4th Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 790, 763, In Christ Alone
Text – 1 Peter 2:19
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
In the history of Christianity there have been quite a few church leaders, professors & pastors who have pointed to Jesus as the ultimate example of how His followers are to live. In general, their suggestions usually revolve around doing some type of good deeds & avoiding whatever they define as evil deeds. It’s a practical & understandable teaching.
So back in the 1990’s, the initials WWJD were quite the rage in the United States. They stand for, “What Would Jesus Do?” The bracelets with the initials burst upon the scene & were showing up everywhere. Whenever you came upon a difficult decision to make, the bracelet was meant to remind you to think, “What would Jesus do?”
It was simple yet profound; the dream of any marketing guru. However, the phrase did not originate in the 1990’s. It 1st became well-known a hundred years earlier. In 1896, a man named Charles Sheldon wrote a book about following Jesus. He titled it, “In His Steps” with the subtitle “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s turned out to be one of the top 50 bestselling novels ever.
A lot of people are interested in hearing about what Jesus would do. That He could be an example to us is appealing to followers of many different religions, even those that are not Christian. People appreciate thinking of Jesus in terms of an example. By nature, we love to think that, with a little help anyway, we truly can do what Jesus would do.
Yet, the Son of God, who is also fully a human being, is vastly more complicated than any marketing slogan is able to convey. Boiling down Jesus’ entire incarnation, life, suffering, death & resurrection into What Would Jesus Do, & how that can help me walk in His steps, cannot help but fail. The problem lies, not with the slogan, but with our sinful nature. The work of God can never be boiled down to effective marketing slogans. The nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming sinners into saints can be comprehended only by God Himself. Seeking guidance from God is a good practice, but if asking “What Would Jesus Do?” gives the impression that I am capable of doing that – then I am lost.
That’s the point the Holy Spirit is making as He guides John to record what was said to the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” (John 9:41 NLT) The danger with a slogan like “What Would Jesus Do?” is that we will remain guilty if we end up thinking we can do what Jesus would do
It’s a very easy trap to fall into, all the while thinking you are being a Christian. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had fallen into that trap & been there for over a hundred years. They thought they were doing all the things that were good, & were avoiding all the things that were evil. That kind of self-righteous attitude is a difficult one to break.
Sorrow tends to break of us of that mindset, or even prevents us from getting there in the 1st place. Yet, the main character in Fiddler on the Roof asks God in one of his songs, “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?” Jesus effectively answers him with these words in the Gospel of Matthew:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!” (19:24 NASB)
The apostle Peter is fleshing out that teaching when he writes, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (2:19 ESV) It also dovetails nicely with what the book of Hebrews tells us:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance & the sin which so easily entangles us, & let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, & has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:1-2 NASB) The idea of endurance shows up twice in that quotation.
For one of the Sundays in our celebration of the Easter season, this text from 1 Peter runs into some conflict with our idea of happiness. Almost all people seem to inherently believe that once they are following Jesus life should be like a walk in a rose garden. Now, that’s our sinful nature talking, just as it was in the Pharisees when they thought they could lives holy lives as only Jesus would do. Christ Himself clearly teaches that if you are going to follow His example in that way, you need to do so perfectly:“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)
That is where we need to be careful with a slogan like What Would Jesus Do. Doing what Jesus would do is entirely impossible when the standard is the absolute perfection of the heavenly Father. You see, the Pharisees didn’t measure themselves against God. They only measured their perfection against other sinful people.
Doing good deeds & avoiding evil ones may sound practical & understandable. The problem with a slogan like What Would Jesus Do is that it dumbs down the life that God calls us to. We see that clearly in the difficulty we have in living according to the text from 1 Peter:
“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly… 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.” (2:19 & 21 ESV) There, the Word of God tells us exactly what Jesus would do & therefore what we should do. Jesus did leave us an example to follow, & that is enduring sorrows while suffering unjustly. Just following a slogan like What Would Jesus Do is not going to empower you to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly. Many of the wealthy lawyers in this country are making their living off of suing people or companies who have treated others unjustly.
God calls us to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly, & He tells us that because it is what Jesus did. God calls us to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly because Jesus left us that example that we might follow in His steps. The heavenly Father also knows that we are incapable of doing it. That’s why Jesus took our place.
When people have a problem with Jesus it always boils down to this, we want credit for doing things ourselves. That Jesus has to do it for us crushes our pride & self-righteousness. We know from experience that arrogance is a tough nut to crack. The complete opposite of that is when we are willing to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly.
Jesus is the greatest example of that, but there are others, like Abel who was murdered by his brother because Abel gave an offering to God out of love for God. Stephen was murdered because he was preaching the good news concerning Jesus Christ. Parents suffer the wrath of their children unjustly on many occasions when they discipline them out of love.
The arrogance of such children is highlighted against the humility of Jesus as He hangs on the cross enduring sorrows. There, Jesus is obeying His Father by suffering & dying for our sin. In this season of global pandemic, Peter’s letter is especially potent as he writes to sustain the hope born of Christ’s resurrection in believers whose lives were marked by suffering.
Yes, Jesus suffered & died a brutal death, but He did that for the joy set before Him. That joy is His resurrection & life eternal in heaven with all who believe that Jesus did everything necessary to gain their entrance into heaven. Jesus knows what our suffering entails & has promised to be with us, even in that, through the end of this age. Claiming to know the things of God through the use of a slogan is to shrink God down to what little a slogan is able to convey. Jesus calls us to a much greater existence than a four word slogan, but it will not be easy, & it will not be a rose garden.
To the credit of those who popularized the slogan WWJD, they later came up with the follow on – FROG = Fully Rely On God. That is what our heavenly Father calls us to. Just trust & believe in His wisdom, His power, His love. Then, out of that, like Abel, we will do what God has prepared in advance for us to do, simply because of our love for Him.
For a Sunday in the season of Easter, this is not a very happy text. It calls us to something that every human being instinctively fears & that is suffering. Even worse than that, Peter calls us to suffering unjustly. Of course, Jesus’ entire life was about that. Just being born as a human creature was suffering for Him, even if He had had the perfect life.
What fundamentally & truly matters about me is not what I do, but what has been done for me. When I trust & believe in that, then I can live freely for my Creator & Savior. Yes, in this life, sin will still affect me. Things like the corona virus might even kill me, but if I belong to Jesus there is nothing I can lose that is of eternal value.
Suffering here on earth can never take haven away from me, & God promises that He will use even our sufferings to shape & mold us into the image of His perfect Son. Amen.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows, like sea billows, roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, through trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate & hath shed His own blood for my soul. And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trumpet shall sound & the Lord shall descend; even so it is well with my soul. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet