IN HIS STEPS: The Pattern of Suffering to Follow (1 Pet 2:21-25)

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The Pattern to Follow:  Christ’s Suffering

In His Difficult Steps, part 2–1 Peter 2:22-25


Imagine yourself a Christian living in another country where your faith is against the law.  Yet every Sunday, you gather in secret locations with other Christians to worship Christ, pray and hear the Word taught.  You never advance at work, because everyone either knows or suspects you are one of those Christians.  And sometimes a brother in Christ disappears, never to return.  Or a family goes missing–you don’t see them any longer.  Sometimes a child from that family is overlooked and remains, only to tell stories of torture and horror, and all know they’ve gone home to heaven and they’re not coming back.

Christian fathers tearfully battle with fear for their wives and daughters because of the atrocities committed.  Yet you all still meet, still serve, still worship, and still adore Christ above all.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ is your life–He gave you new life.  He forgave you for your sins.  In Him you have eternal life, and you have gladly given up all to follow Him–it is the cost of discipleship.

 Some of us have been persecuted, and some have suffered a little, but thus far we are not being persecuted for our faith.  Open your Bible to 1 Peter 2:21-25, and be prepared to be impacted by the example of Christ, because Peter’s readers are experiencing the beginnings of suffering and the rumblings of coming persecution.

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example [THAT] for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; [WHO] and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; [WHO] and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so [THAT] we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.  For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”

 Peter has been talking about how to live for Christ in this hostile world, and the major truth he has been hammering away on is submission–submission to government, and submission of slaves to masters.  But now submission to authority moves from being merely a candle, focused now to a laser in the verses we are looking at today.  Peter is now describing the need for submission, even when experiencing unjust suffering–submission even when persecuted.

 That is where most of us take a detour–Peter’s readers have been most-likely ripped from their homes in Rome and sent to a frontier, back-woods region. They are not liked, they are under suspicion, and the Roman Empire is really turning up the heat over being a Christian.  Non-believers are looking at believers like we look at terrorists today after 9-11. It is you they suspect.  It is you they don’t like. It is you, Christian, that they fear.  And the threat level is orange, heading toward red.

 Now when we think of suffering, we think of things going wrong in our lives–but the suffering being described here goes beyond a trial.  Suffering is an extended trial and hurtful test that comes about simply because you’re a Christian, because of your faith, because of your genuine relationship with Christ as your Savior and Lord.

 The suffering these readers were experiencing is the same as that which many people around the world today are now experiencing for their faith.  Some of your family, your brothers and sisters in Christ in faraway lands are today risking their lives just for calling themselves Christians.  And Peter is writing to a people who within a few months could die because they follow Christ.

 Again, all of us experience hardship, pain, difficulty, and sometimes unjustly–but generally we are not being persecuted for our faith.  Soon we may be jailed for our views on the sin of homosexuality.  Some of us may be sued or worse for our faith in Christ and dependence upon His Word alone.  But the suffering that Peter is describing here is mainly taking place in foreign lands today–so as we expose this passage, let’s apply it to our trials.  But it is my hope you will be led to pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who are tortured, raped and killed for their faith every single day.

 I am not exaggerating–by the time our 90-minute worship service is completed today, 30 Christians will be killed internationally for their faith in Christ–one every three minutes, 482 per day.  In the last two weeks, believers in Pakistan, India, Somalia, Nigeria, Morocco, and Cuba were kidnapped, burned alive, gang-raped, arrested, tortured, raided, assaulted and killed.

 Peter is ministering to those who are about to experience this kind of suffering and persecution, because they are Christians, and what is Peter’s solution? Revolt, fight back, or run away?  No, Peter is commanding them to submit, to endure and do the impossible, which is to suffer the way Jesus did.

Use Christ as your template.  Suffer like Christ.  Like a person following the steps on a dance floor, Peter is telling them to follow what Christ did, step-by-step when He suffered.  You cannot improve on perfection, you cannot suffer for the glory of God any better than the way our Lord Jesus suffered, so do it His way. Christ is the ultimate paradigm of suffering–Christ is not merely the One you worship and enjoy, but also the One you follow in the exact footsteps of His life.   

And though we might not live in Pakistan, we still live under the same mandate of Paul toward Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:12.  “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Those who live for Christ in all things will be persecuted.  It is not against the law to be a Christian in our culture so far, but we should and will experience persecution and some form of suffering–some semblance of people attacking Christ by getting at us.

There are only three reasons for you not to be persecuted:  1) your world is too Christian, 2) your Christianity is too worldly, or 3) you are of the world as a phony Christian.

For the original readers of Peter’s letter, in a short time, their faith in Christ is going to be outlawed.  Nero will make it a capital offense in the Roman Empire to be a Christian–capital offense makes it against the law to the point that you are killed for being a Christian.

Own that for a moment–as a genuine Christian, you will say you love Christ above all.  You will say nothing is more important to me and to my family than to follow Christ.  I love Christ above every relationship, any possession, even my own life–true?

Then put yourself in their shoes–you’ve been teaching your kids about Christ, that there is no such thing as a secret Christian–if you are the real deal, you will confess Christ before others.  Can you imagine living in a world where you or your children confess Christ as all true Christians do, but doing so may lead to their arrest, torture and cruel death?  If you confess Christ, then you are guilty, condemned to death, tortured then butchered.  And in this context, slaves are in plain view–they had to go in and out of the master’s house a lot–which normally meant touching, speaking, or praying to some sort of idol at the threshold (a carving or symbol representing the favorite deity of the master) every time they went in or out of the house.

 If a slave only worshiped Christ, and did not acknowledge the idol, the pagan masters believed their pagan god would curse their house.  Christian slaves could not and would not worship a pagan god, which made their masters angry and even more cruel.  They were in a lot of trouble.  Peter doesn’t tell them to run away, to flee to Idaho or find some land in Montana where they can be left alone–Peter told them to suffer like and with Christ.

 Peter does not directly quote the truth of suffering from one particular passage in the Old Testament,  but Isaiah 53 is the background for verses 21-25 in 1 Peter 2.  It shows Christ as the ultimate example of submission–suffering all the way, even to the point of death.

 And using Isaiah 53 helps us two main ways with our unjust hurts:

One) Peter is looking to the scripture for help when it comes to persecution and suffering, and so should you.  He looked back to the Old Testament, back to the revelation of God as a way to understand, find comfort in, and endure persecution and suffering–so should you.

Two) Peter not only looked to the Scriptures, He looked to Christ.  The aim of all Christian living is to reach the point where you see everything in your life in reference to Jesus Christ.  Jesus is in the center of everything you do.  Christ has pre-eminence in your play, your time off, your work, your school.  He is the center of your relationships, free-time, recreation, good days, bad days, eating and drinking.

Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  That verse does not make grammatical sense in English or in Greek–it needs a helping verb.  “For me to live is serving/loving/worshipping Christ.”  He doesn’t say that–He says, “For me to live is Christ.”  It doesn’t make grammatical sense, but it does make theological sense and practical sense–to live equals Christ, and Christ equals living–everything in my life is oriented around Him.

 Is He? . . . in your TV watching, driving, the way you treat your spouse, your kids, your friends, your phone calls, texts and e-mails?  The way you respond to those who correct you? To your little brother?  You are to treat them as if Christ is standing next to you–yes, that’s right, your brother or your sister–to live is Christ.

 Are you going to be a hearer or doer of the word today and repent of some activity where Christ is cut out?  I struggle like you, but I am trying to have everything I do, from exercise, study, shepherding, counseling, training, prayer, weighty burdens, my yard, time with Jean and my family, all be done for Christ.

 Peter is drawing his readers and us to turn to Christ during the dark times.  Dark times can include the way Christians have treated you.  Listen, you are going to suffer.  God promises it, if you are pursuing Christ, and He may choose to have that suffering come through believers or authorities in your life.  They may let you down, they may never understand, they may ignore you for weeks.

 I talked to one couple two weeks ago, and she was ready to leave California because no one called her when she was sick.  God will many times strip away support around you just to make you depend on Christ in a deeper way.  He doesn’t do that so you will run away, He does it so you will run to Him.

 Listen, even though we are not being actively persecuted for our faith by our government, we are close, and you need to be ready.  And regardless, we should live in a way as if it were happening.  And remember to pray for those who are being persecuted today–don’t forget, there are hundreds of Christians who don’t live in this country who are dying for their faith every single day.  Because of what Christ did for you exposed in these verses, I am praying you will love Christ more intimately, serve Christ more passionately, follow Him more willingly, and rely upon Him more dependently.

Today, you are going to hear and feel what Jesus did for you.  And it is so overwhelming, if you’re not moved to change to be more like Christ, repent of sin or pursue Christ even more passionately in some way, then something is wrong with your heart.  It will take us two weeks to get through this passage, but very quickly you will understand why the persecuted Church prays for us comfortable Americans to be persecuted as well.  They pray we would be purified and on fire for Christ.

 In verses 21-25, Peter gives us three anchors for stability in the midst of the storm of hurt, suffering and persecution.  The first step toward stability in the midst of unfair suffering is to be:

 #1  Following the example of Christ in suffering

 Verse 21, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example [THAT] for you to follow in His steps.”

 The word “example” is what you did in your kindergarten class.  Remember when they made dots that looked like the letters of the alphabet and then you’d trace over them to learn to write?  Tracing the dots to learn to write the letters of the alphabet is what the word example is describing.  We are to look at the life of Christ, put our life over His life, trace who He is and what He did, even how He did it.  And here, to actually imitate how Jesus suffered.

 Peter says you’ve been called to this, and part of that calling as a Christian is to experience suffering and persecution.  You ask, “How do I do that?”  Go out to a street corner like one of those twirling-sign people and spin a sign that reads, “Who wants to persecute me?”  How do I draw persecution?  The Bible never says, “Go get persecution,” but the Scripture tells us over and over, if you’re faithful, you’ll experience persecution.

 Do you know what it means to be persecuted and suffer for Christ?  Just be faithful in your biology class in high school . . . just be faithful when your English teacher takes a shot at the Bible . . . just be faithful when the men at work take the Lord’s name in vain . . . just be faithful on your campus, or with your unbelieving family.  Be faithful to speak the truth in love, honor God’s Word when it is being undermined with pseudo-Christians and watch what happens.

 People don’t like Christ, and the reason is God’s Word, your beliefs and Godly behavior confront their choices, convict their immoralities, and expose their lifestyle for what they really are:  a life in rebellion to God, and they hate Christ, so they will hate you.  Peter says in verse 21 we’ve been called for the purpose of suffering, we’ve been saved for the purpose of suffering.  Why?

 1 Peter 2:21 says, “Since Christ also suffered for you,” Christ took your place, He took God’s hatred for your sin upon Himself.  This entire passage is littered with descriptions of the substitutionary atonement of Christ.  This entire passage is how Christ suffered for you.  Take this passage personally.  Put your name  after every phrase since Jesus did this for His own.  He suffered for you, speaking of those for whom He had died.

 Peter finishes verse 21 with, “leaving you an example [THAT] for you to follow in His steps.”  Christ suffered for you, now you follow.  This is remarkable–Peter is telling His readers they’ve been called by God into their situation.  God planned your suffering.  God is reminding us that He knows about your suffering and He cares about your suffering.

 We saw last week, if they persecuted Jesus, they will persecute His followers–they are going to treat you Christian just like they treated Christ.  Specifically then, how did Christ suffer, Peter?  I am so glad you asked.  Peter gets really detailed now in verse 22.
 First  Christ suffered without sinning

Verse 22  “Who committed no sin”  What kind of example do we follow?  If we’re going to follow Christ, how do we live regular, everyday life at work and school, and how do we live when we are suffering?  Peter answers us by referring to Isaiah 53.

 Peter doesn’t quote Isaiah 53 exactly, as an Apostle, but he summarizes the principles found in that passage.  He doesn’t violate the intent of the Old Testament, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter highlights and emphasizes the key truths found there to impact us with the example of Christ.

 Jesus suffered without sinning, Isaiah 53:9 says, “Because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.”  We could stop right here and talk about the sinlessness of Christ–Jesus lived His entire earthly life, birth to death, without ever sinning once, even in secret, even a motive, even a thought–not once.  The Bible teaches that Christ is the only fully human person who lived without sin.  As the God man, He couldn’t sin and didn’t sin.

 Some of you are not totally overwhelmed with that truth, so try this experiment–try living the next hour without having a sinful thought.  Not one.  Multiply that by 33 years and you will embrace the enormity of Christ’s holy, sinlessness.  Not once!

Remember James, his half-brother, and Mary, His mother were a part of the early church, and as a result were declaring His deity and sinlessness.  Plus, not once did anyone from Jesus’ youth in Nazareth ever come forward to say He had sinned.

 I love my brother–he is a great doctor, he is a merciful man of God and loves Christ–but let me assure you, he is a sick sinner, especially in his dealings with his younger brother.  He was so-o cruel.  Jesus was sinless.  Try to imagine what that meant to bear your sin.  Jesus never sinned in thought, body, mind, emotion, deed or word.  But that is not actually what is being emphasized here.

Peter is being a lot more specific.  Peter is saying Christ suffered without sin–He sinned not in the midst of His torture.  There are very few arenas in life more laden with traps to be tempted than when we are suffering or are being persecuted.  The temptation is to whine, complain, to seek revenge, to hate, to get bitter, to express anger, to backbite, to verbally attack and more.

 In the middle of his suffering, Jesus never sinned.  You say that’s pretty generic–what does that mean?  Peter knew you would ask that question, and so did Isaiah, so Peter moves from the general statement to the specific.

 Second  Christ suffered without grumbling

Verse 22 says, “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”

Deceit is the word for grumbling, murmuring, complaining, guile–saying anything you can in order to get out of your trial.

Before this service is over, many of those martyred thirty Christians, who will lose their lives in persecution, will be given the choice to deny their faith and escape from death, torture or rape.  The vast majority will choose torture and death.  What would you say?  What will you say?  Hey, Peter denied Christ and he was forgiven, maybe I should just deny Christ then be forgiven later.  Then I can live for Christ later, be a good husband, father and pastor, and that will bring God more glory than my death.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 It doesn’t take very long to justify sinning with my lips to get out of suffering for a supposed godly gain.  Not Jesus–no grumbling, no excuses, no bargaining.  Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”  Remarkable, a sheep doesn’t know where it’s headed when it goes to be slaughtered–but Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him, yet He remained silent.

 Why do Isaiah and Peter bring up the mouth–no sin with the mouth?  What’s the big deal about Jesus not sinning with his mouth?  James 3 says if you don’t sin with your tongue, guess what you are?  You’re perfect, complete.  Well Jesus did that, He was perfect.

 Third  Christ suffered without retaliating

Remember, we’re tracing our lives over the example of Christ here.  He suffered without retaliating.  Verse 23 tells us that while being reviled literally, “[WHO] and while being reviled, He did not revile in return.”  While being abused, He did not abuse back–he was ridiculed, literally jeered at, derided, scorned, blasphemed, exposed as a spectacle, but He did not retaliate back.

They set Jesus up and made a mockery of Him by intentionally slamming His genuine claims of deity and power and abilities.  You say you’re the Son of God, come on down from that cross, get us, make us pay, tear down our temple in three days–HA!

 Feel this scene–the instinctive response when you are abused like this is to get even, to hurt in return for being hurt.  This goes on all the time–finding a way to get back at those who hurt us–we find faults, we point out weaknesses, shortcomings, undermine others.  But not Christ.  One of the hardest things to do when you are suffering is refusing not to retaliate.  Refusing not to avenge.  Choosing not to get back.

Jesus never lashed back.  Jesus even showed in the garden, don’t retaliate.  Yet Peter grabs his sword and tries to take Malcus’ head off, the guy obviously ducked and Pete only got an ear.  How do you know that’s what happened? Because Peter didn’t say, “Hey, can I see your ear so I can saw it off?”  Jesus says to Peter, my paraphrase, “You idiot, Peter!  You think you are going to defend Me? Do you remember Who I Am?  You are the one who said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’  And now you are defending Me because you think I can’t take care of Myself?  Like I’m a victim here?  Like this is happening out of the control of the God who controls all things?  What?”

Then Jesus adds this footnote–“Don’t you know, I could at any moment choose to have ten thousand angels come and assist me and no one can stop them–put that sword away!”  Jesus never retaliated.

 We seek revenge, or hope for revenge over things that are not even related to our suffering as Christians.  “I’ll get them back!  How dare they insult me, make it hard for me?”  And worst of all is the one who pretends to have forgiven you, pretends it’s all okay, but like a hateful spy, they burn internally with revenge and wait for the right opportunity to destroy you.  They’re like a submarine, and the only hint you have of their coming revenge, like a periscope, you will hear them subtly refer to the unresolved hurts of the past.  Then they go back down and await the moment when they get you in their sights, so they can launch their revenge-torpedoes and make you pay.  What is shocking is many who seek revenge haven’t been wronged–they only think they’ve been wronged.  It’s presumed.

Jesus was wronged–totally sinless and completely innocent, yet He was violently wronged.  Yet He never once pushed back.  As a way of life, Christ never sought revenge.  Are you a retaliator?  Remember, our life is supposed to be tracing the life of Christ and His example–we are to respond to our suffering, even unjust hurts, like Jesus did, exactly in His footsteps, His exact example.  Will you?

So Jesus suffered without sinning, without grumbling and without retaliation.

Fourth  Christ suffered without threatening

This is particularly important for all of us who’ve been wronged.  Verse 23 says, “While suffering, He uttered no threats.”  Literally, Jesus threatened no threats.  This follows retaliation–why?  It is different than revenge.  With revenge, you do something to get back.  Threatening means you can’t do anything now, but you promise you will do something–you promise revenge is coming.  You want them to suffer for bringing you pain, so you make them fearful you will cause them to suffer later.  “I’m gonna’ make you pay, I’m gonna’ sue you, I’ll make your family pay for what you’ve done to me” . . . threatening.

 Jesus could have threatened.  Our Lord could have justifiably said, “You know what, you’ll have your day today.  You can flog me, hit me, mock me, persecute me, torture me, crucify me and kill me.  But one day very soon you are gonna’ get yours in hell forever.  You’re gonna’ burn in lonely, flaming, conscious, eternal torment in hell.”

 Jesus could have said that, but He didn’t . . . He didn’t threaten.  Why?  Because He wanted to give us an example to trace.  Why?  Because His silence demonstrated His innocence.  His non-threats, His love, mercy and grace impacted some who would later be saved.  He uttered no threats.

 How about you?  Are you suffering?  Then follow the example of Christ.  Are you bitter over hurts done to you, then submit to Christ.  Surrender your struggle to Jesus.  Entrust yourself to Christ.  Are you guilty?  Forgiveness for your sins is only found in Christ.  Are you lost?  The only way to be at peace in your heart is to turn from your sin and depend on Christ alone for salvation.  Are you religious and empty?  Then ask God to awaken your heart and give you a totally new life in Christ.  Are you loving Him more intimately, willing to do anything for Him Who did everything for you?  Are you motivated to repent of sin?  Are you broken over your comfortable, safe, false Christianity, and are you willing to pursue Christ over every relationship?

 Last week a man was convicted over his lack of forgiveness and heart for revenge toward some people who had hurt him deeply.  He confessed it at lunch to his family.  While he was doing so, the people who’d hurt him walked in, and he confessed it to them too.  Only God could make that happen.  Will you believe Him, obey Him, and follow the example of Christ?

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.