“Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God…” (1 Pet. 3:18).
It is important to remember who wrote these words regarding the suffering of Jesus Christ. It was Peter. And Peter had not chosen the word “suffered” lightly. He had observed how this single word played out in Jesus’ earthly life.
Long before Peter wrote about suffering, he had formed the opinion that it should be avoided when possible. That opinion influenced his thinking as he heard Jesus speak about why He was willing to die and the suffering He would experience as He was put on trial and killed. Peter caught a glimpse of how gruesome that suffering would be and loathed the thought of it. Convinced that horrific suffering should not be part of the plan, Peter tried to persuade Jesus to find a different way to “bring us safely home to God,” but his words of counsel were swiftly rejected by Jesus (Matt. 16:21-23).
When those words of predicted suffering began to come true in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was Peter who drew his sword and readied for battle as the mob approached. In his attempt to defend Jesus, he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, creating a gaping wound that Jesus immediately healed (John 18:1-11).
Hours later the friends of Jesus “stood at a distance watching” Christ’s final agonizing hours on the cross (Luke 23:49). Peter saw exactly how real, raw, and relentless Jesus’ suffering was during His final earthly hours so sinners could be brought “safely home to God.”
Worse yet, Peter knew he had added to Jesus’ suffering. While Peter’s love for Jesus had drawn him to the fringes of the crowd gathered to watch Jesus’ trial, beating, and crucifixion, his fear caused him to declare publicly that he did not know or associate with Jesus. When his love was most needed, he chose personal safety over Jesus. It was a choice not easily forgotten. How many times did Peter recall the moment when Jesus turned to look at him after hearing him angrily cursing at a servant girl who insisted that he was a disciple of Jesus? How many times did Peter remember the bitter tears he wept when he realized what he had done? (Matt. 26:72; Luke 22:54-62). Those three denials became a low point in Peter’s life, and because of it, he began to understand suffering in a new way.
Peter experienced the agony of turning away from Christ for a time, but this, more than anything else, may have helped him to understand his own need for the redemption made possible by Christ’s suffering on the cross. Christ’s resurrection was the dividing point between the weak and unpredictable Peter of old and the bold and courageous Peter who had experienced God’s forgiveness and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s guilt and regret regarding his role in Christ’s suffering were transformed by the resurrection, and his life was never the same.
The man who cut off a servant’s ear was the same man who later wrote, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate. Work hard at living in peace with others” (1 Pet. 3:9,11). The man who, out of fear, cursed at a servant girl for questioning if he was aligned with Jesus was the same man who later wrote, “Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you. It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name!” (1 Pet. 4:14,16). The man who recoiled at the thought of suffering became a person who was willing to—and who did—suffer horribly because of his unbendable devotion to Jesus Christ. He had a new opinion about suffering because God had made him a new person.
Are we like the old Peter, afraid of suffering and trying to avoid the unavoidable? If so, God can strengthen us. Are we like Peter, weighed down with deep regret for past failures? If so, God can forgive us because Jesus died on the cross with open arms. As we move into those arms, God can renew us and use our experiences to help others, just as He did with Peter.
© 2010 Arlina Yates