Third Sunday of Easter
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:21-25 English Standard Version (ESV)
In his first epistle, chapter two, the Apostle Peter reminds Christians of what their true identity and purpose in this life is all about, namely, that they “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (vs. 9). In our text for today Peter exhorts all believers to be obedient to the government and to their masters. He held up before his readers the inspiring example of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, and how we are to follow in His footsteps.
Peter’s epistle, however, was written during a wave of persecutions in the early Christian church. In spite of the world’s hatred, Peter encouraged his readers to live their faith and not lose hope. Their love of Christ was to shine brightly even if it meant suffering for doing good. Peter reminds them that bearing a cross for the sake of the Gospel is actually “… a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures suffering unjustly.” Why is this so? It is because even those who mistreat others are our ‘neighbors.’ As Christians, we are to serve even unjust authorities, so that they may see our example and come to faith (cf 3:1). Actually, it is more than our example, the unbelieving world and governing authorities need to see the risen Lord at work in our. Since “[We] have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us]. And the life [we] now live in the flesh [we] live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave himself for [us].” (Galatians 2:20). In this way, all suffering for the sake of the Gospel finds favor with God. And by it, we and bear witness our risen Lord’s power! Such righteous living in the face of injustice demonstrates our reliance on God’s grace and not on ourselves.
The road of suffering is never an easy one to walk. It wasn’t “easy” for the Apostle Peter, especially in his early days before Jesus’ death. But the resurrection of our Lord changed everything. It certainly changed Peter. It changed all the apostles. And, it certainly changed the entire Christian Church. Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero. It is traditionally held that he was crucified upside down at his own request, since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. Except for John, the other apostles were martyred for their faith. Moreover, we Christians of today can scarcely begin to comprehend the suffering that befell the Early Church. Roman leaders did all they could to expunge Christianity altogether. The Church only grew stronger in faith and love, as well as in number. They all followed in Jesus’ footsteps.
Ever since the fall of man, suffering has been a part of life. The wicked and unbelieving world bring upon themselves the punishment that they justly deserve. There is nothing commendable in being punished justly for evil. Even unbelievers know that! But wherever there are believers, believers walking the footsteps of Jesus, they will always experience the world and the devil’s hatred. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18-20.)
But we also know and hear our Good Shepherd’s voice, which we clearly hear in His Word. In the midst of ALL suffering, our Shepherd bids us to listen to His voice and follow in His footsteps. “Walk this way for me and with me.” Following him brings the best reward of all: favor with God. “When you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” (vs. 19).
Dear friends, because the apostles and the early church were so certain of the risen Christ being with them, they willingly walked in Jesus’ footstep. Take the apostles, for example. Because of their teaching, preaching, and living in Jesus name, on one occasion they had been whipped and punished severely. In Acts, chapter 5, gives the account of how they were arrested for their faith and were put into prison. Yet, when they were freed, “… they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name” (Acts 5:41). They suffered for doing good, they rejoiced for the privilege of suffering for the sake of Jesus. They knew that suffering was never meaningless. They were “mindful of God” and knew that what they were suffering was “a gracious thing in the sight of God.” He would bring infinite good out of what seemed like meaningless evil.
We, too, need to heed Peter’s exhortation. We need to be “mindful of God.” This is not merely remembering that God exists. It is knowing that resurrection isn’t just mere historical fact. It is a present reality. We need to hold in our hearts and minds of our risen Lord, mindful of His holy promises, thinking with His Word going through our minds.
The apostles and the Early Church also knew that Christ, the Lord of His Church, He suffered for them. And with his suffering, He left an example for all Christians to follow. Our Good Shepherd’s suffering was very unjust. Consider His perfect and sinless life. Jesus never had a bad thought. He never spoke a wicked, unkind word. He never did anything wrong ever. Still Jesus suffered death. He never took revenge. And even while hanging on the cross, he uttered: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). He suffered all these things and infinitely more because of His compassion for us. And, we certainly know that His suffering was not useless. “By his wounds you have been healed,” Peter tells us. The same Jesus that suffered for us, is at work in our suffering. It takes faith to see that, to see suffering as “finding favor with God.”
But “If God is all-powerful and all-good, why does He allow suffering?” Oh, for some of us, this is not just an abstract logical mystery. It is a deeply personal cry of despair. God is well-aware of every trial we face in life. But He is with us in all our suffering. The Prophet Isaiah knew something about suffering. He writes: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”( Isaiah 63:9). God NEVER looks down upon His creation, leaving us to suffer by ourselves.
If anyone know anything and EVERYTHING about suffering, it is Jesus. Jesus walked the way of shame, carrying a heavy cross, and offered up His own blood to win the crown of life for us all. No one could see how He suffered. Oh, indeed many watched and mocked Him. But being fully God and fully man, Jesus suffering the pangs of hell, damnation, God’s absolute wrath for every sin, for every individual.
Jesus totally understands what we are go through in life. He is not a high priest who is “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” With Christ’s sympathy, unlike the sympathy found among unbelievers, we experience His presence and His sustaining power at all times. As one early Church martyr once said, “I can bear it all, for Jesus suffered, and He suffers in me now; He sympathizes with me, and this makes me strong.” Dear friend, grasp this thought and hold on to it in every agonizing experience. “… behold, I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:20). “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Thus, says our Lord, and He means it!
Many in the early church, when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, to them it was nothing less than a post-resurrection appearance. So keenly they believed that the Lord was with them, to bind up their wounds of sin, and sins of others, to support them in their suffering! Jesus was in their midst through bread and the wine. These were not “mere” elements. They were and still are the true body and blood, the person of Jesus Christ in their midst, equipping them with His resurrection love, grace and power! The Lord’s Supper is the same for us! Jesus in our midst. He is the Good Shepherd who feed and cares for us, in every footstep He is present with His Church, with you, my friend, and with me. This is what turned the world upside down when the early Church grew amid suffering!
Our text for today also holds out another powerful lesson that we would do well to remember. Jesus knows what it is like to be in our shoes, to be human, but to be a human that lived by faith! All of His suffering was completely undeserved. But what did He do? He entrusted Himself to God. In our place on the cross, He faithfully relied on His Father. “… Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:3). Jesus knew what was BEYOND suffering, the salvation and redemption of the world!
Our problem is that we become very myopic when we suffer. We become very nearsighted, where problems are bigger and worse than we think they are. We look at problems and think, “Why is this happening to me.” We look at problems as though that is all there is in life. Dear friends, we are the body of Christ. If Jesus, our head of the body entrusted Himself to God, to His goodness, to His wisdom and dealings, should the body do the same? An English pastor of old once said, “An hour in presence of Jesus in heaven will more than make up for all we have suffered in this life.” Let us not listen to the devil, the world, and our depressed consciences when we suffer, let us entrust ourselves unto God, knowing that we can do ALL things through Him who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13). “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). God will one day reward us with blessings and life that are beyond our comprehension: “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of an imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”
Suffering for righteousness’ sake is part of our calling as Christians. There is no escaping this reality. But we follow in the footstep of our Lord, and with our Lord, entrust EVERY STEP to Him! The call of every faithful pastor, and also of the congregation, is the “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22). We are all here to be encouraged and strengthened.
And lastly, here is the power and ability to bear injustice and all of life’s unfair hardships: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (vv. 24-25). You have been healed!!! Are you distressed because of you past sins and burdened with the heavy load of present iniquities? Listen to these words—“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25). You are healed!
“[You] have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (vs. 25). Your life, every footstep of the way, is under the authority and overseeing of the Good Shepherd of your soul. Everything that pertains to your life and soul is under the lordship and hand of Jesus. Believing that we are healed, we are freed from our bondage to sin and guilt. Through the Gospel we have turned to Christ, to the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls, to Him who, as the one Good Shepherd. He is leading us home out of the desert of sin and is now daily leading us in the green pastures of His gracious Word. Truly, the sheep of Christ are provided for in a wonderful way, they live secure under the guiding staff of Him who laid down His life for them.
But, dear friends, it is not only what we are saved from, it is what we have been saved for. By Christ’s stripes we are healed so that our lives may be TOTALLY lived to God. This is what faith does in our hearts, it seeks to live totally toward God. We have so much to live FOR as healed sheep under our overseer of our souls. We can spend our entire life in living in conformity with the holy will of God, in true righteousness, following Jesus EVERY STEP OF THE WAY!!! We are free to follow Jesus fearless and unafraid. The footsteps of Jesus lead us to experience a wonderous and new life in risen Lord Jesus Christ!
Such a life is wondrously and vividly explained by our beloved Martin Luther. He knew something about suffering unjustly, but He knew Christ the faithful Good Shepherd. His words urge us to live in faith, true faith. “For this faith,” says Luther, “is his life, justification, and salvation, preserving his person itself and making it pleasing to God, and bestowing on him all that Christ has, as I have said above, and as Paul affirms: "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. ii. 20). Though he is thus free from all works, yet he ought to empty himself of this liberty, take on him the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion as a man, serve, help, and in every way act towards his neighbour as he sees that God through Christ has acted and is acting towards him. All this he should do freely, and with regard to nothing but the good pleasure of God, and he should reason thus:—
Lo! my God, without merit on my part, of His pure and free mercy, has given to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature all the riches of justification and salvation in Christ, so that I no longer am in want of anything, except of faith to believe that this is so. For such a Father, then, who has overwhelmed me with these inestimable riches of His, why should I not freely, cheerfully, and with my whole heart, and from voluntary zeal, do all that I know will be pleasing to Him and acceptable in His sight? I will therefore give myself as a sort of Christ, to my neighbour, as Christ has given Himself to me; and will do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbour, since by faith I abound in all good things in Christ.
Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbour voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss. Its object is not to lay men under obligations, nor does it distinguish between friends and enemies, or look to gratitude or ingratitude, but most freely and willingly spends itself and its goods, whether it loses them through ingratitude, or gains goodwill. For thus did its Father, distributing all things to all men abundantly and freely, making His sun to rise upon the just and the unjust. Thus, too, the child does and endures nothing except from the free joy with which it delights through Christ in God, the Giver of such great gifts. You see, then, that, if we recognize those great and precious gifts, as Peter says, which have been given to us, love is quickly diffused in our hearts through the Spirit, and by love we are made free, joyful, all-powerful, active workers, victors over all our tribulations, servants to our neighbour, and nevertheless lords of all things. But, for those who do not recognise the good things given to them through Christ, Christ has been born in vain; such persons walk by works, and will never attain the taste and feeling of these great things. Therefore just as our neighbour is in want, and has need of our abundance, so we too in the sight of God were in want, and had need of His mercy. And as our heavenly Father has freely helped us in Christ, so ought we freely to help our neighbour by our body and works, and each should become to other a sort of Christ, so that we may be mutually Christs, and that the same Christ may be in all of us; that is, that we may be truly Christians.” AMEN!