And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
In his letter to those who had been scattered because of persecution, Peter exhorts believers to look to the example of Christ in order to endure their suffering:
“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” (1 Peter 2:21-24).
Two themes are woven together here: the example of Christ’s suffering and the saving purpose of Christ’s suffering. Since Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example, belonging to him means following “in his steps.”
Peter’s elaboration of Jesus’ example clearly identifies him with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, where the Messiah is portrayed not only as one who bears our sin on the cross, but also carries the burden of sin to the cross. Just as the Suffering Servant “surely has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4), Peter knew Jesus as one who grieved over sin and as a man of sorrows. Just as the Suffering Servant was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (53:7), Peter recalls that, “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.”
The example of Christ was to endure accusation and insult without responding in kind. He determined to entrust himself to God, who “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1:17). Thus, Peter’s exhortation is to “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (4:19).
Peter not only saw Jesus as one who fulfilled the actions of the Suffering Servant, but more importantly as the one sent by God to fulfill the purpose of the Suffering Servant. Edmund Clowney draws out both aspects when he writes, “In Isaiah’s songs, the Servant is both identified with the people of God and distinguished from them. He suffers for them, stands in their place, and bears the judgment of their sins.”
In whatever suffering or persecution comes our way, we are to follow in Jesus’ steps: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” This verse underscores the important connection between the example set by Jesus and the means by which we are able to follow his example. We are justified by his suffering, and we are sanctified by ours.
For Peter, Jesus’ sufferings were not merely an example, for apart from the saving purpose of Christ’s suffering, the example is of little value. This is why Peter grounds the imperative in the indicative. We can endure suffering because Jesus suffered for us. We have hope because we have been healed.
That Jesus “committed no sin” and yet was crucified speaks to the injustice of his death, humanly speaking. However, Peter would have remembered that on the day when Jesus the innocent one was sentenced to death by Pilate, Barabbas the insurrectionist was set free. Likewise, because of the cross the guilty are set free because of the “unjust” substitution of Jesus in their place. This is the just justification of God: “the righteous for the unrighteous” (3:18).
How does Jesus’ life challenge you?
How does his death move you?
Blessed Lord Jesus, no human mind could conceive or invent the gospel. Acting in eternal grace, you are both its messenger and its message, lived out on earth through infinite compassion, applying your life to insult, injury, death, that I might be redeemed, ransomed, freed. Blessed be you, O Father, for contriving this way; eternal thanks to you, O Lamb of God, for opening this way, praise everlasting to you, O Holy Spirit, for applying this way to my heart. Glorious Trinity, impress the gospel upon my soul, until its virtue diffuses every faculty; Let it be heard, acknowledged, professed, felt. O unite me to yourself with inseparable bonds, that nothing may ever draw me back from you, my Lord, my Savior.