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6. The Cross And Unjust Suffering (1 Peter 2:19-25)

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Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was famous for two very different reasons. The first reason was his success in the boxing ring during the early 1960’s. In 5 years, Carter defeated 27 opponents in 40 professional fights; 8 of his 20 knockouts came in the first round. He was on the verge of becoming the world champion.

The second reason was because in 1966 he was unjustly convicted of a felony he did not commit. While making plans for a second fight for the middleweight championship, Carter and a friend, John Artis, were charged with a triple murder that occurred in a tavern in Carter’s hometown of Paterson, N.J. Despite the facts - that both men had rock-solid alibis, that the two key witnesses were petty thieves who later recanted their testimony, and that the murder weapons were never found - Carter and Artis spent most of the next 20 years in prison.

In 1974, while an inmate at Rahway State Prison, Carter published his story: “The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472.” In the following year, he became somewhat of a celebrity after Bob Dylan made him a folk hero with a song about his struggle for justice. But after a brief period of freedom, a second trial sent Carter back to prison, where he remained for a second decade, until a federal judge gave Carter his freedom in 1985. Though prison left him blind in one eye, and despite spending more than a third of his life incarcerated, he said, “There is no bitterness. If I was bitter, that would mean they won.” (“Storm of the century,” by Frank Houston, Dec. 24, 1999).

At his first trial in 1986, Guy Paul Morin was acquitted of rape and murder charges, but, because Canadian law doesn’t recognize the principle of double jeopardy, 6 years later this 32-year-old Canadian was tried again. The second trial dragged on for 9 months during which time the jury heard that (1) police had planted evidence; (2) the crime lab had lost hundreds of slides; (3) the pathologist had missed significant injuries when he conducted the autopsy; and (4) the prosecution had failed to disclose crucial information to the defense. Yet, despite these irregularities, the jury convicted Morin of a murder he did not commit, sentenced him to prison with no chance of parole for 25 years and he was shipped off to prison where he feared for his life. Finally, in January 1995 Morin was exonerated through DNA evidence (“The Guy Paul Morin Story”).

Nobody likes to suffer and certainly nobody likes to suffer unjustly. But Christians have been called to suffer and to trust God while suffering for doing what is right. The subject of the passage we are studying today is “Christ’s example of unjust suffering” and the over all exhortation here is that when you suffer unjustly, follow Christ’s example.

I. Follow Christ’s Example Of Unjust Suffering (2:19-21)

The context of this passage is submission during suffering - submission to government (2:13-17) and submission of slaves to masters (2:18ff.). In the context of slaves submitting to their masters, Peter says, For this finds God’s favor, if, because of conscience toward God, someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly (2:19). Remember, Peter’s readers were doubly vulnerable to unjust treatment both as slaves and as exiles. So, his exhortation is most timely and appropriate.

1. Enduring unjust suffering, as Christ did, is pleasing to God (1:19-20). The reason why Christian slaves should submit to their masters is explained: “For this finds God’s favor (lit. “grace”).” The question is: “What does ‘this’ refer to?” Perhaps, to make it clear, we could render it this way: “For if, because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly, this finds God’s favor.” By rendering the verse this way, it becomes evident that “this” refers to the preceding clause. When we respond to unjust harsh treatment because of “conscience toward God,” then the grace of God sustains us and is manifested in us in a special way. This is the proper basis for a Christian to submit to and patiently endure unjust suffering - not their stoic character nor because they have no other option, but because they know that their submissive endurance is pleasing to God and parallels the attitude of Jesus. Unjust suffering may arise from someone in a superior position to yourself (e.g. your boss) responding to your upright and good behavior with an unrighteous, harsh, unjustified, and even cruel response. If we respond to such treatment because of our relationship with God and our desire to manifest Christ to those who harshly treat us despite our good behavior and attitude, then God supports, comforts, and encourages us with his grace.

Though the N.T. writers grant much higher status to, and better treatment for, slaves than their first century society did, nonetheless Peter is admonishing his readers to not expect this in their present situation nor to demand it. Rather, what God looks on with favor is “enduring hardships (sorrows, pain) while (or, “in”) suffering unjustly.” The terminology here seems to refer to beatings and all kinds of mistreatment that slaves so commonly endured from bad-tempered masters.

“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” (2:20a). The rhetorical answer is: “None whatsoever!” There is no credit for enduring punishment for one’s own faults or wrong attitudes or bad behavior. But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing (finds favor) in the sight of God” (2:20b). This is what reflects the experience and character of our Lord and this is what pleases God.

2. Enduring unjust suffering, as Christ did, is our calling (2:21). “For to this you have been called” (2:21a). The governing principle of Christian behavior is to imitate Christ. That’s what we have been called to by virtue of our conversion because we are united with him, as our baptism affirms. Thus, Christians are called to suffer because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (2:21b). Because he suffered unjustly we can expect to suffer unjustly. Christ was perfectly obedient to God, despite the most egregious opposition and hardship, and yet he suffered as an innocent man. Moreover, he didn’t suffer for his own misdeeds but for ours, leaving us a legacy of how we should respond to suffering when we are wrongly accused, leaving us the perfect example to imitate - an example of a life perfectly pleasing to God despite the circumstances.

Firstly, then, follow Christ’s example of unjust suffering…

II. Follow Christ’s Example Of Innocent Suffering (2:22)

1. He suffered despite his sinless deeds. He committed no sin” (2:22a). He suffered even though he never committed a sin. He suffered for doing only what was right - that’s unjust to say the least! “He knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and yet he suffered the most heinous treatment. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus, our high priest, as the one who is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). Jesus suffered despite his sinless deeds and…

2. He suffered despite his truthful words. … neither was deceit found in his mouth” (2:22b; cited from Isa. 53:9). He suffered even though he spoke only the truth, never told a lie, never misrepresented who he was, never twisted the facts to suit his own purpose, never used deceit even under the most intense pressure to do so. Jesus said: Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (Jn. 8:46). And again, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (Jn. 18:37).

Jesus’ truthful words were fully consistent with, and a demonstration of, his sinless nature. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin(Heb. 4:15). And again, he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 Jn. 3:5).

When you suffer unjustly follow Christ’s example of unjust suffering, follow Christ’s example of innocent suffering, and…

III. Follow Christ’s Example Of Submissive Suffering (2:23)

1. He submitted to verbal suffering. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (2:23a). Jesus was slandered, vilified, taunted, maligned, and insulted but he suffered in silence. 12 (W)hen he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed” (Matt. 27:12-14). When he was questioned by Pilate as to where he was from, Jesus “gave him no answer” (Jn. 19:9). When he hung on the cross he gave no answers to passers-by who blasphemed him and taunted him, saying “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:40). Similarly, he gave no answer to the chief priests, scribes, and elders who mocked him, saying “He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Matt. 27:42), nor to the robbers who were crucified with him and who reviled him just like everyone else (Matt. 27:44).

The natural response would be to try to get even or threaten to get even, or at least to justify yourself. But Jesus never retaliated verbally: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). He did not return insult for insult but remained silent when wrongly accused and unjustly treated.

What a contrast with Moses in Numbers 20. Moses was the meekest man that ever lived. He had done what God had told him to do – lead the people out of Egypt. He had no intention of mistreating the people. His motives were pure, good, and right. But the people complained because there was no water. They accused Moses of bringing them out to the wilderness to die, to which unjust and untruthful accusation he became so incensed that he retaliated: Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10). Upon saying this, Moses “lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Num. 20:11). Water came out alright, but it cost Moses his entrance into the Promised Land (Num. 20:12).

Don’t retaliate when you’re unjustly accused. Don’t respond in the same way you have been treated. Rather, when you suffer unjustly, follow Christ’s example. He submitted to verbal suffering and…

2. He submitted to physical suffering. “When he suffered, he did not threaten” (2:23b). He suffered the most unjust physical abuse. His enemies scourged him, stripped him, and put a scarlet robe on him. They twisted a crown of thorns and placed it on his head. They spat on him and took a reed and struck him on the head (Matt. 27:26-29).

Jesus never retaliated physically; he did no violence (Isa. 53:9). He submitted to God’s righteous judgment. He didn’t depend upon his own resources for justice or vindication, but he depended upon God the righteous judge, offering up “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Heb. 5:7).

To retaliate is dependence on self, not dependence on God. Jesus did not threaten “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2:23c). He depended entirely on God, entrusting the whole situation to him. He knew that God would be just in his judgement on his attackers. He knew that God would ultimately vindicate him.

The treatment we receive from other human beings may be unjust but God is the ultimate Judge. He judges justly. He takes up our cause. God will ultimately right all wrongs. There is no partiality with him. That assurance lays our sense of unjust suffering to rest. That makes it possible for us to love our enemies and forgive our wrongdoers. Therefore, Paul says: 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20 To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21). And again, See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:15).

When you suffer, first, follow Christ’s example of (1) unjust suffering, (2) innocent suffering, (3) submissive suffering, and fourth...

IV. Follow Christ’s Example Of Substitutionary Suffering (2:24a)

1. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was personal. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” - not an angel or disciple or apostle but “he himself.” Only he could take the punishment for our sins because he was the only sinless one.

To take the place of another person is to be that person’s substitute. That’s the ultimate test of suffering - to suffer in someone else’s place. That’s the nature of Christ’s atonement on the cross - he took the punishment for our sins in our stead. We deserved to suffer for our sins; he did not deserve to endure suffering at all and certainly not for our sins. The sinless one personally became our sin-bearer, our substitute.

Christ’s substitutionary suffering was personal, and…

2. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was vicarious. “He himself…bore our sins.” To suffer in another person’s place is to suffer vicariously. Christ “bore our sins” - he bore the burden of sin that was not his own. He willingly shouldered our load of guilt, took the heavy yoke of “our sins” and in return gave us his easy yoke (Matt. 11:30). In theological terms, this concept is sometimes called Christ’s vicarious atonement or penal substitution (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:8).

Sin is the transgression of God’s law. It is falling short of God’s holiness. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are all estranged from God because of sin. We are all sinners by nature and by practice for which God’s punishment is death: The soul who sins shall die (Ezek. 18:20); “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; cf. also Rom. 5:12). On the cross, Christ died the death we deserved; he bore the punishment for our sins. He suffered the judgement of God in our place, which suffering satisfied fully God’s justice, so that God might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). “He bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12; cf. Heb. 9:28). “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus was punished for our sins on the cross. He was separated from God. He died the death we deserved, suffering as our substitute. God counted our sins against Christ: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6). And on the basis of faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement, God accepts us and grants us the benefits of Christ’s suffering, namely, “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

Christ’s substitutionary suffering was personal; it was vicarious, and…

3. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was physical. He himself bore our sins “in his body.” He suffered from the mockery of the purple robe and crown of thorns. He suffered from the scourging. He suffered from the nails driven through his hands and feet. He suffered from the spear that pierced his side. He suffered from thirst and fatigue. But most importantly, he suffered at the hands of God when he bore God’s punishment for our sins.

Christs’ substitutionary suffering was personal, vicarious, physical and…

4. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was shameful. He himself bore our sins in his own body “on the tree.” Why does Peter refer to the cross here as a “tree”? He must have been thinking of the instructions in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 concerning the execution of a man guilty of a crime punishable by death, that if such a person were put to death by hanging on a tree that “man is cursed by God.” Peter was very aware that Jesus died under God’s curse, not for his own sins for he was sinless (as Peter has already stated in 2:22) but for ours. We were accursed by God and Jesus bore our curse.

Paul also understood this teaching when he wrote, 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’” (Gal. 3:13). To be cursed by God is awful, horrific, but to become a curse for someone else is unheard of, incomprehensible. To be hanged on a cross (the Roman equivalent to a “tree” in the O.T.) was the ultimate in humiliation and rejection. Jesus was taunted by the jeers of men. He was mocked and ridiculed. He was hung on a cross and executed like a common criminal between two thieves, before a mocking and indifferent crowd. He suffered shamefully, for to be hanged on a cross was utterly shameful.

In 1894 Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, “I would accept Jesus as a martyr. His death on the cross was certainly a good example. But that there was anything else to his suffering, mysterious or miraculous, this my heart can never accept.” In 1900, Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, dismissed Christ’s suffering, calling the “concept of God on the cross, preposterous.” In more recent times, the Oxford scholar Alfred Ayer wrote a paper evaluating world religions. He called Christianity “the worst of all because it rests on the idea of a suffering Saviour and a substitutionary atonement, which is intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous.” But what others may scorn and dismiss out of hand, Christians thoroughly embrace. Indeed, the cross of Christ is central to our beliefs, for it is the foundation of all that we are trusting in for our eternal security. Thus, we sing with affection and deep gratitude: “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame. And I love that old cross, where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.”

When you suffer, follow Christ’s example of (1) unjust suffering, (2) innocent suffering, (3) submissive suffering, (4) substitutionary suffering, and...

IV. Follow Christ’s Example Of Purposeful Suffering (2:24b-25)

1. He suffered for the purpose of transforming us radically. … that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (2:24b). Christians have died to sin (cf. Gal. 5:24). By faith in Christ, sin’s penalty is removed, sin’s power is broken (so that we hate sin and love righteousness), sin’s pleasure has lost its appeal, and one day soon sin’s presence will be banished. As new people in Christ, we are like dead persons concerning sin – it doesn’t appeal to us nor do we respond to it. We are so identified with him as our substitute that when Christ “died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6:10) we also died in him (cf. 2 Cor. 4:11; Gal. 2:20), which truth we express in baptism (Rom. 6:3-4a). And just as sin’s penalty can never be laid on him again, so it can never be laid on us (Rom. 8:1). We are dead to our sin nature and the fruit of that nature, so that neither sin nor sins can bring us under the penalty of death. “We know that our old self was crucified with (Christ) in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Again, Paul writes, 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

The purpose of Christ’s suffering on the cross was that we might be saved from our sins and made right with God, that we might be radically transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. He died so that “we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” He, the righteous one, died for us, the unrighteous, “that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Only when we have repented of our sins and taken our place with Christ on the cross can it be truly said of us that we have died to sin. And only when we have died to sin can we live to righteousness.

This was the purpose of Christ substitutionary atonement – to transform us radically, that “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:4b, 11). He suffered to transform us radically from spiritual death to spiritual life. We now live, not for ourselves nor for the pleasure of sin but for Christ and his righteousness. Salvation is not just freedom from future judgement and guilt but freedom from a life of sin and freedom to live for God. When we trust Christ, the Holy Spirit regenerates us and enables us to live in holiness, slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19).

Christ suffered for the purpose of transforming us radically, and…

2. He suffered for the purpose of healing us spiritually. By his wounds you have been healed (2:24c). This is an exhortation to remember where we came from and who we are now. We were once dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) but now we have been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:10). “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isa. 53:5). By faith in him, his wounds on the cross, born by him because of our sin, have “healed” our spiritual “wounds” due to our sin. His sacrifice has made us whole, cleansing us from every stain of sin. Thus, our radical transformation through the shed blood of Christ has healed us spiritually and morally (as the context of Isaiah 53:5 indicates), and, ultimately, will heal us physically at the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42; Rev. 21:4).

At one time we “were straying like sheep” (2:25a); we were lost and wandering away from God. But now, because we have been healed spiritually through Christ’s suffering on our behalf, we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25b). We have returned to the one who cares for us, watches over us, provides for us, leads us, protects us. We are new creatures in Christ now and, consequently, we should respond to circumstances as he did. He is the example for us to follow.

Final Remarks

Here again in Peter’s first epistle, we see that “The Centrality of the Cross” is and must be paramount in Christian thinking, attitudes, relationships, and behavior. In this passage (1 Pet. 2:19-25), Peter connects the cross of Christ to the specific topic of unjust suffering, undoubtedly because the recipients of this epistle were suffering unjustly for their faith. In such circumstances, the cross of Christ is our example and motivation to…

I. Follow Christ’s Example of Unjust Suffering (2:19-21)

1. Enduring unjust suffering, as Christ did, is pleasing to God (1:19-20).

2. Enduring unjust suffering, as Christ did, is our calling (2:21).

II. Follow Christ’s Example Of Innocent Suffering (2:22)

1. He suffered despite his sinless deeds (2:22a) - He committed no sin...”

2. He suffered despite his truthful words (2:22b) - … neither was deceit found in his mouth.”

III. Follow Christ’s Example Of Submissive Suffering (2:23)

1. He submitted to verbal suffering (2:23a) - “…he did not revile in return.”

2. He submitted to physical suffering (2:23b) - “…he did not threaten…but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

IV. Follow Christ’s Example Of Substitutionary Suffering (2:24a)

1. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was personal - “He himself…”

2. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was vicarious – …bore our sins.”

3. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was physical - “…in his body.”

4. Christ’s substitutionary suffering was shameful - “…on the tree.”

V. Follow Christ’s Example Of Purposeful Suffering (2:24b-25)

1. He suffered for the purpose of transforming us radically. … that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (2:24b).

2. He suffered for the purpose of healing us spiritually. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep… (2:24c-25).

Nobody likes to suffer and certainly not unjustly. When we are wrongly accused we love to lick our wounds. We love to indulge in self-pity, self-justification, self-defence, perhaps even retaliation. As we do so, we imagine all kinds of bad thoughts about those who have mistreated us. In such a case, remember our thesis: When you suffer unjustly, follow Christ’s example. You cannot live a sinless life as he did, but you can imitate his way of responding to unjust treatment and suffering.

The story is told that during World War I a British commander was preparing to lead his soldiers back to battle. They had been on furlough and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them - mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang; it was a heavy time. As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. Back in the church he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. At that moment, something happened to the commander. He remembered the one who suffered, died, and rose again - there was victory and there was triumph. As the troops marched along, he shouted out, "Eyes right!" Every eye turned to the right, and as the soldiers marched by, they too saw Christ on the cross. A that moment, something happened to that company of men. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering and they took courage (Citation: Gordon Johnson, “Finding Significance in Obscurity,” Preaching Today). We need to see triumph after suffering. We need an eternal perspective. We need to follow Christ’s example.

How is it with you? Will you resolve to bear ridicule for your faith as Christ would? Are you prepared to suffer poor treatment from your boss, your fellow workers, your classmates because you are called to suffer, just as your Saviour suffered? Will you respond to suffering as Jesus did, suffering innocently, submissively, substitutionally, purposefully? You can give yourself for the benefit of others as Christ did, so that they see Christ shining through you, be healed by his wounds and live righteously for God.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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