Return to Your Shepherd

Sermon preached at Our Savior Lutheran Church on May 15, 2011 for the 4th Sunday of Easter. Sermon text: 1 Peter 2:19-25 This is the 3rd sermon in a series on 1 Peter called, “Easter Brings Our Hope to Life.”

Imagine yourself in a prison cell. You are chained to the wall; there’s barely room to move. You get fed, but not very much and not very often. It’s enough to survive, but barely. There’s almost no light and definitely no windows. Every day that goes by is longer than the last. And you suffer. Every day you suffer.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? No one likes to suffer, and being locked up in some sort of dungeon or prison sounds like an awful way to live. But would it make it more or less awful to know that you were in that dungeon because of horrible crimes you committed? I don’t think much could change the awful situation of living in a dungeon, but if it was your own fault, if it were your own crimes that brought you there, at least you’d know you deserved it. You’d still suffer. But your anger would be at yourself for committing those crimes.

But now imagine that you were in that dungeon, not because you committed a crime, not because you did anything wrong, but because you did something right. You helped someone; you saved a life. You followed all the rules and then some. But still, you end up punished in a dungeon. Wouldn’t that be even worse? Wouldn’t that just make you want to scream? To be locked up for doing something wrong is bad, but to be locked up for doing something good is worse. It’s hard to imagine.

But maybe you can imagine it, even just a little bit. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase: “no good deed goes unpunished.” And while that phrase is a bit of an overstatement, we can probably all relate to it. Have you ever done someone a favor, a really nice favor, and they ended up getting mad at you? It’s frustrating! It’s angering! And it makes you want to never do anything nice for that person again!

You can also suffer for doing something good in your life of faith. We live in a sinful world, but we have a victorious Savior! He rose from the dead to give us life! He is the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us! It’s only natural that we are going to be living out our thanks to him. The fact that we are Christians will not be a secret to the world. They will know. Even though faith cannot be seen since it’s only in the heart, the world will see our faith by the actions our faith compels us to do.

And the sad truth is, when we show our faith with actions, when we live that faith out, not everyone is going to be happy about it. We might just suffer in this world because of those good works that flow from our faith. 

Let’s say there is someone who is not a believer, someone who doesn’t trust that when they die they will go to heaven solely because of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Maybe this person was never a believer, or maybe they used to be one but have drifted away. And you, because you love your Savior who has rescued you from sin, death, and hell, and because you care about this person who doesn’t believe, you decide to share your faith with them.

But instead of thanking you for kind act, the person gets angry. Not only does this person want no part in your church or your Savior, they don’t want anything to do with you anymore. How would that make you feel? Sorry for them, maybe. It’d hurt your feelings, probably. You might even get angry that you try to do something nice, something vital for someone else — and you end up suffering for it. It’s frustrating. And the next time the opportunity comes up for you to share your faith, you might just think twice.

We discover something surprising today in our text from 1 Peter. When we suffer because of our faith, God says here through Peter that it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing! Think of it, the most devastating, angering, frustrating thing that happen to us at times in our life of faith — is a good thing. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. (1 Pet. 2:19)

It is commendable when you suffer for living your faith. You should wear it like a badge of honor. It’s a good thing. It’s worth mentioning that Peter’s first audience most likely faced physical suffering because of their faith. When they showed they were a Christian, they could have been beaten, tortured, or worse. That’s why Peter wrote, 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. (1 Pet. 2:20)

For the most part, in our nation today, we’re not afraid of physical violence for showing our faith. Just like most of us aren’t scared of getting tossed into an actual dungeon for being Christians. But our suffering is still just as real.

The hurt we feel when someone rejects our call to faith is real. When someone doesn’t associate with us anymore (whether they tell us this to our face or not) because of our faith, it hurts. It makes us angry. It makes us not want to have that happen again.

So what we’re tempted to do is live in such a way that there’s no chance of us feeling that kind of hurt and frustration. We’re tempted to make sure our lives stay comfortable no matter what — any kind of suffering is to be avoided at all costs.

You see where this could lead. We still call ourselves Christian, maybe we even keep going to church. But otherwise we never do anything that could cause people to suspect we are serious believers. We might not think of it as hiding our faith, but that’s what it is.

And if someone is doing something wrong, if someone is doing something to endanger their own faith — if they have any — you know what we’re tempted to do? Nothing. Don’t say anything. Maybe even give them the impression that you kind of agree with them. But tell them they’re in the wrong? Tell them they’re going down a bad path? Never! That might open us up to suffering! That might make us vulnerable to being hurt in some way!

So we hide our faith. We stuff our beliefs down as far as we can. We try not to get mistaken for a Christian. You see the problem here, though? Do you see the danger that is so, so close when we start thinking this way? The problem with hiding our faith is that we’re naturally so good at it! We’re so good at hiding it that we can eventually hide it from ourselves. And before we know it — it’s gone! And then our hope is gone, too. Before we know it, we’ll find that hiding our faith also results in our hope being lost.

Friends, let this be your wake up call. Let Easter be your wake up call. Easter brings our hope to life! If you find yourself ever hiding your faith or avoiding the suffering that comes with your faith, wake up! Return to your shepherd!

When it comes to suffering for our faith, remember it’s not something optional for us. Our text says, To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Pet. 2:21) God would not be surprised that we would suffer for our faith. After all, look what happened to Jesus himself! He suffered more than any of us ever could. More than we could imagine. He’s our example. He’s our Shepherd. Return to him!

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. (1 Pet. 2:22-23) Jesus suffered plenty. He suffered emotionally, as he was insulted and friends left him. He suffered physically as he was beaten and bruised and eventually hung on the tree of the cross. He suffered, but never retaliated.

But the impressive part isn’t that he suffered. It’s that he did it for you and for me. He did it in our place, as our Savior. 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. (1 Pet. 2:24)

By his wounds you have been healed. Your sins, the times you hide your faith, the times you avoid suffering by denying your Lord — those sins have been healed. Jesus healed them by his suffering and his dying on the cross, and his rising from the grave. And why did he do this? Peter says, So that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.

The sinful ways of this world, the sins that drag us away from our faith, in Christ, they’re gone! He’s taken them away! So we don’t need to live in them any more. We live for righteousness. We live in the righteousness of Christ. We live forever because his righteousness covers our sins. We live for him now in thanks for what his righteousness has done. He is our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. So return to your Shepherd. Live for him in all you do!

And just let me permit a specific example of how you can live for your Shepherd. Those people who don’t know Jesus as their Savior and those who have wandered away from him…you know people like this. Live for your Savior, return to your Shepherd by being a witness to these people.

I’m not saying you should start shouting at these people and shaking a Bible in their face. No, but still, be a real witness. Do not hide your faith away, let it show. And when the opportunity comes up to point to Jesus, to point to the Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, give that witness! Point to your Shepherd!

It might be tough for you to do. It might involve some risk. You might even suffer for it, because the person might not listen or might not treat you the same again. But then again, the Holy Spirit just might use your witness. The Holy Spirit just might open their heart to the Shepherd who died and rose for his sheep.

May God grant you strength as you reach out to those lost sheep. Forget the suffering you might face, and look to the Shepherd who suffered in your place. Give a witness for him who gave everything for you. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet. 2:25)

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