Sermon for Sunday, April 30th, 2023, the Third Sunday after Easter
The Lessons: Nehemiah 9:6-15; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:13-25; John 10:1-10
The Text: 1 Peter 2:25
It is the nature of sheep to stray and get in harm’s way, whether from hungry wolves or steep canyons. For centuries, shepherds have used various methods – from staff to dog – to keep sheep from straying from the safety of their care.
In recent times shepherds have tried more sophisticated methods. One is a metal, hoof-proof grid that is built into the ground around the sheep’s territory. The animals cannot walk over the grid, which is eight feet wide. This works well in keeping sheep in the protection of the pen.
But in 2006, shepherds in Yorkshire, England, found that their sheep were not only stubbornly prone to stray but also crafty. One of the sheep lay down and rolled over the grid. The other sheep in the herd followed the first, and soon the entire flock had spread over the countryside to neighborhood gardens, where they ate the food and flowers of local residents.
The shepherds eventually gathered up the troublesome sheep and returned them to their pen. But they escaped again and got into trouble. While the escape of this flock of “black” sheep may have seemed like an exciting adventure, it actually placed the animals in harm’s way from cars and unfriendly dogs.
Thankfully, our Good Shepherd found another way to deal with stubborn, straying sheep. As Isaiah 53:6 (KJV) says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
By turning away from selfishness and sin, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and by accepting his authority as Lord of our lives, we come into a relationship with the Lord that enables him to deal with our stubbornness and restore our souls. We must be subject to his rule.
You will notice that the Latin title for Psalm 23 is Dominus regit me. The Latin titles for the Psalms were taken from the first words of each psalm in the Latin version of the Bible, or Vulgate. St. Jerome, in translating the Psalms into Latin in the fourth century, made one translation of the Psalms based on the Greek text of the Septuagint, and another based on the Hebrew text. The title of Psalm 23 in our Psalter is based on his translation from the Greek text of Psalm 23 and means “The Lord rules me.” This statement reflects the idea of a king or ruler as equivalent to a shepherd. When the psalmist, in this case, King David, speaks of the Lord as his shepherd, he means that the Lord directs his path, and leads him in all that he does. The translation based on the Hebrew emphasizes the Lord as the Shepherd who feeds and sustains his people.
At the end of our Epistle Lesson today we read these verses:
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
(1 Peter 2:24-25, KJV)
Two significant purposes of our Lord’s death on the cross are stated here: the first is that Christians might cease from sinning (“being dead to sins”) and live for righteousness, that is, live their lives for the sake of doing what God requires them to do, and the second is the healing that Christ has given through his death to all who believe in Him. The Greek text here emphasizes that by Christ’s wound we have been healed. It is regarded as a definitive, completed action. The healing that has been effected by Christ’s death and our identification with Him in Baptism are expressed in 1 Peter 2:25 in our return to “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
Being disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we welcome him as our Lord, who directs us and leads us in all things, as a shepherd does his sheep. But he is also the Bishop of our souls, that is, he is our Guardian and Overseer. Some people today might question the use of “bishop” as a helpful translation of the Greek word “episkopos.” In fact, the New Revised Standard Version uses the word “guardian,” instead of “bishop” in this verse. Not everyone has a favorable view of bishops, but at the time the King James Version was made (1611), bishops were near at hand and had geographical dioceses with parishes which they could visit annually, and not non-geographical dioceses as we have today, when a church might see its bishop only every few years. When the Lord Jesus Christ is described as the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, a close relationship with the faithful is implied, the kind of relationship which our Lord implies in his discourse about the bond between the Good Shepherd and his sheep in John 10. The faithful know the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ and follow him because they know that he is the one who is calling them and leading them.
THE DANGER OF GOING ASTRAY
One problem that we encounter today, though, is that perhaps for many years, many Christians have not had a close relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, so that they have not accepted His lordship and leadership in their lives as their Shepherd and Guardian. The result of this is they no longer clearly hear Christ calling them to follow Him and do His perfect will. They have become more concerned to make their own plans for their own benefit, instead of asking God what his will is for them. Part of this has to do with a prayerless society, in which people have neglected prayer and Bible study for too long.
In knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, we must not simply delight in all the pastoral, rustic connotations of this term, but also realize that it embraces the lordship of Christ in directing our lives to God’s glory and benefiting others with whom we have relationships.
Can you say with all your heart that you love and obey the Lord Jesus Christ as the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul?
 p.111, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.