Click here for the reading: Romans 11:33-36.

Paul bursts into a hymn of praise as he concludes his treatment of election (Ro. 9-11). What prompts his doxology is this mystery, which he sums up in v. 32: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” That God has chosen to have mercy and how his mercy is delivered are beyond human comprehension. It is wisdom that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined (1 Cor. 2:9), but it has been revealed by the Spirit of God to those who believe.

Unfathomable, unsearchable, inscrutable – these absolutes remove every bound from the unapproachable light of divine glory, as Isaiah experienced in the throne-room of God. And yet, in Christ, the outcome of this mystery is made plainly visible. His Spirit, whom he poured out generously on the day of Pentecost and again and again in the washing of regeneration and renewal (Titus 3:5), grants wisdom and understanding, knowledge and the fear of the LORD (Is. 11:2). These are not gifts that enable the Christian to plumb the depths of God. They are gifts that enable the Christian to receive the benefits of a grace that he cannot understand, to rejoice in a salvation that his flesh would reject. Though none has known the mind of the Lord, we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:13).

Paul’s expression of the divine origin and sustenance and goal of everything (v. 36) does not resolve the mystery into the speculations of a philosopher. God is not right under our noses, nor is everything under our noses all that there is. Paul’s outlook is eschatological and this time of wondering about the mystery of the Godhead is provisional. Because the will of God has been revealed in Christ and the personality of God has been made known in the revelation of Father, Son, and Spirit, it does not suffice to know God generically. It does not suffice to bend the knee to an unknown God. The Lord does not desire that we seek him out as though our reason can honor him simply by acknowledging his transcendence. He desires that we look for him where he may be found, that we offer prayers to him in the certainty that he hears them (Ps. 32:6), that our worship of him is not merely the worship of Zeus or Jove, but the worship of Emmanuel.

It is to that God, now made known in the flesh, to whom we ought to give glory forever. His is the only name that can command every knee to bow. It is to him that all authority in heaven and earth belong. And it is his glory that surpasses the glory of kings and nations and powers in the earth. Paul gives voice to the breathless awe that we must experience at the revelation of God’s mercy in Christ crucified for sinners. The resolution to Isaiah’s, “Woe is me!” is found here in Paul’s exclamation: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 6:1-7.

The threefold “Holy” of the seraph in the throne-room of God is our connection to theme of Trinity Sunday. Who is this God that has called a people to be his own? Who is the King above all kings, in whose hands are the deep places of the earth? He is not impersonal, nor is he like the gods of the nations – capricious and capable of wickedness. His holiness is manifest in the unity of three persons in a perfect bond of love.

The grandeur of the sight is such that Isaiah can only describe the smallest detail of it: the train of Lord’s robe filled the temple. Isaiah saw the Lord of hosts, which means that he saw Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, a majesty and glory that leave him undone. The angels are not undone by the presence of God; nevertheless, even they cover their faces and their feet. What hope does a man have, much less a man of unclean lips, in the presence of Almighty God?

In the year that King Uzziah died, this commissioning of a prophet in the presence of God’s throne is poignant given the circumstances of Uzziah’s death (2 Chron. 26). No king of Judah, even though he seeks the Lord, can keep himself clean. Much less can he cleanse the people. The Lord must provide the cleansing himself. That cleansing does not happen merely by means of fire, which would burn but not save. Nor, as our Gospel lesson will reveal, does it happen merely by means of water, which would drown but not save. Rather, the cleansing needed comes by means of a word, which is why a prophet is commissioned in the throne room of God.

The blessings of God are not generic blessings. For Isaiah, who is to serve as God’s mouthpiece to Israel, it is precisely his lips which need cleansing. The burning one purifies his mouth with fire and a word of forgiveness. Now Isaiah can stand without terror in God’s presence, and he can speak with authority to an unclean people. What can lips thus cleansed do besides proclaim the holy and pure Word of God?

What follows in Isaiah is 60 chapters of prophecy that burn hotter than any fire could. It is a word that removes every excuse and warns against all deceit. It does not satisfy itching ears. It shatters the people and is a snare to the proud. But having razed the dull with their heavy ears and their blind eyes, God’s Word sprouts anew in the virgin who shall conceive. The Holy Trinity, in its majesty eternal, stoops to save sinners as the Son of God takes on human flesh and suffers as an obedient servant, as a lamb led to slaughter. That Spirit-breathed Word, the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation for man, reveals the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit, whom we worship and adore.

Click here for the reading: John 14:23-31.

This pericope cuts in the middle of a conversation. Beginning in chapter 13, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. This preparation is necessary because the disciples do not yet understand. As plainly as Jesus has spoken to them, they still cling to his fleshly presence in this moment, just as Israel craved a king like the nations had (1 Sam. 8:5), someone they could look at and touch. Peter plans to follow Jesus wherever he goes (John 13:37) or compel him to remain there with him (Mt. 17:4). Peter, who will deny Jesus at the provocation of a servant girl, must learn that there is something more sure even than his eye-witness experience of Jesus’ majesty (2 Peter 1:16-19). Jesus offers something far better than a warm embrace or the preservation of cozy feelings. He leaves the disciples with his word, brought to remembrance by his very own Spirit, so that his presence with them does not depend on physical proximity alone. Rather, in answer to the question of Judas (not Iscariot, 14:22), he will manifest himself to them by making his home with the one who loves him, keeps his word, and receives the love of the Father.

That helps us to interpret the peace that he promises to leave with his church. It is a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) because it relies on things not seen but believed. The world promises a deceptive peace. It is a temporary and fleeting peace. But it is also a peace that is tangible to our flesh. We can see it and feel it, and the invitation to rest at ease in the pleasures and vanities of this life is alluring. But like the young man who heeds the invitation of Lady Folly, we do not perceive that such peace leads to the grave (Prov. 9:18).

It is precisely that delusion that Jesus has come to dispel. And in its place he has come to deliver something permanent, a peace that does not fade away, and indeed, the peace that he himself enjoys. It is the peace that comes from the good pleasure of the Father (Matthew 3:17), whose Word promises that all who call on his name will be saved. That is a peace that can withstand the troubling of hearts wrought by the temptations of the devil and the trials of this world and even the departure of Jesus himself.

All of those things that trouble hearts are overcome by Jesus in his death and resurrection. The ruler of this world comes for Jesus, but he has no claim on him. By Jesus’ obedience to the Father, he uncovers the lies of the devil and establishes his promises. Here is a faithful one who trusts in God and is not put to shame. Here is a faithful one whose word can endure even through the grave. Here is the one the disciples have believed in, whose peace is greater than they realize and sufficient to dispel the fears they do not yet know they will face. All they must do is keep his word.

Click here for the reading: Acts 2:1-21.

There is enough Scriptural allusion packed into Acts 2 to keep a preacher busy his entire life. Whether this or that connection makes its way into the sermon, a feature of Pentecost not to be missed is the fulfillment of things promised and foretold. With Jesus so recently departed from our midst, we rejoice to hear that the Helper he promised (John 14-16) has indeed arrived. He is a helper who is especially tasked with reminding us of this: “that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

The Gospel, however, is not just for those who were with Jesus from the time of his baptism. It is not just for those who have seen and believed. Luke’s table of nations (cf. Gen. 10) reflects the harvest of the first-fruits that was celebrated on Pentecost (Ex. 34:22). These Jews from every nation were bewildered as they heard the mighty works of God preached in their own language. They believed and repented and 3,000 were baptized (2:41), a plentiful harvest that previews the in-gathering that is yet to come.

The indiscriminate out-pouring of the Spirit as described by Joel is another feature of Pentecost. It unpacks for us the import of the crucifixion. The curtain of the temple was torn in two signifying the access that humanity now has to God in Christ Jesus. But what are the qualifications for entrance into that most holy place? Must you be a priest? A Jew? A man? Pentecost makes clear the absolute and unqualified character of God’s gifts. His Spirit is to be poured out on all flesh, on every class and standing. The gift of the Holy Spirit is for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.

Therein we can see the simplicity of the Church’s mission, for all that is required for the mission to proceed is that that the name of the Lord be proclaimed. That simplicity is, however, met with the mockery of the scoffers. “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Are these apostles also among the prophets? The declaration of God’s mighty works is a stench to those who are perishing, and they write it off as tomfoolery. But for those who are being saved it is the aroma of life even as the Spirit breathes new life into God’s fallen creatures.

The prophecy of Joel puts every sign and season, all the comings and goings of men, and even the activity of the prophets in perspective. As wonderful as may be the display in the heavens and on the earth that accompanies the pouring out of the Spirit, there is yet coming a greater day – the great and magnificent day of the Lord. On that day, the harmless fire of Pentecost will give way to the fire of judgment. The work of the Holy Spirit’s purifying fire will be complete. The nations will stream into the kingdom, nations who heard the voice of Peter on Pentecost, nations to whom the apostles were sent in the early days of the Church, and nations to whom the call still goes out today by the voice of God’s faithful and prophetic people.

Click here for the reading: Genesis 11:1-9.

The splendor of technological achievement makes an almost irresistible argument for faith in humanity. When civilization is at its best, nothing seems impossible, and what once seemed impossible becomes reality without any need for miracles or the divine. But Babel reveals that behind every hope for material progress lies a deeper hope, a spiritual hope – “Let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). This hope reflects an inversion of the created order so recently established in creation and reaffirmed in the promises given to Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3). The LORD is the God who speaks, and by speaking he gives names and makes names great.

At first glance the unity of mankind appears consonant with God’s design for creation, but unity is not a good in itself. Unity that is forged in unrighteousness can only lead to destruction. Any family that is not named from the Father of lights can only otherwise be named from father of lies. Any spirit that is not the Spirit of Christ is the spirit of antichrist. The allure of Babel which persists to this day is the allure of temporal peace and harmony.

Temporal peace and harmony are only good if they are received as gifts from God. One lesson from God’s intervention at Babel is that his fatherly chastening is not reserved for gross wickedness and degeneracy. Here he chastens humanity for its immoderate love of a good thing. Babel displays the answer the to the question: “Why can’t we have nice things?” The corruption of sin finds a way to pervert God’s gifts, so that we are tempted to worship the gift instead of the giver. It is in his mercy that God cuts short human pride and imposes limits so that not everything we propose to do is possible anymore.

The connection of this text to the scene in Acts 2 is the matter of tongues and the table of nations which precedes in Genesis 10. What was confused at Babel is made intelligible at Pentecost. What was dispersed at Babel is brought together at Pentecost. Notice, however, that the Spirit is not merely undoing what was done when God visited the plains of Shinar. The gift of Pentecost is not that once again humanity is brought back to the unity we enjoyed before God mixed us all up. Instead, the Spirit brings a completely different kind of unity at Pentecost. It is a new unity that does not require everyone to speak the same language. Rather, it is the unity that should have been sought by the people of Babel–unity in glorifying God’s name, in receiving from God his name as our own: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Click here for the reading: John 16:16-23.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20)

There are a great many causes of sorrows in the world.  Many are self-inflicted.  Perhaps just as many are brought on by others.  If all could be weighed in the scales it is anyone’s guess as to which side is heavier.  The preacher who reflects on the various causes of grief and sorrow will have a helpful diagnostic in identifying what it is that people fear, love and trust the most.  Pose the question this way: “What are the things that would grieve me if they were taken from me?”  That being said, the sorrow that Jesus speaks of in this Gospel reading is a specific sort of sorrow and grief.  The preacher who narrows the focus from general sadness to the sort Jesus speaks of will amplify the specific joy in the hearts of his hearers.

The cause of the looming sorrow that Jesus spoke of is specified as, “because you will not see me.”  For the original disciples there is no greater sorrow than the impending separation from Jesus.  This is amplified by the fact that the separation he speaks of would’ve seemed to them to be permanent.  There had been periods in His ministry when Christ was not seen by his disciples.  But in just a little while there would be a qualitatively different sort of not seeing Him.  They would not see him because He would be crucified. 

This was no secret from the disciples.  Jesus had often spoken plainly about what was going to happen in Jerusalem.  But the disciples then are similar to disciples now.  Minds are fuzzy.  And hearing about a future event does not always lead to grasping what exactly will be entailed.   It is often mentioned that the situation of the Church, living between ascension and 2nd coming, mirrors that of the disciples between the cross and resurrection.  While there is a similarity there is also a key difference.  Like them we do not now see Jesus.  But unlike that 3 day period we live now in the light of Easter.  In what way does the experience of the Church share in the grief of those disciples?  How is it different? 

But the length of sorrow is limited.  Another promise is quickly given.  Just as they would soon not see him, so also soon they would see him again.  While the words of Jesus may have seemed cloudy to the original audience they are clear as day to those who know the rest of the story.  He is promising resurrection.  The loss of sight in death will be swallowed up by new sight in the resurrection.  And with that great reversal there is a specific cause of joy to overcome the cause of weeping.  The challenge here for the preacher is to both focus the hearer on both the cause of grief and the cause of joy and then to broaden back out.  How does the grief brought about by Christ’s death connect with the other griefs that plague men’s souls?  How does the joy of the risen Lord Jesus expand to us who live 2,000 years later and who do not see Him?

All of this Jesus compares to a woman who has come through the travails of childbirth.  Why is this the proper image for them and for us to understand the resurrection?  It is worth noting the overlap of this comparison between a new birth and Christ’s resurrection with other passages in Scripture.  Elsewhere Jesus is called the firstborn from the dead (Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:18).  He is said to have loosed the birth pains of death (Acts 2:24) by His resurrection.  As the preacher reflects on this image of the Church like a joyful mother and Jesus as the new man born into the world he will find a great bridge of speak of the ongoing joy that this man brings to His mother and to the whole world.

Click here for the reading: 1 Peter 2:11-20.

St. Peter had earlier labelled his recipients, “elect exiles.” (1 Peter 1:1). To that description of Christians as exiles he now adds “sojourners.” (1 Peter 2:11). This connects in perfectly with the context of the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, where the Israelites in exile were given hope. 

Christians are here taught a proper view of their place in this world.  Though they have gone from being “not a people,” to being “God’s people,” there is a rest and homeland that has not yet been reached.  St. Paul’s famous dictum: “your citizenship is in heaven,” finds its complement here.

How then should sojourners and exiles live?  This seems to be the overarching question that the epistle reading for Jubilate Sunday addresses.  The preacher will want to consider the possible dangers that sojourners might encounter on their journey to the world to come.  What are the various things that might hinder the journey?  While the making of a list has value, it is the preacher’s special concern to identify those dangers which are most prevalent in his congregation’s own time and place.

The epistle lumps many things together under the phrase, “passions of the flesh, which wage war against the soul.”  If the preacher is in need of help in compiling his list of such passions he will find more than enough from our Lord’s discussion of what comes out of the heart (Mattthew 15:19) as well as St. Paul’s so-called vice lists (e.g. Galatians 5:19-21).  However, it is worth noting that St. Peter doesn’t enumerate these passions.  He opts instead for brevity and the promotion of what he calls “honorable conduct,” and “doing good.”

One pitfall for sojourners is to ignore the lands they are passing through.  While Christians recognize that this world is passing away and that we are not to become at home in it, Peter’s emphasis is on doing good as we journey through this passing age.  So, he tells Christians to “be subject” to the emperor and his governors.  The rationale that is given is that such authorities exist to punish evil-doers and praise those who do good.  The will of God is summed up as, “doing good,” and this is what is the primary concern for Christians in this world. 

As the preacher considers this he will find a helpful distinction to be made by asking the question, “who determines what good works are?”  Subjecting oneself to the emperor and governor is not synonymous with obedience to every executive order that comes down from on high.  The same apostle Peter famously said to the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). And, according to tradition, he was crucified upside down for running afoul of the authorities.

Just as there is a pitfall in ignoring the world we now live in, so there is a danger for sojourners to becoming totally at home in it.  Especially in a time when governments disregard the life of the soul and are antagonistic towards any suggestions about the life of the world to come Christians should be urged to exercise discernment.  It is not a rebellious spirit that suspects that governing authorities that will not recognize the humanity of unborn babies do not have the best handle on what it means to “do good.”  What is to be done when governments order citizens to “do what we say is good,” if they contradict what God says is good?  If they appeal to “loving your neighbor,” or, “protecting public health,” does that mean they have accurately understood these things?  If it is God’s will that by doing good we put to silence the ignorance of foolish people, might this include the emperor and his governors? 

The epistle reading concludes with a reminder that doing good will not always be met with praise.  While it is God’s will for the civil estate to praise those who do good, it is commonly not the case that this happens.  The kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and against His anointed (Ps. 2:2).  The pages of Scripture, the history of the church, and the preacher’s own experience will provide ample examples of this.  Christians are to look for vindication not from Caesar or his governors but from God, who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23).

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 40:25-31.

“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold the days are coming, when all that is in your house and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon.  Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6)

Isaiah prophesied of the coming Babylonian captivity.  And strangely it seemed to have no effect on Hezekiah.  His response?  “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”  (Isaiah 39:8).  The King could live at ease without a worry of his children’s suffering.

It is those children of Hezekiah, and all who know the pain of exile from our true home, that Isaiah speaks to in chapter 40.  The prophesied exile would come and with it would come weeping and lamentation (see the entire book of Lamentations).  The words of Isaiah from chapter 40 give hope of return to exiles.

The theme of being in exile will return again in the epistle reading for the day.  And the day’s Gospel reading will note grief and sorrow like that which is voiced by Isaiah on behalf of the people of God, “My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God.” (Isaiah 40:27).  It is well worth considering in what way the exile of Israel in the Old Testament compares and contrasts with the experience of the members of the Church in our day.  The preacher will want to ask himself if his hearers feel they are even in exile?  Is our heavenly citizenship valued over and above our earthly home, or vice versa?  Do we have a sense of the alienation from God that our sin has wrought or are we comfortable in it?  Unless that sense is known, the lament of Israel and the return that Isaiah speaks of will ring hollow.

But, where Christians are experiencing the tribulation of living in a spiritual Babylon and amidst an increasingly pagan world, there the prophecy of Isaiah will be received with joy.  The comfort that the Lord gives through Isaiah is not immediately obvious.  What would be most keenly desired is to have a promise of return.  But first, Isaiah reminds the people about who God is, with the implication being that He will surely cause them to return.

This may at first appear to be a subtle distinction, as God’s nature and His works always go together.  But, what is especially clear in the Isaiah reading for the day is that even while waiting for the Lord to work salvation for them, the people of God have strength.  How can this be?

Isaiah focuses on the power of the Lord.  His work in creation in especially highlighted.  The prophet summons the languishing people to look to the stars and see in them the power of the Lord.  The Creator’s power is clearly evident in the night sky and the consistency of the stars and constellations. 

However, this is not the first time that the Lord has pointed His people to the stars.  It was to Abram, awaiting as he was the promise of a son, that the Lord first pointed to the stars and connected His word of promise to their number, saying, “so shall your offspring be.”  When Isaiah points the people of Israel in exile to the stars He is simultaneously reminding them of their father Abraham and the Lord’s promise to him that would not be forgotten.

The Israelites had to wait in exile.  Christians too must wait for deliverance.  But in waiting there is strength.  The supernatural strength of the Lord God is given to His faithful people.  The final verses emphasize this with a dramatic promise.  Youths and young men, those paragons of energy and strength will faint and grow weary, but those who trust in the Lord renew their power.  And even more than that, they will be given the wings of eagles to soar through their challenges. 

As the preacher expounds on these amazing promises he will have a rich storehouse of examples to point to of God’s almighty power and promises for His people of old and new.  Isaiah’s rhetorical questions, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (Isaiah 40:28) would well serve as a way to bring out the great treasures of God’s mighty acts of deliverance old and new.

Click here for the reading: John 10:11-16.

Familiarity breeds contempt.  Such is the saying.  John 10:11-16 may perhaps be the most familiar passage in the Gospels.  And with good reason.  It is likely that the preacher who sets out to preach on these great words of our Lord will soon find that he has been here before, time and time again in fact.  And while this familiarity may not breed contempt in the emotional sense of resentment, familiarity can breed a sense of boredom.

Nevertheless, the preacher who endures to the end will be saved.   There is a good reason why these words of Christ are so beloved and well-known.  Jesus identifies Himself with the beloved figure of Psalm 23 and of Ezekiel 34.  He is not only the Shepherd, but the Good Shepherd.

A good question to consider is what this goodness consists of?  Pastoral scenes of shepherds peacefully leading sheep beside still waters are certainly appropriate.  Such calm images give the idea that the goodness of the shepherd is that he gives the sheep good things, which of course Christ does.  But John 10 speaks immediately of a danger and a sacrifice.  The Good Shepherd does not display his goodness primarily in peaceful times, but in the teeth of a battle.

The goodness of the shepherd comes in that he sacrifices himself, laying down his life on behalf of the sheep.  It is worth pondering here how it could be that the shepherd would save the sheep by dying?  Wouldn’t that only expose the sheep to graver danger at the onrushing wolf?  Clearly something is going on here that exceeds the image of shepherd, flock, and wolf.  The preacher who asks this question and finds its answer in the purpose of the cross will be able to identify the true nature of the wolf and of the shepherd’s protection.

A further line of inquiry as to the goodness of the Shepherd is to ask what motivates His sacrifice?  Jesus answers this question implicitly at first by contrasting himself with the hired hands.  They care nothing for the sheep.  By implication He cares everything for them.  This implication becomes explicit when He states that He “knows,” his sheep.  The knowledge spoken of here rises above mere knowledge of facts about the sheep.  It is a knowledge that unites.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us not simply to know more about us, but to know us and that we might know Him.  Just as He knows them, so also they know Him.  The more this unity between Shepherd and sheep is explored the richer it becomes.  St. Paul’s frequent use of, “in Christ,” has its source here and in John’s frequent use of Jesus invitation to “abide in me.”  Further reflection on these phrases will give the preacher ample ammunition.

Finally, there is the eschatological promise of the final verse: one flock, one shepherd.  What is now believed will one day be seen.  What is now being undertaken, the gathering of the flock, will be brought to completion and to consummation.  This forward looking promise is especially potent for preaching on during the Easter season.  The Good Shepherd has already laid down His life for the sheep, but now that He is risen what is He at work doing?  John 10:16 gives the answer.

Click here for the reading: 1 Peter 2:21-25.

“You have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)

Like the Old Testament reading, the epistle for Misericordias is cut from the same pastoral cloth.  Like John 10, 1 Peter 2 employs the glorious substitutionary preposition, “on behalf of,” (Gk: hyper), when discussing Christ’s sufferings.  The beloved, “great exchange,” finds great expression here, with Christ “bearing our sins in His body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24). And while the vicarious satisfaction of Christ on behalf of sinners is clearly taught in these verses, St. Peter focuses on another dimension of that atonement.  Namely its exemplary nature.  The healing balm of the forgiveness of sins makes healthy sheep who want to leave the paths of sin and walk in righteousness.

Debates about the atonement are fraught with false dichotomies.  Do you believe either substitutionary atonement or Christus victor?  Are you a proponent of either moral exemplar or vicarious satisfaction? preacher will find in 1 Peter 2 a wonderful example in which to follow to avoid such either/ors.  The Good Shepherd is one who leads his sheep in and out (John 10:3-4).  This leading in and out St. Peter locates in the example of Christ’s sufferings. 

The Christian is called to walk in the footsteps of His Shepherd.  The account of the washing of Peter’s feet employs similar words of Christ’s loving example in John 13.  There St. Peter was graphically taught that Christ, his Lord and Teacher, had come as a servant, and that this was an expression of His love.  When the Lord told Peter that unless he were to wash his feet Peter had “no share” in Him, Peter’s objections melted away and he zealously proclaimed, “then not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9)

While he did not understand what Christ was then doing, by the time of his epistle writing, the Spirit had come to teach Him all things.  The life and death of Jesus is not only a vicarious substitution, but also the model for the disciple.  While the important caveat is necessary, that Christ’s sufferings are qualitatively superior to ours – by HIS wounds you have been healed, they remain exemplary.  In fact, dying to sin and living to righteousness is described as the purpose of Christ’s suffering.  The preacher who fears falling into the ditch of moralism should take note that the other ditch, that of licentiousness (1 Peter 2:16), yawns its mouth just as wide and near to his hearers.

But Peter is not simply describing all sufferings.  “What credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?”  And neither is he advocating suffering for its own sake.  Rather, it is the suffering that comes from doing good that we are to imitate Christ in.  Christ, most poignantly in his passion, was misunderstood, falsely accused, reviled, and finally killed.  This all despite never sinning, deceiving, reviling back, or threatening anyone.  Christians should neither expect nor pursue the praise of the world. 

Instead, we follow the example of our shepherd, “who entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Having become our substitute, Christ now calls us to participate in His way of life, living by faith in the Father’s verdict of approval and scorning the shame of the world.  Again, here the preacher will find the note of encouragement that is so needed for the sheep who suffer like their shepherd.  The one who judges justly has vindicated the Bishop of our souls.  Will he not do the same for those who are walking in His footsteps?