Our text is a part of Peter’s call to Christian submission.
- Verses 13-17 instructs Christians to be subject to civil authorities.
- Verses 18-25 instructs servants to be subject to their masters.
This exhortation to Christian servants was personal. Many of Peter’s readers would never deal with Roman government officials. But most of them were servants who lived under the authority of their masters. This exhortation was also difficult. They were not just to submit to masters who were good and gentle. The character of the master was not an excuse for rebellion. They were also to submit to masters who were unjust. The command to submit in verse 18 would inevitably place some Christians in a vulnerable position of mistreatment, suffering, and injustice.
In verses 19-25, Peter explains why they should be submissive regardless of how they are treated. Peter makes his case by appealing to the Godhead. First, Peter points to God the Father. Verses 19-20 says, “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.” Then Peter points to God the Son. Verse 21 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
In this letter, it seems that Peter looks for any excuse to talk about Christ and the cross. 1 Peter 2:18-25 begins with an exhortation to servants but ends with an exaltation of the Savior. The text is all about Christ. But the text is not disconnected from the context. As he talks about the Savior, he is still talking to the servants. He urges them to suffer mistreatment submissively, patiently, and confidently. As he tells them to endure injustice, he shows them how to endure mistreatment. Reflect on the suffering of Christ.
We are tempted to disregard this passage, as it discusses servants and masters. Do not miss the forest for the trees. The message of the text is relevant to us. It is about more than how to navigate a stressful workplace. The issue is this: How should we respond when life is not fair? There are times when life is unfair. Being a Christian will not exempt you from these times. Verse 20 says you can do good and suffer for it. What then? Look to the example of Christ and follow in his steps. The gospel is not an entry exam you take to enroll in Christianity. It is the core curriculum you must study throughout your matriculation in the faith. Preach the gospel to yourself every day. The Christian life only makes sense in light of the suffering of Christ. 1 Peter 2:22-25 explains the suffering of Christ from two perspectives.
The Righteous Suffering of Christ
Verse 21 says, “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 suffering of Christ is an example to us because Christ suffered righteously.
- He was innocent before he suffered.
- He was submissive when he suffered.
The Innocence of Christ. Verse 22 refers to Isaiah 53:9. It is the first of five references to Isaiah 53 in these four verses. Peter could vouch for the innocence of Christ. He lived with Jesus for three years. 1 Peter 5:1, he calls himself “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” Yet he was not content to praise Christ in his own words. The dignity of Christ is honored by the language of scripture. Using the prophetic language of Isaiah, Peter affirms the innocence of Christ in two ways.
Christ was sinless. Verse 22 says, “He committed no sin.” This is the consistent testimony of scripture. In John 8:46, Jesus asked, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” In Matthew 17:5, God says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 26:59-60 says, “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though man false witness came forward.” In Matthew 27:4, Judas said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” In Luke 23:47, a Roman soldier said, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Christ committed no sin. More than sinless, Christ was impeccable. He who did not sin could not sin. 1 John 3:5 says, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
Christ was sincere. Verse 22 says: “neither was deceit found in his mouth.” This statement rounds out the perfection of Christ. He committed no sin in conduct or speech. James 3:2 says, “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” Jesus was a perfect man. He was holy and truthful. Jesus was not a liar. There was no deceit found in his mouth. There is another way to look at this verse.
- Jesus was innocent in conduct and speech.
- Jesus was innocent externally and internally.
The content of your speech reveals the condition of your heart. Matthew 12:34b says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” There was no deceit found in the mouth of Jesus because there was no deceit to be found in the heart of Jesus. “Found” implies they searched. The innocence of Jesus has stood the test of history’s scrutiny.
The Submission of Christ. Verse 23 gets to the point of the text. The innocent Christ suffered injustice. Think about that the next time you feel you are mistreated. You may be suffering unjustly in your present situation. But there are things you have done wrong for which you have not suffered the consequences. We are all getting better than we deserve. But Jesus suffered even though he never sinned against God or man. If life were fair, Jesus would not have died on the cross. Yet he endured suffering without retaliation or retribution.
No Retaliation. In parallel statements, verse 23 tells us what Christ did not do. First, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.” “Revile” refers to bitter, vicious, insulting words. Jesus suffered verbal abuse from the religious leaders, Roman soldiers, and jeering crowds. Yet he never reviled in return. Christ did not clap back at those who slandered his holy name. He suffered in dignified silence. Likewise, “When he suffered, he did not threaten.” Jesus suffered verbal and physical abuse.
- They hit him in the face.
- They beat him with rods.
- They scourged him with whips.
- They put a crown of thorns on his head.
- They forced him to carry his cross up Golgotha.
- They nailed him to the cross.
He could have stopped this from happening. But Christ did not retaliate. Righteous sufferers often called down imprecatory threats. Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
No Retribution. Verse 23 begins by telling us what the suffering Christ did not do. Then it tells us what he did: “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” The world has two pieces of advice for those who are wronged:
- Express your anger.
- Suppress your anger.
Both are different ways of taking matters into your own hands. Activism is a way of you doing something about the situation. Passivism is another form of you doing something about the situation. But there is a more excellent way. Give it to God. That’s what Jesus did. He “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” To entrust is to hand over to someone to keep. It was a term used for prisoners being taken into custody. When Jesus was taken into custody by man, he placed himself under custody to God. As he continued to suffer, he continued entrusting himself to God. He did so with confidence that God “judges justly.”
When you take justice into your own hands, it betrays a lack of faith in the justice of God. Do you trust God enough to do nothing? Charles Swindoll asks, “When was the last time you deliberately, for the glory of Christ, took it on the chin, turned the other cheek, kept your mouth shut, and gave him all the glory?” Instead of personal vindication, practice positive relinquishment by entrusting the situation to the God who judges justly.
The Redemptive Suffering of Christ
Christ suffered as our example. Ultimately, however, his suffering was redemptive, not exemplary. Jesus was not a martyr. He is our Mediator. Jesus died as our Substitute. Verse 24 teaches the purpose and power of the cross.
The Purpose of the Cross. Verse 24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This is the heart of the gospel. It is one of the key statements of the substitutionary atonement of Christ in the New Testament. On the cross, he bore our sins. This is what verse 21 means when it says Christ suffered for us. He died as our substitute. He took our place. He suffered the wrath of God against sin for us. He himself did it. Christ paid for our sins personally. He did it alone because no one else could do it. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
He himself bore our sins “in his body.” The incarnate body of the holy Son of God suffered excruciating pain on the cross for our sins. Peter says he died on the “tree.” It is a euphemism for the cross. It alludes to the Old Testament curse on criminals who were hung on trees. Galatians 3:13 says, “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.’”
Why did Christ die as our Substitute? Verse 24 answers: “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” This statement is profound, first of all, because of what it does not say. Christ did not bear our sins merely to satisfy wrath, remove guilt, and provide heaven. The atonement accomplished all of that. But the finished work of Christ was not just forensic. It is also transformative. Peter describes the transforming grace of Christ negatively and positively. Negatively, we die to sin in Christ. The language here is quirky. But the point is clear. Saving faith in Christ separates us from sin as if we were dead.
Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Positively, live to righteousness in Christ. The Christian life is not about behavior modification. It is a new orientation toward life. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The Power of the Cross. Verse 24 ends, “By his wounds you have been healed.” This is a reference to Isaiah 53:5: “But 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.” Word-Faith Proponents teach that the atonement of Christ guarantees physical healing. That is not what this statement means. Jesus is the Great Physician. But we still live in a fallen world marked by sickness and death. We will not receive our glorified bodies until Jesus returns.
“By his wounds you have been healed” declares our healing from the infection, disease, and complications of sin. Theodoret said, “A new and strange method of healing. The doctor suffered the cost, and the sick received the healing.” Adam and Eve’s rebellion made us all sin-sick. By the power of the cross, we are healed. Note the grammar: “you have been healed.” It is not a feeling. It is a fact. Psalm 103:2-3 says, “Blessed the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.”
Jesus lives as our Shepherd. Verse 25 summarizes what it means to be lost and what it means to be saved.
What it Means to be Lost. Verse 24 says, “For you were like straying sheep.” The condition of the unsaved is like the nature of sheep. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way.” Sheep are dependent creatures. They need a shepherd to survive. Their feral instincts make them prone to stray away. It is an inevitable result of their rebellious nature. But they have no sense of direction to find their way home. And they are unable to defend themselves. The sheep that strays away is doomed to be killed by predatory wolves. This is the tragedy of life without Christ. We are lost.
- If you are an adventurous person, being lost is fun.
- If you are a straying sheep, being lost is fatal.
The only hope of rebellious sinners is Psalm 23:3: “He restores my soul.”
What it Means to be Saved. Verse 24 says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” The biography of every Christian has two chapters: (1) You were. (2) But now! You were like straying sheep. But now you have returned. You were going in the wrong direction. But you made a U-Turn. You returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- Following a preacher will not save you.
- Becoming a church member will not save you.
- Hanging out with Christians will not save you.
Straying sheep need a Shepherd and Overseer. Only the Lord Jesus Christ qualifies. This is a beautiful statement of the Lord’s benevolent care. The Shepherd guides us. The Overseer guards us. We are safe and secure because the mighty hands and watchful eyes of our sovereign Caretaker provide unfailing soul-care.
- John 10:11 says Jesus is the Good Shepherd who died on the cross for us.
- Hebrews 13:20 says Jesus is the Great Shepherd who rose from the dead.
- 1 Peter 5:4 says Jesus is the Chief Shepherd who is coming back again.