1 Pt. 2:21-25
No one wants to be treated unfairly – to experience something that is not just. Now we realize that bad things happen to us all the time. Some of these things are just part of living in a fallen world. We know that they don’t happen because we have done something wrong. We know that they don’t happen because someone is trying to harm us. So if we get a cold or we get a flat tire or our air conditioner dies, we are not happy – but we are not indignant because we realize that these kinds of things just happen.
It’s a different matter altogether when we are treated unfairly – when we experience something that is unjust. If you come up with the idea and do all the work, and then your boss takes all the credit and doesn’t acknowledge you in any way – you’re going be upset because you have been treated unfairly. If you pay into the pension system all those years like you are supposed to, and then you are told by the government that it never contributed money like it was supposed to and now your benefits are going to be cut, you are going to be upset because you are being treated unfairly. If you do the right thing, and then get mistreated because of it, you are going to be upset because you are being treated unfairly.
Now certainly, when the proper channels give you recourse to try to deal with things like this, we should. But when this does not bring us justice, or when no means for addressing the situation are available, we can find ourselves being wronged. Peter wants us to know in our text this morning that when this happens the one to whom we look is Jesus Christ, for in Jesus we find not only forgiveness but also the model for life in this world.
Our text begins this morning by saying, “For to this you have been called.” Of course that leaves us hanging – what exactly is “this” to which we have been called? I’ve got to tell you – you probably aren’t going to like it.
Peter says in the verses just before our text, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” While our text translates the Greek word as “servants,” it more specifically describes a household slave. Slavery was part of the first century world, and many of the first Christians were slaves. Peter says that it brings favor in God’s eyes when a person endures unjust treatment because they are conscious of God.
Now Peter immediately adds, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” He says that if a servant or slave sins and is punished there is obviously no credit in that. And then in the verse just before our text he goes on to say, “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Peter says that when they do the right thing and endure suffering because of it, this is pleasing in the sight God.
As Peter then goes on to say in our text, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Jesus Christ suffered for you. He suffered unjust treatment. Peter doesn’t say that because of this you have now been rescued from unjust treatment. Instead he says that Jesus has become an example for you so that you can walk in his footsteps. His willing suffering for you as he carried out God’s will has become the model for you as you trust God’s will.
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the ultimate injustice. He was the sinless One. He had done no wrong. He had harmed no one. In fact, quite the opposite he had helped people all over Israel. He had healed the sick, given sight to the blind, cleansed lepers and cast out demons. And yet … he was handed over to the cruel and degrading torture of Roman soldiers. He was mocked and taunted as he hung upon and cross and died.
You want to talk about injustice? That’s what was on display on Good Friday. And yet Peter tells us, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Though he was being treated unjustly, Jesus did not strike back verbally. He did respond to taunts with those of his own. He did not threaten those who were mistreating him. Instead, he entrusted himself to the will of the just God who judges justly.
God does judge justly. That is why Jesus Christ was there on the cross. He was there because you are unjust. You would rather let your husband or wife, brother or sister, employer or employee do the work that you are supposed to do, if you can get away with it. You would rather take that deduction on your taxes that you know, strictly speaking, really isn’t true. You would rather throw someone else under the bus than take responsibility for your own failures.
And because of all of the sins like these, and so many more, Jesus was on the cross. Peter says, “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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Jesus Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we would no longer have to carry them. He was wounded so that we might be healed. He gave himself as the sinless ransom by which we have been freed. As the apostle tells us, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Jesus died as the ransom given on the cross for our sins. But as we are celebrating during this Easter season, he did not stay dead. Instead he rose from the dead. And because this happened we now have hope. We have a living hope in Christ. That’s what Peter says at the beginning of this letter. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
You have a living hope. And through the work of the Holy Spirit you have been born again. Peter says in the first chapter of his letter that, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism God has given you rebirth.
And so now, because we have seen how God acted in Christ; because we have seen how Christ suffered for us as he entrusted himself to the will of God, we are able to entrust ourselves to the God who judges justly. Peter says in our text about Christ, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Because of what Christ has done for us, through the work of the Spirit this now becomes our model – our way of dealing with unjust treatment. Peter says in the next chapter, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
Because of what Christ has done for us on the cross we are able to entrust ourselves to the will of God in the midst of unjust suffering. And Peter says it does something else as well. We hear in our text, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Because Christ died on the cross to take away our sins we are now to die to sin. The Christian life is not one that says, “I have forgiveness, so sin is no big deal.” Instead it is a life that through the work of the Spirit dies to sin – it wants nothing to do with it. And instead it lives to righteousness – it lives in ways that reflect God’s will and love.
Peter says in our text, “For to this you have been called,” as he goes on to describe how we have been called to follow in Christ’s footsteps as we trust God in the midst of unjust treatment. The apostle says we have been called to something else as well. In the first chapter of this letter he says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Christ the holy One suffered and died for you. And now he has made you holy. Through baptism he has washed away your sins. The Spirit who gave you that new life in baptism now is at work in you to enable you to live in ways that arise from this new status. This is the calling that we have as Christians. Peter says near the end of the letter, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
You don’t have to look far to find where you will carry out this life. You find it in the vocations – the callings in life where God has placed you. You find it in your role as husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter, employer and employee. Near the end of this letter Peter writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”
How do we live in ways that are a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection? How do we live in holy ways? Peter says we do it by loving one another – a live which is not an emotion but instead is the action of supporting and helping one another. We do it by using the gifts that God has given to us in order to serve one another – just as Christ served us. For when we do this as the baptized people of God, we show that we are what Peter calls us at the beginning of his letter: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”