1 Peter 2:21–25
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
I told Tom before I left last week that I was eager for him to go ahead with the planning of the summer preaching series on the "one another" commands of the New Testament. I said that I thought my sermon this morning could be seen as a kind of foundation for those commands. Before I go on vacation and take some writing leave, I wanted to finish at least the second chapter of 1 Peter. So our focus this morning is on the last paragraph of that chapter.
When I began the series on 1 Peter last September I had no idea what was about to happen to us as a church. It has been far more hurtful than if several of our staff had died. Sometimes the texts from 1 Peter seemed exactly right. Other times it seemed that the Lord had some other word for us.
So here we are at the end of chapter 2 as just another testimony to how many precious things have been cut short in these months. But that's not the main thing we see here at the end of 1 Peter 2. The main thing in this text is God's word to us about his purpose for Bethlehem and what he did to accomplish and assure that purpose. And nothing that has happened to us can thwart God's purpose for his people.
So what I hope you hear this morning from this text is a massive, unshakable, infinitely compelling commitment from God to bring about his good purpose for us. And I hope you see that this purpose has to do with the "one another" commands and how we treat each other.
Christ Died That We Might Live Righteously
Three times in this text Peter tells us that Christ died and that the purpose of his death was to enable us to live differently. Or another way to put it is that he tells us that God's purpose for us as a church is that we live like Christ, that we live righteously; and he tells us three times that his unshakable, infinitely compelling commitment to fulfill that purpose in us is the death of his Son to make it happen. His commitment to make it happen is seen in the sacrifice of his Son to make it happen.
Let me point out these three statements of purpose and three statements of God's commitment to make it happen through the death of Jesus.
1. "Follow in His Steps"
First, verse 21: "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." Literally: "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you might follow in his steps."
In other words Christ suffered for us—he suffered even unto death—for this purpose: that we might follow in his steps. So God's purpose for us is that we follow in the steps of Jesus. And the enabling power behind that purpose is that Christ "suffered for us." Christ didn't just suffer and die to give us an example. He suffered "for us," that is, in our place, on our behalf.
And in suffering "for us" he showed his commitment and God the Father's commitment to bring their purpose for us to pass. Something happened in the death of Christ "for us" that guarantees its success in bringing us to follow in Christ's steps. The purpose is that we live like Christ. The power is the substitutionary death of Jesus. He died for us to make us like him.
And living like him includes all the "one another" commands of the New Testament. That's why I see all of this as foundational for the summer series.
2. "Die to Sin and Live to Righteousness"
Second, verse 24a: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."
Here it is again: the purpose of God for us, and the commitment of God behind the purpose backed up by the death of Jesus for us. God's purpose for us is stated like this: "that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." God's commitment to make it happen is stated like this: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross."
Christ Bore Our Sins in His Body on the Cross
So the thought seems to be identical to the thought in verse 21, only things are made more explicit. Peter says very clearly what he meant in verse 21 by "Christ suffered for you." He meant, "Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross." Christ's suffering was the agony of being nailed to the cross and dying there. And his suffering "for us" was his bearing our sins. It was a substitution. He bore them in death instead of our having to bear them in death. It's the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." That is, "Christ bore our sins in his body."
You remember how Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3, "I remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures." That's what Peter is spelling out here in language taken from those Scriptures: Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross; that is, he died for our sins according to Isaiah 53:6.
This is tremendously good news for sinners! It is the only hope for a church that has come through what we have come through. Christ bore our sins. He bore Leah's sins and Dean's sins and my sins and your sins—all the sins of his people. And while the ongoing consequences of our sins are unbelievably painful, the hope of our lives and our church and our families is, "Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross."
Do You Believe This?
We need to linger here. Do you believe this about your own sins and about the sins of your brothers and sisters? The implications of this for us individually and as a church are huge. It means that, if we will, we can leave the past with God. We can say, "I trust you, Jesus, that all my sins; all the ones that are public and all the ones that are private, all of them, have been lifted, borne, suffered for, and therefore removed from me. I bear them no more. I do not carry their guilt into the future with me."
Let this sink in. You do not have to carry your sins or be burdened by them. You do not have to wake up with guilt or go to bed with guilt. You can bank your hope on the commitment of God in Jesus: "Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross." Let's do that together as a church. Do it this morning even if you are not part of this church.
Acknowledging God's Aim
But notice again clearly what God's aim is in this guilt-lifting death of Jesus on the cross (v. 24): " . . . that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." This corresponds with the purpose mentioned in verse 21: "that you might follow in his steps." Following in Jesus' steps is the same as living to righteousness.
In both cases, the vicarious suffering of Jesus in verse 21, and the substitutionary death of Jesus in verse 24 are given as the means that God intends to use to make us righteous like his Son.
Now this is so important and so forceful in this text, we need to pause here a moment. Does this feel like good news to you? Or does it feel like the good news of the cross is being given with one hand and taken away with the other. Does it feel like good news that the message of the cross on the one hand is a lifting of guilt and on the other hand is a laying on of burden?
On the one hand the suffering and death of Jesus are "for us" and "bear our sins away"—that feels liberating and joyful and hopeful. On the other hand the suffering and death of Jesus are designed by God to create people who follow in Jesus' footsteps and who live to righteousness.
There are many people today who feel the first work of the cross as liberating good news and who feel the second as burdensome bad news. For them, the grace of the cross is one thing: liberation from guilt and shame. And when they hear that the grace of the cross is not just liberation from the guilt of sin, but is also liberation from the power of sin, it doesn't feel as good.
God's Aim Doubles the Good News
Now there are all kinds of reasons for this, ranging from rebellion in the heart to painful memories from the past to theological misunderstandings. I don't have time to analyze all those reasons. What I want to do is simply stress that the design of the cross to liberate from the enslaving power of sin as well as the guilt of sin does not diminish the good news; it doubles it.
Would it really be good news if the Bible taught that the death of Christ took away the guilt of sin and left us enslaved to its power? If that sounds like good news to you—that you could go on living the way the world does, only without punishment, then what it shows is that you love sin and not God. But if you long to be set free not only from the guilt of sin by the cross, but also from the enslaving power of sin by the cross, then these verses don't diminish the good news, they double it.
What verse 24a is saying is that when Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross, he secured not only the removal of our guilt, but also release from our bondage. Christ bore our sins in his body that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. That is the design and purpose and commitment of God in the cross. That is what he commits himself to in the new covenant.
You might think: maybe it's just an offer instead of an achievement. Maybe the cross really doesn't secure and guarantee anything for us, but only offer something to us.
3. "By His Wounds You Were Healed"
The third and final statement of the purpose of the cross in this text makes that very unlikely. Verse 24b, again quoting Isaiah 53 (v. 5): "By His wounds you were healed." It does not say: By his wounds healing is offered. Or: By his wounds healing is a possibility. It says, "By his wounds you were healed." In other words the cross is efficacious. It achieves what God designs for it to achieve. The cross does not merely create new possibilities; it creates new persons.
Now Peter is not thinking here mainly of physical healing for cancer and arthritis and so on. As a matter of fact the cross will one day accomplish that in our lives whether here or in the age to come. But that is not Peter's thinking at all here.
He explains in verse 25 what he has in mind by the healing that the suffering and death and wounds of Christ accomplish: namely, a spiritual healing that sheds tremendously important light on what we have seen so far.
Verse 25: "For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." This is the healing Peter has in mind: the return of straying, perishing sheep to their Guide and Provider and Keeper.
So here is the third statement of the design and purpose of the cross. The first in verse 21 was that Christ died so that we would follow in his footsteps. The second in verse 24a was that Christ died so that we would live to righteousness. The third in verses 24b–25 is that Christ died so that he might bring straying sheep home to the green pastures of the Good Shepherd.
Is This Good News?
Now I ask, is this good news? Is it good news that the design and purpose of the cross is not only to save us from the guilt of sin, but also from the power of sin? I hope you see that Peter wants you to feel it as good news by the way he describes it in verse 25: the word of the cross brings us to a shepherd not a slave master. Yes, the Shepherd guides. He does not let sheep stray very far or very long. He uses a rod and staff when he must. He provides. He protects. And he relentlessly pursues us with goodness and mercy all our days. His commitment to do this is signed with the blood of Jesus. It is the New Covenant, sealed with the blood of the Covenant.
What Does It Mean to Die to Sin?
And I ask one other question before we leave this text. What does it mean to die to sin (v. 24a)? I wait until now to ask that question because I get the answer from Peter's word about the Shepherd in verse 25.
Verse 24a says that "Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin." What does that mean in our experience? How does that happen?
I think it works like this: When the word of the cross breaks into our heart by the power of God's Spirit (cf. 1:3, 23), and we awaken to the fact that God loves us so much that he takes the life of his own Son in order to bring us under his Shepherd-care and Shepherd-protection and Shepherd-provision and Shepherd-guidance, at that moment we die to the lie of sin. We die to the power of sin's deceit which tries to persuade us that a better future can be had through sin than through righteousness.
What causes our death to sin is the work of the cross convincing us in the depth of our heart that God is committed to us like a mighty Shepherd. We are alive to sin, and believing in sin, and following sin, until the cross unleashes on us the conquering love of God and constrains us to see that we are straying; we are erring; we are self-destructing in the path of sin. And when the cross releases that power in us, we die to sin. And we awaken to the beauty of righteousness in the pasture of our all-satisfying Shepherd.
Consider the design of the cross for your life this morning. Embrace it and return to the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul. And what we will find unleashed if we do this is the will and joy of all the "one another" commands of the New Testament, and the power to move forward out of our guilt and hurt as a church.