Meditations in 1 Peter : 36: Returned Sheep
1 Pet 2:25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls
Sometimes Scripture says things that are so simple that they are almost overwhelming. This simple verse is like that. This is Peter tacking in one more nail in the coffin of our self-centredness. He has, you will remember, been challenging us to be people who stand out for God in this world and he’s just reminded us in the previous verses that we are to follow Christ’s example of coping with unjust suffering as a means of doing this. He had gone on to describe what Christ had done but now he sums up that work with the way it has changed us. Anyone who thinks being a Christian is about being nice or being religious, clearly hasn’t read the New Testament carefully, or taken in such verses as we have here today!
This verse clearly speaks about change. We were one thing but now we are something else. But it is not merely about activity; it is about position, in fact it is all about position and if we have not moved we are not Christians! We were in one place but now we are in another. Peter envisages us as sheep. It is a popular analogy in the Bible.
David had written that famous Psalm 23 starting out, “The Lord is my shepherd.” It is a psalm all about him thinking of himself as a sheep and God as his Shepherd. Speaking of the discipline Israel suffered Psalm 44 declares, “You gave us up to be devoured like sheep,” (v.11) and “we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (v.22). Speaking of the Exodus, Psalm 78 declares, “he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the desert.” (v.52) and Psalm 49 declares, “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever,” (v.13) while in psalm 100 we find, “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (v.3), and Isaiah was to write, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isa 53:6)
That is the thing about sheep, as preachers and now Peter delight in reminding us: sheep go astray. Given the opportunity they will wander off. Adam and Eve ‘wandered off’ out of the will of God, and every human being since has wandered away from God in a purposeful, self-centred, self-concerned, godless life. Instead of rejoicing in the wonder of life of relationship with the Creator of all things, we go our own way. As Jeremiah pictured it, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13), conveying exactly this same thing through a very different picture.
That, says Peter, is how we had been, “like sheep going astray”. If you’ve never realised it before, that is the truth. You are (if you’ve never yet come to God through Christ) or were, a ‘sheep that had gone astray’. You are or were out of relationship with God, the relationship He had designed us to have but which we didn’t know. We were ‘away’ from God. That was our position.
Now, says Peter, speaking to Christians, “you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” This is where we are today, if we are Christians. At some point in our lives a major change came about and we were brought from a place of aloneness to a place of close relationship with the Lord. Paul spoke of this same thing in a different way: “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Col 1:13). There was a major positional change. We were out in the cold, out in the darkness of Satan’s dominion, but now we have been brought in to the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God’s Son, the place where it is all about relationship.
But note particularly how God is described by Peter: “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” The picture of the Shepherd is one that conveys a caring provider. Thus David had written, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psa 23:1) But a shepherd is also a protector of the sheep and Peter emphasizes this by calling God our ‘Overseer’. He oversees us or watches over us to guard and protect us. Thus David was able to write, “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.” (Psa 23:4,5) David could face death and face his enemies and still be secure because God was his Shepherd and God watched over him and cared for him and protected him. That is what Peter is also referring to. Hallelujah! Know His provision and His protection as your Shepherd!