There were many different college football teams represented here
today: we had Longhorn fans, and Aggie fans; Houston and Baylor — even a few Sooner fans — and many others. There are a lot of college football teams to follow and despite each of our own team preferences, there’s not really a “wrong” choice — they’re all good, and fun to follow.
But in life, there is only ONE allegiance that is more important than any other, and that is Jesus Christ: the One who shed “This Blood” for us — and we are to follow HIM. Our scripture for today says:
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”
This verse comes in the context of how God’s people should respond to suffering, and we are going to look at the Christian response to suffering next week. But for today I want to us to just look at the general idea this verse gives us, that Jesus has called us to follow “In His Steps.”
I. THE SUFFERING THAT MOTIVATES US “IN HIS STEPS”
Last week we talked about how God wants us to live in the world as Christians: to submit to God-given authority; to be careful that in everything we do, we are a good witness for the Lord. But just WHY should we should we be so careful about how we live as Christians in the world? God tells us here: “since Christ also suffered for you.” The basis of everything that we do in the Christian life, is that Christ suffered for us. If we really understand what He did for us, then there will be nothing He asks us to do that we would not want to do for Him.
It says “Christ also SUFFERED for you.” The word “suffer” here (“pasco”) means “to feel heavy emotion; passion; to suffer greatly.” God says that is what Jesus did for us. He “suffered greatly.”
What Jesus endured when He suffered on the cross in literally not imaginable to us. Verse 24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” We are going to look at that verse more in-depth in a couple of weeks, but for today we will say this: Jesus suffered on the cross, MORE than just the beating and the scourging and the nails in His hands and feet. A lot of people focus on the physical suffering of the cross in their preaching, with all the gory details about what happened — but we need to understand that the physical suffering on the cross was not what made it so agonizing. It was that the weight of the sins of the world were placed on Him. No one has ever borne such a weight, in all of human history.
I have read of the sufferings that Abraham Lincoln endured as he guided the Union through the Civil War. I have never read of such mental and emotional pressures that fell upon any other mere man. Associates reported that Lincoln was in a state of continual depression because of the burdens he bore. He couldn’t sleep for days; one sergeant who visited the White House on an errand noted that Lincoln’s face never had “the shadow of a smile,” and he wrote: “His long, sad, and gloomy face haunted me for days afterward.” Lincoln suffered enormous pressures from all sides — and of course, finally lost his life.
But nothing that Abraham Lincoln — or anyone else — has ever borne, can begin compare with the suffering that Jesus bore on the cross for us.
Martin Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers in England in the 20th century, and he wrote about the suffering of Jesus for us: He said if you think Jesus shrank back from the physical sufferings of the cross — when He was sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane, and asking for this cup to pass from Him — he said that would be insulting to Him, and it makes Him less even than His own followers, who later boldly went to be burned at the stake without fear. No, he said; Jesus wasn’t afraid of the physical suffering of the cross. He said “It was the fact that He knew what was going to happen in that hour (on the cross). He knew that the full, total wrath of God against sin was to manifested and poured out against Him — THAT is what He shrank from.”
Isaiah 53 says “the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him.” ALL of the punishment, for ALL of the sins of the world, was about to fall upon Jesus on the cross. THAT is the suffering of the cross. It wasn’t the whipping; it wasn’t the nails in His hands and feet; it was that He who had never once corrupted Himself with sin, was about to take on the filth of all the sins of the world; that the uninterrupted love and fellowship that He had enjoyed with God the Father was about to be broken, as all the sins of the world would be placed upon Him, and that the wrath of God Almighty for every sin the world ever committed was about to be poured out on Him. THAT was the suffering of the cross; not just a few nails and thorns. It was that He bore our SINS in His body on the cross.
And think of what this means: if the wrath of God for all of our sins has fallen on Jesus, then that means that His wrath does NOT have to fall upon US! Jesus has taken our punishment for us! If we will believe, and receive what He has done for us, then we can know that we are FREE from the wrath of God! He has already taken it! Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.” NO CONDEMNATION! Christ has borne it all, by suffering for us on the cross!
But look carefully again at the text here; it doesn’t just say that Jesus suffered this; it says He suffered it “FOR YOU”! For YOU!! Not just for “everyone,” not just for “the world,” but “FOR YOU”! This is 3rd-person plural in Greek, which means “you all,” all of you — but it is also very specifically for YOU individually. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “He loved Me, and gave Himself for ME.” God says what I did was specifically for YOU, personally.
This gift from God has YOUR name on it! He died for YOUR sins; for YOU!
But like any gift, you have to receive this gift personally. You have to take it, and say you want it.
I received an invitation to a community dinner with our School Superintendent for area pastors this week. The invitation said that everything would be paid for and provided, but if I wanted to go, I had to RSVP. That means, I had to respond; I had to say, “YES I want that; I am personally coming.” It wasn’t enough that the invitations went out to “everyone,” to all the pastors. I had to respond myself and say that I personally am going to that dinner. I had to reserve my place.
And it’s the same with God’s gift of salvation in Jesus. If you want it to personally be yours, then you have to personally receive it. If you want what Jesus suffered on the cross to apply you, then you have to SAY you want it to apply to you. You have to personally repent of your sins, and ask Jesus to save YOU, and commit to follow Him personally. If you have never made that “RSVP” to God, I hope you will do it today.
But the Bible says we can have this forgiveness, because “Christ also suffered for you.” THAT is our motivation. THAT is why we do everything we do in the Christian life; that’s why we suffer whatever we suffer, or endure whatever we endure as Christians. Because whatever we have to go through, it doesn’t compare to what Jesus did for us:
— Do we have to humble ourselves? Jesus suffered more humiliation than any of us could possibly endure: He was Almighty God, who spoke the universe into being, and yet He humbled Himself to become a man that Roman guards spat on. There is no humiliation we can endure for His sake that can compare with what He did for us.
— Do we have to endure hardship? Jesus endured more. None of us will ever come close to what He did, in going to cross for us.
— Do we have to give up something for Him? This week I read of a pastor in Oklahoma who played college football for Baylor, and whose life dream was to play in the NFL. And he actually got a call to go and try out with the Cleveland Browns. But he said he felt God saying to him, “I want you to give that up, and follow Me”, and he did; and went into the ministry instead. You might say, “Man, he gave up a lot to follow the Lord.” NO! He didn’t give up anything compared to what Jesus gave up for him! None of us have. Jesus left the glories of heaven; He came to earth to live in poverty, with nowhere to lay His head. There is nothing He could ask us to give up I our lives that will ever come close to what He gave up for us.
There is literally no sacrifice too great for us to make on His behalf, who suffered so much for us. THAT is our motivation as Christians: “since Christ also suffered for you.”
II. THE EXAMPLE WE FOLLOW “IN HIS STEPS”
“… leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”
As we have seen, Jesus is more than just an “example” for us. He did something that none of us can ever do: He suffered on the cross to pay for our sins, so that we could be forgiven. None of us could have ever done that. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. Jesus is much more than just our “example,” He is our Savior, and Lord.
But understanding all that, the Bible says Jesus IS also our example as Christians as well: it says here that He left us an “EXAMPLE”, for us to follow in His steps.
The word “example” here is actually a very picturesque word. In the Greek culture they had an aid that was given to children, with the alphabet on it, that they would trace to help them learn to write letters. This learning aid was called the “hupogrammo.” We have the same kind of thing today: here is a picture of our oldest grand daughter, Corley, tracing letters, to help her learn the alphabet . That is exactly what the “hupogrammo” was. And “hupogrammo” is the same word the Bible uses here in I Peter 2:21 where it says Christ left us an “example;” “example” is the Greek word “hupogrammo.”
So the Bible is saying that JESUS is our “ABC pattern;” we are to “trace” our lives after His, so that we learn live like Him, and act like Him, and love like Him. In other words, Jesus is the one we are to “copy our lives after.”
That is what it means when it says here in I Peter 2:21 that as Christians, we are to “FOLLOW in His steps.” Jesus is our example, and we are to FOLLOW Him. This is what being a Christian really means: FOLLOWING Jesus. Being a Christian doesn’t just mean you have “said a prayer” or filled out a card. It means you are FOLLOWING Jesus.
Jesus made it very clear that His disciples are to follow Him. When He called His disciples, He didn’t just say “accept Me,” or “fill out this card”! He told them all: “Follow Me!”
— When Jesus met Peter & Andrew by the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 4, He said to them, FOLLOW ME’ and I will make you fishers of men.” He called them to follow Him.
— When He saw James & John fishing with their father, He said to them: “FOLLOW ME.” And they left their boat and their father and followed Him.
— In Matthew 8, Matthew was sitting in his tax collector’s office, when Jesus showed up and said to him, “FOLLOW ME.”
— And after Jesus rose from the dead, Peter had all these questions and comparisons with others, but Jesus told Peter again, “What is that to you; you FOLLOW ME.”
Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John and Matthew to FOLLOW Him — and that is what He is calling all of us today to do as well: “Follow Me.”
What does it MEAN to “follow Him”? It means, like we saw a moment ago, to “trace our lives” after His. To live the way He would live. To go where He would go and do what He would do. That we follow HIM in every area of life:
— why do we submit to authority, like we talked about last week? Because Jesus submitted to authority. He always submitted to His Heavenly Father. And Luke tells us He even submitted to His parents here on earth, when they were flawed, and He knew better than they did! But He still submitted to them. So we are to follow His “pattern,” and submit to authority the same way.
— How do we respond to times of suffering in our life? We’re to “trace His example” and “follow in His steps” and respond the way that He did. Next week we’ll look specifically at how we can follow His example in suffering.
— How should treat our enemies? Someone’s mean to you at school or at the office — how do you respond? Jesus prayed for His enemies, and forgave even those who were putting Him to death. If you’re a Christian you “follow in His steps” towards your enemies.
— How so we treat children? We follow Jesus’ example, who treasured children, and said, “Let the little children come to me.”
— What should we believe about marriage? People in our culture have a lot of different opinions about it. But as Christians, we will “trace” our beliefs after Jesus, who said “From the beginning He who created them made them male and female, and for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” We are going to follow Jesus in our beliefs on marriage.
— What is our life and ministry supposed to look like? It should look like Jesus: The Bible says He went about “worshiping God and serving Him by reaching, teaching, and caring for people,” and that is what we are supposed to be doing too. The Bible repeatedly says that Jesus “saw” people, “felt compassion” for them, and DID something about. THAT is what our lives should be characterized by too. We are to “trace” our lives after His, and follow Him.
THIS is what it means to live a Christian life: to FOLLOW in Jesus’ steps. Unfortunately, somehow people have gotten the idea that the measure of a “good Christian life” is how often you go to church: they think if you go to church every week, you’re a “good Christian,” and if you don’t, you aren’t. Well, going to church IS an important part of being a Christian. The Bible says it was Jesus “custom” to be in corporate worship, Luke says. But there is a whole lot more to the Christian life than just going to church. We are to FOLLOW Jesus in every area of life — EVEN when it involves hardship and suffering, like Peter talks about here in this chapter. Following Jesus when it COSTS us something, is one of the best tests of whether you are really a Christian or not.
Ten years ago on a mission trip to India, I met a young man by the name of Ravi. He was a young preacher, and I heard his testimony of how he came to follow Christ, and I have prayed for him ever since. He is on Facebook, so occasionally he will send me an update, or a prayer request. This week I received a message from Ravi:
“Brother I have a urgent prayer request please pray for me and my family. My parents and my neighbour’s come against me and my wife because we are chirstan and we are not doing Idol worship. My land Lord says me to leave his home as soon as possible.”
Of course I say I would pray. Then later he wrote back:
“Yesterday few mens came in my house they are from R.S.S this is a hindu organisation and they are against of chirstan they warned me and tell me if I am not back to Hinduism they do police complaints and says to police I am converting people religion by force. I dont know what I do un this time. I want to leave this area please pray for me God open some way for me.”
My friend Ravi is really following Jesus. He’s not going to compromise his faith; it is strong. And he is paying the price for it.
We haven’t had a lot of that here in the United States, but I believe we may very well see more of it in the days ahead, as our society continues to turn away from Biblical, Christian values. It may be that like the first-century Christians, and like our brothers and sisters in other countries around the world, it is going to begin cost us to follow Christ too.
— it may cost us our place on the sports team — like the young woman I talked about last week, who wouldn’t wear the “gay pride” jersey on the U.S. Soccer team, and who had to step down.
— it may cost us an election to office, to stand up for Biblical values.
— it may cost us a job, because we are not willing to compromise our Biblical beliefs.
— it may costs us friends, or popularity, as we share our faith in Jesus, or talk about what we believe.
When these things happen, it tests our faith. Are we really following Jesus, or not? Are we willing to “trace His example,” to “follow in His steps” — even when it costs us — BECAUSE of what He was willing to suffer for us.
Are you a follower of Jesus? I’m not asking if you’ve “joined the church,” or raised your hand, or filled out a card. I’m asking if you are FOLLOWING Jesus. There’s a big difference. Jesus did not call us just to attend church or fill out a card; The Bible says He called His disciples to FOLLOW Him, “in His steps” — even when it costs us.
Have you ever truly made the decision to follow Jesus? The Bible says Jesus suffered for YOU; to bear your sins, so that you could come back to Him. And He is calling you to follow Him. But as I said a bit ago; you need to respond to that personally. Have you ever done that? If you haven’t, you can do it, right now …
— You may need to ask Jesus to forgive your sins and come into your life right now …
— If you are following Christ today, or have done it some time before today, you need to confess Christ publicly, and commit to be baptized. Baptism is the first step of obedience Jesus asks you to make as His follower. If you won’t even take that first step to follow Him; how can you say you are really a follower of Jesus?
— Others of us need to pray, that we would really be following Jesus daily; that we would be “worshiping God, and serving Him by reaching, and teaching, and caring for people” in specific ways.
— Some of us need to hear His call to follow Him on mission — He’s leading you to go to the Mexico mission meeting, and get information about that trip, and “Follow Him” on mission.— Maybe there’s a special prayer request on your heart you just want to come forward and humble yourself and bring before the Lord today.
There’s lots of ways we can respond; you respond today as God has spoken to you: