It was the morning of the 5th June, the year was 1989. Jeff Widerner, a photographer with the associated press, was sat on the balcony of his Beijing Hotel documenting the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The pro-democracy protests had been steadily building since the 15th April and reached a violent peak when the Chinese army was sent into the end the protest by any means necessary. It was as Jeff sat there snapping shots of the fallout, that he capture the shot of a lifetime. A man ran out in front of a column of tanks a refused to move.
Not only did the man survive. His image, known only as “Tank Man” still inspires political activities and grassroots movements today, nearly thirty years on. This nameless individual has become a global symbol of an ordinary citizen standing up to the might of a totalitarian regime.
It seems to me that Peter understands the power of inspirational imagery too.
He knew that when crunch time came, we’d need more than commands and rules to willingly endure suffering in pursuit of the good life described in 1 Peter 2:11-12. We’d need someone to look to for inspiration and encouragement. But before he paints us an inspirational picture of Jesus suffering in 1 Peter 3:22-24, he first wants us to understand why are to suffer in Jesus footsteps (1 Peter 3:21, 25).
Tracing Jesus’ Outline (v21)
In v21 we see that Jesus is our example to imitate. He says:
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 3:21)
Jesus is THE suffering servant, and we are too are follow in his example as servants who suffer. Peters idea of an ‘example to follow’ carries with it the image of a child learning their letters by tracing them over and over again.
Peter wants us to see that Jesus sufferings are an example of how to endure unjust suffering ourselves. A pattern to conform ourselves to over and over again, just a like a child copying out their letters until each one is perfect.
Under Jesus’ Protection (v25)
Peter also wants us to know that Jesus can be trusted. Which is why he reminds us that Jesus as our divine protector.
“For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 3:25)
Drawing on Isaiah 53:6, the first part of the verse describes what we were like, past tense. We like sheep each wondering of on our own sinful and rebellious paths. But now we have come under the care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
And whilst we might suffer a little while in this life, Jesus, our good Shepherd will care for us and protect us from eternal harm every step of the way. So Peter tells us to imitate Jesus because he is both our pattern and our protector.
Inspirational Snapshots of Suffering (1 Peter 3:22-24)
But it is in the middle verses, v22-24, where he paints the provocate picture to stir us up and move us to action. Peter gives us three snapshots of Jesus sufferings leading up to the cross which show us how to pursue the good life in times of opposition.
These snapshots help us see that:
- We suffer for what is right (1 Peter 3:22)
- We suffer with our eyes on the resurrection (1 Peter 3:23)
- We suffer for a reason (1 Peter 3:24)
Let’s walk through them briefly.
1. Firstly, We suffer for what is right (1 Peter 3:22).
Peter says that Jesus suffered under the might of sinful authorities even though “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” In other words, Jesus suffered as an innocent man. By reminding us that Jesus suffered even though he was totally sinless in word and action, Peter wants to ensure that if we are going to endure suffering in public or the workplace. That, like Jesus, we are doing so as those who endure with a clear conscience. Following in Jesus footsteps by suffering for what is right.
2. We suffer with our eyes on the resurrection (1 Peter 3:23)
Alluding to Isaiah 53:7, Peter remind us that though Jesus was falsely arrested, falsely accused, falsely tried, mocked, beaten, and left to die he did not lash out at his abusers… neither physically nor verbal. Instead, Peter says that Jesus “he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Jesus knew that his vindication wouldn’t be in a legal status or defense, but in his resurrection from the dead and so he placed his hope in his Father’s hands. This is not to say that we should stoically endure injustice even if their opportunities to put it right.
On several occasions, in the Book of Acts, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship to avoid or escape state-sponsored persecution. But it does remind us that our ultimate hope for justice is not in this life but the next. And when we refuse to return violence for violence and insult for insult, we display a christlike hope in a final and future justice in a perfect eternal courtroom. God’s courtroom.
3. We suffer for a reason (1 Peter 3:24)
Here Peter writes that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Jesus suffering and death might have been an earth-shattering injustice but it was also God’s plan. His suffering had meaning, it was for a reason: Jesus endured the injustice of the cross so that through His death we might die to the sinful desire of our old life so that through the power of his resurrection we would live for righteousness.
Now when Peter uses the word ‘righteousness’ here, he is not saying that we live God’s way to becoming right with him. No, praise God, that’s already happened through Jesus finished work on the cross. Praise God! Instead, Peter is saying because we are right with God through Christ, we are to do what considers right in response.
Amazingly, Peter is saying, that like Jesus, our unjust suffering has meaning and purpose too! In God’s mysterious and loving plan, even persecution and opposition have become part of the good life he has for us, his dearly loved children. It has become a way to conform our character to the pattern of his son. To make us more like Jesus.
An Image to Inspire
When we’re sharing the gospel and they don’t seem interested, who do we look to? When we’re insulted, mocked, or ignored, who do we look to? When we’re misrepresented in the news or on social media, who will we look to? When our children try to hold to biblical values and a Christ-centered gospel in school, among their friends, and, eventually, at work or university, who will they look to?
The image of one man standing up to the mechanized might of communist China was enough to inspire countless men and women to stand up and be counted. In the same way, what better image to inspire a generation of Christian’s to prayerfully resolve to stand up and be counted than the image of our Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ.
So the next time, we’re sharing the gospel and they don’t seem interested, we look to Jesus. When we’re insulted, mocked, or ignored, we looked to Jesus. When we’re misrepresented in the news or on social media, we look to Jesus. When our children try to hold to biblical values and Christ-centered gospel in school, among their friends, and, eventually, at work or university, like Peter, we encourage them to look to Jesus.
Whatever you’re facing today; keep looking to Jesus.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)