I saw the cutest video this week: a farmer in Wales (United Kingdom) had his whole flock of about 250 sheep get out of the field they were supposed to be in, and they went into another field, which they knew (from repeated scoldings) they were not to be in. The farmer knew what they would do when he confronted them, so he videoed it. The sheep were scattered all over this field — but as soon as he pulled up on his ATV and said “Get outta this field!,” they all took off running in the same direction, back to their home field where they knew they were supposed to be.
Well, the Bible repeatedly says that we as mankind are just like sheep. Sheep tend to go astray — even when they know they shouldn’t! — and we as God’s sheep do the same thing too. Thank God He gives us an opportunity to come BACK to Him through Jesus Christ. Peter uses this picture of the straying sheep here in :25 of Chapter 2:
“For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
Last week we saw how I Peter 2:24 teaches us about the “Substitutionary Atonement” of Christ. We saw how this Substitutionary Atonement was explicitly taught in Isaiah 53, which is the passage Peter quotes here. He goes on then in the next verse, I Peter 2:25, to give us an illustration of what it means for us to come back to the Lord, and again this illustration comes right out of Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53:6 says “All we like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” We see again in that verse the “substitutionary” aspect of what Jesus did for us: it says “the iniquity of US all,” “fell upon HIM.” And the picture Isaiah uses there, of us being like “sheep who went astray,” is the picture Peter uses here to describe what happens to us in our salvation:
I. We have all STRAYED from God.
“For you were continually straying like sheep …”
The Lord is our Shepherd, as Psalm 23 famously says. But like sheep, we “stray” away from our “Shepherd.” God gave us certain limits, or boundaries, that we were supposed to stay within — and those boundaries are His commandments. But like sheep, we have “strayed” from His boundaries, broken His commandments, and disobeyed God.
Franklin Graham is an example of that. Franklin was born into the home of Ruth and Billy Graham, the famous evangelist. But he rebelled against his parents, and against the Lord. He said he got a thrill out of stretching and breaking the rules; he got kicked out of high school for his rebellion. He also said the more he did these things, the more empty he felt. Until one day he realized that sin actually had control of his life, and that something needed to change. Franklin Graham had “strayed” not only from the faith of his parents, but from God Himself.
Actually Franklin Graham’s story is the same basic story of ALL of us, to one extent or another. The Bible says we have ALL strayed from God. Isaiah 53:6 says: “ALL we like sheep have gone astray.” Every single one of us has strayed from God. Romans 3:23 says “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Every single one of us has sinned against God and rebelled against Him. And the first step you need to take to really become a Christian is to realize that you have sinned, and “strayed” away from God. If you haven’t realized you’ve sinned against God, you aren’t ready to be saved.
Our son David is a great example of that. When he was a little boy he came down to the front of the church one day after I had been preaching, and said he wanted to be baptized. So as I always do with children who say they want to be saved, I asked him if he knew what sin was. He said he did. I asked him if he could give me some examples of some sins, and he did. Then I said, “Have YOU sinned?” And he emphatically shook his head, NO! No way had HE sinned! Well, I knew right then that he was not ready to be saved; because to come back to God, first you have to realize that you have gone away from Him. To be saved, you first have to realize that you have sinned. So it happened that maybe a year or so later, David did come down again during another invitation, and this time he had tears of repentance in his eyes. He knew he had sinned, and needed a Savior.
This is the first step to really becoming a Christian. You must admit that you have “strayed;” that you have sinned against God. You have been doing things you should not have done. You have been going the wrong way with your life. If you are not willing to admit to doing wrong, you can’t really be saved. You can’t “come back” to God, when you have never admitted that you have LEFT Him in the first place!
— Many of us here today can look back, like Franklin Graham, and say, there was a time when I had strayed from God, but now I have returned.
— Or maybe you’d say, I have strayed from God, and honestly, that is where I still am today! If you realize that, that is good! Realizing that you have strayed from God, and that you have been going the wrong way, is the first step to being saved.
II. When we are saved we RETURN to God.
Peter says of the Christians to whom he is writing to here: “… but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls”. He says there was a time when you had “strayed” from God, but now you have “returned” to Him, like a sheep that comes back to his shepherd. This is what happens when we get saved: we stop “straying” from God, and we come back to Him.
It’s just like the famous story of The Prodigal Son that Jesus told in Luke 15. The young man left his father, and took his inheritance, and went on a journey into a distant country, and there “he squandered his estate on loose living” Jesus said. He left his father both physically and spiritually.
But when he had “squandered” all his money, and he hit bottom, and would have been glad to eat what he was throwing out to the pigs, Jesus said in :17 “he came to his senses” and said “I will get up and go to my Father.” And he did.
And the story of The Prodigal Son is a picture of us all. This is what happens to each of us when we are saved: we had strayed away from God, “doing our own thing,” but then we realize we need to come back to Him.
That is what happened to Franklin Graham. He said I realized that in all my rebellion, I thought I was “doing my own thing,” but he said in reality, I didn’t really have control of my own life, but SIN was controlling me. He said “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He said “Suddenly I had an overwhelming conviction that I needed to get my life right with God.” He said, “My years of running and rebellion had ended.” And he “returned” to his God and Father.
What happened to the sheep who went astray, and what happened to the Prodigal Son, and what happened to Franklin Graham, are all pictures of what happens to every person who really gets saved: there has to be a “turning around” and a coming back to God. Peter calls it here “returning.” The theological word for it is to “repent.” “Repent” means that you HAD wandered off your own way, but now you have returned God, to follow Him.
We need to realize that “repentance” is a vital part of real salvation. Many people like the idea of thinking that they are right with God; maybe they want to go to church, and feel like they are going to heaven — but at the same time, they want to keep on doing all the things that God had commanded them not to do. In other words, they don’t really want to “repent.” They want the blessings of salvation and a relationship with God, without repentance, and you can’t have it. It’s like saying, “I want to have a good marriage, but I want to keep running around at the same time.” Or “I want to have a clean criminal record, but I also want to keep shoplifting too.” You can’t do both. If you’re going to really “come back” to God like this passage says, then that means of course that you have to actually come BACK to Him: stop wandering away; stop doing the things He told you not to do. Jesus said “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” But you can’t say “I love God, and I am serving Him,” and all the while, just keep going your own way, and breaking His commandments. That is not “returning” to God; that is not repentance; and that is NOT Biblical salvation. To have Biblical salvation means you have stopped your “wandering” and that you are “returning” to God, to follow Him and His ways. It means you have really repented.
Our church in North Carolina has a partnership with a mission church in Romania; we love the pastor there, Stefan Berci, and his family. Cheryl & I were able to go there a couple of years ago, and minister some, and we learned a LOT while we were there. It is very enlightening to see Christianity from the perspective of those who live outside of America. One of the things I found very interesting was that when the pastor, Stefan, wanted to say that someone was a “Christian,” he would call them a “repenter.” He’d say, “This man is a ‘repenter.’” Or, “She is a repenter.” The reason he calls “repenters” instead of “Christians” is because a lot of people in Romania call themselves “Christian,” but by that, they just mean they were born into the Orthodox Church, or that they are a Christian politically. But they are not really what we would call “saved,” or “born again.” So people who ARE really what we would call “saved,” are called “repenters.” I thought, now THAT is a GOOD, descriptive term. Because every true Christian is really a “repenter.” They have come to a time in their life when they stopped wandering away from God, repented of their sin, and came back to God through Jesus Christ. That is what a Christian IS!
So in light of that, let me ask you this morning: are you a “repenter”? Do you just go to church because you were born into it, or because you share political or social views with people in the church — or have you really, personally “repented” of your sins and come back to God? Are you a “repenter”?
If you haven’t really repented, and returned to God, then you are still “straying;” you are still away from God, and you have never been saved — and you need to be saved, today. Thank God, that because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, you CAN be saved today. Like Franklin Graham, tell God today: I am sick and tired of wandering — and I am coming back to God! Become a “repenter” and return to God TODAY!
III. Our return is TO THE SHEPHERD:
“… you have returned TO the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
What we have to realize is, that ALL of this is not just about “religion” or some “religious experience.” This is all about our relationship with God. God made us to know Him. When we “went astray”, we were going astray from GOD. You can’t say, “Oh, I am committing all these sins, but I really love God.” NO, when we sin, we sin against God: David said in Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only have I sinned.”
When we sin, we sin against GOD:
— It is GOD who said, “You shall not commit adultery.”
— It is GOD who said, “You shall not steal.”
— It is GOD who said, “Do not get drunk with wine.”
— It is GOD who said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth.”
It is GOD who gave us all of these commandments. When we sin, we sin against God. When we go astray, we go astray FROM GOD. Our sin cuts us off from our relationship with Him. Isaiah 59:2 says “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.”
There is a book of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision, which contains this prayer: “My sin is not so much this or that particular evil, but my continual separation, disunion, distance from Thee, and having a loose spirit towards Thee.” (p. 30)
So when we went astray, we went astray from our relationship with God. And when we repent and return, we are returning TO GOD HIMSELF. Peter says, “You have returned TO THE SHEPHERD and Guardian of your souls.” He didn’t say: ‘You came back to Jerusalem.” He doesn’t say, “You came back to the Temple.” He says you came back to the Shepherd — to HIM! God Himself is our object and goal in coming back.
When the Prodigal Son came to his senses that day he said, “I will arise and go TO MY FATHER”! He wasn’t just going back to food; he wasn’t just going back to money; he wasn’t just going back to comfort; most importantly of all, he was going back TO HIS FATHER, to HIM personally. He had “strayed” from him, but now he was going back to him.
This is the story of every Christian: we were straying, but now we have come back. But we aren’t just coming back to “church;” we aren’t just coming back to “religion;” we aren’t coming back to a “building” or just to other people. We are specifically coming back “TO THE SHEPHERD”: we are coming back TO GOD HIMSELF.
God Himself is what this is all about. God made us to know Him, and to have glory and joy in His presence forever. Jesus said in John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God.” It is KNOWING HIM that eternal life is really about: not streets of gold or pearly gates, but GOD HIMSELF. Our sin separated us from God Himself, but God Himself died for us on the cross in Jesus Christ, and when we repent, we come back TO HIM. Coming back TO HIM, to this One we love, and who loves us, is what this is really all about.
It’s fun to have football season going again, with all levels of football. I heard that Chris Chelette was actually AT the big Texans/Saints game last week — one of the best finishes to a game ever! One of the big “last-minute” changes that made in the NFL before the season started had long-time running back Lesean McCoy going from Buffalo to Kansas City. When I heard he was leaving Buffalo, I thought maybe McCoy would come here to Houston, since they needed a running back. But then I saw that McCoy going to Kansas City, and this week I found out his reasons why. Several years ago, McCoy had played for Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid, when he was in Philadelphia. In an interview last week (Forbes website 9/02/19), McCoy talked about the reasons why he went to Kansas City. He said it was all Coach Reid. He said Reid is honest, he has great offensive acumen and play calling ability. But he said, “The best part about it is Andy Reid, who has been one of my favorite coaches of my NFL career,” McCoy said. “I love Coach Reid.” Going to HIM, to that coach, to that person he knew and trusted and worked so well with, made all the difference to him. It was all about the PERSON he was going to.
And that’s very much like it is with our salvation. Christianity is not just about a “religion” or a “philosophy” or a “lifestyle”, although it does include all those things. But more than anything, it is about the PERSON of God. God made us to know Him and love Him personally. When we sinned, we sinned against Him personally. Amazingly, after we sinned, HE DIED FOR US PERSONALLY. And when we return, we return to HIM, personally. Not just to a religion, not just to a church, not just to a lifestyle, but to HIM. It’s all about this Ultimate Person we’re coming to: returning to “The Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.”