1 Peter 2:19-25
April 28, 1999
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
It’s a curious sort of position we’re in. Today we celebrate Jesus, the Good Shepherd – gentle, patient, long-suffering, never trying to get even. The one who told us to turn the other cheek.
Yet, as a nation we celebrate Anzac Day. An inglorious, though honourable, defeat. Simpson and his donkey. Yet at the same time we’re celebrate inflicting suffering on others, getting even and giving as good as we get; winning by giving even better than we get.
What are we idealists – ready to accept suffering and not get even? Or are we realists – rejecting suffering by every means at our disposal and making sure no-one rubs our noses in the dirt?
It’s a problem. It’s always been a problem. It was a problem in the early Church and among the gospel writers. That’s why – when you proof-text – you can justify pacifism or a just war.
John reports this about Jesus in his last week: “..he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” A man capable of righteous anger.
In Mark Jesus expresses great admiration for a Roman Centurion: “[Jesus] was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’.”
In Matthew we read these words of Jesus: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
In speaking of the difficulties about to face his followers, Jesus says: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.“
Paul uses military imagery: “Put on the full armor of God.” “Fight the good fight of the faith.”
And much quoted on a day such as this are these words of Jesus: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
In the light of such proof-texts and the whole stance of the Old Testament, Christians through the ages have engaged in “just” warfare. Generally that has meant taking up arms against an aggressor. Sometimes it has meant taking the initiative on the basis that the other side has been unjust and aggressive in its financial or other dealings with “our” friends.
After all, isn’t that what life’s about? Don’t we have the right to defend what’s ours?
Yet the New Testament rings with a different note.
The first words announcing Jesus’ birth Joseph are these: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to [those] on whom his favor rests.”
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount we hear: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
In his farewell talk with his disciples Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you [what] the world gives [you].”
Paul, in urging the Ephesians to “put on the full armor of God,” writes: “ Stand firm then,.. with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”
Peace is a theme of the gospel. So is love. So is forgiveness. So is reconciliation. So is the way of the cross.
And that’s what the passage in 1 Peter is all about:
“For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 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. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
That shouldn’t surprise you. It’s a consistent message of the New Testament. What should surprise you is that you’re not as conscious of this “way of the cross” and the requirement to follow it, as you should be.
Listen to this:
“You have been given the privilege of serving Christ, not only of believing in him, but also by suffering for him.”
“Consider yourself fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way: when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to persevere. Though unfailing perseverance you will become fully developed, complete, lacking nothing.
The early Church took that seriously. They faced persecution and death – and many died for their faith. They were pacifists and refused military service. Things changed when Christians gained political power and faced “reality.” They raise armies. They fought wars.
So how are we to understand all this? Must we be idealists as followers of Jesus? Can we be realists and still be true to the way of the cross?
The answer isn’t easy. It concerns the basis of how we live as Christians. The clearest clue we have to this is found in the way Paul deals with the Christian life:
“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers [and sisters], as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the Plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
Followers of Jesus are meant to be different. We’re meant to break free from the confining and conforming mould of the world. It’s a mould we must break. We must be as different as Paul and Silas were when they arrived in Thessalonica: it was said of them, “These men who have turned the world upside-down have now come here.”
We’re a people who are to live a new quality of love, share a new way of joy, live together in a new fellowship of peace. That’s the Christian way. That’s the way of the cross.
But Jesus was as a realist. He knew where his way would end. He warned those who followed him that there would be consequences. He knew that the world has never taken kindly to those who are different. It’s not only Australia that has a tall-poppy syndrome. The Christian difference offends the worldly-wise everywhere. The difference isn’t strident and carping, but persistent and insistent in its gentle strength. And it offends for that reason.
Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King. Desmond Tutu. The world admires saints at a distance – but can’t stomach them close-up. Holiness. Saintliness. Living by the standards of the Sermon on the Mount. The world may say that it admires such values, but it wants as little as possible of idealism.
If you want to see what the world would rather bless – our indecencies, our perversions, our lies – look at what the media demands you pay attention to.
Tolerance of evil is sanctified. Permissiveness is declared good. Those who question vice by their virtue are branded intolerant. Those who raise questions about ultimate values are labelled killjoys, goody-goodies, wowsers. They are condemned as embarrassing do-gooders. They are brushed aside and disposed of as irrelevancies.
Is that how it is with you? Is that how the world treats you?
Don’t be surprised if it does. You’ve been warned. You’ve also been told that it’s not only to your credit ,but just how fortunate you are! Those who suffer because they’re doing what God requires – the Kingdom of God belongs to them! Those who suffer for doing what is right – a great reward awaits them in heaven!
Wonder, instead, if the world merely ignores you. Ask yourself, “Have I broken free from the mould into which the world would squeeze me?” Question yourself: “Has my life anything of the Christian difference?” “Am I one of those people turning the world upside-down?”
If you find yourself answering yes, ask yourself, “Have I really allowed the Holy Spirit free reign in my life? Have I really given God the chance to transform me through and through? Have I really opted for the difference known only to those who love Jesus?”
“Jesus, make me different. Make me lovingly different. Make me joyfully different. Make me peacefully different. Fill me with faith and hope and love. And let the world do its worst. How fortunate I will be! Amen!”
. John 2:15. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Luke 7:9. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Matthew 10:34. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Luke 22: 36. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Ephesians 6: 11. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. 1 Timothy 6:12. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. John 15:13. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Luke 2:14. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Matthew 5:9. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. John 14:27. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Ephesians 6:15. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. 1 Peter 2: 20-21. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
. Philippians 1:29.
. James 1: 2-4.
. Romans 12: 1-2. Letters to Young Churches. A translation of the New Testament Epistles by J.B. Phillips, (London: Geoffrey Bles) 1955.
. Acts 17:6b.
. Matthew 5: 10.
. Matthew 5:11.