Good Shepherd Sunday

April 22, 2012

“Called to Suffer”

1 Peter 2:21-25


For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth:" who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25



Is suffering good for you?  That depends.  It could ennoble you.  Or, it could debase you.  It depends.  If Jesus is your Shepherd and Bishop, the suffering you endure can bring you great benefit.  If you are living a life outside of fellowship with Christ, whatever you suffer will likely do you no good.  Pain for the sake of pain benefits no one.  Suffering for the sake of our Christian confession is precious.


The words of our text are addressed to Christians.  Listen to how St. Peter describes his audience earlier in this Epistle.  He writes:


But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)


The Church is God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood with access to God’s boundless grace, a holy nation set apart from the world to belong to God.  It is to be precious to God.  What we are as the Church defines us at our very core.  We are the apple of God’s eye.  We are his treasure.  We bring him joy.  It is for our sakes that he rules this world and everything he does he does for our benefit because he loves us.


Now some might assume that if God were in charge of the world this would mean that his children would never have to face any kind of suffering.  What do they know?  Are they God that they should tell God his business?  If you want to know how God thinks and operates, look at his Son, who is his very image.  When we look at his Son, what do we see?  We see what Isaiah foretold and what Peter reported:


He was oppressed and He was afflicted,

Yet He opened not His mouth;

He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,

And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

So He opened not His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)


The world scoffs!  The world is enraged!  The world treasures pomp, glory, recognition, status, wealth, power, and all the trappings.  And here is the Creator of everything that exists – the Lord of the Universe – and what is he doing?  He is putting up with insults, slander, abuse, and scorn.  He is submitting to the worst injustice you can imagine and he isn’t uttering one world of complaint.  He, who could destroy his tormentors, doesn’t threaten them.  He silently bears their abuse.


Why in the world would he do such a thing?  It is for the world that he would do it and did it.  For by doing it he was bearing in his own body the sins of the world.  The meek and submissive endurance of the greatest injustice is precisely how our Lord Jesus met the demands of justice.  Justice demanded of us what we could not deliver.  Jesus, by enduring injustice without complaint, gave to God what we owed to God and thus delivered us.  He bore our sins in his body.  He suffered, not for his own sake or for his own benefit, but for our sake and for our benefit. 


We imitate Jesus.  But his suffering and ours are quite different.  He suffered for our sins.  We don’t suffer for our sins.  Jesus did not deserve to suffer for our sins.  We deserve to suffer for our sins.  But he did and we don’t.  We do derive benefits from our suffering, but forgiveness is not one of them.  Marty Robbins may have been a great singer, but he was a bad theologian.  He sang about his wife in his famous Grammy winning love song:


When she reaches that river,

Lord you know what she’s worth

Give her that mansion up yonder

Because she’s been through hell here on earth

Lord, give her my share of heaven

If I’ve earned any here in this life

Because God I believe she deserves it:

My woman, my woman, my wife.


Contrast this popular theology with the decidedly unpopular theology we Lutherans confess in Luther’s Small Catechism in the explanation to the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer:


We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.  So will we also heartily forgive, and readily do good to, those who sin against us.


Our suffering does not merit the forgiveness of sins.  To the contrary, we deserve what we suffer in this life.  But that doesn’t mean that our suffering is punishment from God.  God doesn’t punish his children.  Jesus bore our sins in his body.  We don’t have to bear them in ours.  Christ’s suffering for our sins is what has gained for us forgiveness for our sins.  So we Christians, when we suffer, are not suffering for our sins.


Just the opposite is the case.  We have already received forgiveness of sins.  Through our suffering God is conforming us ever more perfectly to the image of him who suffered and died for us.


Our suffering cannot match Christ’s suffering because his suffering is vicarious and ours is not.  Our suffering cannot match Christ’s suffering because Christ’s suffering is perfect and ours is not.  Christ’s suffering was innocent.  He didn’t deserve any of it.  When he kept his mouth shut in the face of lies and insults he was suffering as the only truly and completely innocent man who ever lived.  No one else can suffer in perfect innocence for no one else is perfectly innocent.


But when we suffer as Christians God honors us.  God honors us by treating us as he treated his dear Son.  This is not evident, except to faith.  Faith understands what it hidden to sight.  But then Jesus did say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Faith looks to Jesus suffering for our sins in his body and faith grasps the benefit of that suffering.  By faith we die to sin and live for righteousness.  We reckon ourselves to be dead to sin because we have died with Christ.  We reckon ourselves to be alive for righteousness because we rose from the dead with Christ.  Having been united with Christ by Holy Baptism into union with his death and his resurrection, we are dead to sin and alive for righteousness.


This means that God heals us of our sins.  He not only forgives; he also heals.  Healing involves a bit of pain.  The pain isn’t the cure, but it signifies the cure.  It reminds us that our body is recovering from the hurt.  And so it is with our souls.  God kills and makes alive.  To die to sin is not a one time event in our lives from which we soar into heaven without any more pain.  No, it is a daily event, and it is painful.


We are accused and we want to strike back.  It isn’t true what they say.  They say we are judgmental and unkind, but in fact we are Christians who love even our enemies and want them to receive the same forgiveness we have received and to trust in the same Savior we know.  But they misinterpret what we say and confess and judge us falsely.


If you don’t like this, then deny Christ and save yourself some persecution, but if you intend to confess Christ you can count on being misjudged, mistreated, and slandered.  You can count on your motives being questioned.  If they attacked our Lord they will attack us.


We are falsely accused of bigotry against homosexuals because we hold to biblical standards of morality.  We are falsely accused of sexism because we support what the Bible says about God not calling women to be pastors in his Church.  We are falsely accused of sectarianism because we refuse to join in ecumenical church services that compromise God’s truth.  We are falsely accused of unfriendliness because we practice what God’s Word teaches about closed Communion and do not invite people who regularly commune at heterodox altars to commune at our altars.  We are falsely accused of lovelessness because we insist that the love of God is located specifically in Jesus and in his suffering and that Jesus is the only way to heaven and the only one who can give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  We are falsely accused of not caring about good works because we teach that our good works don’t help us get to heaven.  All of these false accusations are an honor to endure and so we endure them with patience and humility.  This is how God conforms us to Christ’s image.


When you stand for what is right you will be wronged.  What of it?  It’s how God honors you.  To this you were called.  The world honors her own.  We belong to the One who redeemed us with his blood.  We were like lost sheep, wandering away from God and into every kind of spiritual danger.  Nobody persecutes these lost sheep.  And nobody protects them from the hungry wolves.  They are easy prey.  They flit here and there, running after every fashionable opinion, learning how to think and how to live from watching whatever the popular television personalities are selling that month.  And there is a sense of belonging, of conforming to the crowd, though the crowd moves this way and that without any permanent principles or solid truth on which to stand.


So were we.  So would we be.  But we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.  Note how St. Peter joins these two words.  A shepherd or pastor is a bishop or overseer.  That’s the biblical way of speaking.  Jesus is both our pastor and our bishop.  As our pastor he feeds us.  As our bishop he watches over us.  The feeding and the watching over go together and cannot be separated.  So it is also with the ministers of Christ, those men we call pastors.  It is as they feed us with God’s word that they watch over us.  There is no watching over in Christ’s Church that is not the actual feeding of the flock with the pure and wholesome gospel and sacraments of Christ.  There are no governmental regulations like the civil authorities enact and enforce.  Not in Christ’s Church!  We who belong to Jesus are governed by him and by him alone.  There is no hierarchy, no system of rules – nothing like the legal paraphernalia that so enamors the rulers of this world and their subjects.  The One in charge of our lives is the one who bore our sins in his body on the tree. 


The Bible knows no distinction between a pastor and a bishop.  Jesus is our bishop precisely because he is our pastor.  Christ’s ministers who preach his gospel and administer his sacraments are called pastors because they feed the flock and are called bishops because they watch over the flock.  The distinction between a pastor and a bishop is manmade and it is not biblical.  Soon after the Bible was written, some pastors laid claim to greater authority than that of God’s word and sacraments and these men were called bishops.  Over the years a legal hierarchy developed in the Church.  But if our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who bore away all our sins in his body rules over us by his word alone then those who serve as his ministers in his Church must do the same.  The only authority we have or need is the authority of Christ’s holy word and sacraments.


The One who rules over us is the One who suffered for us.  By bearing insults, abuse, injustice, betrayal, denial, and suffering in silence, he delivered us from the control of the devil, freed us from the fear of death, and washed away all our sins by his most holy suffering and death.  It is to him that we entrust our lives.  He protects us from lies and false promises.  He leads us in the paths of righteousness.  With him caring for our souls we fear no evil to body or soul.  We certainly aren’t afraid of suffering for his name.  As a matter of fact, we consider it an honor.  Amen