God is with us in Word and Sacrament

Midweek Lent 3

Midweek Lent 3

1 Peter 2:12–25


Our Father in heaven is calling us home and sometimes that journey brings suffering. This is not the suffering that we endure because we are fallen creatures living in a fallen creation. This isn’t the kind of suffering that attends physical ailments. Nor is it the kind of suffering that comes because of our sin, the temporal consequences of our sins. Everyone in the world suffers in this way. It isn’t unique to Christians.

The suffering that I’m talking about is unique to Christians. It’s the unjust suffering that comes to us precisely because we are Christians, precisely because we are followers of Jesus. St. Peter says, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” In other words, since you are God’s own special possession, you can expect some suffering because of who you are, of what you believe. 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” (1 Pet 2:21).

It’s becoming all the more apparent that Christians suffer for what they believe. The recent martyrs in North Africa bear witness to this. Open Doors USA is an organization in Santa Ana, California, that tracks the persecution of Christians around the world. The following statistics come from their website: “Each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith. 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed. 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages).” John Allen, Jr. has published a book on the subject in 2013 entitled The Global War on Christians (Image, 2013). As the title suggests, this is global, not just confined to Muslim countries in the Middle East. Mr. Allen cites one study that say 45 million of our brothers and sisters in Christ were martyred in the twentieth century alone (Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2013; A17).

Now when Peter wrote his first letter to churches in Asia Minor, the horrific persecutions of the late first century had not yet begun, though they were just around the corner. Anti-Christians sentiment was heating up. Nevertheless, Peter sought fit to teach about this. For the people who receive Peter’s letter were being socially persecuted. These early Christians were a small minority of the population and so most people had no idea what Christianity was all about. The Christian to whom Peter addressed didn’t have easy lives. They weren’t citizens. In fact, some of them were slaves. The general population didn’t know what Christianity stood for but they did notice that these followers of Jesus didn’t join in some of their civic events, their social events and parties, or their orgies. So people talked about the Christians behind their backs. They slandered them. They shunned them.

There are times when following Jesus means speaking up for someone who is being trashed by gossip. There are times when following Jesus means opposing unethical business practices. There are times when following Jesus means you’re not going to go to some event to which you’ve been invited because to do so would be to support what you can’t as a Christian support. When you follow Jesus instead of running with the crowd, sooner or later you’ll be slandered, perhaps even shunned. You may well pay a price in your reputation, your team, your job. Can you identify with that kind of persecution, unjust suffering for who you are as a Christian and what you believe? So what’s Peter’s advice to them and thus, to us?

St. Peter’s teaching, God’s teaching, is this: Act as Jesus did when He suffered unjustly. “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. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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” (1 Pet 2:21–24). Our Lord is our example. When he was sinned against, He didn’t sin back. When His enemies came at Him, He didn’t respond with deceitful words; He didn’t put a “spin” on things or justify taking part. He spoke the truth. And when He did suffer unjustly, He didn’t lash out with cursing and swearing.

Unjust suffering makes us angry. Anger is a natural reaction, a natural emotion, we feel when threatened or something or someone dear to us is threatened. Anger at unjust suffering isn’t wrong. What’s wrong is when we let our anger lead us to respond tit for tat, sin with sin. Jesus didn’t do that. He’s our example when we take it on the chin for what we believe, and He teaches us to endure and to trust our vindication to God. For “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30). And as Peter says in chapter 4, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet 4:19).

But Jesus is more than our example; He’s your Savior. This distinction must be clear. If you’re growing, you don’t need a swimming instructor to show you how to swim. You need to be saved. So, while Jesus is our example, He is, first and foremost, our Savior. He rescues us from the eternal consequences of our sins. He is only our example because He is our Savior. Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might dies 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” (1 Pet 2:24–25). Jesus bore our sins on the cross so that we would be forgiven and reconciled to our Father in heaven. Jesus died so that we would live—live godly lives here in time and there in eternity (Small Catechism, “The Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer”). He died so that we would be brought back to our true home with our true Father in heaven. Since we trust that Jesus is our Savior, we are willing to suffer all, even death, for who we now are because of Him.

And Peter lived and died by what he wrote for us. He’s not just the one lied when accused of being a follower of Jesus outside of the palace of the High Priest. He’s not just the one who fought evil with evil when he struck the ear of the High Priest’s servant with his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night when our Lord was betrayed, which Jesus rebuked saying that we don’t fight sin with sin. No. Peter is also the one when persecution heated up in Rome, and thoughts of running away surely crossed his mind, he remained and was crucified upside down for who he was and what he believed.

These are our people, our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their lives are an encouragement to us. They steel our resolve so that when unjust suffering comes our way, if we have to tell coach that we can’t practice because we’re Christians and are going to church, if we have to tell our boss that we can’t work because we’re Christians and we want to worship the one who gave His life for us so that we would live eternally, if we have to tell our friends that we won’t be partaking in this or that event because it goes against who we are as those redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. God promises that vengeance is His, and He is calling us to Himself. So rejoice in your sufferings as a Christian, says Peter: “In this you rejoice, though for a little while if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuine of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:5–7). Our Lord sees the genuineness of your faith, and He and the holy angels praise and glory in it. It doesn’t go unnoticed, by the Church or by our Lord.

“To this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you” (1 Pet 2:21). Amen.


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