LOVE THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Dear Christian friends,
Over the centuries people have left the farm to live in the city. It used to be that many had a plot of land and grew their own food. Many had a vegetable garden and fruit trees; many had had chickens and cows and sheep. That has certainly changed. In the United States in 1900 41% of households were involved in agriculture; in 1930 that dropped to 21.5%; by 1945 to 16%; by 1970 to 4%. At the beginning of this century the figure was down to 1.9%.
Where I grew up, in rural Wisconsin, everyone had a farm, but when I go back these days, many of those farms are now vacant. They land lies fallow. I know a family that I grew up with who had a thriving farm in my child and teen years. The husband died. His wife is living on the farm. She is well into her eighties. The Three children have all moved away. In her eighties she still lives there because she can’t sell the farm. No one is even renting the land to grow crops.
Because our society has changed, this presents a challenge of a pastor to preach and teach the Scripture. In the 21st century most of us come from urban, man-made environment. We are city folk. City folk are not familiar with subjects like livestock, crops, fruit and wild life. We are not familiar with such things as sheep, wheat, soil or grapes that Jesus used to illustrate so many points of truth he wants us to know.
A number of passages refer to people being like sheep. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. So what are the truths that Jesus wants us to know about ourselves when he refers to us a sheep? What are the truths when he refers to himself as the Good Shepherd? On Good Shepherd Sunday Peter urges us to “Love the Good Shepherd.” 1) He is your Savior; 2) He is your model.
Far too many people misunderstand the Christian faith. Far too many get the impression that because Jesus forgives us, we get an okay to live careless and indulgent lives. After all, God forgives us. But God’s love does not allow us to do that. I don’t mean that God loves us so much he puts a hammerlock on us to love him or he will hurt us. You will be made to love. That’s not how the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ love, works. The love of Jesus touches the heart with gentle but overwhelming force. Through the Spirit of God we begin to understand how much he loved us by laying down his life for us. He loves us like a good shepherd loves his sheep.
Peter reminds us here just how much the Jesus the Good Shepherd loves his sheep. He quotes from Isaiah 53. Instead of picturing Jesus as the Good Shepherd, Isaiah pictured Jesus as one of the sheep who were sacrificed in a sacrificial and substitutionary death for the people. ‘“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 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 cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”’
Jesus “committed no sin.” Some probably thought of him as a goody two shoes. I looked up the origin of that phrase. It comes from a fable that goes back to the 1700’s. Kind of like a Cinderella story. Goody Two-Shoes became the nickname of a poor orphan girl named Margery Meanwell. She was so poor that she went through some of her life with only one shoe. A rich gentleman gave her a complete pair, she is so happy that she tells everyone she has "two shoes". Later, as the fable goes, Margery becomes a teacher and marries a rich widower. People say virtue is eventually rewarded. She is referred to as Goody Two Shoes. Actually the fable is positive, but somewhere along the line it has to become a negative.
It is embarrassing to be called a Goody Two Shoes. A goody two shoes is one who embarrasses others by their often self-righteousness and makes others look bad.
Back to Jesus! Isaiah was speaking of Jesus hundreds of years before he was even born -- flesh and blood like we are - but he “committed no sin.” Imagine living around the perfect Jesus. While some say that Jesus was an only child, the Bible says clearly that Jesus had brothers and sisters. The Bible mentions they didn’t believe him to be the Messiah at first. In fact, they once thought he was out of his mind. Eventually they did and James one of Jesus’ brothers became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Don’t you think his siblings were jealous now and then that he was taken to the woodshed? He never had to sit in the corner. If he were my brother like he was to them, I might have been called him a “goody two shoes.”
While his siblings despised him for a while, we thank Jesus that he committed no sin. That was important to his family and it is very important for us. His life was lived for us.
Imagine a child having a bag of broken toys. They are all packed to be thrown away. But Dad takes his child to a toy repair store. As fast as the broken toys are unloaded, the owner fills another bag of identical toys all of which are perfect. An exchange took place – the bad for the good and the good for the bad. The child gets the good and the repairman gets the bad.
That’s what Jesus did for us. He supplied us with his good and we gave him our bad. He gave us credit for his perfection and Jesus took the blame for our imperfection and died for them all. The Lord credits is with the holiness of Jesus, the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. Martin Luther said it like this: "Our most merciful Father...sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him...the sins of all men saying: Be Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which ate the fruit in Paradise; that thief which hung upon the cross; and …Jesus, you be the person who has committed the sins of all men; see therefore that you pay and satisfy all of them…I find him the sinner...therefore let him die upon the cross. … By this means the whole world is purged and cleansed from all sins." You see, dear Christians, Jesus doesn’t threaten us so that we love him. No hammerlock. He doesn’t scream at us, YOU WILL CARE! His love was put into action. That’s what touches the heart.
While it is true that Peter seems to use a mixed metaphor. He calls Jesus the Shepherd, but he also uses a passage that compares him to a lamb of sacrifice. Yet a good shepherd was willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
Remember when the giant Goliath threatened the welfare of nation of Israel. David, the shepherd boy, gave his credentials on why he should be allowed to fight the giant. “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear.”
Sheep were and are a scrumptious meal for wolves and bears and other predators. David’s case proved that, but he was willing to lay down his life for the sheep he was shepherding. So it was with Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. We are the sheep, defenseless and easy prey for the Devil himself. We love to wander into the dangerous paths of sin. We stray so often from his flock and don’t receive the encouragement that goes with his flock. But he laid down his life to save. Awesome, isn’t it? Unselfish, isn’t it? God of God, Light of light, Very God of Very God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords came to die and fill a huge need in our lives. He came to be our Savior.
While he came to be our Savior he came to serve as a model for us too. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” What does he mean when he writes “to this you were called?” What we were called to? Called to faith? Yes, we were called to faith, but in context here Peter is speaking about the Christian being called to submit just as Jesus, the Lord and Savior, was willing to submit himself to whatever was necessary to save us.
Earlier in this chapter Peter reminds us that we ought to consider ourselves to be “foreigners and exiles” in this world. None of us are done moving. We are passing through this world. While we are here Peter writes, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” That’s a pretty key verse to understand. That verse explains the purpose for the time God has allotted to us to live on planet earth. Our ultimate purpose in life is not to see how rich and famous we can be. It is not to attain all the power we can. None of those things have everlasting value. Live such good deeds so that when pagan people see you, “they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Follow Jesus’ model and in doing so you will be a model to others.
“Submit” is the key word. To submit requires humility. In verses prior Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” the government. In those days there were slaves and he says to slaves, “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” In our day, submit to your bosses. Then Peter goes on to say, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Jesus was the model when it comes submission.
A model is not just to be looked at. As a model he shows us how we are to be. Paul wrote these memorable words, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” When Jesus displayed servanthood when he washed the disciples’ feet, he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
A great theologian once wrote, “A man's life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of of someone they compare his deeds to dollars and his speech to pennies.”
Can we ever get close to following his example of perfection? If we did, pinch yourself because you are no longer on earth. Look around and you will be seeing people like Paul and David and Isaiah. You are in heaven. But while on this earth, don’t stop trying, don’t stop striving. Peter reminds us, “For you were like sheep going astray.” Nobody is perfect. But remember something else, “But now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” There we find forgiveness. There we find reason to love the Good Shepherd.