God has graciously called God’s dearly beloved people out of spiritual darkness and into the light of God glorious salvation. God has also called God’s adopted children to be God’s elect, God’s chosen people and heirs of God’s riches blessings.
However, in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson, Peter describes another high calling from God. God has called us, he says in verse 20b, to patient endurance when people abuse us for doing God’s will. “If you suffer (paschontes) for doing good (agathopoiountes) and you endure (hypomeneite) it,” the apostle writes there, “this is commendable (charis) before God.” This echoes the English translation of Peter’s admission in 1:6, that his readers “for a little while may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
So in 1 Peter 2 the apostle doesn’t ask his brothers and sisters in Christ to view such suffering as simply inevitable in a world where Satan has so much influence. Peter doesn’t even ask Jesus’ friends to resign ourselves to such undeserved misery. No, the apostle says that a life of suffering for Jesus’ sake is in a very real sense our privilege. Such suffering is something that Christians can even somehow embrace.
So classmates may mock Jesus’ followers for refusing to participate in activities that they believe would offend God. Co-workers may shake their heads about or exclude God’s beloved people for the way we follow Jesus Christ. Even family members may bother or harass Christians for our obedience to God.
Yet Peter invites Jesus’ friends to respond to such undeserved suffering, not with avoidance or anger, but with what he calls “endurance.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostle summons us to “put up with it,” in Eugene Peterson’s words. Christians literally “persevere.”
Peter, however, understands how much humans both hate suffering and crave others’ approval. He also realizes that Christians naturally respond to persecution for Jesus’ sake by quitting doing the things that bring us such suffering. So the apostle points God’s adopted children to our big brother, Jesus Christ. After all, he graciously left for his adopted siblings what Peter calls, in verse 21, an “example” (hypogrammon) of how to respond to undeserved suffering.
Scholars tell us that the Greeks used this word “example” to describe sentences that contained all the letters of the alphabet – their equivalent of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Children’s teachers wrote these sentences out so that students could learn their ABCs by tracing the letters which comprised them.
In a similar way, Peter insists, Christ’s response to the intense suffering he didn’t deserve provides a pattern for how his adopted siblings should respond to it. Jesus’ friends “trace” the letters that are Jesus’ responses to undeserved suffering by “putting up” with it like he did.
To this vivid word “example,” however, Peter also adds the figure of “steps” to follow. The apostle had once followed in Jesus’ footsteps all over Palestine. When persecuted he’d also sworn oaths to avoid following in those footsteps. Now, however, the Holy Spirit has prepared him to follow Jesus all the way to undeserved suffering.
So the apostle calls his brothers and sisters in Christ to join him in following in Jesus’ footsteps by patiently putting up with undeserved suffering just like Jesus did. The example we follow, the footsteps in which we walk, is that of faithful and persistent obedience to God’s calling – no matter how costly it may be.
When tortured, Jesus “committed no sin,” in the words of verse 22. He didn’t retaliate the way he had every right to against the “insults” of people like Israel’s religious and political leaders. The suffering Christ didn’t even answer the taunts of his enemies as they tortured him.
How could Jesus put up with such undeserved suffering in such a righteous way? How can his friends endure suffering we don’t deserve without lashing out at those who cause us to suffer? In verse 23 Peter points to how Jesus “entrusted (paredidou) himself to him who judges justly (krinonti dikaios).” In this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson, Peter summons his readers to walk a similar path.
Yet when Christians put up with undeserved suffering, we’re not saying that injustice doesn’t matter. God’s dearly beloved people are simply saying that God is the final judge who will finally resolve things justly. Our assailants, as John Piper notes, won’t have the last say. God will.
Yet the apostle also insists that Jesus is even more than Christians’ perfect example of how to respond to undeserved suffering for his sake. He is also the One whom Peter says, in verse 24, “bore (anenenken) our sins in his body on the tree.” He accepted God’s full punishment for every sin of every one of God’s chosen people.
When Christ died at Calvary, he paid the price for our sins so that God could forgive us. Like people slaughtered an animal, people killed Jesus. God, however, graciously turns that act of state-sanctioned capital punishment into the means by which God forgives. Yet Peter also emphasizes that Jesus didn’t just die any kind of death for our salvation.
He, according to verse 24, died “on the tree” (epi to xylon). This meant that he died under God’s public curse. Crucifixion wasn’t just an instrument by which the Romans humiliated people. It was also a visible sign to Jews of God’s rejection of the person being crucified.
However, by bearing his friends’ sins on the cross, Jesus brings not just our forgiveness, but also what Peter calls our “healing” (lathete) in verse 24. After all, the curse of sin includes suffering as well as death.
Jesus is the Great Physician who healed countless people during his ministry on earth. However, God’s children still suffer, get sick, and die. God doesn’t heal all of our physical and emotional ailments. So Peter’s primary reference may be to Christ’s wounds healing suffering at its root: the curse of sin.
Yet Christ’s suffering also transforms his adopted siblings’ present suffering. such suffering is not the result of our unrighteousness, though sin still sometimes has consequences. Now suffering is part of Jesus’ friends’ ongoing fellowship with Jesus Christ. The pain that Christians continue to endure isn’t a penalty for our sin. Christ has graciously suffered that in our place. The pain we still endure is part of our sharing in his rejection.
Peter goes on to remind his readers of how we desperately needed Christ to suffer in this way, to come into the world to live, die and rise again for us. People are, after all, naturally like sheep who naturally wander away from God instead of following in Jesus’ footsteps. Jesus isn’t just the Good Shepherd who gives his life for sheep like us. He’s also the Good Shepherd who brings his sheep back to God.
However, Peter also insists that God in Christ died for our sins and brought his followers back to himself so that we might, according to verse 24, “die to sins and live for righteousness.” That means that when Christ died, his friends somehow died to sin’s control over our lives. And when God raised Christ from the dead, God also raised Christ’s adopted siblings to a new life of thankful obedience.
That assertion brings this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson back to the theme with which it began. After all, among the ways Christians “live for righteousness” is by patiently enduring suffering that we don’t deserve. Jesus’ followers live for righteousness when we, like Jesus, don’t retaliate against or threaten those who would hurt us for his sake.
I never fully understood this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson until our family spent a day with Helmut and Krystal Haase in Wittenberg, Germany. Helmut was the pastor of the church that Martin Luther pastored after he left the Roman Catholic Church late in the fifteenth century. Until 1989, Pastor Haase’s church lay in communist East Germany.
He told us that because he was a pastor who had contacts throughout the West, authorities recorded every one of his telephone calls. Later someone in the government told Helmut that his “file” with the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police, was the largest in his area.
What’s more, authorities also relentlessly harassed the Haases’ son. While he was a talented competitor in the Olympic sport of judo, the authorities prevented him from competing at a high level. What’s more, because the younger Haase was both a Christian and a pastor’s son, he wasn’t, in the authorities’ eyes, a “good enough communist.” So they forced him to serve twice as long as anyone else in the East German army.
By God’s Spirit, through this all, the Haases persevered with great grace. They never lashed out or retaliated against their persecutors, even after German reunification offered them opportunities to do so. Helmut, Krystal and Kristoph patiently endured their unjust suffering for doing good, for Jesus’ sake.
In fact, when offered the opportunity to review the files East Germany’s secret police had compiled on him, Helmut refused. He knew, after all, that they would reveal who’d spied on his family and him, and then reported them to the secret police. Helmut didn’t want to know which members of his church had helped the authorities make him suffer for doing good.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 30, 2023
1 Peter 2:19-25 Commentary