“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:20-24).
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” We can’t say that about ourselves. We could say the opposite, though. There’s no sin we didn’t commit, no deceit not found in our mouths. Perhaps you might object on technicalities: “I’ve never done this or that.” We can play that game if you want, but let’s move from deeds to the mind, to the heart. Still want to play?
“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” We prefer “an eye for an eye” to “turn the other cheek.” We want vengeance when wronged. We remember. We stew. We keep a list. We want our pound of flesh. Sometimes we call it justice, but we mete it out much better than we receive it.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Why, then, do we live to sin and die to righteousness? Why are we still here? If you were Christ, if I were Christ, there’d be no point showing up. We’d have burned our bridges and worn out our welcome. But Christ isn’t like us. Christ is the Shepherd for the straying. That is what he is. Remember that.
This is the Christian word: grace. Such grace is found only with this Lamb who is also our Shepherd.
The English have a proverb: “The noblest vengeance is to forgive.” Don’t you just want to punch the English? But Christ did just that. He did the unthinkable. We can find many of Christ’s teachings in the works of the noble pagans, of Buddha, of Confucius, but not this one: the forgiveness of sins, free and full, unmerited. This is the Christian word: grace. Such grace is found only with this Lamb who is also our Shepherd.
The word for “example” here actually comes from the Greek word used for handwriting class. I had Sister Karen for handwriting. God bless Sister Karen. I don’t know how many times I wrote the same letters repeatedly as she looked over my shoulder. I still remember how proud I was when she said I wrote “like a girl.” While the other boys might have found that funny, the next year I was the only boy to test out of handwriting. Guess who you get to hang out with when you test out of handwriting because you “write like a girl”? You hang out with the girls. There are worse existences for a sixth-grade boy.
Handwriting class with Christ is not like class with Sister Karen. It’s not laboring away with someone watching over your shoulder. It’s not going through the motions again and again hoping for praise. No, handwriting class with Christ is like your early years, when you loved to learn new letters and drew them for fun, carefully watching your parents and imitating them, delighting in your efforts, and confident that they delighted in you. Messing up wasn’t a reason to quit; it was simply reason to grab a new sheet and start over. Handwriting class with Christ is a joy because it is with Christ and for Christ. This handwriting class gives peace even in suffering and hope even in trials, because you know where you stand with your Father and you know the result of his plans.
With such a Father, straying could always find a home.
When he was dying, Fyodor Dostoevsky supposedly asked his wife to light a candle and give him the gospel. She gave him his New Testament, which had been with him throughout his life, including Siberian prison. He called over his children and told them to read the parable of the prodigal son. He told them never to forget that story. He loved them, but could never love him as much as that Father did. He told them no matter what they ever did, no matter how bad it might be, they could always return to this Father, just as he had. There was no room for despair with such a Father. With such a Father, straying could always find a home.
You have the same Father. And that Father gave his Son to make you his child. He gave his Son to be your Shepherd and your Lamb. No, you cannot perfectly live like him, but you can die and live in him with his righteousness now your own.
There was a time for Christ to keep silent, as he bore our stripes, as he received wounds that would become our refuge, but that time has passed. He’s silent no more. Now is the time to hear him. Hear your Shepherd’s voice through his called servants, through his Christians, through me. Have you strayed? All the better. Those are the sheep for whom he calls. Hear him. Hear him and die, and then live.
Christ is your Shepherd, and Christ is your Lamb, and he is all this for you, no matter what. Amen.
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