Monday, November 30, 2009

Suffer well: 1 Peter 2:21-25

Somehow people seem to believe that Christians shouldn’t suffer. I’m not sure where the idea comes from, certainly not the Bible. All the disciples met violent deaths apart from John and he died in exile, abandoned on a small island. As the writer to the Hebrews explained some of God’s chosen ones were tortured, some faced jeers and flogging, others were chained and put in prison, they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to death by the sword, they went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

It’s not exactly the carefree life with a large house, luxurious car and hot and cold running golf courses that we aspire to. No mention of trophy wives and holidays in the Seychelles in that lot.

This silly couplet sums it up:
The Lord maketh it to rain upon the just and the unjust fella.
But more upon the just, because the unjust man usually has the just man’s umbrella.

As well as the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Christians suffer because they are Christians. Only last week a Christian schoolgirl aged 16 received 50 lashes in Sudan because she was wearing a knee length skirt. Quite apart from the fact that Sudanese law bars anyone under 18 from receiving lashes, this was an outrageous persecution. Bonhoeffer said that suffering is the badge of the Christian. When we think of some of the heroes of the faith, like Lord Shaftesbury, General Booth and William Wilberforce, we should not forget that successful though they were, they were ridiculed and jeered at in their day.

But when we suffer we are to bear it well, for we are following in the footsteps of the suffering servant.

Today’s passage in 1Peter 2:21-25 points to Jesus as our example. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

There is a liberal trap that uses this passage to suggest that the crucifixion was all about Jesus being an example to us. It seeks to deny all that stuff about substitutionary atonement. That is clearly stated in this passage. “He bore our sins in his body on the tree.” and “By his wounds we have been healed.” But for that reason, evangelicals have tended to downplay the notion of Christ as an example, but here it is in black and white. Certainly, he was our substitute, but he was also our example.

We should note that his suffering was undeserved – he committed no sin. But he did not retaliate. Some years ago there was a fashion for vigilante films. We would feel good when the police were weak and ineffectual, the hero gunned down the drug addicts who raped and murdered his wife. But in real life the adage is true that two wrongs don’t make a right. We don’t defeat evil by continuing the cycle of evil; rather evil is vanquished by smothering it. If we soak it up like a sponge, its force is lost.

We leave it to a just judge. As it says in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10: God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Submission seems like weakness. It seems an unmanly thing to do, but Jesus was not unmanly. He was meek not weak, and meekness is strength under control. A huge Jumbo Jet touches down on the runway without the slightest judder. The passengers applaud. They recognize that the pilot has got this huge beast under fingertip control.

Anger is a huge beast within us that cries out, “It’s unfair! I want my revenge!” That is not the Christian way. That is the astray, way. Return control to the shepherd and overseer of our souls.

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