PAIN FORGES OUR CHARACTER
(1 Peter 2:19–21)
Two other men died on Calvary at the same time Jesus did. These two men were guilty of crimes and had been sentenced accordingly. Yet even though they all suffered excruciatingly painful crucifixions, the difference in their situations illustrates an important point in Scripture about suffering.
One of the men who suffered as a result of his crimes had no conscience toward God. He “[hurled] abuse” at Jesus while they hung on the cross (Luke 23:39). The other criminal, however, found his awareness of God awakened by the injustice of Christ’s death. He asked Jesus to remember him in the coming kingdom (Luke 23:42). Finally, there was Jesus. Although as the sinless Son of God He was guilty of nothing, still He suffered. And because He suffered unjustly, what He did found “favor before God” (1 Peter 2:20). Peter writes that when we as Christians suffer unjustly, we are following the example of Christ, and our suffering likewise commends us to God.
But what if we suffer justly? What if we, like the two lawbreakers, “get what we deserve”? Interestingly, the second offender—the one whose conscience was awakened to his need for God—gave the answer to that question: “We are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). He understood that, if we bring suffering on ourselves, we have no recourse before God. He saw no injustice in his suffering and the other criminal’s suffering, but he did recognize the injustice in Jesus’ suffering.
This is exactly Peter’s point to the church. He warns us that there is no commendation before God in suffering for doing wrong. But he also says that Jesus “suffered for you, leaving you an example for your to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Just as the enlightened criminal’s faith did not spare him from his just suffering, so our faith will not spare us either. But if we suffer unjustly, we know that God sees and honors suffering for His name’s sake.
No suffering for God and His kingdom will go unrewarded.