Living in Suffering, 1st Peter 2:19-25, Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020
This morning, we continue with our reading of 1st Peter, on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, where Peter admonishes his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (2:12).
Christians were being discriminated against by slanderous accusations. Surprisingly, this verbal hostility came from their fellow citizens, and even from their relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances. It was more than personal insult; it took public respect from them, on which existence in society depended, even more than in our time, and public officials found action against them appropriate.
Even today, with a saintly life, Christians can give a powerful witness that will attract unbelievers to Christ. So in this morning’s text, Peter continues with some specifics. He aims to equip Christians to live a life of faithful endurance as the elect and beloved children of God.
Although Christians are called to live a righteous life within the framework of their given social institutions, because of their relationship to God, they must suffer as strangers and aliens in the world. The light of those who are strangers and exiles is one of patient endurance in the face of unjust suffering. Peter speaks of this as a “gracious thing” that happens as the believer is mindful of God.
Now, this suffering is to be distinguished from the suffering that is brought about by one’s own crimes or misdeeds, where the criminal is victim of himself. Suffering is expected by those who have done wrong. Criminals have no reason to ask why a punishment is coming to them. This is easily explainable.
The suffering Peter is talking about is suffering that comes, not from our sin, but from the sin of others. He is referring to circumstances when the faithfulness of the believer is made the victim on account of his or her confession and noble life. To endure this suffering is a gracious thing in the presence of God. God is never unmindful of this unmerited suffering and will not let it be wasted in the lives of His children, although its ultimate outcome may not yet be clear to us in the midst of affliction.
Peter speaks of being “called” to this suffering. It is the cruciform shape of the Christian life, as those who belong to Christ are called to take up the cross. Christ’s suffering for us always comes first. Because He has suffered for us, He becomes an example for our bearing of the cross.
Do we look “Jesus-like” in our suffering, or do we assume the defensive and score settling posture of the world? Have we wandered from the richness of God’s Word? Have we ever sought the excitement of some sin’s turbulent waters? Do we recognize the lost-ness of our condition in the suffering of our lives?
As much as our culture would like us to think that everything is relative and we can be carefree in our religion, the truth is that there are right and wrongs, and to those right and wrongs are terrible and eternal consequences.
Every Sunday school child, sooner or later, hears about Daniel and his life-threatening experience in the lions’ den. What may often be missed though is why the king ordered Daniel to be treated in this way. Out of jealousy, Daniel’s fellow rulers persuaded King Darius to issue a decree forbidding prayers to anyone except the king. Violators would be thrown into the lions’ den. In spite of this, Daniel continued to pray to the Lord three times a day. Reluctantly, King Darius had to carry out the punishment. Of course Daniel was saved from harm, yet for doing a good thing, praying, he suffered.
That is the kind of suffering, of which Peter speaks of in today’s text, is actually doing what is good and right in the Lord’s eyes. This is what we call “cross-bearing,” for it is suffering that comes from being identified as one who belongs to the crucified Lord.
The Suffering Servant is held up as the ultimate example. It is in His steps, we should follow. The full import of Christ taking our place could hardly be better expressed than in the words of Martin Luther: “He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: ‘Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them’”.
Peter speaks of that example, but Christ is more than example. He is the One who is categorically different from any other role model or hero that you might think of, within the world that we know. The apostle John conveys that to us as he describes the Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus. He is an example, but He is so much more. He is the Savior, who suffered for our sins and was raised from death to give life to us unruly and straying sheep.
Peter’s words to the Christian slaves might even have upset them. “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”(20) Several times in his epistle Peter states that painful treatment is bound to happen, not only at the hands of their masters, but by others as well.
It just doesn’t seem right, even to us today. Being good and doing good should result in blessing and reward. The historian H. G. Wells complained that Christians were basically selfish, forever looking for God’s favor. They serve Him, but not for nothing.
Living a decent life, in word and deed, has its consequences, and many are undesirable. “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. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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.” (21-23)
For Paul’s first readers, certainly the abuse suffered by the Christian slaves would not have been taken lightly. Nor did the disciples find it easy to turn the other cheek, when they went to a Samaritan village to ready things for their Master. They were not welcomed. So James and John asked him, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” For this vengeful spirit Jesus found it necessary to rebuke them. (Lk 9:51–55).
Even Joseph’s brothers, who had sold him into slavery, were expecting the worst when they recognized him as the powerful prime minister of Egypt. Yet, his forgiveness and subsequent actions to take care of them and their families stand out as one of the most magnificent accounts of undeserved mercy in the Old Testament.
So Peter points the mistreated slaves to the example of Jesus Christ, who was merciful and forgiving toward those who abused Him, a most striking demonstration of love. Not only are they to stifle threats of retaliation, they are to take positive steps in dealing with their tormentors.
No, it’s not the way of the world. Jesus became our Substitute and paid the full price for our sins, with His precious blood, and His very life. We are no longer slaves to sin, no longer slaves by fear of death, no longer held captive by the devil. They have no claim on us.
Christ’s substitutionary work is seen so well in Genesis chapter twenty-two. God tells Abraham to take his only son, whom he loves, and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. After the altar is built and the wood is placed, Isaac is bound. Abraham reaches out to take the knife. The procedure is suddenly halted by the word of the Lord. Isaac is set free, and a ram is sacrificed in place of the son.
The similarities are striking. God the Father offered His only Son, whom He loved, in our place. He came into the world to purchase and win the forgiveness of our sins by His death and resurrection. He innocently suffers for our sins and sheds His blood in atonement for our sin. Throughout His life, He is extending this forgiveness to sinners. He prays from the cross in the midst of His torture: “Father, forgive them”.
Having been released from the guilt and burden of sin and all its consequences, we are still living in a world hostile toward God’s people. Because of the inheritance for which we wait, we will, having been raised with Christ, set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Peter’s argument seems to be that to suffer for doing good is not an occasion for self-centered pity; but an occasion for the strength and the grace of God to be revealed in us. When we suffer unjustly and endure, this is the grace of God at work.
Peter is calling on us to think very differently about our suffering. Our salvation was accomplished through suffering, suffering which was patiently and willingly born for the sins of the whole world. Our lives, which are connected to His life, will naturally reflect His approach to suffering. Suffering is a gracious moment in our lives.
Thank God that you have a Good Shepherd, who was put to death for your sins and raised again for your justification. Knowing that He has loved you with such an everlasting love, even to the point of being given over to suffer death on the cross, you can live as those who are conformed to His image, conformed, as painful as it may be at times, into His image.
He is your example for the life of faith in the Father and love for the neighbor. But even better, He is your Shepherd who has rescued you, reconciled you to His Father, and even now by His Gospel, enlivened you to live in Him, and for Him. Amen.