1 Peter 2: 21-25
The power of example is so very strong. Those around us influence us far more perhaps than we care to admit or can even sometimes see for ourselves. So Peter, acknowledging this reality, holds up the example of Jesus for those who are suffering for doing what is right.
This is another dense, enriching passage, reflecting on key Old Testament pictures, principally on Isaiah 53, which brings together the Lord’s suffering servant and God’s victorious ruler, and makes them one. Peter’s intention behind this section is to provide example and encouragement as he fixes our eyes on Jesus.
Firstly, the example. Jesus did suffer. This is a fact that Peter spends considerable time on. Perhaps he was still painfully aware of rebuking Jesus when Jesus had taught plainly that in Jerusalem he would suffer many things (Mark 8:31), be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and eventually killed. He had seen personally how Jesus had suffered.
And this of course, strangely enough, in God’s perfect wisdom is a source of some considerable comfort now. For those who are called to suffer even while doing good and living as Christians today, they can know that their Lord suffered too. It is precisely at the point of our greatest weakness that we can find our strongest moment of identification with our Lord who suffered, leaving us an example.
But in addition to this, it was the way in which Jesus suffered that fills Peter’s mind here. He was completely innocent, having committed no sin, therefore the abuse he suffered was totally unjustified. Despite this, he did not revile his enemies in return nor did he even threaten them, though he could have done so, so easily.
Instead, he remained strong. He was strong enough to suffer, enduring the taunts of men, as he entrusted himself to God.
What an example. A commitment to pleasing God, that brought about the condemnation of the world, and as Peter says, these are the very footsteps we are to daily seek to walk in.
However, it does not end with Jesus' example. Peter tops this off with a huge encouragement. Jesus’ suffering did not only provide a pattern for us to copy, but he himself was the provision put forward by God to put away our sin for good.
“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.” (v.24)
When faced with suffering, even when we are convinced that we are suffering for doing good, all of us are bound to, at one time or another, question God’s purpose and love in it all. But Peter encourages us here. We are not to look around at our circumstances to see if God loves us. We are not to look in, at our hearts and feelings for our assurance and hope either. No! Peter wants us to look back; to look back to the cross where Jesus took the punishment we all deserve in his body on the tree. This means, suffering for the Christian today is a result perhaps of many things, but it is not the remains of extra punishment that Jesus avoided when on the cross. He drained God’s wrath right down to the very dregs. As Peter says here so complete and so effective was his sin-bearing death, by his wounds we have already been healed - spiritually brought from death to life.
It is enough to cause us to burst out in praise. We live like Jesus (in his example), precisely because we live by Jesus (the encouragement of the cross). And Peter, like a faithful under-shepherd, is keenly aware that we need to be continually reminded of the true grace of God, so we don’t wander from the overseer of our souls.
Lord God whose blessed Son our Saviour gave his back to the smiters and did not hide his face from shame: Give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.