen to his voice and follow him. He knows them. They belong to him. They are precious to him. He lays down his life for them. Nobody but Jesus can care for his sheep. Other religious authorities use the sheep for their own benefit. They fleece them, butcher them, and sell them. Organized religion is one of the biggest and most successful cons in this world. There’s a sucker born every minute, and there is always an unscrupulous con artist ready to take advantage.
Jesus is the good shepherd. He gives his life for the sheep. He protects the sheep from deadly predators. He knows them and they know him. Martin Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles, one of the confessions of the Lutheran Church:
For, thank God, a seven year old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy Christian Church.
Jesus is the shepherd and his Christians are his sheep. This is a pretty picture. It looks very gentle, warm, inviting, and comforting – does it not? The good shepherd theme is very popular in churchly art. Psalm 23 is probably the most popular psalm. There is something very tender and gentle in this picture of our Savior Jesus. But this does not mean that the life of a sheep of the good shepherd is a life without pain, suffering, and troubles. It’s not.
St. Peter is the author of the words before us today. You remember that he denied Jesus three times. Three times Jesus asked him if he loved him. Three times Jesus told him to feed his sheep. Peter was the leader of the apostles. He was the first among equals. Christ did not give him authority over the other apostles. He did not establish in Peter an office of the papacy that would oversee the entire church on earth. Nobody taught any such thing during the first several centuries of church history. But Christ did choose Peter as an apostle and the words he has written are God’s word.
Peter wrote his epistles to Christians who were suffering persecution. In our text, he writes specifically to working men – servants – who suffer under the abusive power of their bosses. Deal with it patiently, as Jesus did. Don’t mutter threats. Put up with unfair treatment.
We all have a sense of justice. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Those who mistreat others should be held to account for it. This sense of justice is especially acute when we are personally mistreated. We want what is right and fair. When we don’t get it, we get angry and frustrated and feel sorry for ourselves.
Look to Jesus your good shepherd. Follow his example. Take to heart this truth. The example we are told to follow is what Jesus did to save us from our sins.
He said nothing wrong or unkind. He didn’t insult. He didn’t threaten. He entrusted himself to him who judges justly. You don’t see justice. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Jesus suffered the worst miscarriage of justice in the history of the world! He was innocent. Their accusations were lies. Pilate found him innocent, but handed him over to be crucified anyway. They said he was guilty. They lied. One malicious lie after another. Lie upon lie upon lie. He said nothing. He meekly submitted.
This is wrong! He is innocent! They are evil. And they have the power over him. This is wrong! He should have the power over them. He is God, he is pure, he is innocent, and they have all the power.
But they don’t. Not really. He looks helpless and weak. But see what is happening underneath the appearance of injustice. He is bearing our sins in his body. He is taking upon himself our sins and our guilt. He is paying our debt. He is paying for our sins by suffering for them. He, the innocent, suffers for the guilty, and in this way he takes the sin and its punishment off of us.
Look at him and see what is happening. He is whipped. It leaves stripes on his back. His stripes heal us. His suffering is our gain. We die to sin and live for righteousness. We can live righteous lives because God has forgiven us all our sin. He has justified us. He has set us free from the guilt of our sins.
Life looks unfair. At times it looks like a tragic waste. But look and see who takes care of us. Jesus is called the shepherd and bishop of our souls. We are used to calling the man Jesus sends to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments the pastor. When we hear the word bishop, we probably think of those churches that have a hierarchical kind of church government where the bishops exercise authority over the pastors.
In fact, St. Peter makes it clear that a pastor and a bishop are the same thing. He says:
You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.
A pastor is a shepherd. He feeds the flock. A bishop is an overseer. He watches over the flock. In the Bible, there is no difference between a pastor and a bishop. The notion that a bishop is a pastor of the pastors is a human notion. It isn’t based on the Bible. It’s based on tradition. According to the Bible, the one who feeds and the one who watches over is the same person. Feeding and watching over go together.
We also learn from these words of St. Peter that the man we call pastor isn’t really the pastor. He’s only called pastor because he speaks on behalf of the real pastor and the real pastor is Jesus. Jesus is shepherd or pastor. Jesus is bishop or overseer. Jesus is the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name. They hear his voice, follow him, and are kept safe from spiritual predators that would destroy them.
The only authority of the pastor or bishop of the congregation is the word of Christ that is written down in the Holy Scriptures. The pastor or bishop must speak always and only for Christ. There is no other authority than that of the good shepherd – his word, not the words of men that will mislead us.
The reason sheep go astray is because they leave behind the voice of the shepherd. They end up relying on their own powers, and trusting in their own circumstances. It’s pathetic to look at. We imagine that if we have money, health, power, or status, then we’re doing just fine.
But how safe are you? What does everything we have amount to? To be in the care of Jesus means that you have power over the evil that taunts you. You can submit to whatever unfair authority goads you. You are above it all. You are righteous before God. This is your life. God decides what is righteous and just. Not the world. He makes you a sheep and gives you your worth, your status, and you must not judge by what the world sees or what your heart feels.
When you face mistreatment, consider who is caring for you, whose blood was shed for you. He is the one who justifies you. He recognizes you, claims you, owns you, not as a slave, but as a dear child bought with his own blood. You don’t need to fight every battle. You have him who has borne your sins in his body. That’s the greatest battle. He won. You won. Amen.