"Entrusting Our Wounds to Our Shepherd" (I Peter 2:19-25)
The Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2020)
Our world today is certainly an awful place for the weak and innocent. It seems that almost on a daily basis we hear of another child abduction, kidnapping, or horror tale of abuse and grizzly murder. And, now, of course, in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic, it is the weak and immunocompromised who are by far suffering the worst from its ravages. When such injustice is suffered, it is extremely difficult to keep from becoming bitter with life, resentful of others who have not had to suffer in the same way, and perhaps even angry with God.
The cry for justice in the face of such unfairness is as old as humanity itself. From the time of Cain's murder of his brother Abel to our present day, the blood of the innocent has cried out for revenge. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." It has more often than not, however, ended in more violence as hurting people take up the sword of God’s judging wrath. But this cycle of violence to correct injustice never affects a solution or peace. It never leaves anyone feeling satisfied that true justice has finally been served. It simply continues to spiral further downward into the black hole of more death, more pain, and more suffering.
Is it wrong to demand that justice be served and that the innocent be permitted to exact some revenge upon those who mistreated them? Shouldn’t it be the guilty who are made to suffer and not the innocent?"
Certainly, that would be the ideal, right? In fact, our whole system of jurisprudence is designed to protect the innocent and punish the perpetrators. So it should be in a well ordered society. But when the system fails, does that give the innocent victim the right to take matters into his own hands and punish the guilty? Has God given the victim that right?
Actually, the LORD has not. In fact, He has said, “Vengeance is mine... I will repay.” God has always reserved the right to execute vengeance as He sees fit and through the agencies He has entrusted with that right and responsibility; that is, the established government. Again we read from Holy Scripture: “He (the worldly authority) is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).
At the same time, one could rightly make the case that there are no truly innocent in the world. After all, we are all conceived and born in sin and rightfully under God’s condemning wrath. In fact, Scripture reminds us that according to our sinful nature there is not one of us who is truly righteous in all his ways but that our feet are swift to shed (innocent) blood, that destruction and misery are in our paths, and that the path of peace we have not known. (Ro. 3:15-17). Accordingly, which of us wicked and unjust people should presume to execute justice on another wicked and unjust person? Meting out justice is better left to those whom God has given that responsibility.
Think about this also, as perpetrators of sin, who are deserving of nothing but God’s temporal and eternal punishment, ought we ever demand that our lives be free of all suffering and pain because we don't feel we deserve them? On what righteous leg do we stand to raise our complaint with God, "Why me, God? I don’t deserve this disease... this painful ailment... this tragedy!"
In light of Scripture’s clear teaching that "the wages of sin is death," is it even appropriate for a person of faith to ask “Why me?” Instead, shouldn't we ask when suffering comes, "Why not me?" As the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was jailed and then executed by the Nazis for his part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, once rightly pointed out, questioning why God allows suffering to come to us is "unbelief's greatest question."
The sufferer’s greatest comfort is not an answer to his question of why me, rather his comfort is in the wonderful reality that God has already mercifully meted out the justice do him and all other sinners on the cross of His only begotten Son. There, on that cross, the truly innocent was punished in the stead of all of us. There, you and all who suffer were assured that your own personal suffering does not have its source in the wrath of God, but rather in the love of God, in-fleshed in Jesus. You can entrust your wounds to a God, who through the cross gladly and graciously takes the rightful punishment due each of you onto Himself.
Suffering injustice patiently is the central message of our text. We read: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But 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. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
Peter brings to light the fact that not all suffering is created equal. Sometimes we bring it on ourselves by our wrong actions. If I break the speed limit and I have to suffer a speeding ticket, or worse, if I drive while intoxicated and end up totaling my car and land in the hospital, I am not a victim of injustice. Neither ought I expect anyone’s sympathy. By my willful disobedience I have forfeited any expectations that God should keep me from these “sufferings”?
Likewise, if I take my medicine like a man; that is, I endure the pain of my broken bones, the loss of my car, and my resulting loss of pay because I can not work, all without complaining and without getting mad at anyone, should you commend me for doing so when it was all my fault to start with?
Heavens, no! There's no credit with God or our fellow human beings if we suffer patiently for doing wrong. In fact, the real "well pleasing thing" in God's sight is when a person bears up under suffering for doing what is right and does so without complaining and without crying for revenge. Such bearing up under injustice might be considered stupidity or weakness before the world, but it is truly favorable before God.
Peter offers two examples of such God-pleasing endurance. The first is that of household servants who willingly submit to their masters with all respect, "not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse (crooked)." The second, is Peter's admonition to wives: "be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives." Such bearing up is favorable in God's eyes.
Does that mean one has to remain as someone else’s punching bag, even when God has provided a means of escape? No. Jesus Himself on several occasions "fled" from the mistreatment others planned against Him. But what our text does say is that simply because we are treated unfairly, affords us no right to act in kind or to speak ill of our persecutor to others, or to shirk our responsibility of love toward them.
Enduring the pain and sorrow of injustice in all humility and patience, is God's way. That's why it is so commendable in His sight. It is the way of the cross. It's the way the cycle of injustice is broken. It is the way God defeats evil.
Enduring injustice patiently is also, Peter states, our calling. "Take up your cross daily and follow Me," Jesus has said. Bearing up under unjust suffering is simply a fact of life for those who follow Jesus Christ (I Pet. 4:12). It comes with the territory, whether we like it or not. Jesus told His followers: "A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."
As Peter also says, Jesus left us in Himself a model of the patient suffering of injustice. But this model is not simply for us to admire, but rather, to try on for size... to quite literally, walk in His footprints. He has set the standard for the endurance of injustice. "Like a lamb is quiet before his shearers, so Jesus did not open His mouth." He was slandered with lies, yet, He did open his mouth to defend Himself. He was beaten and abused, yet, He did not retaliate in some kind of righteous wrath to make the wicked pay for what they did to Him. His good name and reputation were trashed, but he spoke only words of forgiveness toward His enemies. He endured it all in humility and patience. And He did so to free you and me, and even His persecutors, from the rightful, eternal, wrath of God against our sin.
Therefore, to refuse to endure suffering that we don’t feel we deserve, is not only to deny who we are as followers of the Cross Bearer, Jesus Christ, but it is to repudiate Christ’s great sacrifice for us and, even, to deny Christ Himself. Our refusal to endure suffering patiently is saying in essence that we don’t want to have any part in the One who unjustly suffered for us. And that would be unthinkable! After all, Jesus has saved us sinners through the injustice He received. He endured all that injustice precisely for you and for me so that we could be pardoned for all our offenses. For He bore our sins in His body on the tree." "By His wounds we are healed."
There's no question about it; Jesus made His compassionate, longsuffering, forgiving footprints across the surface of our world, as well as our lives. He has called His own to walk in the same steps He has walked. Like a little boy struggling to step in the footprints left by his father in the deep snow, so it is our calling to follow in the footsteps of Jesus through the deep evil and injustice of this world. It is our calling: to be patient bearers of injustice!
But who can possibly do this? Who can bear all of life's injustices without complaining, without welling up with anger, without being resentful, and without wanting to punish those who hurt us? It is impossible for any of us to do this on our own? Our sinful nature has hard-wired us to do just the opposite.
But, in the footsteps of Jesus, all things are possible. In His footsteps faith sees the way. It sees first, that in Jesus' wounds all injustice, even those injustices perpetrated on others by our own hands, have all been atoned for. In those same footprints of Jesus, faith also sees that in Jesus’ wounds suffering injustice has been sanctified as the way God has rightly judged to bring about true justice... saving justice... for sinners. In Jesus’ wounds all shame, disgrace, injustice, and pain has been removed. In the footsteps of Jesus you can see just what He saw, that you can entrust yourselves to God who always judges justly. After all, when God judges, just like He did for Jesus, that you should suffer unjustly, He is not being unjust. God is righteous in all His ways. Bearing up under unjust suffering is the Way God sets right what sin in this world has set wrong.
Peter, furthermore, assures you that when it comes to enduring your wounds of injustice, whether they are inflicted upon you by a terrorist, or a neighbor, a parent, a spouse, a co-worker, an employer, a disease, even an overzealous politician, you have someone who is quite experienced in that department to carry them for you. He says, “You were like sheep going astray, but now you have been returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Jesus has come to make your burdens light by taking them upon Himself and moving them out of the way.
For many decades now a picture entitled Footprints in the Sand has made its way into the homes of many Christians. It shows a person walking with Jesus along a beach, and yet there are only one set of footprints. In the caption, the person complains to Jesus, "Lord, why was it that when I experienced all those hardships in life there is only one set of footprints? Did you leave me?" In response, Jesus compassionately replies, "There is only one set of footprints because it was then that I carried you."
Your whole life as a Christian has but one set of foot prints. The prints are those of your Good Shepherd. He is more than a shoulder to cry on. He is the shoulder which bears you up under the load. He laid down His life for you. His steps of suffering injustice have set you on the course to those green pastures and quiet waters of eternal life. He is the Overseer of your soul. He guides you to step in His steps. His big steps have already plowed the rough ground. His cross has sanctified your cross to be something for your eternal good. You can with the full confidence entrust your suffering into His hands. They were pierced for you. Any injustice you endure will be healed in His wounds; for “Even though you might walk through the valley of suffering and death, you have no need to fear from any evil. For your Good Shepherd is with you. The rod and staff of His Word of promise shall comfort you. He sets a table of His graces before you even in the midst of your enemies. And surely His goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.