1 Pet 2:21-25
In Margaret Fishback’s poem “Footprints” the speaker begins by saying, “One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to me and one to my Lord.”
However, the speaker soon notices that in those times of life that had been most difficult there was only one set of footprints. And so the question is asked, “I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.” Yet the Lord responds that he loves the person and will never leave him or her. And then he adds, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” It’s a comforting image, and a reminder that our Lord is indeed always with us as he cares for us.
Today’s text also talks about Jesus’ footsteps. But if you are looking for a tender encouraging word, you are in the wrong place. In bold and unmistakable terms, the apostle sets forth what Jesus Christ has done for us. Yet in doing so, he expresses clearly what this means for the way we live our lives.
Peter begins our text by saying, “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.” The apostle says “for this you have been called.” If we want to know that “this” is, we have look at the previous verses. There Peter wrote, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? 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 it is a gracious thing when, because of our faith in God, we are willing to do good and suffer unjustly because of it. To do good and endure suffering because of it is a gracious thing in God’s eyes. Now this is probably not what we want to hear. First of all, we don’t want suffering of any kind. And if suffering is bad enough when it happens, it seems even worse when we experience it unjustly. Doing what is right – doing what is God pleasing – and then receiving harm because of it raises challenging questions about where God is in all of this. It makes us wonder about whether God really does love and care for us.
But in our text, Peter gives us a completely different perspective. He says specifically that we have been called to these kinds of experiences. The apostle declares that is it inherent in the life of a Christian. And the reason for this is to be found in Jesus Christ himself. He writes: “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.”
According to Peter, the suffering of Jesus Christ provides an example for us as we follow in his steps. There is only one set of footprints here. They belong to Jesus. And there is only one because we are following in Jesus’ steps as we share in his suffering.
Peter tells us how Jesus’ steps have given us forgiveness before God. Drawing on the language of Isaiah chapter 53 that we heard as the Old Testament lesson on Good Friday, Peter writes: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ was the sinless One. He was not conceived in sin as we were, and he committed no sin during his life.
Jesus lived perfectly according to the Father’s will. This was true not just of life in general, but especially in carrying out the saving mission he had been entrusted. Living as the sinless one carrying out God’s will meant that Jesus stood out. Sinners don’t want to be around those who are living God’s will, because such lives are a nagging reminder of the fact that they are sinners. Those who are living in the way of the world may react with derision, but this is simply the response to the work of the Law that is revealing their own sin.
Jesus did receive the anger of sinners, and he did suffer because of it. 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.” Our Lord did not respond in anger. He did not threaten others. Instead, he entrusted himself to God the Father who judges justly. He trusted that the Father, who is the holy God, would judge justly. Certainly, God the Father will punish all those who reject Christ and speak ill of him. But Christ had entered the world in order to make it possible for sinners to stand before God and be declared just.
Peter writes, “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 bore our sins in his body on the tree. He took our sins as his own, in order to suffer God’s punishment against them.
St. Peter refers to “the tree.” This is a common way that the book of Acts also uses to refer to the cross. However it is far more than a poetic reference. Instead, behind the language of “tree” is a reminder that God cursed Christ. Deuteronomy chapter 21 says, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree,
his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” In the first century A.D. this statement was applied directly to those who had been crucified.
Jesus died on the cross as he received God’s punishment against our sins. He was cursed by God – cut off from God’s people in our place. In our text Peter says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” The forgiveness of sins allows us to live in relationship with God again. It gives us the righteous standing we need before God. But the mere removal of offenses is not enough to cause us to return the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. It is not enough to enable us to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
And that is why we rejoice in celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. Peter began this letter by saying, “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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
You have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only the Lord who was crucified for you. He is also the Lord who was raised from the dead for you. He has given us the living hope of his own resurrection. This is not just hope, but it is hope that is alive and true because Jesus lives.
Jesus lives, and he has given this life to us. Peter says in this letter that, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Through water and the word of Holy Baptism you were born again. As Peter declares, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
By doing this, our Lord has given us a new status. And so Peter says, “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.”
This is what God has done for you in Christ. This is what God has made you to be. This is what Peter means when he says in our text, “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.” By the work of the Spirit we die to sin as we call it what it is and refuse to live in those ways. Peter says in this chapter, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” And at the same time we live to righteousness – we live in ways that please God and are true to his will. Peter went on to add, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We have been called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. This means that as those who have been born again we die to sin and live to righteousness. We lives as the forgiven people of God who have been freed from sin so that we can live in ways that please God and are true to his will.
To walk in our Lord’s footsteps will mean receiving the world’s hatred, contempt and derision because those who are in step with the Lord Jesus will be out of step with the world. Yet like our Lord we continue to entrust ourselves to God the Father who judges justly. We do this because Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree in order give us forgiveness. We do this because we have been born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.