Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).
Here is Simon Peter’s theology of the Cross. It is impossible to read these verses and not realize that the apostle is reliving those last tremendous hours of his Master’s passion. All through the chapter he has been urging his congregation to fulfill the law of Christ. He has been beseeching them to live “as strangers and pilgrims.” He summons them to prove the reality of their life in Christ by the quality of their love for God and men. And then he undergirds his appeal in precious and princely words as he recalls the suffering and submission of his Lord. “… Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:21–25). It is at the Cross that Peter rests his case. The inspiration to a holy life is found only in a Saviour’s death. And the glory of the Cross is there seen in a life that is “crucified with Christ.”
All this is Peter’s theme. To him, Christ is all and in all. And as he recalls so vividly the road from Gethsemane to Golgotha, with Spirit-given inspiration he stresses the elemental things. Let us note his emphases.
The Suffering Of Christ
First, Peter recalls the suffering of Christ.
“Christ also suffered for us,” he writes, and goes on to describe the suffering. “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” And as he sums up the work of his Lord upon the cross, he says: “By his stripes—by the wounds he suffered—ye were healed.”
When Jesus died upon a cross, he died as a common criminal. The Romans considered death by the cross as “teterrimum et crudelissimum”—that is, the most cruel death possible and the most terrible and the most terrifying of all departures from life. It was to this death that Christ came. He died upon the gallows and was put to death by a public executioner. The Lord of Glory by cruel hands was crucified.
And in the hours immediately preceding crucifixion, we are made to see something of the nature and extent of his sufferings. Think of them for a moment. “They bound him.” Three of the evangelists refer to this fact. They bound the hands that had blessed the little children. They bound the hands that had toiled on the yoke for the sturdy oxen or on the village plough for the farmer at Nazareth. They bound those healing hands. They bound those hands of tenderness and compassion. They bound the hands that broke and distributed the bread to the disciples with the words: “Take, eat: this is my body, broken for you.” But that is not all. “They spat at him.” This most degrading insult was offered to the majestic person of Christ. Out of the darkened hearts of Jewish priests and Roman soldiery, the poison of their hate leaped up and “they spat upon him.” And then this also they did. “They blindfolded him.” Could they not bear those eyes of holiness? Could they not stand the flashing light that smote their conscience like a flame of fire? Who can tell? The awesome record reads that they blindfolded him, and thus, without those eyes continually upon them, they were able to continue their cruel and vulgar jesting around him. All this is part of the infinite suffering of the Saviour of the world. He is bound. He is spat upon. He is blindfolded.
But there is more. “The soldiers led him into the hall, called Praetorium, and they called together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, and they mocked him.” Can anything go beyond this sin? Man must have his sport even though it be with his God. Here is worship offered in the reverse. Here is a crown of thorns—hard steellike spikes—crushed down upon his forehead, and he is smitten with a reed and mocked.
Is it any wonder that one of the early liturgies of the passion, after all the particular pains of our Saviour upon the cross have been recounted and by every one of them mercy has been sought, closes with these words:
By thine unknown sorrows and suffering
felt by Thee upon the cross but not
distinctly known to us, have mercy
upon us and save us.
All this Christ suffers. All this and more. All the indignity that perverse and diabolical minds can conjure up is heaped upon him. “He is despised and rejected of men.” “He is reviled.” “He endures the contradiction of sinners.” Truly we can say: “We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear.” Rejected by his own, numbered with transgressors, stripped of his raiment, mocked by men, denied and forsaken by his disciples, betrayed by a traitor’s kiss, he thus trod the winepress alone to redeem the world.
The Submission Of Christ
Peter also recalls the submission of Christ.
“When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” It is in Gethsemane that Christ’s yieldedness, submissiveness, and final sacrifice of surrender are best seen. Scarcely had Jesus with his three disciples reached the garden than he began “to be sorrowful and very heavy.” Obviously, something unheard of before now had come before him and upon him. Mark depicts more graphically the Saviour’s distress in these words: “He began to be sore amazed.” In writing thus, he uses a word that implies a sudden and horrifying alarm in the face of a terrible object. Something evidently draws nigh which threatens to rend his nerves and the vision of which is enough to make him sweat as it were great drops of blood. “He was in an agony,” we are told, or, as other translators have it, “He wrestled with death.” And it was then that he prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” We are in the presence of impenetrable mystery. But this much is clear. He accepts the cup which is given him. He submits himself. He does not draw back. He commits himself to him that judgeth righteously. He yields himself in the absolute voluntariness of his perfect personality. He therefore comes to the Cross not as victim but as victor. One of the great mystics, musing upon the yieldedness of his Lord, declares:
Not defenceless but undefending: not
vanquished but uncontending: not helpless
but majestic in His voluntary self-submission
for the highest purpose of love—thus
He submitted Himself to the Righteous One.
And here it is that we begin to see the glory of the work of Christ. He suffers. But he does so actively. “The death and suffering of Christ,” says P. T. Forsyth, “was something very much more than suffering, it was atoning action.” After all, it was for this cause that he was born. It was for this cause that he came forth into the world. And now at the last the prince of the world finds Him as he had ever been—delighting to do the will of his Father. Thus he endures the Cross and despises the shame.
The Substitution Of Christ
But here is a third emphasis of the apostle. He declares the substitution of the Sinless One in the place of sinners.
“[He] did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” And then he writes: “Who himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”
In writing thus, Peter is at one with the whole New Testament. It is the universal, testimony of evangelists and apostles that the death of Christ was vicarious. He, the Sinless One, presses past all obstacles on the road in order that he might stand in the place of sinners. James Denney once said that the heart of the biblical doctrine of Atonement was perfectly reached in the simple lines of a popular hymn:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood
And the same writer declares: “The simplest truth of the Gospel and the profoundest truth of theology must be put in the same words—He bore our sins.”
In a way that is beyond human understanding—the sin of the world being laid upon him. All the darkness and lust of the ages, all the pride of Nineveh and of Rome, all the scarlet sin of Babylon and Egypt, all the horror of Hiroshima and the beastliness of Belsen, all the betrayals of Judas and the denials of Peter, the pride, anger, sloth, greed, envy, impurity, and gluttony of mankind, all the rebellion and waywardness of Israel and the Gentiles, all the sins of mankind, past, present and future, in some way altogether beyond our understanding, were laid upon him and for our sins he died.
If this is not substitution, I know not what it is. I cannot explain it. Neither dare I try to explain it away. It is the truth of the New Testament. It is the heart of the holy Gospel. Without this, there is no redemption. But because of this, there is forgiveness, full and free and everlasting.
The Good Shepherd
One final word Peter would say. He would point us to the Good Shepherd of all who have found salvation.
“Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”
And here Peter finds the ultimate insurance that the redemption of the Cross will issue in holy living. The Good Shepherd gave his life for the sheep; but he rose again, triumphant and glorious. And he leads his people in the ways in which he delights.
This is the glory of the Cross. It is the story that will never grow old. It is the hope of the world. Still the Cross towers over the wrecks of time. And still at the Cross the Saviour meets the sinner. Come then and let us worship him and him alone. For:
This he hath done and shall we not adore Him?
This shall He do and can we still despair?
Come, Let us quickly fling ourselves before Him,
Cast at His feet the burthen of our care.
Flash from our eyes the glow of our thanksgiving,
Glad and regretful, confident and calm;
Then through all life and what is after living,
Thrill to the tireless music of a psalm.
William Fitch is Minister of historic Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto, Canada. He holds the M.A. degree from Glasgow University, the B.D. and Ph. D. from Trinity College, Glasgow. Formerly he served the Springburn Hill Parish Church in Scotland where he was a leader among evangelicals and head of the Scottish Evangelistic Council.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineWhen Politics Saved 25 Million LivesTwenty years ago, Republicans, Democrats, evangelicals, gay activists, and African leaders joined forces to combat AIDS. Will their legacy survive today’s partisanship?
- Editor's PickHow to Stay Hitched When Your Wife Ditches YouHarrison Scott Key’s latest book gives a tragi-comic take on the Christian humility required to stay married.