Following the Suffering Servant (1 Peter 2:21-25)

Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | October 23, 2011


For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22  “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23  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; 24  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness– by whose stripes you were healed. 25  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet. 2:21-25)


As we saw the past two weeks, like slaves, when we are treated unfairly, especially because we are Christians, whether by those in civil authority over us or by those in authority over us in the workplace, we should suffer patiently because it will win some to Christ and because God will be pleased.

Today’s passage speaks not only to slaves, but more broadly to all believers. It focuses not so much on our sufferings but on Jesus’ sufferings for us. It tells us that Jesus’ sufferings’ have a two-fold significance. First, they are for our imitation and second they are for our salvation. As his followers, we can and should imitate certain aspects of his suffering. Yet there are other aspects that are unique to Christ alone, which actually accomplish salvation on our behalf, that we cannot imitate since he alone was able to bear our sins and thus to redeem us back to God.

This passage tells us two things about Jesus’ sufferings. They are: for our imitation and for our salvation.

Let’s look first at how they are


21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

We are called not only to enjoy the blessings of salvation, but also, if necessary, to suffer for being a Christian since Jesus, having suffered for us, left us an example that we should follow.

The phrase, “left us an example” is instructive. The word for “an example” is hypo-grammon, which literally means “writing underneath.” It is a picture of tracing letters on a page that someone has already written before us. In the old days, and even today, people learn to write by tracing the letters someone else has written before them. I watched Victoria Wilson, who’s in the fourth grade, doing her homework the other day. She was learning to write her letters by tracing those that are on this page in dotted lines. Like the dotted lines on the page, Jesus left us an example of his own suffering.

Musicians and artists do the same things. They copy the works of the masters by writing the notes that have already been written, or by painting the subjects and using the methods of the masters after them. We learn their technique and what made them great by copying what they have done till we can do it ourselves. Yet we’re not doing it all alone.

Jesus wrote the letters of suffering before us, as it were, so that we might trace his letters after him when we do our own suffering for his sake. He left us an example.

Next, the phrase, “follow in his steps” is instructive as well. Literally, it says we should follow “in his footsteps.” Like when it snows and a child follows after his or her mom and dad stepping into their footprints already made in the snow so they don’t have to blaze of trail of their own. It reminds me of the old Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” It tells the story of King Wenceslas who saw a poor peasant man of his realm out gathering firewood on a cold snowy night. He asked his page who the man was and where he lived and discovered that he lived quite a distance away. With this knowledge and out of loving concern, he took his page with him to deliver meat, wine and firewood so the man would neither starve nor freeze on such a cold night. However, on the way the young page became weary because of the darkness and snow and distance. He said, to quote the words of the song,

“Sire, the night is darker now; And the wind blows stronger; Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”

 The king replied,

“Mark my footsteps, my good page; Tread thou in them boldly; Thou shalt find the winter’s rage; Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

 The story continues,

“In his master’s steps he trod Where the snow lay dinted; Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.”

The king blazed a trail in the snow so his young page could follow behind “in his footsteps” to do a good deed for a poor man.

Just as a father or mother blazes a trail for a child, and just as the king blazed a trail for his page, so Jesus blazed a trail for us, so that we could more easily follow in his footsteps, because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example.

So by his suffering for us, he left us an example, he wrote the letters before us, so to speak, so that we should follow in his footsteps behind him.

Peter tells us that we are called to imitate the sufferings of Christ in three ways.

Like Jesus, we should endure sufferings patiently…

  •  in spite or our innocence
  • without retaliation
  • trusting in God to defend and avenge us

First, we should endure sufferings patiently…

  •  In spite of our innocence

 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;

This verse quotes Isaiah 53:9 which says “He had done no violence (meaning he had committed no sin), Nor was any deceit in His mouth.”

In a word, this tells us that Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing or sin. Even Pilate found no guilt in him, but the Jews were jealous. He had done nothing to deserve the punishment he received. He was blameless, yet he suffered. This should give us hope when we suffer persecutions in innocence. Heb 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

As we said a few weeks ago, we are to live such good lives among unbelievers, that when they accuse us of doing wrong, they will be shown to be acting strictly out of hate toward us. Like Jesus, we should suffer their injustice patiently, even when we are innocent, to demonstrate that their charges have no basis in fact. In that way, we disarm their argument against us. However, we can never be completely without sin as he was in this life.

Second, we should endure sufferings patiently…

  •  Without retaliation or threat of retaliation

 23a  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten,

This verse alludes to Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and 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.”

This verse refers to his trial before the Sanhedrin and Herod before his crucifixion. He was accused unjustly, some gave false testimony against him, yet he did not defend himself verbally. He either gave no answer or answered simply that he was the Son of Man who was to come similar to answering with name, rank and serial number.

They scourged him as a slave might be whipped by a cruel master, but he did not cry out against them. He was nailed to a cross yet he did not not threaten to call down heaven’s armies against them. He neither retaliated nor threatened retaliation against them.

So should we. When we are accused of doing wrong, we should neither retaliate nor threaten retaliation. We should not try to get them back nor threaten what you might do or what God might do to them if they don’t relent.

I know a person some of whose relatives made serious false accusations against him. Actually the relatives were jealous of his relationship with other members of the family and were teaming up to pull a power play against him. Sometimes he said nothing, and other times he tried to reason with them. However, he found over time that attempting to defend himself was mostly counter-productive because their accusations were not rational but strictly emotional, and it gave them more ammunition to fire back at him. He realized before long that the only thing left to do was the third thing Jesus modeled for us….


  • Trusted in God to provide her defense

Verse 23 says,

 23b he committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

 This verse alludes to Isaiah 53:6, 12 and 8 which says in short, that because Christ suffered innocently, God as judge, rewarded him for his suffering on our behalf and acquitted him of all false charges against him.

Jesus, when he suffered, instead of retaliating or threatening retaliation, committed his cause to God, the righteous judge who defended him against his unrighteous enemies and brought vengeance against them in due time. As Rom 12:19 says, quoting Deut 32.25, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.”

If we don’t believe God will repay suffering inflicted on us in the last day, we will be compelled to take our own revenge. But if we truly believe in God as a just judge who will acquit us and avenge us, we can live at peace even in suffering, just as Jesus did. Remember his words on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He committed his cause to God.

So, to follow in Jesus footsteps in suffering for being Christian, we should suffer patiently even when we are innocent, without retaliation or threatening, but trusting in God to defend us against our enemies.

This passage, however, goes beyond simply instruct us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. It tells us that Jesus’ suffering was not only for our imitation, but also, secondly,

For Our Salvation

Jesus wasn’t, as some teach, just a good teacher to imitate or emulate, like a Mohammed or a Ghandi. He was the Son of God who gave his own life to secure salvation for us. He gave his life as a substitute for ours when we could do nothing for ourselves. He was the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world as a sacrifice for our sins. God confirmed that his sacrifice was sufficient to pay for our sins by raising him from the dead. Look at verse 24(a)(c)…

 24a,c  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree,…by whose stripes you were healed

It says “He bore our sins in his own body”… This is another direct quote from Isa 53 (4, 5, 12).  “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him…He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many…”

Our sin deserved the wrath of God and his eternal punishment. (NLT Rom. 5:8-9 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.”). God chose some before the foundation of the world for whom he appointed Christ’s death on the cross as a substitutionary punishment. (NLT 1 Jn. 4:10 “This is real love– not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”) He died on a tree in order to accept God’s curse for us and to merit his blessing for us. (NLT Gal. 3:13 “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”). His wounds, as it were, were the means of our healing, so to speak, that is, our salvation.  This phrase also from Isaiah 53 expresses the ironic divine exchange that took place in his suffering. Because he was wounded, we were healed. This is another way of saying that by his suffering and death, you received life.

Two results of his suffering on our behalf are recorded here:

-That we should live righteously

-That we should live under his authority

  • Live righteous lives

24b that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness– by whose stripes you were healed.

In his death, we have died to sins. That is, the power of sin over us has been broken. We no longer are bound by sin. We have the ability to overcome sin – not perfectly – yet with greater ability than before.

1 Cor 10:13…there is no temptation taken you but such is common to man, but he will with the temptation provide a way of escape that you may be able to bear it.  Paul says in Rom 7 that we battle against sin every day, yet we have power to overcome through Jesus Christ.

Just as in 1 Cor 13… we see thru a glass darkly, then face to face. But at least we see. Before, it was all darkness. We had NO ability.

Before we heard and responded to the call of Christ, because we were dead in trespasses and sins, it was impossible to please God. We were his enemies, and no matter how good our works appeared, we always did them with wrong motives.

However, when we responded to God’s call, we became “dead to sin” and “alive to righteousness.” It became possible for us to live in a way that pleases God because we have been born again, cleansed, justified in God’s sight by the blood of Christ. When God sees our works, he sees the righteous works of Christ on our behalf.

We can and should now do good works that are pleasing to him. Eph 2:10 Says, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ for good works which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Not only should we live righteously, we should

  •  Live under his authority

 25  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

This is another quote from Isa 53 (6). All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Straying sheep are not just innocently lost. They have intentionally left the fold. They have “turned their own way.” They had a better idea than staying in the safety of the fold and under the authority of the shepherd.

As a child on a dairy farm, when the cows got out, they did so intentionally. They usually pushed on the fence or gate hard enough that it bent or broke or fell, believing there were greener pastures outside the fence. WE WERE like them. We had turned our own way But God turned us back through the suffering and death of his Son.

The verb translated here “you have returned” is actually passive not active, so it is better translated you WERE turned back to or by the shepherd and overseer of your souls.

The titles Shepherd and Overseer here indicate authority. The addition of the word Overseer or episcopos, sometimes rendered “elder” in the NT indicates that we have come under a new eldership or authority. Believers are commanded in the NT to give deference to elders since they “keep watch over your souls.” Also, shepherds are wiser than sheep, so we should defer to Christ, our great Shepherd who leads and guides us to green pastures.

So we are no longer under our own authority wandering wherever we will, but have been graciously brought under the authority of Christ, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. The meaning of “souls” here is not just the immaterial part of you but represents your whole person.

Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.

Categories: 1 Peter, 1st Peter: The Church in the World, 2011, Sermons

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