There is more theology in the last two verses of Peter’s first letter than in half the tomes of medieval Christianity. They read, “Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed. You were like sheep that had lost their way, but now you have been brought back to follow the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls” (TEV). In these two sentences the apostle identifies the problem of the human race, sets forth God’s answer, reveals the purpose of it all, and describes the end result. Only thirty-five words in the Greek text but they tell the complete story of what George Stevens correctly called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Now that is brevity! As we might put it today, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of a business card, you don’t have a clear idea.” Writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Peter certainly set forth with all clarity the plight of man and God’s remedy. Let’s take it step by step.
We were “like sheep going astray” (v. 25). Created for God’s flock, we wandered away. Peter speaks of man’s “sins” and here is the reason why we chose to check out other pastures. The Genesis story tells us that we bought into the serpent’s lie and decided to take over our own future. Apparently God was not telling us the whole story. Or so it seemed. As a result of our sin (the decision to go it alone) we find ourselves separated from God. Scripture calls it “being lost.”
It should come as no surprise that God is a problem solver. We may not understand the way to get home, but he does. Ram and ewe have left the pasture prepared by God, but he has never given up on us. He sees us as we wander, knowing not which way to turn. His shepherd heart goes out to us and a decision is made. Since it was sin that led us astray, it is sin that must be dealt with. So the triune God sent his Son who “carried our sins in his body to the cross” (v. 24). With sin out of the way, the sheep are free to return. Problem solved! But wait, the sheep are still in a strange pasture.
The answer, of course, is for each sheep to decide that the redemptive act of the Shepherd provides the way back home and by faith head out in that direction. Arriving back in their original pasture, the sheep realize that from now on a different kind of life is expected of them. Peter writes that our “redemption” (our return to the original sheep fold) is “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (v. 24). No more wandering away. No more thinking that God is withholding something from us. No more insistence on our own way. Sin always separates; let’s not miss out on the delights of genuine pasture life. It’s time to live for righteousness — to do the right thing.
So how does it all turn out? We know that the story of redemption began with our “going astray like sheep” (v. 25). And how does it end? Here comes the divine adversative, “BUT now you have returned to the Shepherd.” Wonderful story, fantastic ending!