We’re going to continue where we left off and continue on to the end of the chapter. Let us continue to consider what Peter had to say about the effect of Christ’s suffering for us as His people. As a reminder, Initially, I was going to do so under three headings beginning with “R” so I was going to say that we have the three “Rs” in these verses but they’re not “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic”. Then I thought of a fourth point beginning “R” so now we have the four “Rs”! They are REVITALISATION, RECOVERY, RESCUE and RELATIONSHIP. In my previous post we considered the first two of the four. With this post we are going to consider Rescue and Relationship.
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, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 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; 24 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. 25 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 NASB)
In our passage we see that the RECOVERY comes about because there has been a:
Peter continues in verse 25 by saying: “For you were straying like sheep”. Once again, we see something of the state we were in before we came to Christ. We were “were straying like sheep”. That is what every human being is like by nature. They’ve gone astray. Now, I’ve often been out walking in the countryside and lost my way. I’ve gone astray. However, I’ve always managed to work things out and get back on track. Notice that Peter didn’t simply say that we were straying. He specifically said that we “were straying like sheep”. If you’ve seen the “Shaun the sheep” movie you’ll know that the sheep in that film are very intelligent and resourceful. That’s part of the humour because that’s not what sheep are really like. Usually sheep are depicted as being rather foolish and helpless. That is because that is what sheep are really like. So, when sheep are astray they are lost and in danger and they don’t have the ability or resourcefulness to get themselves back on track. So Peter wasn’t saying that we were astray but able to sort it out. No, he was saying that we were helplessly lost and in serious danger. We needed to be rescued.
Peter’s statement “For you were straying like sheep” is, like so many others in this passage, clearly based on Isaiah 53. We read in Isaiah 53v6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him he iniquity of us all”. That not only tells us that we were straying like sheep. It also tells us why we were straying like sheep. It’s not like when I’ve accidentally got lost in the countryside. It’s because “we have turned—every one—to his own way”. We were astray wilfully. We were astray because we were determined to deliberately go our own way. And, notice the emphasis there on “every one”. There are no exceptions. All human beings are naturally astray. It’s a depressing and seemingly helpless situation.
The only way for a sheep to no longer be astray is for it to be rescued and be returned to its shepherd. Thankfully Peter continues by saying: “but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”. Sometimes the word “but” can be a real downer. It can introduce a spanner in the works or a fly in the ointment but here it introduces wonderfully good news. It’s saying that if you are a believer in Christ, although you “were straying like sheep” that’s no longer the case because you “have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.
Clearly, by “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” Peter means Jesus. Remember that Jesus said of Himself in John 10v11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. Then, in verse 14 of the same chapter He said: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me”. So, believers are no longer astray because they have come to Christ as their Shepherd.
Now, that word “returned” could be a bit misleading.
If you go to a railway station and buy a return ticket it allows you to go somewhere and then travel back to your starting point. So, saying that you “have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” could give the impression that Peter was saying that you started with “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”, strayed from Him and have now come back to Him. However, the Greek word that has been translated here as “returned”, epistrepho, is usually translated as “turned”. Let me just give you a few examples of the same Greek word being used.
Firstly, let’s read Acts 9v35: “And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord”. We find something in similar in Acts 11v21: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord”. In both examples people who had never previously known the Lord turned to Him. It was a turning not a returning.
Next, let’s read Acts 14v14-15: “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them”. In that context, Paul and Barnabas were exhorting the people of Lystra to turn away from their false gods and to turn to the true God. In 1 Thessalonians 1v9 Paul tells us that that is exactly what the Thessalonian believers had done. He said: “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”. You see, they hadn’t returned to God. Previously they’d been following idols but they’d now turned to God from those idols.
So Peter was saying that his readers were no longer “straying like sheep” because they had turned to Jesus as their “Shepherd and Overseer”.
How had that come about?
In saying “but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” you could get the impression that that it is something that we do for ourselves. The reality is that it’s something that Jesus our Shepherd does for us. Continuing in John 10 we read in verse 16 that Jesus said: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”. You see, it’s not that lost sheep seek for their shepherd. Rather, Jesus as the Shepherd brings lost sheep to Himself so that they are no longer astray. We see the same sort of picture presented in Jesus’ words in Luke 15v3-7 where we read: “So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”.
You see, it’s Jesus who takes the initiative. He seeks the lost sheep. He finds the lost sheep. He brings the lost sheep to Himself. He rescues lost sheep.
But, how does being rescued in this way bring about the Recovery and Revitalisation that we’ve already considered? It does so because it leads to a:
You see, Peter doesn’t speak in terms of us simply having been rescued. It’s not just that we’re now out of danger and no longer astray. It’s not like having been rescued by a Mountain Rescue Team. They would come and find you, get you down safely, check you over and send you on your way. But, you see, we’ve been rescued by turning to the person who is our rescuer. He’s described as “the Shepherd and Overseer”. That says something about Him and what He does but notice that Peter doesn’t stop there. He describes Him as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.
How are we to understand “your souls”? Well, the Greek word is psyche and it can be used in different ways. Sometimes it’s used to refer to the spiritual part of our being in contrast with our physical bodies. Paul often uses it in a negative way to denote the natural fallen self in contrast with the new being renewed by the Holy Spirit. However, Peter consistently uses it to simply refer to the whole being. So the idea here is that we’ve come to Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer” of our whole beings. He’s “the Shepherd and Overseer” of all that we are. So, we’ve come into that relationship with Him. He’s not just someone who’s rescued us. He’s become our Shepherd and He’s become our Overseer. It’s because He’s rescued us and brought us into that relationship that we have recovery and revitalisation. It all comes from Him and by being brought into a relationship with Him as our “Shepherd and Overseer”.
Now, when you read “Shepherd and Overseer” it sounds as though Peter has two different roles in mind but I think that he is actually using two different terms to depict the same role. One term, “Shepherd”, comes from a Jewish background and the other term, “Overseer”, comes from a pagan background. The Old Testament often speaks of God’s people being His flock and Him being their Shepherd and a Shepherd is one who provides leadership, care, provision and protection.
The word translated as “Overseer” could also be translated as guardian or superintendent. As with a shepherd, it carries a sense of authority combined with care.
So, in these verses Peter has recognised that the natural man is alive to sin, sick and straying. But, through faith in Christ, we have received new life, our sickness has been healed and we’ve been rescued. That all comes about through being brought into a relationship with Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls”. What that means is depicted beautifully in Psalm 23 so we’ll read that in closing:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.