Suffer Well For The Gospel (Part 2)

1 Peter 2:21-25 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.

Kids, have you ever had your parents call you into their bedroom (or yours)? From some distance away—maybe you’re playing in the living room—you hear the words, “Billy, please come here.” What’s the first thing that comes to mind? For me, as a kid, the bedroom summons almost always seemed to mean that I was in trouble or that some other form of bad news was about to get dropped on me.

I remember one time in particular. I was waiting on my parents to decide if I could go skiing with a friend’s family for several days over Christmas vacation. For a number of reasons—I had never done anything like that before, it was pretty expensive, my friend wasn’t the best influence, and my parents had been dropping negative hints for some time—I was fairly sure they were going to say no. Then I heard those words, “David, would you come in here please?” Somehow I knew I was making the death march. On my way back I began strategizing my defense. I’d start by attempting to reason with them, I’d move to tears and pleading, and if none of that worked, I’d try anger (I wasn’t a very good kid).

It turned out that I was right; I’d been summoned in to receive the ski verdict. However, I was wrong about the verdict itself; they gave me permission to go. The change of emotion was almost overwhelming. I had gotten the purpose of the meeting wrong and that changed everything.

That’s what this passage in 1 Peter does for us. Because most of us have the nature of suffering wrong, Peter’s words, truly understood, change everything.

I’ve met very few Christians who understand or appreciate what Peter teaches here. In fact, I believe that most of you in this room will be genuinely surprised by what you hear this morning. And if God sees fit, it will change us far more than my parent’s surprise ski-trip verdict. It will restore marriages. It will change the nature of friendships. It will lead to the adoption of orphans. It will eventually cause some kids in this room to go into some of the hardest places on earth with the gospel. And who knows what else. Let’s pray that God would see fit.

Let me set the stage once again. 2:21 begins with the small, but powerful word, “for”. Used this way it introduces a grounding clause. That is, it signals that what follows is the reason (or grounds) for something.

I ran to the store last night for we were out of milk. I have no need to turn on my television until August for MSU basketball and football are in the offseason. The reason I went to the store is that we were out of milk. The reason I’m not going to watch TV is because there’s nothing good on for several months.

In the case of our text for this morning the for at the beginning of 2:21 gives the reason for 2:13-20 and 3:1-12, in which Peter writes (my paraphrase):

“Suffering saints, in your suffering, even when they are the cause of your suffering, be subject to every human institution. Christian citizens, it is God’s will that you submit to the government even when it is made up of ignorant and foolish people (2:15). Servants, it is a gracious thing, pleasing to God, when you continue to subject yourselves to your earthly masters, even when they are unjust and abusive (2:19-20). Wives and husbands, be subject to one another in the ways prescribed by God, even when your spouse is disobedient to God (3:1, 7). And Church, submit yourselves to each other, even if there are evildoers among you (3:8-9).”

And the question on everyone’s mind most certainly was, “Why!? Why is this your command, Peter? Why are we supposed to do these things, submit to these people, suffer in these ways? What is the ground/reason for all of this?”

Peter’s answer has two levels. The first level, which (once again) is introduced by the “for” at the beginning of 2:21, and which we saw last week, is that it is part of God’s larger call the lives of his people to suffer faithfully.

Submit to all of these human institutions (even when they are unjust) “for [because] to this you have been called.” That God has called his people to them is the reason we submit, even in suffering.

Again, then, why does Peter call God’s people to subject ourselves to every human institution and suffer faithfully? On the first level it’s because it is an essential part of God’s call on their lives. But that begs another question, why does God call his people to this? Why would God issue such a call to suffer?

I need to say something here. If that question doesn’t make you pause it’s likely because you have never known real suffering or gone through it with someone who has. Anyone who has seen real suffering, at the very least, gets really, really cautious when they hear talk of God’s relationship to it. Most attempt to remove God from it as far away as possible (at one end) or express outrage at God’s lack of intervention (on the other). Some even claim that the evil they’ve seen prevents them from believing in God. In fact, one of the most common philosophical arguments against God’s existence relates to this very issue.

Peter’s answer to that question is clear as we’ll see in just a moment. However, let us never forget that love for people who are truly suffering is not merely a doctrinal matter. It’s never less than that, but it’s always more. When someone we love is suffering, we need to help them think rightly about their suffering, but we also need to acknowledge the reality and severity of their pain and hurt. If our education far outruns our compassion, we’ve grossly missed the mark.

Again, then, we’re left with the question of why God would call his people to suffer various trials and faithfulness in them. The second level of Peter’s answer, the deeper level, the world-flipping, life-changing level is found in the second half of 2:21 (and then expanded on in 2:22-25).

Why did Peter charge Christians to endure suffering faithfully? Because God called them to it. Why did God call them to it? “Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” There are two parts to this second level and we’ll spend the rest of our time together looking at both.

First, “because Christ also suffered for you”. This refers to Jesus substitutionary atonement, is expanded on in 2:24-25, and will be addressed first. The second part of Peter’s answer is that Christ “left [us] an example so that [we] might follow in his steps”. This refers to the practical outworking of suffering well, is expanded on in 2:22-23, and will be addressed in just a bit.

Let’s now turn our attention, therefore, to the first part of Peter’s reasoning behind why God calls his people to suffer and suffer well: because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. If you truly come to understand Peter’s claims, it will change your life.

Listen again to 1 Peter 2:21 and its explanation in 24-25.

1 Peter 2:21, 24-25 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you… 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.

Christians have been called to suffer well because Christ also suffered for us. What did Peter mean by this? He tells us in 2:24-25 where he speaks of mankind’s predicament, God’s solution in Jesus, and the outcome of all of this.

We are dead and lost in our sin.
Why did Christ suffer for God’s people? Because sin has brought death to all mankind. Since Adam, our natures, originally forged in the image of God, have become corrupt. The result is that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have failed to glorify God as we should; as we were made to do. We do not honor God for who he is, our sovereign king.

The wages of this corrupted sin nature, and the treasonous sins it produces, is death. Our sin and sins mean that we must bear the wrath of God. What’s worse, we are (according to v.25) unable to do anything about this condition. We are dead in our sin, spiritually lost, wandering around without any way to make our way back to the righteousness and Righteous One we were made for. We are left to endure suffering in this life, only to await everlasting suffering in the next.

He bore our sins in his body.
But, as Peter witnessed with his own eyes, the Father did not leave his people in this condition of wandering, suffering and death. Instead, he sent his one and only Son as a substitute sacrifice. Jesus willingly took upon himself all of the sins of all who would trust in him. And the Father was pleased to pour out all of his wrath upon Jesus, receiving him as an acceptable sacrifice for those sins. In other words, for all who will trust in him, Jesus suffered in our place. Or, as Peter wrote it, Jesus suffered for God’s people in that he bore our sin in his body on a tree (the cross).

Jesus, Peter wrote, suffered the wrath we deserve. He died the death we deserve. And therein, he absorbed the Father’s wrath and removed sin’s curse from us. Instead of being dead in sin, Jesus makes us dead to sin. But there’s more…

By his wounds we are healed to holiness and everlasting care and fellowship.
In suffering and dying in our place, Jesus does not merely bring us to a place of moral and spiritual and relational neutrality. More than that, by his death we are healed and rescued and made alive and brought back into fellowship with our Creator and King. It is by his suffering that our natures are restored back into the unmarred image of God. By grace alone, through faith alone in his wounds alone we are healed of our sin and its devastating, eternal effects.

Jesus death was to make us “live to righteousness” (2:24), to heal our sin-produced wounds (2:24), and return us to God (2:25).

But how is all of this a reason for God’s calling us to suffer faithfully? What does all of this mean this mean?

It means—and don’t miss this; this is the key to the entire passage—it means that God has a great purpose in our suffering: drawing people’s attention to Jesus’ substitutionary, sacrificial death. And that means, therefore, that the ultimate aim of our suffering is not to get out of it, but to use it as a means of pointing to Jesus’ suffering and the forgiveness that is offered because of it. Because of Jesus’ suffering, in faithful Christian suffering we paint a living, visible picture of the living, but invisible gospel.

This means, therefore, that when suffering comes our way (especially Christian persecution), it always comes with a purpose: to show the transforming power and all-satisfying nature of the gospel. God has given us medicine and police and courts and friends, which Christians may use when we suffer. However, because of this passage, because of the cross of Jesus, those things must never come into our minds first, and our determination to make use or not make use of them must always, ultimately come in answer to the question, “What action in this moment will be most consistent with Jesus suffering on my behalf; what action would best draw people’s attention to the cross?”.

Do you see how this changes everything? If the Christian’s goal in suffering isn’t to avoid it at all costs or get out of it as quickly as possible, but to navigate it in such a way that points people to Jesus death, tragically wronged spouses are free to fight for their marriages, poorly treated friends are free to forgive devastating betrayals, overwhelmed families are free to care for orphans, and comfortable, fruitful, safe people are free to take the gospel to hostile, dangerous lands and die proclaiming the good news that “Christ also suffered for you.”

But this leaves us with another important question, “What does all of this look like in real life?” How do we actually endure suffering in ways that honor God by pointing people to Jesus’ suffering? That question leads to the final point of this sermon: we know what faithfulness in suffering looks like by looking to Jesus who left us an example in his life and death.

Listen again to 1 Peter 2:21 and its explanation in 22-23.

1 Peter 2:21-23 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.

Christians know how to honor God in suffering—how to reflect the gospel in our suffering—by looking to the example of Jesus. In our passage Peter explicitly mentions five things Jesus exemplified.

He committed no sin.
The main, and summary example that Jesus left his people concerning how to suffer in such a way as to image the gospel, is to suffer without sinning. While suffering has produced the imagined justification for all kinds of sin, God’s people must look to Jesus, remembering that “He committed no sin…”.

Grace, when suffering comes our way, it is, according to Jesus’ example a time to fight even harder for holiness, and to commit even more to putting off the sinful passions of the flesh. Realizing this, Peter lists a few particular sins which Christians might be tempted to, but Jesus refrained from.

There was no deceit in his mouth.
There are countless ways to suffer and, therefore, countless ways we may be tempted to lie to escape it, but Jesus left his people an example. He could have recanted his teaching and avoided all suffering. He could have lied about his intentions and avoided death. But because he understood that the glory of his calling was infinitely higher than his comfort, for the joy set before him he endured the cross and even scorned its shame.

Following Jesus’ example here is of utmost importance because when we deceive others to avoid suffering, we are ultimately deceiving them about the power and nature of the gospel.

He did not revile in return for the reviling he received.
If there is one thing that we may be most tempted to do in our suffering, it’s to loath those causing our suffering. How easy and natural it is to allow hate for our tormenter to well up in us? And as the anger boils, especially if they are knowingly and willfully causing our suffering, if not for the example of Jesus we may feel altogether justified in reviling our persecutors—speaking in a harsh and abusive manner to or about them. However, Jesus’ suffering on our behalf frees us instead to love and pray for and ask God’s forgiveness and blessing for them.

He did not threaten those who caused his suffering.
Similarly, as he was threatened and beaten and tortured and eventually murdered, Jesus could certainly have called on legions of angels to wipe out his enemies—indeed, it would have even been just of him to do so. But Jesus did not even threaten such action, much less act on it. Instead, like a lamb to the slaughter, he made no sound. The cross and example of Jesus frees us to act like this as well, to avoid threats and promises of revenge, and to instead offer words of eternal life.

He entrusted all justice to the Father.
Finally, this also means that we are freed from worrying about justice for ourselves because the cross is the great proof that justice will be done by God; either by pouring out his wrath on Jesus on the cross or on those who remain his enemies in hell. If God would kill his own Son rather than allow injustice to remain, he will certainly not let injustice remain. God’s people, therefore, are free to endure mistreatment for the sake of the gospel, in the certain knowledge that in the end all will be made right.

Again, all of this together means that the first Christian response, the main Christian response, the main goal of a Christian in suffering, is not to escape it, but to plan and pray and scheme ways to best follow Jesus’ example in it, and therein reflect the gospel through it.

Because of Jesus faithfulness in his life, and atoning work in his death, when God’s people find themselves in a season of suffering, we must remember the cross of Jesus, and seek to use our suffering as a giant arrow to point people to it in the hope that they would find life in it.

I want to close with a quote from an article I read as I was finishing this sermon. It captures well the heart of what I think Peter meant.

To suffer “for the name of Christ” has a … profoundly important dimension, as Jesus explains … “For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them” (Mark 13:9).

Do you see what he did there?

To suffer for the name of Christ is a two-sided equation. The name of Christ is the cause of our added suffering, but the name of Christ also becomes the purpose of our suffering. As cause, we can expect to suffer for the name of Christ. As purpose, we can expect to suffer, so that in our suffering we might testify to the name of Christ.

Peter was one of the three disciples to hear these words of Jesus on the Mount of Olives during the final week of Jesus’ life. They were no doubt ringing in his ears as he wrote our passage for this morning. As we encounter suffering, may they ring in ours as well.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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.