Misericordias Domini (The Second Sunday After Easter) April 26, 1998
1 Peter 2:21-25
193, 426, 393, 401
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 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. This is the Word of God.
In Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Up until recently, I considered myself a pretty good tracker. I’ve been hunting deer since I was a little kid, so I learned early on to tell deer tracks from those of other animals. From a set of hoof-prints in the mud, I could what direction the deer was going, and whether it was a big deer or a little one. And I thought that’s about all there was to tracking. But recently I discovered otherwise. I watched a TV program featuring a man who was a REAL tracker. He didn’t need mud or snow; he could find deer tracks in grassy country or on hard gravel surfaces. And when he did find a set of tracks, they revealed a lot more to him than they ever did to me. By closely examining a single hoof-print, this expert could determine the sex of the deer, it’s weight almost down to the pound, and exactly how much time had passed since the animal had been there. The show made me realize that tracking isn’t something you can casually pick up—it’s a delicate skill that takes hard work and experience to acquire.
Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every Christian knows that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And every Christian knows that the believers are His sheep, who are supposed follow the Good Shepherd. What a lot of Christians don’t realize is that following the tracks of the Good Shepherd doesn’t come naturally—it’s a skill. A skill that needs to be continually honed and practiced. With our text for today, the Apostle Peter’s going to help us sharpen our spiritual tracking skill. This morning let’s follow—
In his first epistle, Peter is writing to his fellow Christians in the five provinces of Asia Minor. He knows these believers have been going through severe persecutions because of their faith. They’re suffering, and he wants to encourage them—inspire them to keep up the good fight. So Peter points them to the best source of inspiration there is: Jesus Christ. He puts them on the track of the Good Shepherd.
For ye were as sheep going astray, he says, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. Remember what your lives were like before you came to faith, Peter says. You were wandering around like sheep without a shepherd. Your lives were filled with aimlessness and uncertainty. You lived for the pleasures of today, and tried not to think about tomorrow.
Well, most of us don’t have the faintest idea what it’s like to live a life of total unbelief; we’ve been taught to know Jesus since we were little kids. But we do know what it’s like to stray. We’ve felt the temptation to wander, haven’t we? We’ve felt that tug of our sinful flesh from time to time, urging us to stray from our Good Shepherd—to strike out on our own—to sample some of the sinful pleasures we see displayed around us just like candy in a store window. After all we reason, who’s going to know if I keep a few dirty magazines hidden in the closet? What’s the big deal if I get a little drunk once in a while? Who really cares if I indulge myself in a little gossip about my neighbor?
The Lord cares! He cares very much when we abuse His grace, and run foolish risks with our faith. In Ezekiel God says, “‘And as for you, O My flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. Is it too little for you to have eaten up the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture—and to have drunk of the clear waters, that you must foul the residue with your feet?” Ez 34:17-18. What an abuse it is of God’s grace! Just think! When a person comes to church on Sunday and is fed on the pure gospel of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and then goes out on Monday morning and proceeds to trample God’s grace underfoot by leading a life that is openly un-Christian and unholy.
I don’t know about you, but I see that failing only too often in my own sinful flesh. I know just the kind of guilt Paul was feeling when he cried, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Rom 7:24. Who can give us relief for the guilt? Where can we find inspiration to help us keep going when the going is tough?
Peter points us to the tell-tale tracks of the Good Shepherd. See where they led Him for you, he says, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
I once went on a tour of the Kellogg’s cereal company in Battle Creek, Michigan. Throughout the length of the tour, there were yellow footprints painted on the floor as direction markers. The looked kind of funny; but they sure made it clear where we were supposed to go and what we were supposed to look at. You and I recently completed a tour like that—do you remember? During the Lenten Season, we followed the footprints of our Savior. Those tell-tale tracks led from the home of Mary and Martha to the upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. We followed them to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus sweated blood as He prayed over the suffering that was to come. From there, the footprints led to the courtrooms of Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, where He was humiliated, mocked and beaten. From the Pilate’s court we traced the footprints—now mingled with blood—down the Via Dolorosa, the “Road of Sorrows.” We arrived eventually at the dark hill of Golgotha, where Jesus endured the agony of crucifixion.
All this He suffered—for you. Yes, for you! Those footprints are the tracks of Jesus’ love for you. He knew that His death was the only way to guarantee your life; He knew that in order for you to go to heaven, He would have to endure hell on the cross. And He did it. He paid the price willingly. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” I Pet 8:18.
Was it enough? Could the suffering Jesus endured really pay for the sins of every person who ever lived? On Easter Sunday God answered that question with a resounding “Yes!” when Christ rose in triumph from the grave. Our guilt is gone. Our sins are blotted out, and our names, for Jesus’ sake, are written in the book of life. As far as our salvation, the battle is over—and you and I are the winners!
If you’re like me, then Easter raises a burning question in your mind. If you’ve followed the agonized progress of Jesus through Lent, seen His love for you on the cross, and shared the Good News of His triumph over sin on Easter, then you’re bound to ask yourself, “How shall I then live?” How can I express my joy at knowing I’ll never have to bear the punishment for my sins? How can I say “thank you” to Jesus? How can I reflect, in some small way, the awesome love He’s shown to me?
Again, Peter points us to the tell-tale tracks of the Good Shepherd. See where they lead you for Him, he says. Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.
Follow the footsteps of Christ, Peter says; not only with your eyes, but with your feet. For a Christian, it’s not enough merely to know where they go—the love of our Good Shepherd compels us to go where they go!
Have you ever watched a little boy following his father through the snow? It’s touching to see him stretching out his strides, concentrating all his efforts to stay within the footprints of a much bigger person. That’s how you Christians can show you belong to Jesus, Peter says. Let your whole walk through life be a walk in the footsteps of your Savior. And how did He walk? He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. Jesus’ made His life an example. Though He was tempted, He never gave in, because there were so many people depending on Him. How many people are depending on you? The truth is—you don’t know! You don’t know which of your co-workers on the job are watching your life to see what it really means to be a Christian. You don’t know which of your relatives are listening to your conversation, perhaps searching for answers to their most important questions. You parents: you might not realize just how closely your kids are watching you, trying to figure out whether faith in God really is the most important thing in life or not. In short, there may be a lot of people depending on your example. So don’t be a closet Christian—let your joy in the Good News show! “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good woks and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt 5:16.
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again.” When the innocent Son of God was on the cross, He refused to curse even the treacherous Jews who were mocking His agony. Rather, he prayed for them! Walk in His footsteps. When you hear people cutting someone down, instead of joining in, why not put in a good word? When someone uses the Lord’s name in vain, why not tactfully let him know that the name of Jesus is something sacred to you? It may not make you popular, but I guarantee you’ll get their attention!
When he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. Conflict and injustice are a part of everyone’s life. No one in history suffered more unfairly than Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus didn’t go around “getting even” with His enemies. He left it to His heavenly Father to settle the score. Walk in the footsteps of your Good Shepherd. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” Jesus Himself told His disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” Mat 5:40-42.
These are some things you can do if you want to show your gratitude to God for everything He’s done for you. This is how you can say, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for the crown of thorns, and thank you for the cross. Thank you for building me a mansion in heaven, and keeping it ready for when I arrive!”
I remember as a kid seeing ads in the comic books for a mechanical device called the “Instant Artist.” The device had two pens connected with long, jointed arms. It would supposedly allow you to trace the outlines of any picture, reproducing it perfectly on your paper. Somehow, though, it never seemed to work out as well as they said it would. No young Rembrandts were ever created by the “Instant Artist.” Likewise, our attempts to imitate the life of our Savior will never be perfect. There will be failures as we struggle to stay within the footsteps of our Good Shepherd. But we’ll follow them anyway, relying on His forgiveness when we fall. With joy we’ve seen where those footsteps led Him for us, and by God’s grace—we’ll follow where they lead us for Him! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.