IN HIS STEPS: The Pattern of Suffering to Follow (Part 2)
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By accident, this sermon was not recorded live and so has been re-done for the podcast.
The original sermon manuscript follows . . .
What To Do When Life Turns Unjust
In His Difficult Steps, part 3–1 Peter 2:21-25
Fifth Christ suffered without doubting
Even during the torture, pain, agony and sin-bearing, verse 23 says, “but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” The Greek verb “entrusting“ is very interesting. As long as He lived as the God man, Jesus Christ, He continually entrusted himself to God who judges. He was continually giving Himself over, He kept on doing it. Over and over trusting Him to judge righteously, rightly. The idea is, every time there was another form of persecution–every time there was another suffering, another difficult event, no matter what, every single time, He would entrust Himself. And He kept on putting His life in the hands of the One who will judge rightly.
And that’s a perfect message for those of us who are tracing Christ’s life–you don’t do this once and then walk away. You keep entrusting yourself to God.
He kept entrusting, literally deliver yourself over to the power of another. Christ put His life in God’s hands. In good, bad and cruel times, He continually said, “I am not going to trust my own feelings, always about Me, I am not going to focus on My pain, I will not focus on the injustice and unfairness and cruelty of what is happening to Me. I’ll entrust Myself fully to the One Who knows what He is doing.” It’s remarkable, God entrusting Himself to God.
This is classic . . . your pain, your struggle is not all about you. It is about God working in and through you. Not like D-group–“I didn’t grow.” It’s not about you–it’s God working through you to minister to others. Then Peter throws this in–“who judges righteously.” Do you know why it’s tough for us to suffer? Do you know why we believe we have to make things right, why we won’t remain silent, why we must get justice, and why we pray for revenge? Do you know why? Because we think God won’t judge–we don’t think He will judge rightly, and we don’t want to wait for His perfect timing. Because simply stated, we don’t trust God.
Some of you have gone through really dark, unfair, hurtful, destructive trials–really painful, some of them at the hands of other Christians, or so-called Christians. Listen, God promised you would. God was, and still is, in total control. God planned them to bring Him glory and bring about your good. And God will make all things right in His time. Do you trust God that He’ll make all things right? To literally do justice? Rightly also meaning correctly, justly, straightly, uprightly, fairly. It is the word used of a judge who fully hears a case and decides fairly. Christ may want to save some of those who were cruel to you. Some who are deluded will die, then realize they’re not saved. God may wait until judgment before they’ll be condemned forever in hell. God may have them experience the consequences of their sins against you in this life as they reap what they sow, but you may never know how God’s justice manifested itself. But do you trust God, who judges righteously, rightly, perfectly? Jesus did–He trusted His Father, because His father never makes a mistake. God is judge–everyone will answer to Him, every knee will bow, everyone will give an account of their lives, everyone will stand before Him. Some who claim to know Christ will finally be exposed as phony. But only those truly in Christ will be spared. And all those truly in Christ will demonstrate that they are His by following Christ, and by tracing Christ’s example in suffering.
God knows what He is doing–the greatest injustice ever carried out on this planet was orchestrated by God Himself. Right? Acts 2:23 says, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”
Jesus even told Pilate in John 19:11, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” Even Pilate crucified Jesus only under the authority of God. God knows what He is doing, and in the midst of the greatest suffering ever to be experienced, Jesus never forgot that God was in control, and only He does what is right. Jesus suffered as an example for us–His suffering was so extraordinary, it is an example to us in every possible way. Jesus suffered physically. Have you ever had your hair ripped off, torn out in some way? Jesus had his beard plucked out. He was also deprived of food and sleep for at least 48 hours–whipped until he looked like a bloody mess. Then He was beaten with a sack over His face and hit with a stick. Then He was crucified, the cruelest way to die. And if that were not enough, Jesus suffered emotionally and relationally as He was abandoned by His friends at His most critical hour, when His friends could have been the most comfort. He was verbally abused by the Romans and insulted by the Jewish leaders, in a mocking evil manner. Physically, emotionally and ultimately His greatest suffering was spiritually, at the hands of His Father, who He was entrusting Himself to. The Father poured out His wrath for your sin upon His own Son. The Father somehow abandoned the Son, though they had been eternally one. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me?” Why have You forsaken me? And what does Jesus get from heaven at that moment? Silence.
When dark days hit, we want answers. But if we are following Christ, if we are tracing His life, putting our life over His life, then there’ll be times when we will get silence from God too. He is there, He has not left you, but He is growing you and changing you through pain to become more like Christ, and to bring God glory. So be like Christ who didn’t doubt. Verse 23c says, “Jesus kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” A second anchor is not only following the example of Christ, but . . .
#2 Trusting in the substitution of Christ in suffering
This is very direct and encouraging to the heart of every believer. In verse 24, Peter goes to the atonement, the price paid by Christ. So Peter says, look at the cross and let that be an anchor for your suffering. Why? First, Christ’s death paid for our sin. Remember when you are suffering, Christ’s death paid for our sin. Verse 24 says, “[WHO] and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” He himself, this is emphatic, Christ did this Himself. Christ did this for you. Christ did this voluntarily and without coercion–He died as the only sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all who would ever believe. You were about to get hit by the truck, but Christ pushed you out of the way and took the hit himself. You deserved the death penalty for your sins, but He Himself took the lethal injection for you. You were about to be captured and tortured for years by terrorists, but Jesus stepped in your place and took it till death.
Verse 24 says, “He himself bore our sins in His body.” Bore means Jesus literally carried the weight you were supposed to carry for your sins. The weight of sin is so heavy, Romans 8:22 says all of creation groans and suffers under the weight of sin. The picture is a building about to fall on you that would certainly crush you, and Christ removed you and took the weight on Himself.
First Corinthians 15:3b says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Verse 24 says, “[WHO] and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,” gets its inspiration from Isaiah 53:4, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” In verse 24, “He himself“ is emphasized because Jesus should not be the one bearing our sins–He is God, He is Holy, He is perfect, He is one with God–yet Christ took our place. Jesus was clean, but He became muddy for us. He was our substitute. Jesus Christ died instead of us. Christ never knew sin, but He bore your sin upon Himself. Peter brings it into focus by saying He Himself bore our sins in His body. What would it be like for one who had never sinned to experience the culpability and the blame for the sins of everyone who would ever believe all at the same time, all at once, all on Him?
Six hours total, three hours bearing the weight of all the sins of those who would believe. My sin is enough to break my heart for what Christ endured. What about all your sin? Then all the sins of all the believers alive today. Then all the sins of all the believers since Christ died. Then all the sins of those who were looking ahead to Christ in the Old Testament, then all the sins of those who will believe in the future before Christ comes again, we can’t even imagine what that was like. And Peter adds, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” Every time Peter writes the word cross, I wonder if he doesn’t remember the personal prophecy from Christ about Peter’s own death. Jesus told Peter how he would die in John 21:18, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” I am sure Peter suspected, if not knowing for certain that “stretching out your hands” meant crucifixion–that Peter too would die by the cross, crucifixion, condemned to a cross by Nero within a few years of writing this letter. And thinking about that cross is what we trace our life over. Thinking about Christ being our substitute, that Christ paid the price for our sin upon Himself. Then gave us His righteousness is what we are to imitate. Second Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” So next . . .
Second Christ’s death purposed for our holiness
Peter now moves from the theological to the practical in verse 24. “[WHO] and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so THAT we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Christ’s death was purposed for our holiness. Christ saved you to live holy. Christ saved you to live like Him. Christ died not merely to forgive you of your sins, but also to make you holy, like Christ, to look like Him–to follow Him by following His Word–to walk like Him by obeying His commands–to do what God says, to do what God wills. Your lifestyle matters to God, your choices matter to God, how you treat your younger brother or sister matters to God, how you treat your spouse matters to God, to remain pure as a single matters to God, to work hard matters to God, to live for Christ when no one is watching but God (called integrity) matters to God. Your decisions matter to God, your motives matter to God, your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend matters to God, how you act at school matters to God, what you do in your free time matters to God. Your relationship with your employer, government, elders, ministry, giving, budget, what you buy, what you say, how you think . . . it all matters to God. He died so that you would die to sin and live to righteousness. Both negative and positive–both sins of commission but also sins of omission. Not just don’t compromise with sin, but also live so Christ is seen. Not merely avoid the deeds of darkness, but also live the deeds of light. Not only don’t compromise with your mouth and not gossip, but also use your mouth to encourage the hurting and strengthen the weak. Not only don’t sin by having sex with your girlfriend, but also be an example of a couple who are consumed with Christ by serving in ministry and witnessing to the lost–undistracted devotion (1 Corinthians 7:35). Not only stay away from stealing in the workplace, but give to employees around you so that they might see Christ–die to sin and live to righteousness. Listen to John in 1 John 2:3-6—he says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” John the apostle says, let me shoot straight–if you don’t keep the New Testament commandments, the royal law, the law of love, then you don’t love Christ, you don’t have any assurance of salvation, and you are a liar, either to others or you are just lying to yourself–you are self deceived. Yes, but you say, “I love Jesus.” No you don‘t. Do not say you love Jesus if you don’t obey God’s Word–period–end of discussion. Take the “yeah, but” out–“yeah, but they hurt me.” “Yeah, but they never returned my call. Yeah, but I was struggling.” No, Christ went to the cross hurting, betrayed, deserted and suffering, and we are to trace His life. Take the “yeah, but” out and face reality–if you excused yourself in some way from obeying the commands in Scripture so you don’t have to forgive, attend church, serve in ministry, love your spouse, treat your brothers and sisters with kindness, then you don’t love God. True Christians want to obey and it shows. Those are not my words, those are God’s Words. Because Jesus died on the cross to accomplish your holiness, to cause you to die to sin and live to righteousness, as 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” As we sit under the Word of God today, right now, right at this moment this passage and these verses are bringing to mind sins that God wants you to repent of. If you don’t repent of those sins, Satan has a tremendous advantage over your life. So what are those sins you need to repent of–what are those sins you need to die to and live to righteousness? Stop making excuses for sin–“it’s their fault, they did it.” No, you sinned and Jesus died to free you from the penalty of sin and from the power of sin. Jesus died so that you could die to sin. Jesus rose from the dead and lives so you can live righteously. Do you live for sin or for righteousness? What are you living for? If it is Christ, then I am pleading with you today, deal with your sin and run after filling that gap in your life with Christ and His righteousness. Looking a little deeper now, Christ’s death paid for our sin. Christ’s death purposed our holiness, and finally . . .
Third Christ’s death provided for our forgiveness
The end of verse 24 says, “for by His wounds you were healed,” which is taken from Isaiah 53:5, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”
By His wounds you were healed . . . you’ve probably heard that verse in a hundred different contexts. Do you know what it simply means? Isaiah means you are healed in your soul, you are forgiven–the entire context is forgiveness and substitution. His wounds heal you–Christ took the wrath of God as your substitute. That’s the point here. We get the healing, Christ receives death. We get forgiveness and Christ gets the flogging. We get heaven and Christ experienced hell for us. Christ suffered to depths we can only imagine so we would not have to suffer eternally. So here is the question . . . do you know Christ? Have you experienced your soul being healed by His death in your place, on behalf of you, substituting for you, instead of you? If you have not given your life to Christ, this is a great day. This is the day you want to surrender. This is the day to give up your will, your choices, your lifestyle, your sins, your rebellion and turn over your entire life to Christ–to exchange all that you are, for all that He is. For all that Christ is to me, I want to give all of myself to Him. Some of you have made decisions for Christ, you have been in the church for a season, you prayed prayers, but do you know internal healing and internal transformation? Have you died to sin and live to righteousness, and has Christ, by His wounds on the cross, His death on your behalf, healed you, cleansed you, forgiven you, so you know real joy, peace and love, and you want to follow Christ in obedience to His Word? Not just show up to church, but want to be with God’s people and have a heart that wants to obey Christ by being faithful to His Church. Not have Christian friends, but to actually embrace brothers and sisters who are different than you, but share Christ, prayer, learn His Word, serve in ministry, give sacrificially and love others.
Are you still trying to earn favor with God by living good, or are you completely accepted by God through Christ, and now desire to walk so close to Him that you want to die to sin and live to righteousness. Christians want to obey. They want to run from sin and run to do right because of Christ’s love. Have you been saved? Christ lived a perfect life, died as a substitute for His own, then rose from the dead to validate everything He did and said . . . when you embrace that, not as a fact, but as a relationship, then verse 24, by His wounds, you are healed. Notice: Serious, lethal, deadly wounds were made for you. So are you tracing Christ? This is the example that Peter has given us to follow. These are the footsteps we are to walk in. To trace His life, you have to look back at His example of suffering and His substitution on our behalf. And finally, the third anchor . . .
Third Embracing the care of Christ in our suffering
The third truth that Peter brings out as he wraps this up is the care of Christ in our suffering. God is not indifferent to your struggles. Jesus is not telling you to suffer alone, to agonize with no help, to go through the pain on your own. Peter is talking to people who are struggling in a rough environment. He is talking to slaves who are going to be beaten and possibly killed for not worshiping household idols. He is talking to people who very soon are going to be considered criminals worthy of death just for following Christ. So Peter reminds them of God’s great love for them. Peter reminds them of what they were, and what God has now done. Verse 25, the last verse in chapter 2 says, “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” Peter describes God’s care for us in this powerful verse of Scripture. First it describes your pre-Christian, lost lifestyle. “For you were continually straying like sheep.” Second, this verse tells you God is the one who saved you, but now you have returned. Third, this verse describes how God cares for you two ways “to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
1) God’s care is seen in your lost condition
For you were continually straying like sheep. Sheep are dumb, and sheep that wander away are in trouble. That was you–you are dumb, blind, sick with sin. And instead of heading toward the only one who can help you, the Shepherd of your soul, our Creator and the only one who can rescue you, you’re wandering away, straying off the path, doing what you want and subject to all the certain dangers a sheep wandering out on its own is going to face.
This again hints at Isaiah 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” And with this, Peter is describing the wayward, purposeless, dangerous and helpless wandering of when you were (hopefully were) a lost sinner. Like a sheep, you couldn’t help yourself at all. And in this pitiful condition, and in spite of the fact that you didn’t listen, you didn’t follow, you didn’t choose, you didn’t even want Christ, He reached down, awakened your cold dead heart, opened your eyes to see as He called you to Himself. Which leads to . . .
2) God’s care is seen in your sovereign salvation
Verse 25 adds this phrase, “but now you have returned.” This is an unfortunate translation, because it misses the truth. The “but” of “but now” is a strong contrast. You used to be a wandering lost sheep, but now you have returned. But this verb is not “you have returned” because of the passive voice, it is “you have been returned.” Your returning was done to you. You didn’t do the returning, you were returned by God. God did this–you have been returned by God, and this returning carries the idea of repentance, a turning from sin. Peter’s readers were lost sheep, but have experienced God’s care, in that He returned them to Himself. Like the lost sheep, Jesus left the ninety-nine and went out to find you specifically and bring you back to His fold. He regenerated you so you could put your faith in Him and turn from your sinfulness in repentance. God showed His care for you, even in the midst of horrible suffering and persecution, by sovereignly saving you.
3) God’s care is as a Shepherd and a Guardian
Again verse 25 says, “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” In the midst of your pain and hurt, while you are going through the difficulties in this life, if you face horrific persecution that so many face, even as I preach this sermon, Peter says, never forget . . .
1. God cares for us like a shepherd cares for His sheep. He knows us by name, He watches over us, He protects us from wolves, He feeds us, and He lays His life down for us. Why? Because He cares for us. The shepherd is one of the Lord’s favorite descriptions of Himself toward us. In 1 Peter 4, Peter calls Him the Great Shepherd. Isaiah 53 is unusual because Christ is described there as the Shepherd and the Sacrificed Sheep, the one who took our place, the perfect sheep who died for all the dirty wandering sheep. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Shepherd is an apt title for the Savior since it conveys His role as feeder, leader, protector, cleanser, and restorer of His flock. And sheep is also an apt analogy for non-believers and believers, because sheep are stupid, gullible, dirty, and defenseless. A sheep has no defensive capabilities, a sheep’s wool collects all kinds of dirt and gross things. Plus sheep are so gullible that they don’t know when they’re led to slaughter–to them it’s just another walk in the park. In fact in modern times, a sheep called the “Judas sheep” leads the other sheep to slaughter. We were straying like sheep, but God has now returned us to the Good Shepherd. John 10:11 says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” What does a shepherd do? There are lots of studies about this. What do they do? They take care of sheep–but there is a lot more in that than just a phrase. They do everything to care for the sheep–everything needed, including placing their life between the sheep and a wolf, or a danger, or a robber. Jesus says He died for His sheep.
Turn to Psalm 23 and put the name of Jesus in the verses . . .
The Lord Jesus Christ is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Jesus Christ makes me lie down in green pastures; Jesus Christ leads me beside quiet waters. Jesus Christ restores my soul; Jesus Christ guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Jesus Christ is with me; Jesus Christ’s rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Jesus Christ prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Jesus Christ has anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of Jesus Christ forever.
The Lord Jesus is my shepherd–I will lack nothing, even in the midst of suffering, even if it costs me my life, I lack nothing because Jesus is my Shepherd, a great shepherd, who cares for my soul. He is also caring for us as a guardian.
2. God cares for us like a guardian over our soul. Guardian is the same word Peter uses in chapter 5 for church leaders–an overseer, an elder, an episcopos, a bishop. Jesus Himself is our overseer, shepherd–He is our pastor. Jesus is the pastor of this church and the pastor of your soul. Overseer means leader, protector, watcher, investigator. He is caring for you during your shepherding, and He is leading, protecting, and watching your suffering personally.
Christ is not distant in your unjust hurts. Christ has not turned His back, and He has not abandoned you. He is your guardian–He knows what is happening, He is in control and it will end, even if it leads to death, exactly when He intends. Listen, non-Christians fear death, and they should. But Christians should never fear death, for to live is Christ, but to die is gain–death is actually better. But for the non-Christians, death is not better. This life is the only heaven the non-Christian will ever know. And this life is the only hell the Christian will ever know. I have experienced a little persecution as a Christian, and I have experienced suffering to some degree. And I can tell you this, the majority of the suffering and persecution I have experienced in my life has not been from Islam, it has been from people who say they are Christians. It is a bizarre fact but true. When you live in a persecuted culture, your attacks come from other faiths, authorities, or secular leaders. But when you live in a non-persecuted culture, most of your attacks are going to come from those who claim to know Christ. At least for now, most of you will suffer at the hands of those who say they know Christ. But even when it comes from so-called Christians, you and I are to trace the life of Christ and how He suffered, and imitate His perfect example–follow His footsteps. Will you trace the suffering of Christ?
Suffering is God’s best scalpel to cut away sin. Suffering is God’s best tool to make you like Christ. But you will not think rightly about suffering until you embrace the suffering of Christ on your behalf. You will run from suffering until God grabs hold of your heart, and shows you just how much Christ loves you and was willing to die for you, and was crushed so you would not have to be. Would you allow the love of Christ to cause you to love Him in return? Would you tell Christ that you are willing to do whatever He asks you to do for Him? Would you repent and confess any resentment, all bitterness, all desire for revenge, all hope of vindication and all demands for justice? And forgive those who have wronged you like Jesus forgave those who nailed Him to the cross. Would you ask God to fire-up your heart to serve Him because you want to from the depth of your being–not to earn points, but because Christ served you? We love you Lord because you first loved us, and we want to be just like you in every way.