Sermon, 4th Sunday of Easter, GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
Mitchell Kitson, Australian Lutheran College Pastoral Ministry student.
1 Peter 2:19-2519 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 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. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’[a]23 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. 24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ 25 For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’[b] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we are reflecting on God’s Word from the second chapter of 1 Peter. Let’s pray.
Lord, we thank you for giving us a way to hear your Word even though we can’t be together physically. Good Shepherd, show us where we have gone astray and guide us back home. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Life as Christians isn’t always smooth sailing, is it? In fact, Martin Luther says that one of the marks of the church is suffering. We’re in the Easter season, when we remember Jesus’ suffering for us, which gives us a whole new perspective on suffering.
So, as Christians, how should we understand suffering? What place does it have in our lives as people of faith? In this early part of his letter, the apostle Peter addresses Christians struggling with suffering and questions like this, and so we will listen to the text under these three headings: we are suffering, we are called, we are saved.
So, the first part: we are suffering.
Not all suffering is the same, is it? Sometimes, suffering is a result of things we do. If we don’t warm-up properly before physical activity, we can suffer injury. If we aren’t careful with our money, we can suffer financially. If we lie to cover something up, we suffer the guilt of knowing we have done wrong.
But there is another kind of suffering which is harder to understand. Sometimes we suffer for what seems to be no good reason, or we might think it’s unfair.
I think that’s particularly clear to us right now, in lots of ways. Many are suffering terrible illness around the world, and as a result, many are also suffering great loss. You only have to watch the first five minutes of the 6 o’clock news to know that.
But we are also suffering in less obvious ways. Life without physically gathering together is really difficult for many of us. Yes, there is technology to help us deal with that, but it’s just not the same, is it? Not to mention having to stop physically gathering on Sunday mornings and sharing the holy meal.
We are surrounded by so much uncertainty at the moment, which causes many people to suffer stress and anxiety.
When Scott Morrison posted an Easter greeting video on Facebook on Easter Sunday, I was amazed by how many derogatory comments there were under it. I knew there were people out there who target Christians for a whole bunch of reasons, but I didn’t expect it to be so bad.
This kind of thing is happening to many Christians on social media and even on the streets, but it’s also happening in less obvious ways. Sometimes Christians are left out of social events because of their faith. Sometimes Christians are measured against a ridiculously high moral standard because that’s what people think our faith is all about. It happens to people of all ages, all over the place.
These kinds of suffering aren’t a result of a wrong we’ve committed—they just happen, and we are faced with a challenge.
God says something surprising here, calling it a “gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” Enduring unjust suffering for doing good is a gracious thing.
He’s saying to those persecuted Christians, “God hasn’t left you!” In a way that we struggle to get our heads around, God is working his grace in our lives. He as flipped suffering completely, giving us a new way to see it.
So, the first part: we are suffering. Next: we are called.
Rather than trying to escape it, like the world tells us to, Peter says that we are called to endure it.
Enduring unjust suffering is a gracious thing, a Christ-like thing. God helps us to see suffering as an opportunity, rather than something to avoid.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his footsteps,” verse 21 says. Jesus’ suffering was completely unjust, undeserved. He never sinned, and he never deceived anyone. Yet, he went to the cross.
What would you do if you were falsely accused of something? The most natural response would be to defend yourself, wouldn’t it? After all, you have a right to do so.
Jesus didn’t respond that way, even though he had the chance. In fact, he did the opposite. He was silent before his accusers. When Peter tried to fight for him in the garden, he said, “Peter, put the sword away.”
He knew the Scriptures back-to-front. Surely, he could have used them to defend his innocence so well that they couldn’t argue with him. No—he remained silent.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth,” it says in Isaiah 53.
Why? Why wouldn’t he defend himself? Peter learned from Jesus’ example that God does is best work for us and in us in suffering.
Jesus’ silence frustrated the high priests so much that they had him killed. I think when non- Christians target us, and we remain silent and go about our business, it frustrates them too. Jesus entrusted himself, or “gave up himself” to the one who judges justly. Rather than listening to his accusers and letting that get to him, he trusted in who God said he is: “This is my Son, whom I love,” he said at his baptism. Only God’s judgment matters.
We suffer, but we are called, and the third part? We are saved.
Our suffering in this world isn’t all there is. God has given us a new way to see by sending us Jesus. His suffering for us is our example, which we are called to follow. But even more, his suffering has saved us from the eternal punishment our sin deserves.
He was completely innocent. His suffering, which was grossly unjust, has freed us from eternal punishment, which is entirely just. Your sin calls for punishment, but you don’t have to bear that because Christ already has for you. His death gives you life. By his wounds you have been healed.
Even though we suffer, Peter shows us that we are saved people. Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.
We’ll keep on going astray—that’s what we humans are best at. That’s why we need the Good Shepherd to call us back into the flock. Just like sheep do, we’ll keep on wandering off and being turned back again until one day, Christ calls all people of faith to be with him in his kingdom forever.
How does the shepherd turn his sheep around? His Word. We might be going without Holy Communion at the moment, but we will always have his Word. So read your Bible, keep tuning in to church and encourage each other, because that’s how God speaks and gives us the strength to endure.
He is the Overseer of our souls. He does not leave us unguarded, exposed or vulnerable, but watches over and protects us through whatever and however we are suffering. Psalm 23 captures it perfectly: he leads us in the righteous path, he is with us even in the darkness of our suffering, and he provides us with everything we need forever.
When you suffer for your faith, or whenever you suffer in body or soul, remember that you have been saved by Christ, who is the Good Shepherd who cares deeply for his sheep. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.