Sermon preached on 1 Peter 2:21-25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/22/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 2:21-25
“For To This You Were Called”
To this you were called. To what? To suffer unjustly like Christ. To follow his example in responding godly when people oppress you. That’s our calling, according to this passage. I’d imagine that’s probably not how most of us first heard about the gospel. When we were first explained the Christian faith, I doubt this was what we were first told. I don’t remember ever seeing a gospel tract start here. I’ve never seen one that says, let me tell you about some good news, that if you would only believe in Jesus, that you can suffer like he did. If you would but turn to Christ in faith, you too can have people unjustly persecute you. No. We probably instead heard statements about the new life we can have in Jesus. How through Christ we can be born again. That the Christian faith is one that calls us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. That the Christian faith is one that calls us into God’s eternal glory in Christ. That positive language is what we are used to hearing when we think of the Christians’ calling. And yet guess where I just pulled all that positive language about our Christians calling? From this letter. From 1 Peter. Peter uses all that positive language to talk about our Christian calling, while at the same time using the language of verse 21. That we have also been called to suffer unjustly, just like Christ’s example. That we have been called to respond with righteousness and radical love, even to our enemies. To this also, we have been called.
And yet we need this balance. This is the balance we get to consider today. Christians have been called to new glorious life in Christ. Christians have also been called here and now to live a live modeled after his life on earth. A life that likely will involve suffering for his sake, even as he suffered for our sakes. And so as we study this passage today, we’ll divide it up in three simple parts. First, we’ll look at Christ as our example. Second, we’ll look at Christ as our atonement. Third, we’ll look at Christ as our shepherd. Taken together, this passage gives us a wonderful view of the gospel, and how that also calls us to follow Christ in the way of the cross. And Peter uses that wonderful passage in Isaiah 53 to make his point today. This short passage is loaded with quotes and references from the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53. This passage makes it so clear that this Old Testament passage was really about Jesus. We’ll consider that passage today too as we reflect on these verses in 1 Peter.
So let’s begin by considering Christ our example. This is language of verse 21. Christ’s life is an example for us to follow. We have been called to follow Christ’s example. One thing modernist Christianity has often done is reduced Jesus to just being our example. Such false Christianity gets rid of Jesus actually saving us from our sins by his atoning work on the cross. And yet we have to make sure that just because some have reduced Jesus to only being an example of moral living, that we don’t lose the fact that Jesus is still to be the example for how we are to live. That Jesus is also the example for our living is in fact a biblical principle. It’s the point of verse 21.
Verse 21 tells us this in two different ways. The first is when it says here Christ left us an example. The word for example can be translated as a model or pattern. But that’s not quite as strong as the original Greek is. The word for example here in the Greek is actually about a pattern that was written on paper, that students would use to trace over. So imagine some letters on paper, that you then traced over them to make the same letters. Hopefully the tracing would be an exact match. That’s the imagery in the original Greek here. Jesus isn’t just to inspire our living. We are to try to imprint our lives from his life. The other way we’re told here that Jesus is to be our example is in the last part of verse 21. We are to follow his steps, it says. Literally, we’re to follow his foot prints. Imagine a long trail of Jesus’ footprints in the dirt. We are to carefully follow them. So this is the imagery given here. We are to carefully follow his example in our own lives. And so we ought not to reduce our Christian faith to just asking, What Would Jesus Do? But, certainly there is a place for asking that question. How would Jesus have us to live? How does Jesus’ life serve as our model?
Well, what was the example Jesus set for us, according to this passage? Well, this passage says it was his suffering. That’s the example of Jesus that Peter especially wants to draw our attention to. Remember the context. We’ve been talking about Christians living as pilgrims in this world. We are different than the rest of the world. Most recently, Peter had talked about submitting to different authorities, such as the government and to masters. Last passage even talked about submitting to evil, cruel, masters. Now, Peter tells us that its Jesus example that makes this make sense. And so look at verse 22. Here Peter explicitly tells us about Jesus’ example. Essentially you could summarize it like this. Jesus was sinless. He spoke truth, as it says here there was no deceit in his mouth. And then in verse 23, it says that he didn’t revile in return. Nor, he didn’t threaten in return when people afflicted him. He didn’t return evil for evil, but he returned good for evil. He could do all of this according to verse 23 because he trusted God. He entrusted his life to God, knowing that God would have the ultimate justice in all of it.
This language in verses 23 and 24 should strike you as familiar. It’s actually quotes and allusions from the famous Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53. Verse 23 is quoting Isaiah 53:9. Verse 24 has strong allusions to Isaiah 53:7, and arguably some looser allusions to other verses in Isaiah 53 as well. We’ll see more quotes as we keep looking in this passage. But I like how Peter isn’t just quoting it as a proof text. He takes a verse here and there from it and shows how it paints Jesus life. In other words, he really shows how Jesus fulfilled it. And here he shows that there’s an aspect of suffering done by the Suffering Servant of Isaiah that we are to model. An aspect of the suffering of Christ is to be the imprint of our own Christian life as well.
So practically speaking, what does this mean? What does it look like in our lives to follow this example? Well, there are general things you could say. Jesus didn’t sin, but lived righteously. In general, that’s what we’re called to follow. To go the way of holiness and righteousness, by Christ’s help. But in context, the way Jesus responded to suffering and affliction is what’s being highlighted. So, that’s particularly what Peter is emphasizing today. When the world treats you horribly, we respond in love. Just like we said in last passage, we still faithfully serve masters that abuse us; so true in all of life. When people wrong us, we look to love them in return. We look to do good in return. We keep striving for righteousness, even if the wicked afflict us. So many practical applications of this. It means that we don’t look for revenge. It means we don’t talk bad about people behind their back. As Jesus said in Luke 6 and in the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies.” Or as Paul says in Romans 12, bless those who persecute you, and look to live at peace with all men – as much as it is up to you.
One of the reasons why this is difficult is because our natural hearts really want that revenge. It can be hard to love an enemy, because our hearts really don’t like to think about them getting away with an evil. We want revenge because it’s our way to take the law into our own hands. But recall that part of Jesus’ example is that when people persecuted him, he entrusted himself to God who judges justly. That’s how we have to deal with our hearts. God says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And yet if Jesus entrusted himself to God, remember that meant for Jesus, the cross. Jesus entrusted himself to God, but it was then God who put him in all this place of suffering. Using the language of Isaiah 53, this is really brought out. Isaiah 53:10 says, “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,” and that the Lord made his life a guilt offering. Jesus trusted his life to God, knowing that God had a time of suffering in store for him. But, of course, it was this suffering that led to Jesus saving a people for himself. In other words, God allowed the suffering, but had a greater purpose in store. Well, the same is true for us. We have to remind our hearts of this. When we get frustrated from evil people afflicting us, remind ourselves of God’s plan. We’re called to trust that when others do us wrong, that God has a bigger purpose in allowing it for now. We have to trust that ultimately God will make things right. That justice will ultimately be served. That could happen on judgment day when those evil persons are condemned. Or, there is another alternative that Peter’s presented. The way we respond to these evil people might be used by God to help bring about their salvation. If those people turn to Christ for forgiveness, then their sins were paid for by Jesus at the cross; justice would be served in that case then by Christ’s sacrifice. And of course, that’s not something we can complain about, since we’ve received that same forgiveness too! And so we can trust in God’s justice, one way or another, when people afflict us.
That’s a little bit about what it means for Christ to be our example. Let’s turn now to think about Christ as our atonement. This point especially comes from verse 24. Verse 24 says, “[He] himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.” Here the Isaiah 53 allusions and quotes continue. Isaiah 53:4, 11, and 5 are all referenced here. Isaiah 53:4, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Isaiah 53:11, “My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:5, “And by his stripes we are healed.”
What’s so amazing about the Isaiah 53 passage in the first place is that it presents the idea of a substitutionary atonement. It’s a prophecy in the Old Testament that so clearly presents a Messiah who would suffer vicariously for us. In other words, that he sacrificed himself in our place, as the punishment for our sins, not his – he himself was sinless. Isaiah’s prophecy specifically says that he took on our sins on the cross. Isaiah 53:10 says his soul is an offering for sin. He received the penalty for our sins, in our place, instead of us. Isaiah 53 also makes it very clear that this would require the Messiah’s death. Isaiah 53:8 says he was to be cut off from the land of the living. And yet Isaiah 53 also speaks of the resurrection. And so this amazing prophecy in the Bible so clearly describes Jesus. And it’s this passage in 1 Peter that officially draws out all this connection for us. Surely, we would have seen it otherwise. But it’s wonderful to have Peter’s inspired interpretation of Isaiah 53. Peter’s point is simple. The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 described Jesus and his suffering on the cross.
Peter draws out this specific connection for us in verse 24 when he talks about the tree. He tells us the location of where Jesus bore our sins. Peter says Jesus bore them on the tree. Obviously, Peter is talking about the cross here. We probably take this idea for granted. We might say, of course, Peter was talking about the cross. But in making his point, I’m glad he mentions the cross here. This really brings out the atonement aspect of Jesus’ suffering. You see, Jesus did live a whole life of suffering. He was constantly being persecuted during his ministry. But Peter wants us to see Christ’s suffering more specifically than that. It’s more than just Jesus’ life widely viewed as one of suffering. That would be true. Jesus whole life is a good model and example for Christian suffering. But his suffering all led and climaxed on the tree! There Jesus was an atoning sacrifice. There he was stricken for the transgressions of his people. There he was a sacrifice. There he atoned for sin.
This was done so that we could be healed. This is what Isaiah predicted. It’s what Peter says. Peter says it has a result in our lives. That we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Christ died for sin, in order that we might be called righteous. As his followers, that should now describe our new position. Dead to sin, alive to righteousness. Healed from the curse of sin. Healed because Christ suffered for us. The word for healing here is the typical word for healing; like if you had a disease but got better. But here this healing is more than just physical. Jeremiah 17:9 talked about the sickness of our hearts. Our inner man was diseased with sin. But the cross makes possible our healing.
So my point, and Peter’s point is that Jesus’ suffering is more than just an example. Yes, it is an example. Peter wanted to bring out that point for us. But as soon as he says that, he has to go a step further. He has to show that the cross is so much more than just an example. Christ is not just our example. He is our atonement. By his wounds we are healed. Healed of sin because he atoned for it on the cross.
And so this leads us then to our final point for today. To see Christ as our shepherd. Jesus isn’t just an example. But he also doesn’t just forgive us of our sins. The healing made possible on the cross is supposed to change our whole lives and living. We are to be set on a track to live for God. Yet, the Scriptures show that we need Christ in our live to lead us in this. Christ leads us in righteousness as our shepherd. Peter says this specifically in verse 25. But notice how Peter first describes our former state. Before we were a Christian, verse 25 says we were like straying sheep. That too is a quote from Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way.” Apart from God in our life, we wandered off in our own ways. We wandered off to the way of sin. But now that’s all changed. Because Jesus suffered for our sins, he will not have us to return there.
Instead he now serves in the role as shepherd and overseer to us. That’s the two titles used in verse 25. They are related titles; both get at a similar function. The title of shepherd employs a metaphor. The shepherd is one who cares for sheep. He watches over them. He protects them from the wolves that would attack them. He guards them from thieves who would steal them away from the flock. He directs them to the place of food and shelter. He makes sure they don’t wander away on their own. He keeps pulling the sheep back to the rest of the flock. The Scriptures like to use this analogy. We are the sheep prone to stray. We need a shepherd. But in Christ, we’ve got the best shepherd.
So many Scriptures use this analogy. Let me remind you of some of the classics. You’ve got Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd. There we’re reminded of how he shepherds us in this life, but ultimately into eternity, that we would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And you’ve got the parable in Luke 15 of the hundred sheep and one goes astray. The Lord is likened to the shepherd who doesn’t let that sheep get lost. He doesn’t wait for the sheep to return on his own – no he goes after that wandering sheep until he finds him. And then you have John 10, where Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd. There Jesus describes how he is a good shepherd – because he gives up his life for the sheep. He gives up his life to save the sheep. He will not lose any of his sheep.
The title of overseer is similar here. There’s no livestock imagery here. This is simply a term in Greek to describe an official guardian or watchman. Some who is tasked to oversee another person. Overseer is an excellent translation. You could also translate it as keeper or guardian. It’s a position of authority. Jesus oversees us spiritually. He watches over us. He’s constantly concerned for our spiritual development. He wants us to be growing as his disciple into full Christian maturity. He wants us to grow in our knowledge of him. He wants us to grow in godly living. He will be at work in our life to bring this about.
Brothers and sisters, this is what we need. We need a shepherd. We need an overseer. This is what Jesus is. This is all part of why he went to the cross. It’s why he atoned for our sins. So he could set us into a right relationship with God. And so we could be growing. So we could grow to be like him. To show forth the image of Christ, even as he shows forth the image of God. To that end, his life is not just an example; not even just the atonement. But his life is also one that now actively works in our life to bring about this goal of growth.
We call Jesus the king and head of the church, and rightly so. He is the king shepherd. He is the head overseer. And yet, by the very mentioning of this, I hope it brings to mind that Christ has appointed shepherds and overseers in the church. These shepherds and overseers are to serve under Christ. On behalf of him. Let me point out that the word shepherd is where we get the term “pastor”. The title of pastor is just another name for a shepherd. Pastor is just the Latin term for shepherd. Similarly, the term overseer here is just another name for the title of bishop; bishop is the Latin equivalent of the Greek word here. Some churches distinguish between elders and bishops, but in the Scriptures they are used interchangeably; that’s how our denomination handles them. Elders are bishops – elders are overseers of people’s souls. And so in our church we have both pastors and bishops (aka, elders). And Jesus is called here the pastor and bishop.
And so realize that part of how Jesus shepherds us and oversees us today is through the pastors and elders of the church. Yes, Jesus ultimately shepherds his people through his Word and Spirit. And yet he gives the officers of the church to function on his behalf, even making use of the Word and Spirit. To the fellow elders in the church, I exhort us to shepherd the flock of Christ. To lead by example; to lead a life following Christ’s example. To show forth even a life that is willing to suffer for Christ. And to the rest, I urge you to be shephardable. In other words, don’t resist Christ’s shepherding in your life; even when Christ does that through the pastors and elders of the church. We will not be perfect, dear saints. But we covet your prayers as we look to lead biblically in these ways.
If you are sitting here today and are not a follower of Jesus Christ, I would like to specifically draw your attention to verse 25 one final time here. It talks about returning to Jesus. This is a word similar to the idea of repentance. Repenting is about turning. Turning from your sins unto Jesus. If you are sitting here today and are not a follower of Christ, then this is what you need. Don’t be a straying sheep anymore. Repent. Confess your sins. Turn to Christ. As you do, you’ll see that it’s actually Christ who has been going after you as a lost sheep.
To the rest of us who have known Christ, I remind you of what all your calling as a Christian entails. This calling includes following Christ’s example. Now we cannot mimic Christ’s atonement in terms of its effect. There’s no way we can live a live that atones for anyone’s sins; not even our own! And yet we can follow his example. This is a real call of Scripture to us as Christians. And we look to follow his example, specifically because it’s rooted in the atonement. Because his example of how to live is rooted in what he accomplished for us. Because his life of suffering resulted in our sins being atoned. Because his life of suffering resulted in our healing. This is why we are called to follow his example.
Let us therefore be willing to go the way of the cross. I’m not saying we should try to find trouble. I’m not saying we should go out of our way to find suffering. We should not try to get people to persecute us. We don’t find ways to get the world to hate us. Many have misunderstood Christian suffering in this way. It seems that was the monastic life of asceticism prevalent in the middle ages. But that’s not what this passage is saying. No, Peter’s saying that you won’t have to go looking for it. Peter’s saying that you just live as a Christian in this non-Christian world, and the trouble will come to you. Live as a pilgrim in this world, and the world will afflict you, in one way or another. As Jesus said, the world will hate us because they hated him. If we truly live for Christ, we won’t have to go looking for suffering. It will in one way or another come to us.
Take heart brothers and sisters as we look to do this. Yes, standing fast in the midst of suffering can be difficult. We’ll be tempted to compromise. We’ll be tempted to run away from suffering. We’ll be tempted to minimize our Christian faith to avoid troubles. But Christ will shepherd us in this too. Look for his shepherding to lead you even in following his example. Just remember Peter’s own example. Remember his life history. At first, he had trouble living out what he’s telling us here. When Jesus first set the example for us, did Peter follow Jesus? Did Peter follow the example of Jesus’ suffering? No, Peter denied Jesus three times when Jesus went to the cross. Peter wasn’t at first willing to follow in Christ’s footprints. And yet by the time Peter wrote this, he was a changed man. Jesus had restored him. Jesus had called him to shepherd his flock. And ultimately Jesus changed Peter’s heart. Now Peter can write what he writes here. And history records that he died a martyr’s death for Jesus.
We too might struggle in this area. Maybe in the past, we’ve not followed Christ’s example as we should have. But there is forgiveness for that in Christ. And he is here to help you today. He will keep shepherding you, even in this way. He suffered this way to atone for your sins. He died to work healing in you. And so, he will certainly shepherd you. He is helping you to walk in his footsteps. When we stray to the right or left, he’s there to pull us back to the straight and narrow. We have a good shepherd. Let’s keep listening to his voice even as we walk in his tracks. Amen.
Copyright © 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.