I have a question for you this morning. Let’s say you want to take golf lessons. (I’m not sure if golf is something you want to take up, but let’s pretend that you want to take a few lessons). Now, who would you rather have as your golf instructor: myself or Tiger Woods?
Have you ever considered that before? When life gets difficult and frustrating, many usually search for an easy way to dodge suffering. Even if the only way to victory is through suffering, it is tempting to surrender victory if it means you can avoid suffering. Yet, when you have a leader in life, you follow his encouragement to (1) overcome suffering and (2) grow in spite of it.
That’s an easy truth to forget. So your God reminds you just what it means to Follow in the Footsteps of Your Good Shepherd. He heals you. He guides you. He protects you.
Did you catch what jumps out in those three parts? (He heals you. He guides you. He protects you.) “You” are not the subject. “You” are not doing the action. “You” are the object. And “He” is Jesus and Jesus is doing the action.
Listen again to verse 25: For you were like sheep going astray. This is how you once lived; you were like sheep going astray. Pay attention to the verb. “Were” describes a past action. At one time you behaved a certain way, but this behavior no longer happens today. You see, when Peter says: You were like sheep going astray, he is not describing your constant battle against sin. So, he is not referring to last week, when your attention drifted from the Word of God and followed the self-centered “word of me” or when you put more trust in your efforts than in God’s promises. Peter is pointing out how one time you lived like a sheep who followed no shepherd. Life was aimless. Maybe you searched for happiness in wealth. Perhaps you felt drinking could solve problems. Self-centered-serving felt good. No matter if you came to faith at an older age or through your baptism just a few days after your birth, you once lived like a wandering sheep searching for some lasting satisfaction, but you were unsure of what that satisfaction was.
But something changed. Your life goals, your sense of purpose, your direction has all changed. You have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. This translation may be a little misleading because “you” still did not do the action. A more literal reading is: You were returned, meaning, “you” are still the object and someone else returns you. And Peter says that Jesus himself returned you.
Like a Good Shepherd, he looked for you (John 10:16). He opens his mouth; his Word goes out. His message is clear: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. Life without Jesus would result in hell. Money could never buy lasting happiness. Alcohol cannot numb guilt before God. Selfishness could never move God to let you into heaven. It is Jesus who sheds his blood to bring you into heaven’s eternal pastures. It is Jesus who suffers your punishment and removes your guilt. Jesus died for your sins on the cross in order to mark you as his sheep. [B]y his wounds you have been healed.
You now live in this flock of Jesus, brought into this fenced-in-pasture. How does this appear in your life? Well, you have died to sin. No longer do you search for happiness in the bottle or online or in money. You live to righteousness. Your behavior and choices, words and actions, are shaped by what God, in the Bible, says is pleasing. Put another way, you Follow in the Footsteps of Your Good Shepherd. Jesus is “Good” because He heals you from the death of sin. Jesus is a “Shepherd” because He guides you.
The picture of a Shepherd leading his flock through life is so near and dear to our hearts. That soothing image reveals the fact you are loved— that Jesus uses his time, his power, and his ability to pluck worries and dangers from life. Yes, even if life feels more complex than it once did, you can live anxiety-free because Jesus guides you.
Yes, even if life feels more complex than it once did, you can live anxiety-free because Jesus guides you. It may not feel like that is true. Just look at the verses that come before verse 25. Peter talks about everything that robs comfort from life! You can endure pain of unjust suffering and you suffer for doing good. That happens, right? You shape your life around what God calls “right” and “wrong.” You worship a God serious about punishing sin and forgiving sin (Exodus 34:6-7), but the world labels you “bigoted” and “hateful” and calls your God a “tyrant.” You may reach out to a child straying away Jesus, but are told to “back off.” You may stand up for what is right, but realize you stand in the minority. Suffering can happen even when you do the good God wants you to do.
Sometimes suffering may just not feel fair. You suffer in life. Cancer comes back; it might never go away. You prayed to God for deliverance, but then it comes back— and you wonder: “Is my Shepherd listening?” You pour yourself into making relationships better, but the other party just does not seem to be returning love. Your heart grieves as you watch your cousins and siblings, children and grandchildren get sucked into the decaying morality of society. You get hurt. You know you will heal— but you are away from a normal routine, your wages are decreased, your body aches, and you wonder if you will ever feel the same. Laws are passed that you do not like; taxes increase; FoxNews and CNN and MSNBC only seem to churn out doom and gloom. You are in this flock of Jesus, but it feels like the Shepherd leaves you. You feel forgotten, abandoned, forsaken— almost as though life is this monotonous routine that offers nothing more than pain and misery until you finally reach heaven.
Suffering is not pleasant or enjoyable or as our reading calls: a gracious thing. No, suffering hurts. It hurts your emotions. It hurts your pride. It hurts your sense of joy. To end the hurt, you may search for what is not helping remove the hurt. And that one thing is—well… it may appear as though God is doing nothing to guide you. Suffering can push you to blame the Good Shepherd of hurting you.
Yet, do you find it interesting that Peter brings up the Good Shepherd here? Peter mentions that suffering will be present in life. He knows the devil will use suffering to pry you away from the Shepherd’s fold. So, Peter reminds you: Follow in the Footsteps of Your Good Shepherd because Christ [also] suffered for you. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. Not only is Jesus innocent, but he never shakes an angry fist at God accusing him of sending him to the slaughter. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate, even though Jesus could have damned the world to hell or cursed God. [W]hen he suffered, he made no threats. Instead Jesus suffers unjustly— and this is why: The only way to save you eternally is for him to suffer death for your sins. No suffering, no forgiveness and no heaven for you. If he suffers, then you gain heaven.
Not only does your Good Shepherd suffer for your eternal benefit, but you may suffer because you are connected to your Good Shepherd. Why? Because your suffering does not come because people do not like you. Suffering comes because an unbelieving world cannot stand the teachings of your Jesus. So, it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because your suffering comes as result of you following Jesus ahead of society.
Your Good Shepherd will continue guiding you through every challenge because he is leading you to the pastures of heaven. Be sure, until you reach those eternal pastures, your Good Shepherd protects you.
He l[eft] you an example, that you should follow in his steps. Imagine you, the parent, trudging through deep snow. Behind you is your child following in those impressions. In the same way, Jesus also suffered but now lives in eternal glory. Imitate him through joys and challenges, knowing that you also are walking to heaven.
You can follow his steps by removing false ideas. Sometimes you may be tempted to have God meet your terms. You may expect God to fill you with happiness by healing you the way you want. You want God to fill you with peace by enforcing the laws you know should be passed. You expect God to give you health and wealth. Yet, where does he promise these things? God does not promise you a life full of joys and bliss. Instead, he makes it so clear that you can expect suffering. Or, as our beloved Psalm 23 says: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… Even this psalm tells you that you will walk through some challenging moments in life. The joy is not found in a pain-free life. The join is found in the fact Jesus is with you; his rod and staff comfort you (Psalm 23:4).
Jesus the Good Shepherd is your overseer. An overseer is someone who protects you. You could picture sitting in the middle of an Army humvee caravan driving down enemy streets. Danger surrounds you on every side, yet the humvee, the weapons, and surrounding troops protect you.
Your Good Shepherd, recognizes the suffering you face in life. Yet, he leads you not around them, he does not abandon you to them; he leads you through them because he has conquered every suffering. Jesus protects you from death in hell because he (1) died, but (2) rose again (reversing death forever). Jesus can promise you eternal life in heaven because when his earthly ministry was over, he entered heaven. Jesus can protect you because he still possesses the power to return and bring you to heaven. Until you reach your heavenly home, your Good Shepherd is protecting you on the way.
He is your leader. Just like if you have never played golf, you will learn from a professional’s knowledge, experience, and demonstration. Even if you do not hit the ball well you would probably be more open to receiving correction from a professional than from me. You rely and follow someone who (1) has won success and who (2) offers you success.
Life may have suffering. You may suffer from someone ridiculing your beliefs or you are pressured from within to give up on your beliefs. Yet, press on. Your Good Shepherd walked through suffering and now lives in heavenly glory. When you have a leader in life, you follow his encouragement to (1) overcome suffering and (2) grow in spite of it.
Your God reminds you of this truth. Follow in the Footsteps of Your Good Shepherd. He heals you. He guides you. He protects you.