Printable PDF: 5-3-2020 Easter 4 Sermon
Pastor Mark R. Jacobson Easter 4 May 3, 2020 1 Peter 2:19-25
19For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23When 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. 24“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
THE SHEPHERD RETURNS HIS STRAYING SHEEP…
The picture to the left is the Twenty-Six Martyrs Monument. This monument commemorates the 26 Christians who lost their lives in Nagasaki, Japan on February 5, 1597. They were crucified and lanced to death. All these Christians had to do was deny their faith and freedom was theirs. According to a report, one of the 26, a 12-year old boy, when asked to deny his faith said this, “Sir, it would be better if you yourself become a Christian and could go to heaven where I am going. Sir, which is my cross?” The stunned official pointed to the smallest of the crosses on the hill. The young boy ran toward that cross, knelt in front of it and embraced it. It is also said the 26 martyrs sang God’s praises until they could sing no more. How commendable! That’s what the Twenty-Six Martyrs Monument does! It commends them. These martyrs bore up under the pain of unjust suffering because they were conscious of God.
- …from the sin of retaliation.
The Apostle Peter, in his first letter, was writing to believers who were suffering unjustly. We’re not given any specifics about their unjust sufferings, only that their suffering was related to their faith in Jesus Christ. At this time, the Romans were heavily involved in emperor worship. Emperor worship was viewed as good for national unity. The Greeks believed in any number of deities and all the metal and wooden images dedicated to them was good for the economy. And so Christians, at this time, had become viewed as rebels against national unity and bottlenecks for the local economy. We can’t be sure of the exact cause of their unjust suffering, but prior to our lesson Peter encouraged the Christians with these words, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (2:12). Peter’s message was “Be a model citizen. Be a good neighbor. Be a hard worker.” This was how they could witness to unbelievers! This was how their critics could be won over. But not all the critics of Christianity were won over. As a result, Christians endured unjust suffering. It wasn’t right! It was discrimination against Christians, but this was the point where God’s sheep were apt to stray.
Straying sheep don’t think they are straying. Straying sheep think they are grazing from the field in which they were supposed to stay, but they are not. Straying sheep leave their home field because they lose consciousness of where they are. Straying sheep wind up far from home and can’t make it back on their own. Like sheep, Christians don’t all of a sudden purposely leave Christ. Like sheep, Christians stray, and they don’t know they are straying. Straying Christians think they are believing in Jesus. They know God created the world and cares for the people it. They pledge allegiance to the flag and pray over the food they eat. Straying Christians live by the Golden rule of “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” but haven’t you noticed that all that kind of Christianity seems to disappear when you face unjust suffering? When you encounter unjust suffering, what happens to that ‘love your neighbor’ stuff or ‘honor your mother and father and others in authority’ or ‘whatever you do (even as you face unjust suffering), do it all for the glory of God’?
I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but when somebody wrongs me I can feel completely justified in wronging them back. And this is where I stray even when I don’t think I am straying. It’s the sin of retaliation. And the most dangerous aspect of retaliation could be that we feel completely justified in our retaliating. If my neighbor’s a jerk, I can feel completely justified in talking badly about him to others. If my company or country isn’t fair to me, I feel completely justified in not doing my best work for my company and country. And if the vast majority of people in my society think I am narrow-minded for believing in Christ or ignorant for believing in a 6-day creation or barbaric and out of touch for believing in marriage between a man and woman, I can feel completely justified in wishing for God to bring them to judgment. It’s not right for me to suffer unjustly, and I do have a right to defend myself, but it’s at these very moments when I stray from the Christian faith without even realizing I am straying from the Christian faith because I am retaliating against those who are wronging me.
Fellow sheep, we have been called to follow Christ! We are called to love those who hate us. We are called to forgive those who hurt us. We are called to pray for the best for those who wish us the worst. The sin of retaliation means we’re lost, and we might not even know it. Peter says, “You were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
- …to the example on the cross.
Straying sheep don’t find their own way home. Straying sheep need to be found and brought back into the fold. Straying sheep need a shepherd, and there’s nothing better for straying sheep than to hear the voice of their shepherd. The same is true for straying believers.
Straying believers can’t find their way back to God. Straying believers don’t stumble back into faith. Straying believers need God to come get them. The Greek word translated, “you have returned,” is in the passive voice, not the active voice. Straying believers are not like the person who lost their car keys and is actively searching for them. No, straying believers are like the lost car keys, and if the lost car keys are ever to function as car keys again, the driver had better find the keys. What that means is our returning to God is not about us. Our returning is not about us actively making better choices and actively correcting our mistakes. We are passive. We need God to find us and to find his way back into our hearts and the only way he does that is though the voice of the Gospel.
The Gospel is the good news about Jesus. The Good News about Jesus is all he did to save us. In our lesson Peter says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his month.” Jesus didn’t do anything wrong. Jesus spoke the truth in love. And yet Jesus was still mocked and mistreated. Had Jesus retaliated, had Jesus made threats, Jesus would have lost credit for our salvation and we would have lost out on salvation. “By his wounds, you have been healed.”
“Jesus entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” On the cross Jesus was conscious of his heavenly Father. Jesus was also conscious of his assignment. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” How do we die to sins? ‘To die to sins’ means we’re not going to retaliate. When someone is pushing our buttons we’re going to be like a remote control without batteries. We’re going to follow the example of Jesus. We’re going to follow in his steps. “To live for righteousness” is to live as Jesus lived, to follow Jesus’ example, to follow in his steps. That means living for Jesus and not our own comfort. It means loving those who hate us, forgiving those who hurt us and praying for the best for those who wish us the worst. Stephen in our first lesson is an example of this, so are the 26 martyrs in Nagasaki in the year 1597. They listened to the voice of their Shepherd and followed him. And when we face unjust suffering, we have the opportunity to show our God and ourselves and maybe even some others that God is our Shepherd, and we love being his sheep. Amen.