Problem, solution and purpose


Sermon: Sunday, 13th November, 2022 Video
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:21-25

In 1 Peter 2:21, Peter speaks about Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and he says that it’s an example for us, and that we must follow in Jesus’ footsteps. What does he mean? He means that Jesus is the best ever example of someone who suffered unjustly, and yet during that suffering, he remained obedient to his Father, and continued to trust him. It’s far from easy to do that, but Jesus is our pattern. Unjust suffering happened him and it will also happen to us. ‘He committed no sin.’ (1 Peter 2:22) Jesus was the perfect example of someone who always loved God and other people with all his heart. And yet he was lied about, hated, mocked, and crucified. There will never be a better example of someone being treated so unjustly, and yet maintaining his integrity and faith. When I am mistreated, I’m inclined to want to retaliate, but not Jesus. He did not retaliate because he knew that one way or another, God would right all wrongs one day, and that fact gave him deep peace. God will administer justice in his time. In this way, Jesus’ suffering is a standard we are called to emulate.

However, Jesus’ suffering is far more than the standard of bearing up under unjust suffering. Important as that is, there is another aspect which is far more important, and that is his death is a sacrifice for our sins. As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we recall Jesus’ words: ‘And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ (Luke 22:19) The main thing we need to understand when we take communion is that Jesus died as our substitute and our sacrifice. He died as our sin-bearer. (verse 24)

Do you think we talk about sin enough in the church? Should we talk about it less? Do you think about your own sin enough, or will that just become something morbid? I believe that the more we understand how awful sin actually is, the more we will be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

1. Our problem

Sin is such a short word in English, but what does it actually mean? In 2022, many people use the word as if it is no big deal. For example, we’re on a diet but are going to ‘sin’ a little by having a chocolate brownie. The word has been watered down and has lost its force. What is the true meaning of sin? It’s breaking the law of God, and by doing so we greatly offend our Creator. It is the most serious matter. As soon as Adam and Eve rebel against God and sin enters into humanity, marital conflict, adultery and murder soon follow, and that’s just in the first 4 chapters of the Bible. By chapter 6 we read: ‘The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ (Genesis 6:5)

Sin is ugly. It has had a devastating impact in my own life, leaving deep wounds all over the place. But worst of all is the offence I have given to the perfect and holy Creator-God. I think it’s hard for us to actually grasp just how wicked it is to rebel against the God who made us and in whose world we live. It is impossible to overstate how serious this problem is for us: ‘For the wages of sin is death…’ (Romans 6:23) Rebelling against those in authority over us is a terrible thing to do. In a small way, we say that in Dundee a few weeks ago, when youths smashed windows, threw fireworks at the emergency services and vandalised a school. People were out of control, and rioting, just doing what they liked without respect for others. The chief superintendent urged anyone with information or CCTV, dashcam or other footage to send it to the police. That rioting is a bit like what we all do to God, who is our ultimate authority, and yet we fail to love him as we ought to, thanks him for his kindness, and follow his ways.

In our case, it’s not just a few nights of rioting, but a whole lifetime of going our own wicked way. God doesn’t need CCTV footage because he sees and knows all things, and is going to hold us to account. The biggest problem we face in Britain and indeed the world is not the energy crisis, the recession, the cost of living or drugs, tough as these things are. Jesus makes a crystal-clear statement about this in Mark chapter 7 saying humanity’s main problem is the human heart in rebellion against God: ‘He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’ (Mark 7:20-23)

You might disagree with Jesus, and think that on the whole you are a pretty good person. In that case, you cannot celebrate or appreciate the Lord’s Supper, because you are blind to your own sin and your own need of the forgiveness of God.

2. God’s solution

God’s solution could have been to send another flood and wipe us all out; that would be deserved. Or he could withdraw his grace completely and leave us to destroy one another. Instead, out of his love and grace God chose to send us a Saviour. One of my favourite quotes from our late Queen was: ‘History teaches us we… need saving from ourselves, from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person, neither a philosopher or a general, important as they are, but a saviour with the power to forgive.’ The Queen was right. By rebelling against God, each of us has angered God, and we face his fair judgment. In love, knowing that we are unable to save ourselves, he left Heaven and entered our world by becoming a real human being in history.

The next step is breath-taking. God could not just ignore our sin, pretending that it doesn’t matter. All sin must be paid for. The only solution for our unspeakably serious problem was for God in Christ to stand in our place, and pay the price for our sin as our substitute.

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.’ (1 Peter 2:24) This word ‘bore’ only appears once more in the New Testament (in Hebrews 9:28) but bearing sin is frequently spoken about in the Old Testament and it means being punished as a penalty for sin.

This is the main thing happening at the cross. Jesus is taking our punishment, dying instead of us. Just how important is this? Just how thankful ought we to be? Well, if Jesus did not bear my penalty for sin on the cross then I must bear it, and if he didn’t bear your penalty then you must bear it. If my sins were not transferred to Jesus on the cross, then they remain with me, and I have no hope. But thanks be to God, Jesus has absorbed God’s wrath in our place. ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’ (1 Peter 3:18)

So, as we take the bread and wine, we remember that when Jesus is nailed to the cross, he is standing in our place, and the anger of God rains down upon him, instead of upon us. There was no other possibility – either Jesus pays the price for sin, or we do in Hell.

Donald Macleod: ‘It was the Father who was delivering him up (Romans 8:32) and everything spoke of his anger. That anger was no additional fact or circumstance. In was in the circumstances: in the pain, in the loneliness, in Satan’s whispers and in Heaven’s deafness; and under that anger his identity contracted to the point where the whole truth about him was that he was the sin of the world. He was carrying it, heaven held him answerable for it, and he was it. It was here, all of it, in his body…’

‘… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:6)

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.’ (1 Peter 2:24) (The NIV renders the word ‘tree’ as ‘cross’.) The word in Greek is ‘wood’ so can rightly be translated here ‘tree’. This echoes back to Deuteronomy: ‘And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.’ (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) In other words, Jesus the Innocent becomes cursed so that we can be blessed. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ (Galatians 3:13)

As he hung on the cross, the Father punished Jesus as if he was the one who had been unfaithful, and told lies, and had been greedy and selfish and had impure thoughts. It all started at a tree in Genesis 3 where mankind is cursed for our rebellion. On Calvary’s tree, Jesus bears our sin in his body, so that we can eat from the tree of life and live forever in a perfect world.

‘By his wounds you have been healed.’ (1 Peter 2:24) This is a reference to Isaiah 53:5. Jesus received wounds all over his body from the crucifixion: the nails in his hands and feet and the spear in his side.

We also think of Jesus being scourged and how the whips laced with bone and lead tore into his back, shredding it to pieces. Paradoxically, it is these wounds which bring healing to us. What kind of healing? Spiritual healing! We are healed from the domination and control of sin. In this sense, sin is here seen as a terrible and deadly sickness which only Jesus can cure us from.

The healing we receive is extraordinary and radical. The Bible says when we place our hope in Jesus for forgiveness we become new creations, the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have been healed from the penalty of sin and the power of sin.

There are some situations where we mess up at work, or mess up with a friend or family member so badly that relationships reach the point of no return. People have long memories sometimes. In those situations, I’m sure many of us wish that we could have a fresh start- a clean slate. Are all the wrongs from our past going to define us forever? Is there nothing which can be done? The amazing news of the cross is that with God we do have a clean slate. The long, long list of our offences has been carried away by Jesus. We can have a fresh start with God, who now becomes our Father.

3. The purpose

What is the goal of Jesus bearing our sins? We need to see the ‘so that’ in verse 24. He did it so that: ‘… we that we might die to sins and live for righteousness’. A better translation is: ‘… that we, having died to sin, might live to righteousness.’

Wayne Gruden: ‘At conversion Christians have died to the dominating power of sin, and are able to make progress in sanctification of life.’

Friends, this is a wonderful truth. Because we are joined to Jesus by faith, when he died on the cross, then we died to the power of sin, and when he was raised to life, we rise with him, with a new power at work in us, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Some people might think that ‘living for righteousness’ might sound a bit restricting and dull, but nothing can be further from the truth. Dying to sin is wonderful and sin wrecks and destroys lives. Living for righteous ness means living for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In other words, begin to live (albeit imperfectly) the way humans were designed to live. We have new desires, like living to please God, and enjoying his world the way we should. Life stops revolving around ourselves, which is a narcissistic way to live. Instead, we consider others more, and take pleasure in serving them. It is a life of love. We can now pray, and ask God to help us to live in his ways, using the power that he’s more than happy to give when asked.

What a transformation! And all because Jesus bore our sins in his body. Before trusting in Jesus (verse 25), we were like straying sheep. We were lost and just wandering about in life, not knowing what the true purpose of life really was. We’d try and find our own way, but travelled further from God. It’s dangerous being a wandering sheep, as there are so many predators out there, wanting to destroy. And sheep cannot find their way home on their own. They need the Shepherd. We are surrounded by people who really don’t know what the point of life is. They try to keep busy so they don’t need to think about it. They have no power to make lasting change, and no hope for life after death. Perhaps you are a wandering sheep today. What do you need to do?

You need to return to Jesus the true Shepherd. Only he can love you with a perfect love. Only he can forgive your sins and provide you with all that you need. If you come to him, he will be your Guardian, your Overseer. In other words, he’ll watch over you and protect you. What a blessing, to have Jesus promising us his eternal protection and love and care. Come to Jesus without delay.