(draft notes for a sermon 1 Peter 2:21)
Because Christ Suffered for You. 1 Peter 2:21
Suffering hurts in two ways. First, there is the actual pain of suffering. Illness hurts; poverty hurts; broken relationships hurt. But the actual pain is perhaps not the worst part. I remember hearing an interview with a woman who was being tortured by the secret police in her country. She was tied to a table and the men where torturing her. She said she could take it as long as thought of them as monsters. But during the torture, one man took a phone call and spoke with his wife. He talked about finishing up at work and coming home. That real human beings were torturing her tore her soul.
The worst part of suffering is the shame, the pointlessness, the loneliness. When we come to die, there is regret. It doesn’t how much we acquire or how much we have done. Solomon coming to the end of his life, having done all that any man could do:
“And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure … “Ecclesiastes 2:10. And yet, that could not keep him from regret, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
If drinking in all the money and power and sex and pleasure and wine which the world can give will leave one with regret, what of a normal life? When we suffer, we can think, What’s the point? What’s the point of my disease? When we can’t pay our bills, or a marriage fails; or our life just seems a waste, a getting up and paying bills for what?
We think, What’s the point of my suffering. Then, some well-meaning Christian tells us, “It’s to strengthen your faith!” Or, much worse, “God’s teaching you something.” It sounds as if the point of suffering is some sort quiz; as if there were some test and we need to get a 90% or higher to pass. Those answers are correct – but only in part. It’s like saying that Hamlet is important because it’s about ghosts, or the World Series is about hot dog sales.
Suffering does grow our faith – but faith is only the means to the end. In suffering we feel pain – and we are tempted to feel that our pain is pointless. We feel shame in our suffering and think that it serves no good. When we hear “It will strengthen our faith” – we think, I would settle for just not hurting today.
But what if suffering were an inlet for glory and joy – and not just joy in the future, but joy today? Look at 1 Peter 2:21. Peter writes:
For to this you have been called
Because Christ suffered for you
Leaving an example that you might follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:21. Consider carefully those words and follow the logic: You have been called – that means that God has called you to patiently enduring suffering, even unjust, undeserved suffering. Peter then gives the reason: Because Christ suffered for you. Then, that you may not miss the point, Peter restates our duty and status in other words, that we might follow in Christ’s steps of suffering.
This does not sound hopeful. But, as you consider the matter, it becomes worse. We are not merely called to suffer, but we are called suffer as Christ suffered.
How does the logic work? You must suffer unjustly. If your boss abuses you, if your husband does not love you, if your wife will not respect you, you must so suffer. If someone pays you evil, you give them good. When someone curses you, you must bless them. Why? Because Christ has suffered for you.
Even more, such suffering will be measured by Christ’s suffering: His suffering is the pattern which you must follow; his suffering is like so many steps in the snow and you must follow behind, for it is the only way to cross.
Peter writes of Jesus being reviled and threatened. Those words do not merely mean a couple of crass shouts by an enemy:
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. Mark 15:16–20 (ESV)
There he stood alone, beaten, shamed, blood running down his face as they struck him and danced about in their madness, mocking the Lord of glory who had come to rescue the children of Adam from sin and death.
Peter saw some, but not all of these things. You know the story of how Peter, frightened by a girl, denied the Lord. Luke records how that scene ended:
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:61–62 (ESV)
Peter’s own cowardice makes the command to suffer with Christ laughable – who is Peter to command me to follow the Lord, when Peter himself ran away and wept? How can this coward think to command our courage when he could not even stand still? How can Peter tell us to follow in the steps of Christ:
And they led him out to be crucified.
Peter’s words that we should follow in the steps of Christ, that we should follow Christ in suffering do not make sense. First, it does not make sense that we should suffer patiently through a bad marriage just because Jesus bore sin. Second, it makes no sense that Peter, of all people, should be the one who could draw such a conclusion. Peter looked at Jesus suffer. He saw that Jesus was going to the cross and Peter responded by lying to a little girl. If seeing Jesus suffer did not give Peter courage, how does Peter think reading about Jesus suffering will help me?
Let us consider the matter more carefully. What was the event? The Lord of glory, God incarnate, was murdered, “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” Acts 2:23. Peter contends that murder must affect our life here and now.
For to this you were called
Because Christ suffered for you
Leaving you an example that you might follow in his steps.
To suffer because we have done wrong is no great trouble. Only the most morally twisted could conclude that wrong does not deserve a response: “For what credit is it if when you sin and are beaten for it you endure?” 1 Peter 2:20a.
But God does something strange. He commands a thing seemingly makes no sense:
“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this a gracious thing in the sight of God” 1 Peter 2:20b.
Somehow a line runs between Christ’s suffering for our sins and our suffering even when we have not sinned.
Let’s consider the death of Jesus. If you were to stand on the street in Jerusalem on that Friday morning, you would have seen just another criminal, beaten, filthy, bloody, brutalized; a rough wooden beam upon his shoulders. You would have seen the tatters of meat which had been his back. You have seen him stumble and fall before the soldiers. Perhaps if you had known more, you have seen just another failed messiah; another dreamer and liar who had run into the teeth of Rome. You would have seen betrayal and shame and sorrow.
Even the dearest disciples and friends of Jesus had lost hope as he pushed along the streets to be murdered outside the gate. The women who found the empty tomb, had come to honor a corpse. Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were hopeless and saddened when they spoke to the Lord, not realizing he had risen from the dead:
Our chief priests and rulers had delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Luke 24:20-21a.
No one knew the “hidden wisdom of God” in all this. “For if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” 1 Corinthians 2:7-8.
Now there was no secret in the death of Jesus – Rome killed in as a public a manner as they could find. What then was not seen:
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. 1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)
Thus, something must have happened in this death for our sin which transform everything we think we know about the world.
That is the great connection between Christ’s death and our suffering in this world. When Christ died for sins, the world changed.
We are born in a slaughterhouse. In a slaughterhouse, the cattle stand in long lines, head to tail, waiting their turn to walk through the door and die. The only hope for the cow is the hope of a feedlot and then the line outside the door of the slaughterhouse. This world is little more than a feedlot, than a prison. You are locked in by death. Death stands at the doors of this world and no one escapes.
Sin spreads through the camp and has infected us all, like a plague which eats the mind and poisons the soul:
3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. Ecclesiastes 9:3 (ESV)
Look carefully into this world. The Law has come to town. In every street, the law sends out his soldiers to drag us each and every-one before his court. The young comes with the old; the baby is dragged from the mother; the rich stands with the poor. The tribunal stands in the middle of street; nothing is private. The bailiff reads out your crimes; nothing is hidden. Your boldest wrong and the darkest intention of your heart, so dim you scarcely knew it if was true all are read aloud. The Law knows all.
You fall condemned. No mercy; no defense; no hope. And thus you find yourself in this prison, this slaughterhouse, this feedlot for death. You are food for worms, and nothing more.
Sin and death reign supreme in this prison. All the insanity which spreads around flows from the utter terror of death at the door. As the Holy Spirit explains in Hebrews 2:14, the devil holds the world in life long slavery through fear of death.
Some people deny that death stands at the door. Others think they can bribe the guard when it comes the day to account. Others claim to have brought paradise to the prison and seek a torrent of pleasure to dull their eyes until they die.
No one within this prison deserves the least reprieve. The Law’s judgment was just and true. Nothing less than death awaits. And after death, vast fields of hopelessness and sorrow, despair and death without end. The bars of death cannot be beat. Like a blackhole whose gravity can swallow even light and time, death will not be beat. Justice will not lose one dram of vindication.
Yet, into this world the Son of God came. He takes up the charge laid against you. The Law reads out crimes, one by one, each more vicious and foul to have stained the air with their sound. The charge in full being stated, the Son of God, the King himself says to the Law, I will bear it all. Let death and hell come, I will bear it all.
And so the king, reviled, mocked, beaten, murdered upon a tree, bore the weight of sin and shame. Even more dreadful, the King received the wrath of God which caused the earth to shake and the sun to hide for shame:
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:33–34 (ESV)
Somehow, upon that cross,
For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— Galatians 3:13 (ESV)
A mystery lies here, that Christ could bear our sin in his body on the tree. And yet, it is true:
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4–7 (ESV)
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
That is why Peter writes that God has brought us to hope:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3–7 (ESV)
Look into this hope – as deep as the sorrow of sin once laid upon us, so much greater is the joy and glory of hope now brought by resurrection of Jesus Christ. See further that all this hope is of God, and God alone.
It was God who sent the Law to condemn us each and everyone:
20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 (ESV)
It was God himself who wrote the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:14). It was God who kept close track of our sin, of our deeds and intentions. And it was God who sent the Son into the world. Do you not know
that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you …. 1 Peter 1:18–20 (ESV)
And in that ransom, death itself was aside forever. In his death and resurrection, “you were born again, not of perishable seed but imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The one who lives without Christ cannot be said rightly to live at all. Before him lies only death; his life a life of a feedlot for worms. And after death? Death for eternity, endless fields of sorrow and despair.
But it is not so for you who know him. You have been called to joy which words cannot contain, because you have come to hope in the revelation of Jesus Christ:
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8–9 (ESV)
But this still may not answer the question we asked at the beginning: How does Christ dying me lead to me suffering in this world? Wouldn’t it be the case that I should come into immediate and full possession of all this joy?
That is where we stumble. You see, we falsely think that there is a joy to be had which is other than the joy of the visible presence of the King. When we joke about mansions in heaven, we laugh at the idolatry of our hearts that even when we think of the King we somehow think of a joy which should centered upon us.
But all so hope is false. We were created for something far greater than ourselves – we were created for God. Nothing less than our king will do for such a heart. No mere trifle, even the most glorious throne to ever arise over the face of the world will be enough. The greatest room in a prison is still a cell.
To dream that we should be happy with something here and now is dastardly – it is lie. The only happiness and contentment we have now is a draught of the Creator being bestowed through the creature. Imagine being thirsty and coming to a faucet. You turn the handle and water comes out. It is not the faucet which drowns your thirst but the water. When you have contentment which flows through the creature it is only gift of the Creator seen in the creature. We must not love anything or anyone for themselves, but rather for the sake of Christ. Even our dearest relations must be loved for Christ’s sake.
Only our foolishness ever permits us to seek contentment in the creature.
When Christ died for us, our entire world changed. Rather than being desperate to find some happiness in this world – which is like trying to find water in the Sarah – we were granted true hope. I can remember the day that one of my daughters first ate chocolate. After that taste, nothing else would be the same. How much more is such a thing true when we come to Christ!
We now know a thirst that can only be slaked by living water.
Our hope is God. Our good is God. Our joy is God. Our inheritance is God.
Thus, our greatest joy and hope is that our King be glorified.
You see, when Christ died and carried away our sin we were brought to a greater a hope and joy: the all sufficient most glorious God. We have come to see that our God possesses such power and beauty that it would be a crime for God to not glory in himself. When the Father looks upon the work of his Son, destroying the reign of sin and death, the Father delights in the Son. And it is the joy of the Father to glorify his Son. It is the joy of the Son to bring glory to his Father. It is the joy of the Spirit to convict us sin that we may come to see the glory of the Father in the Son.
When we were rescued from sin, we were rescued into this kingdom of joy. “Not to us, O LORD, not us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness!” Psalm 115:1.
That is where our suffering comes in.
9 But you are 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. 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
You were saved so that you too could join in the eternal delight of God by proclaiming the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You and I are not the point of the universe. You can understand nothing of true importance in this life, if you do not understand this. You will never understand, faith, obedience, suffering; you will never know blessedness, nor know joy, worship or hope until you grasp this point: “God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us” (Piper, Brothers, We are not Professionals, 7).
The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And that is the chief end of God. You exist to share in the eternal delight of glorifying God. Look down at 1 Peter 2:12:
12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:12 (ESV)
You proclaim the excellencies of God by keeping your conduct honorable among the Gentiles. And how do you do that? By patiently enduring suffering – even unjust suffering. To endure unjust suffering because you have hope of God’s rescue testifies of God’s goodness and glory. Now, perhaps, the others may think you a fool and may think your suffering shame – but the day will come when you will be revealed to be a child of God and a joint heir with Christ. The time will come that Christ will come and then they will see your good deeds where done in the hope of God. Therefore, you may rejoice today knowing that you are bringing glory to God. Indeed, bringing glory to God is the only true means of joy in all of creation. Where you to search all heaven, all earth; where you to travel to edge of the universe, you could find no other true joy, no greater joy than the joy of glorifying God.
When the Lord had been arrested, Peter did not understand what was happening. It was only later that he finally realized the glory of God. Too often, we live like Peter before the resurrection. We deny Jesus, because the shame and pain of this world become too great. We know it to be wrong, and so we run out and weep. Peter is writing to you and me to spare us the sorrow of hearing the cock crow.
Thus, now that Christ has risen and death has been defeated, we can look upon our sorrows and pangs, sad marriages or painful work, as moments to glorify God – and what could be a greater joy? Christ’s death did not merely transform death for us, it also transformed life:
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:56–58 (ESV)