In His Steps
An Exhortation to Discipleship
"Christ...suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps". (1 Pet.2:21).
"Ye should follow His steps: who did no sin." (1 Pet.2:21‑22) So writes Peter, the Apostle of the circumcision. In the exercise of this Apostleship, though writing for Hebrew converts who lived among the strangers of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, we find his line of teaching fully in harmony with the writings of the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the five chapters of this first letter there are no less than seventy instances of parallel words, phrases, and allusions with the letters of "our beloved brother Paul." Additionally, like John, as one who heard and saw and handled the Word of Life (1 John 1:1‑3) Peter had vivid recollections of the words of his Master. More than forty words, phrases, and allusions from the Master’s own lips are found woven into the fabric of Peter’s letters.
We may not find the same depth and variety of expression in Peter as in Paul, but his memory, as a first‑hand hearer, of Jesus’ own teachings give his plainer utterances a force and directness all their own. As a further feature we find Peter’s mind saturated with thoughts regarding Jesus, from the Prophet Isaiah’s graphic picture of ‘Jehovah’s suffering Servant.’ How easily Peter glides into the thought of Isa.53:9, "he had done no violence, neither was any deceit (found) in his mouth," "who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" says Peter (1 Pet.2:22) of his beloved Lord. Isaiah’s already‑spoken words describe so fittingly what he wants to say of his Master. Again, though not a direct quotation of Isa.53:7 (He was oppressed, …and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth) we can see more than a passing allusion thereto when Peter says, "when He was reviled, reviled not again." Further, in the words of verse 24, "who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" we find, unmistakable reference to Isa.53:12, "He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Additionally, note the close parallelism of verse 25, "ye were as sheep going astray" with the words of Isa.53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray." Then finally note Peter’s application of Isa.53:5 "and with His stripes we are healed," to those who forfeited their peace with God, by going far astray.
Like the Evangelist Philip (Acts 8:26‑37) Peter had learned to apply this prophecy to Jesus, as the one in whom all redemption work centred. With such a background to his thoughts, then, Peter takes up one of the telling phrases of Jesus. "Follow me—follow thou me" (Matt.16:24; Luke 9:23; John 21:22) and through it, teaches the same profound truth which we find in Paul, and John, and Jesus’ own teachings. ‘Following an example’ may not seem a profound teaching, but when it is coupled with an "Example," who finished His course on a ‘Tree’ (or Cross) it adds great emphasis to the homely illustration "Ye should follow His steps who did no sin...who, when He was reviled, reviled not again...who His own self bare our sins...on the tree." There is something here deeper than a moral following. It certainly affects and regulates all the doings and sayings of one’s life, but the ‘following’ is not completed until it conducts the follower likewise to a ‘tree’—to a ‘cross.’ In the course of the journey, both the Exemplar, and the copier, are to be found, on a Tree. Thus this seemingly simple exhortation of Peter teaches the same deep truth that Paul teaches, in "baptism into His death"; which John teaches in "fellowship with...His Son Jesus Christ," in "an unction (or anointing) from the Holy One" (1 John 1:3; 2:20) and which Jesus teaches in the drinking of His Cup; in baptism with His baptism (Matt.20:22). To follow the Lord means a ‘via Crucis’—a way of the Cross, which will require in the follower all that it required in the Leader. Peter sets out two beautiful complementary lines of thought; the first of which describes us as astray in the wilderness of sin, but redeemed by Jesus; the other, when its climax comes, will see us linked inseparably with our Lord and Leader both here and hereafter.
"He bare our sins in His own body on the tree" tells of Saviourship; "ye should follow His steps" that is Leadership. Saviourship combined with Leadership! That is the unique, all‑important relation of Jesus to His follower. This is exactly the same thought set out by another pen, likewise written to Hebrew brethren. "It became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain (Prince‑Leader) of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Heb.2:10). A Captain—and His Company! A Leader and His followers! "Forasmuch...as Christ hath suffered…in the flesh, arm yourselves…with the same mind" says Peter (1 Pet.4:1) as he links together in experience and purpose the Leader and the led. He exhorts them to "no longer…live...in the flesh,...but to the Will of God" (v.2). Thus, as with the Master, so with the follower, doing the Will of God should be the whole objective of life. The Will of God directed Jesus to ‘the Tree’—making Him a ‘curse’ for the nation which had failed to keep its Covenant relationship with God unsullied (Gal.3:13). As Moses lifted up the serpent on a pole, so the Son of Man was to be lifted up on a ‘tree’ that the curse of the people might rest upon Him; He bearing it ‘for’ them.
Of course, this ‘tree’ was not merely that wooden cross which Jesus bore along to Calvary, and on which He was ‘lifted up’ to die. That ‘tree’ was no more than an emblem of another tree which Jesus had carried from His baptism at Jordan, and on which He had been dying for three and one‑half years before reaching Calvary. The cross of full submission to His Father’s Will was the ‘tree’ on which He bore the curse of our sins, and freed us from their guilt.
Having noted this harmony of Peter’s thought with Paul and John and Jesus’ teachings, and the influence of Isaiah upon his words, let us now note a wider background to his utterances. The very mention of ‘our sins’ carries us back in our quest to the Atonement day in Israel. As if to give us the particular line of thought which was prompting this letter. Peter has already informed his readers (of that day and ours also) that they are "a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet.2:5). And while his immediate readers were already of an elect nation—inasmuch as Israel had been separated out of the nations to be God’s people—yet he speaks of these followers of Jesus as participating in a further and more exclusive ‘election’—"elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus." (1 Pet.1:2).
The impartation of the Holy Spirit, and the anti‑typical sprinkling of the blood of Jesus had ‘set them apart’ (or sanctified them) in the same manner, but in a higher sense, that Aaron and his sons were ‘set apart’ for their holy ministry by the application of both anointing oil and blood, as recorded in Leviticus 8:30. This further ‘election’ and ‘sprinkling’ constituted them priests of God, and it is as such that they were to "follow His steps, who did no sin." Until they had been freed from their sins, they could not even begin to follow the Sinless One. Jesus could not have had companionship with them in their sins without Himself becoming a sinner. This He never became. He remained always ‘holy, harmless, and separate from sinners.’
When He started therefore to lead the way to Glory, by the way of the Cross, it was as an unblemished, sinless Leader that He began the journey, and to its end he remained unblemished and sinless. Not until His brethren have obtained a righteous standing, in Justification, can they begin to follow Him along this journey. For them, therefore, Jesus’ Saviourship stands at the entrance to the way, but, thereafter, in every ‘step’ they take, it is His Leadership which they follow. If then, this ‘way’ led Jesus to the ‘tree’—the cross—and through this cross procured cancellation of sins, (our sins) (1 Pet.2:24) is it not patent to us all that at the back of his mind, Peter had the whole picture of the Atonement Day services.
The priesthood he had already mentioned,—now, in the suffering victim he refers to that which was laid down in sacrifice,—the fat which went on the Altar, and the blood which was taken into the place of propitiation. And here, we see right well the sphere of Leadership and subsequent ‘following,’ inasmuch, as by the institution of God, the fat of the goat followed the fat of the bullock on the Altar, and the blood of the goat followed the blood of the bullock into the Most Holy Place,—in like manner its carcase followed the bullock’s carcase to the place of burning ‘without the camp.’ But before the Lord’s goat could begin to follow the bullock, it had to be received and accepted from among the people of Israel. The bullock was of the High Priest’s own providing (Lev.16:3) but he had to ‘take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats’—one of which was destined to follow the bullock provided by the Priest. Hence, before the goat could begin to follow the bullock it must be conducted on to the Holy ground of the Court, from among the people of the congregation. The sources from which the two animals were taken should be duly noted, because it shows a stage in the experience of the goat which had no recorded parallel in the experience of the bullock. It is only from the time that the goat was ‘presented before the Lord’ that it began to ‘follow’ in the steps of the bullock. Its experience of being conducted on to the holy ground from the midst of the congregation, would seem fittingly to correspond with the experience of some, who, in the higher sphere, are led from amongst the ‘congregation of Israel’...as were these immediate readers of Peter’s letter—to the holy ground of consecration and sacrifice.
While Peter does not particularise these matters to this degree, yet, the background of all his remarks concerning the Priesthood, and their Anti‑typical sprinkling, their selection and sanctification, and the ultimate reference to the Leader, in whose steps we are exhorted to tread, bearing ‘our sins’ on the ‘Tree,’ seems to warrant the deductions which have been drawn from his letter. We cannot walk in His steps, till we are justified from sin—we cannot follow Him, till we are accounted clean from our defilements. "Follow me" said the Leader; "Ye should follow His Steps" says the Apostle, and the content and meaning of the Apostle’s words must be deduced in the light of the Master’s Call. It is not merely a call to follow Jesus in an attempt at moral rectitude, but to follow Him to ‘the Tree.’ It is not merely a matter of good words, or good deeds, but of a deeper purpose—contract to live "to the will of God." (1 Pet.4:2).
Beloved in the Lord, let no teaching beguile you from the purpose of your calling. Ye were called not merely to know Jesus as your Saviour, but as your Prince‑Leader to Heavenly Glory. Accord Him therefore, the privilege not only of reaching down to your level in order to save you from sin, but of leading you up to His level of Glory, Honour and Immortality.
Let us see to it that we appreciate His Leadership, as well as His Saviourship, till we see Him face to face, beyond ‘the Tree’ in the Glory.