Suffering Slaves and the Suffering Servant

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“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 1:21–25 (ESV)

Peter calls on slaves to suffer for doing good, motivated by the exemplary and empowering suffering of Christ. As you read 1 Peter 2:21-25, it is clear that Peter is drawing from the most familiar passage in the Old Testament concerning the sufferings of Christ, Isaiah 53. When you read Isaiah 53, you must begin with Isaiah 52:13 where the one suffering is addressed by God as “my servant.” Peter then is telling slaves that they were called to suffering because of the suffering of the servant of Yahweh. Further, the letter makes it clear that this is not just the calling of these saints because they are slaves, but of these slaves because they are saints.

Jesus’ suffering stands underneath our suffering in two ways: it is exemplary and empowering. This isn’t multiple choice. This is all of the above. But one of the answers is foundational, standing underneath the other. If Jesus’ life is only an example, it is a crushing one, for none of us measure up. Worse, if Jesus’ death is only an example, then it is one of insanity. Tim Keller illustrates:

“Imagine that you are walking along a river with a friend, and your friend suddenly says to you, ‘I want to show you how much I love you!’ and with that he throws himself into the river and drowns. Would you say in response, ‘How he loved me!’ No, of course not. You’d wonder about your friend’s mental state. But what if you were walking along a river with a friend and you fell into the river by accident, and you can’t swim. What if he dived in after you and pushed you to safety but was himself drawn under by the current and drowned. Then you would respond, ‘Behold, how he loved me!’ The example of Jesus is a bad example if it is only an example. If there was no peril to save us from—if we were not lost apart from the ransom of his death—then the model of his sacrificial love is not moving and life-changing; it is crazy. Unless Jesus died as our substitute, he can’t die as a moving example of sacrificial love.”

Jesus’ death was not a meaningless suicide. Jesus death is more than a sign telling us to go this way. It is gas burning in our tanks.

You can only follow Jesus because of how you cannot follow Jesus. The empowering aspect of Jesus’ death stands under the exemplary aspect of His death. As James and John learned, there is a way that we can drink from the cup of Christ’s sufferings, and there is a way that we cannot—that we dare not.

When Jesus died on the cross, He did so as our substitute, accomplishing what we could not. He bore our sins, cursed of God in our place on the tree (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). His death not only delivered us from the guilt of sin but also from the bondage of sin. Our sins were born by Christ, so that, in union with Him, we might die to sin and live to righteousness (Romans 6:4–7). When one suffers for righteousness’ sake, living honorably, and then endures that suffering not reviling but trusting God, all this righteousness is empowered by Christ’s substitutionary wrath-bearing suffering in our place.

It is only because of how you cannot follow Jesus, that you can follow Jesus. Christus exemplar flows out of penal substitutionary atonement. Because Jesus suffered in a way we can’t, we can suffer like Him. And if we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17).

The Apologist: Penal Substitutionary Atonement

If we forget the absolute uniqueness of Christ’s death, we are in heresy. As soon as we set aside or minimize, as soon as we cut down in any way (as the liberals of all kinds do in their theology) the uniqueness and substitutionary character of Christ’s death, our teaching is no longer Christian. —Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

God in the Dock (Exodus 17:1–7)

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quiet a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the God who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.” —C.S. Lewis

Three times Yahweh has tested Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 15:25–26; 16:4; Psalm 81:7). When you take a test three times, you hope to see some progress. Israel scores worse. Discontent to merely grumble, she quarrels and tests. God is testing her, and she tries to flip the tables. She tries to put God in the dock.

The word “test” has a legal flavor to it, a flavor that grows more pronounced as one advances through the text. God tells Moses to go ahead of the people with the elders. Why the elders?

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear (Deuteronomy 21:18–21 ESV).”

The elders function as judges and witnesses. A rebellious son is brought before the elders, seen guilty, and then judged. Israel tried to judge God and was on the cusp of sentencing. Of course she couldn’t kill God, so the mediator would have to do (Exodus 17:4). God takes His rebellious son out before the elders. He instructs Moses to bring the staff with which he struck the Nile. Every time this staff falls, it falls with salvation and judgment. Previously, Egypt was judged; Israel was saved. Here Israel is the guilty one. Israel is guilty, but she isn’t struck. The rock is struck so that she might drink. Paul tells us that this rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

God is indeed in the dock, but He remains on the Judge’s bench as well. The Father still sat over the court judging our sins, but the Son willingly takes our place so that water might flow.

The Blood Can’t be Drained Away, but It Can Be Applied (Exodus 12:1–28)

The Passover is a sacrifice-feast. No one would contend that it’s not a feast. Besides the eating, it’s explicitly called a feast twice in Exodus 12:14. Thus, no one contends that the Passover isn’t a feast, but some do want to say that it’s not a sacrifice. While no one could argue that Passover isn’t a feast, no one should argue that it’s not a sacrifice. The feast looses it’s significance if it isn’t a sacrifice-feast. Blood isn’t just drained so as to prepare a meal to eat. It is smeared and applied. The blood is a sign. Further, the Passover is explicitly called a feast in Exodus 12:27.

You can be certain that those who toy with the shadow do so because they hate the One who casts it. Academics and theologians revise the historical Passover because they hate the Passover Lamb who fulfilled it. They might say they like Jesus, but they’ve revised Him too. Why do they exert such mental muscle to cook up a Passover that’s nothing more than a commemorative meal celebrating deliverance? Not because they hate the idea of Passover as sacrifice, but because they hate the idea of the cross as sacrifice.

In 1993 at a “Protestant” conference one speaker said, “I don’t think we need a theology of atonement at all; I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.” Others say penal substitutionary atonement is “a form of cosmic child abuse.” Drain the blood, on the with the feast.

R.C. Sproul was once invited by a Quaker community to lecture on the relation of the Old and New Covenants. As he was unfolding the curse motif of the Scriptures and spoke of how Christ, as a substitutionary sacrifice bore the curse, someone in the back of the room yelled, “That’s primitive and obscene.” Stunned he asked, “What did you say?” With great hostility he repeated, “That’s primitive and obscene.” Sproul recollects, “At that point, I had recovered from my surprise, and I told the man I actually liked his choice of adjectives. It is primitive for a blood sacrifice to be made to satisfy the justice of a transcendent and holy God, but sin is a primitive thing that is basic to our human existence, so God chose to communicate His love, mercy, and redemption to us through this primitive work. And the cross is an obscenity, because all of the corporate sin of God’s people was laid on Christ. The cross was the ugliest, most obscene thing in the history of the world. So I thanked the man for his observation. But my point is that the man was extremely hostile to the whole idea of the atonement.”

Why do men hate it so? It isn’t because of refined and enlightened tastes. This isn’t like those who lash out against blood and gore in film and video games. The same chap who loves those games can hate the idea of the cross as sacrifice. Why do they hate it so? Because the Passover as sacrifice, pointing to the cross, undermines all human pride and gives all glory to Christ.

Damnation Taken Lovingly (Matthew 27:45-61)

Suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus was forsaken by both, but it was only once the heaves turned black that He cried out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

What does it mean that Jesus was forsaken? Jesus clues us in when He uses language like “outer darkness,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” To be forsaken means to be cast our from God’s covenant people, to be outside the camp, outside of God’s covenant love, to be thrust out with the Gentiles, to be in darkness. It is to be cursed by God. The Scotch minister, missionary, and professor John Duncan asked his students, “Ay, ay d’ ye know what it was dying on the cross, forsaken by His Father—d’ ye know what it was? What? What? What? It was damnation—and damnation taken lovingly.” What does it mean to be forsaken? To put it as bluntly and shockingly as I can conceive, for it is shocking, awesome, and wondrous—God damned God. “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10).” R.C. Sproul appropriately ponders, “I wonder whether Jesus was even aware of the nails and the thorns?” Speaking of what Jesus began to sense in the garden Tim Keller writes, “He was facing something beyond physical torment, even beyond physical death—something so much worse that these were like flea bites by comparison.”

Jesus always addressed God as Father, save this one instance. He shouted in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that we might shout with awestruck joy, “My Father, My Father, why have you accepted me?” The Son was forsaken that we might be adopted.

Matthew 16:21-28 & Satanic Vandalism

The disciples have received a canvas and they recognize the silhouette. “That’s the king,” they confess. Now Jesus wants to make the silhouette a portrait; He wants to fill in the lines. Peter has received revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, now He is receiving further revelation as to what that means from the Christ. Jesus tells them, “You see a crown, but do you notice its thorns? You see a throne, but do you see that a cross undergirds it?”

Peter is ready to receive the canvas and its silhouette, but he wants to paint a mustache over God’s Mona Lisa. He thinks he can improve upon God’s masterpiece. Peter has the right picture. He has been given a paint by numbers sheet. Number 2 is royal blue, and number 1 is supposed to be blood red. Peter wants to improvise. No longer content to be the disciple he wants to be the rabbi. He decides everything should be royal blue. But Jesus says red is a “must.” The masterpiece of God’s kingdom has a lot of blood red in it, and Jesus tells His disciples that no one else can paint it. He must bleed to paint this glory.

Trying to paint over the cross and keep the Christ is satanic vandalism. In the wilderness Satan tried to offer Jesus the world without the cross. Peter is acting here as Satan’s disciple, not Jesus’. Many have tried to keep the glory without the gory, but the paint won’t stick. Blood red is the primer for Jesus’ work of new creation.

Now let me fill in some lines. Some act like they keep the cross, but they hollow it out, and then cover it with precious metal. No more blood. Many that deny that Jesus was paying the penalty for sins in the place of sinners to reconcile them to God will affirm many other truths about the cross, but the paint wont stick. Deny ransom, deny propitiation, deny substitution, and whatever cross you may embrace, it ain’t Jesus’. The cross is the crux, and the crux of the cross is penal substitutionary atonement. This is crucial to God’s masterpiece.

If a child were to paint over a revered piece of artwork in a museum with their crayons, this is one time when daddy and mommy would’t praise their creativity. When an aspiring adult artist does this, it isn’t ignorant creativity, its damnable vandalism. Don’t expect the Father’s accolades when you try to paint by different numbers. This is an instance where creativity is best termed heresy.