Why do sheep stray? It may not be the most cosmically important question to ask, but knowing why sheep stray tells us something about ourselves. The long and short of it is that sheep stray because they’re hungry. With head down they nibble, step, nibble, step without even looking at where they are going. If we’re not careful, we can do the same thing, allowing our appetite to determine our direction.
Welcome to the 14th installment in our walk through 1st Peter. Previous articles are available on our website – lambchow.com. In today’s verses, Peter continues to comment on suffering for doing right. “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21–25, NASB95)
One of the most common questions we receive is something along the lines of “what does God want me to do?” I almost always remind the person asking about the common things we are all to do as Jesus followers. I often recount Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NASB95) And remind them of Jesus “marching orders,” “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19–20, NASB95) Other purposes common to all followers are loving, caring, and worshiping. My advice is to start with these, and if God has something specific for you, He’ll let you know.
In today’s verses from Peter, he begins with “for you have been called to this purpose.” I don’t think that Peter thought that his readers have been called or purposed to suffer for suffering sake. I think we should look a little further and connect “for you have been called to the purpose” with “so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Although, dying to sin and living to righteousness may require suffering. That, along with the other things we’ve mentioned, is our purpose in Christ.
Peter begins by holding Jesus up as an example of how to suffer. The pain, torture, and death He suffered was not due to sin. Jesus didn’t do anything to deserve it, yet He didn’t curse them back or utter any threats. We may howl at unfairness, but Jesus didn’t utter a word. When the guards pummeled him, mocked him, pulled his beard, and beat down the crown of thorns, Jesus didn’t respond. I doubt that any of us could accomplish that. He didn’t damn them, curse them to hell, or promise divine retribution. When the Romans whipped him with a scourge which tore through his skin Jesus didn’t say anything. When the executioners drove the spikes and raised the cross, he did speak. He forgave them.
It’s not an easy example to follow. In fact, we can easily declare that it is impossible. Peter is clear though that the punishment Jesus received is what each one of us was due. Jesus took our punishment for us. The reason we can truly “die to sin and live for righteousness” is because of what Jesus suffered on the cross.
Almost everyone that chooses to follow Christ starts by wanting to be healed. It could be a physical problem or disease. It could be broken circumstances and relationships or perhaps even loss. Almost assuredly we need our hearts to be healed. That is what we felt. We needed something fixed in our lives, so we turned to Jesus.
Yes, the grander thing is that Jesus desires to do more than just fix us. But most of us didn’t start our journey of faith looking for the grander thing. We wanted to be healed. Peter is very plain “for by His wounds you are healed.” A riff on Isaiah 53:5-6 – “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:5–6, NASB95)
Folks have often narrowed this to physical healing. I believe that God is still in the healing business and that all forms of healing are at their root divine. We thrill when something is miraculously and inexplicably healed. We should also thrill when healing comes through the natural course, after all, God designed our bodies to heal. Neither should we discount the healing that comes through the art of doctors and medicine. All healing is divine healing.
Peter has something larger than just physical healing in mind. We were bent and broken by sin which infected our spirit, our soul, our desires, our satisfaction, our vision, our responses, our justice, and our thoughts. We were more broken than we imagined. But because of Jesus, because of His wounds, because He carried our sins to the cross, we have been and are continuing to be made whole. We are no longer bent towards sin but towards God. That is a healing only God can do.
Peter continues to riff on Isaiah 53 and observes that we used to be like straying sheep. Head down and following our appetites. But Peter observes apart from Isaiah that, “now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” All because of what Jesus suffered on the cross.
Have you returned or are you still wandering about? So often folks think that they’re not good enough, that they’ve sinned too much, that Jesus wouldn’t, couldn’t, accept them. Wrong. Jesus knows how far you’ve wandered and what appetites you’ve followed. The journey of faith begins where you are at, all that is required is to lift your head and follow Jesus, your Shepherd. No one has ever wandered so far into the wilderness that Jesus can’t find them, heal them, and bring them back.