In His Steps

Published: Monday, 08 May 2017

070517 In His Steps GPThis sermon, in the series in 1 Peter, was presented at the Ashburton Baptist Church on 7 May 2017 by Geoff Pound. This sermon manuscript is followed by some questions for personal/group study and discussion. The footnotes contain extra information to aid study.

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 2: 11 - 25

On our first visit to the United States of America we got off the plane at Los Angeles and we entered the airport building. Approaching customs and immigration we had a choice of two lanes:

The first lane had the sign, ‘US Citizens’ and the other lane was marked, ‘Aliens’.

We knew we weren’t US citizens but we riled and rankled at the thought of being considered ‘aliens’. The unpalatable thought of being viewed as strange, foreign and outsiders.

When Peter writes his letter to these scattered Christians he calls them ‘aliens’ and ‘exiles’[1] for that is how they were regarded—outsiders without the rights of citizenship, people pushed to the edge of society and believers often maligned (v12) because of their faith.[2] His letter offers instruction on how to live on the margins.

Organizations often are very quick to identify those who are part of the in-group and those who are on the outer. Sometimes this is does intentionally, other times it’s done inadvertently but if you’re on the outside you see it and you feel it.

When I visited the Rotary Club to speak on one occasion they wrote my name on the big round name badge and it said: ‘Geoff Pound, Non-Rotarian’. In other words, ‘Welcome but you’re not one of us!’ I felt like turning around and heading for the exit.

Peter’s recognition of his readers as ‘aliens’ and ‘exiles’ conveys to them the reassurance that, however others regarded them, God knows their status, God knows their standing, God knows the suffering they face when they’re maligned unjustly.

It’s a wonderful thing to know of God’s love and acceptance when, in our family, or in our work situation or even in the church, we are feeling on the margins. This is a difficult place yet it challenges and strengthens us and it just may be the place we’ve all got to get used to, if we’re followers of the one who was despised and rejected.

So how are these people to live as outsiders?

Throughout this letter there is the call to submission—submission to civic authorities, submission by wives to husbands and submission by slaves to their masters, without one word that rails against the practice of slavery.

Aren’t we supposed to subvert injustice rather than submit to it? It raises the question of how are we to interpret this letter that was written from Rome[3] in the first century to believers in a totalitarian state in what is modern day Turkey. How do we translate this letter into 21st century Australian life?

The early church saw no inherent evil in slavery. Furthermore, Peter knew that if these outsiders were to put their heads up and rage against the Roman Empire, their heads would be lopped off. It is like that in many countries for Christians today and people of other faiths. It was a different situation in ancient Israel when the Hebrew prophets spoke out prophetically and forcefully against the leaders and the powerful. It’s a different situation for us when we’re citizens living in a country with the freedom to speak out. Peter’s main approach is in verse 12:

12 Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

Conduct yourselves in a spirit of honor and respect.[4] ‘Conduct’ is a favorite word of Peter’s. Even if we live in a society with the freedom to speak out, the conduct of our lives is foundational. As the title of a book declares: Let Your Life Speak.[5]

The purpose of such silent conduct is that it might be eloquent, that our non-retaliation might surprise, that our distinctive life might silence the critics (v15) and that it might point people positively to the God who we worship.

The theologian, Marcus Borg, writes about a plane trip, when the woman sitting next to him asks about his occupation and then replies, “I’m much more interested in Buddhism and Sufism than I am in Christianity.”[6]

When Borg asked why, she said, “Because they’re about a way of life, and Christianity is all about believing.” She continued: “I don’t think beliefs matter nearly as much as having a spiritual path and following a way.”

Borg understood her comment, even as he silently disagreed with part of it. Because Christianity is about a way of life. At the centre of Jesus’ own teaching is the notion of a “way”. The first name of the early Christian movement was “the Way”. Yet this woman’s statement reflects the most common understanding of the word “faith”: that faith means holding a set of “beliefs,” subscribing to certain doctrines and committing to the creed.

There’s a church in Millgrove in the Yarra Valley. The noticeboard outside reads: “Pre-Millennial, Calvinist, Non-Charismatic”, and then it says ‘Everyone Welcome’. Meaning, you are welcome so long as you can understand and give assent to these theological doctrines.

Christian faith does have an element of learning and loyalty to truths but it’s so much more than a head matter. It is also a heart matter, a matter of the will. It’s a lifestyle matter.

This is so apparent when Peter writes in v21:

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

In his steps. Yes, the Christian life is a walk. It is a way. One step after another.

Decades ago, the pastor Charles Sheldon had a sermon series, in which each Sunday he told a new story about a different person who took seriously the question: ‘What would Jesus do?’.

One week he spoke about the editor of the newspaper asking the question about his job, “What would Jesus do?” Then he told about a railway worker who, in asking this question, is led to start a discussion group with his fellow workers.

These popular sermons were collected up in a book entitled, ‘In His Steps’.[7] It became a best seller. I wonder if you’ve read it?

To ask ourselves, ‘What would Jesus do?’ may not give us the specific answer to our very modern questions but it might get us reflecting on the life of Jesus, as Peter is encouraging.

It might get us to think of the events, the teaching of Jesus and the qualities of Jesus’ life. For instance, when studying the experience of Jesus to learn how best to be a leader, Lauri Beth Jones noted these things about Jesus[8]:

He had a clear vision of himself, and became what he said he was.

He stuck to his mission.

He believed in himself.

He guarded his energy.

He did the difficult things.

He said "Thank You."

He was constantly in a state of celebration.

He did not waste his time judging others.

He did not despise the little things.

He took action.

He had a plan.

He formed a team.

He was bold.

He took the long view.

He took one step at a time.

He served only the best wine.

He trained his replacements.

He came to be a blessing.

He gave them a vision of something larger than themselves.

He was open to people and their ideas.

He empowered women.

He believed in them.

He forgave people.

He treated them as equals.

He trained them.

He spent lots of time with them.

He prayed for them.

He acknowledged them in public and in private.

He looked out for the little guys.

He had compassion for the crowds.

He loved them.

He gave them authority.

He loved them to the end.

He knew that nobody wins until we all do.

Try it out for yourself.[9] Ask the question in the situations we face this week, “What would Jesus do?” Study the example of Jesus and see how his life might shape our behaviour.[10]

Having just come through Holy Week and Easter we will know that if we follow Christ in his steps we’ll encounter lots of suffering for doing what is right. Peter highlights the blessing of such suffering in a similar way to Christ’s final beatitude:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5: 10, 12.

Instead of picking verses about Jesus chasing out the money changers from the temple or Jesus denouncing of the corrupt religious leaders like….

33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:29)…

…instead Peter selects passages from Isaiah to show Jesus as the submissive servant:

22 “He committed no sin,    

and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (Is. 53: 9)

23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; (Is. 53: 7)

when he suffered, he did not threaten;

but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

In order to highlight the fact that Jesus’s suffering was more than an example to emulate, Peter picks up on the other benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection:

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,[11] (Is. 53:4) so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.[12] 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Here Peter stockpiles facets of the wonder and the mystery of Christ’s death:

Christ the sin bearer,

Christ the liberator,

Christ the healer,

Christ the shepherd,

Christ the guardian of our souls.

In golf, there is a rule which says: ‘Play it where it lies’.[13] This means you may come to play the ball and find that it is not sitting pretty. It might be resting very near the fence. It might be stuck in the rough. It might be sitting in a spike mark on the green or there is a sprinkler head between your ball and the hole.

It’s tough but you can’t shift it! You can’t improve its position. You have to ‘play it where it lies’.

We are talking today about believers who are doing it tough. People positioned in the rough. People who are suffering. While this Scripture doesn’t take away our hardship, the acknowledgement of the pain as ‘strangers’ and ‘exiles’ is liberating. The benefits of honorable conduct provide a way forward. The reminder of the suffering of Jesus puts us in a select company. The example of Jesus shows us clearly the way to go, the life to live.

Questions for Personal and Group Discussion

1.

Reflect on what it means to be ‘aliens’ and ‘exiles’ (v11)

Share an experience (in your work situation, family or church) when you have been made to feel an outsider.

What Scriptural perspectives give us resources to live with poise on the margins?

2.

Discuss the meaning and the wisdom in the injunction to ‘conduct yourselves honorably’ for the first readers of this letter in modern day Turkey and for believers in 21st century Australia.

How do you respond (positively and negatively) to the passenger who said to Marcus Borg, “Because they [Buddhism and Sufism] are about a way of life, and Christianity is all about believing… I don’t think beliefs matter nearly as much as having a spiritual path and following a way.”

4.

How might we respond positively and practically to emulate the example of Jesus and ‘follow in his steps’? (v21)

What are the drawbacks and the benefits of asking the question: “What would Jesus do?”

 

[1] The word translated ‘exiles’ is paroikos meaning ‘living outside the house’.

[2] An old proverb quoted in Northern African says: “If there’s no sin, tax it on the Christians.” This is attributed to Augustine.

[3] See 1 Peter 5:13, ‘Babylon’ is the cryptic name for Rome (Rev 17: 1).

[4] ‘Conduct’ is a favourite word of Peter. It is used many times in 1 Peter viz. 1:15, 2:12, 3:1, 2, 16.

[5] This is the title of a book by Parker Palmer, ‘Let Your Life Speak’, Amazon.

[6] Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (Kindle Locations 452-454). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[7] Charles Monroe Sheldon, In His Steps, Amazon.

[8] Laurie Beth Jones, Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, Amazon, 1996.

[9] Another notable example of this is found in The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.

[10] The word for example, in this case is the Greek, hupogrammon, a written document that a teacher will assign a student to copy as an exercise in learning how to read and write.  The word denotes “a model to be copied by the novice. The term, literally an "underwriting," could refer to a writing or drawing which was placed under another sheet to be retraced on the upper sheet by the pupil. More probably the reference is to the "copy-head" which the teacher placed at the top of the page, to be reproduced by the student.” The idea is that the student will copy exactly what they see, imitating the original a suitable number of times so that the student will learn to write clearly without it. In D Edmond Hiebert, Selected studies from 1 Peter: pt 1, Following Christ's example: an exposition of 1 Peter 2:21-25. Bibliotheca sacra, 139 no 553 Jan - Mar 1982, p 35.

[11] An alternate translation is ‘bore our sins in his body on the tree’. Deut. 21: 22f indicates that anyone hung on a tree is accursed by God. In Acts 5: 27-32 Peter preaches about the tree and the One who offers forgiveness.

[12] This is the only New Testament reference to the wounds of Christ. It recalls Isaiah’s song to the suffering servant: “He was wounded for our transgressions.” (Is. 53:5)

[13] Rules of Golf, Golf Australia.