It is a rare thing in the epistles of the New Testament that the apostles speak of Christ outside of the context of an admonition, and the reading for the Third Sunday in Easter is no exception. Having reminded his hearers that they are a “chosen race” and a “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Peter 2:9), he exhorts them to seek after the will of God also in their worldly circumstances.
One such admonition is to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Obedience to government, therefore, is not an optional thing for a Christian. However, it is worth noting Peter’s reasoning here. Being a Christian only means being subject to one authority, that is, God. Christians, after all, are a holy nation belonging to the Lord. When a Christian is called to obey worldly authority, he does so because His Sovereign commands it. As Peter says, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:15-16). A Christian who is a good citizen, because God commands him to be a good citizen, thereby becomes a witness to the world.
Yet it is not enough to obey those authorities who do not sin against their position, the sort of authority that is easy to follow. Peter exhorts servants to also obey “unjust” masters, because to endure sorrow for the sake of God is a “gracious thing” in His sight (1 Peter 2:18-19). Christ here forms an example of what Peter means. It is no blessing to be beaten for sin, but it is when one is beaten for doing good, as Christ Himself was.
Even under unjust authority, to which Christ submitted out of obedience to His Father and not out of any worldly claims, He did not return abuse for abuse. He entrusted Himself to the just Judge of all men, willingly going to the cross and bearing our sins. Through His wounds, we have been healed. Through His death, we have been forgiven. Christ never wavered in His trust of and obedience towards His Father even in a far worse situation than our own, and therefore He is our supreme example of living in the world as servants of the living God.
While this abbreviated reading seems to be assigned to the Third Sunday in Easter only because of 1 Peter 2:25 and its references to sheep and the Shepherd, it still informs us about what it means to be His sheep. “Straying like sheep” here seems to mean those servants who were not patient under unjust masters. Patience is, after all, a Christian virtue, no less than obedience. Yet sheep imitating the Shepherd follow after Him in complete patience, knowing that even death now will give way to a joy which knows no end.
Peter also said in Acts 5:29 that “we must obey God rather than men,” and this only strengthens his point. Even obeying earthly authority means obeying God rather than men. There will be occasions when earthly authority must be repudiated, but Acts 5:29 is not a recipe for flippant insubordination. The crosses which the Father lays upon us, even unjust masters, conform us to the image of His suffering Son.