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A daily devotion from Eric Schwarz

The Daily Devotion below is from A Living Hope, by Sarah Viggiano Wright, published by Bible Study Media, and made available to us through Presbyterian Women.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

1 Peter 2:21

My dad lives on a seven-acre farm in Minnesota where it can really snow! One winter break, I went to visit him from Texas and woke up to a beautiful fresh foot of snow. My dad asked if I’d like to walk down to feed the horses. Having no gear of my own, I put on his snowsuit and boots, both of which I didn’t fill, and we set out side-by-side toward the stable.

Halfway there, the snow was up to my knees and I could no longer move. So, going before me, my dad took huge, high steps that left a path of deep, punched holes in the snow. He told me to follow behind, literally placing my feet inside his footprints, one by one. On we trekked, my dad making the path and forming the steps, and I following in his footprints.

When we come to Peter’s words that Jesus left us an “example” that we might follow in his steps, this is what Peter has in mind. The Greek word he uses for “example” is one of the most meaningful words in the Bible to me. In the English, it may not sound like much, but in Greek it is a powerful word-picture of how we are to follow Jesus.

The Greek word is hupogrammon, literally translated “underwriting.” This “underwriting” is like a picture underneath tracing paper that you imitate by drawing on top of it or a worksheet on which a child imitates a letter of the alphabet repeatedly. It’s also like a stencil, a fixed pattern used to make a copy of the design. Christ himself is the pattern, the design, the underwriting, over which we are to trace our lives, just like I followed my dad’s path in the snow. Christ is the illustration. And because there is a set pattern, there is an obligation that we replicate it exactly.

Now, does this exact replication mean that all Christians should think, feel, and act identically? No! This is a call to the exact mindsets, devotion, and holiness that Jesus lived out. (It is also a reminder that, in a fallen world, godly lives will sometimes incur unjust suffering, as Christ did.) But, our call to replicate Jesus’ path does not mean that there is one single identical way to live. Rather, it is willing obedience using all of the gifts and talents each Christian possesses in accordance with God’s commands—conformity, not uniformity. In this way, we may all walk a little differently “in his steps,” but we all walk along Christ’s path as he mediates our way.

We know we are to imitate Jesus, then. But in what way?

Throughout this passage, Peter has been talking about a model of servanthood that applies to everyone (see Week Four, Day 3). We are to be willing to lay ourselves down in service of others (whether they be just or unjust); this is how we imitate Jesus. Now, in verse 21, Peter gives the reason why we are to lay our lives down in servanthood: “For to this you have been called...” We have been called to serve and suffer sacrificially—servanthood is our calling. Why do we have this calling? “Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (v. 21)

Because Christ suffered on the cross for us, he won us. We belong to him. We are on mission with him in this world. Part of living out that mission is patiently enduring suffering. This is a tremendously difficult path! But, by God’s mercy, the path has already been laid down—Christ has gone before us. Jesus is the Perfect Example (the underwriting) of servanthood even through suffering. It is his path he calls us to. He is not asking us to do something he was unwilling to do. In fact, we know he suffered more than any of us can even imagine. He lays down a path for us and calls us to join him. Thankfully, he not only gives us the strength to traverse this path but also walks hand-in-hand with us so that we are never alone.

Thus, we are called to endure suffering and share Jesus’ sacrificial attitude, even being willing to suffer for others, because this way of life follows after his good example. Jesus was a servant. He illustrated for us how to endure undeserved suffering and still trust God!

But, there is also a simultaneous obligation to join Jesus’ path—in order to be his follower, we have to follow him, obey him, listen to him, and imitate him. Think about Jesus’ footprints in the sands of Galilee. They showed exactly where he walked, the exact places he stepped. We need to step where he stepped, not literally but spiritually. If we understand the function of a hupogrammon, we understand that it is both our calling and our obligation to follow in Christ’s steps in order to truly imitate him.

In the knee-high snow, I had to walk in my dad’s steps, not only to get where we needed to go, but also because any deviation from the path meant I could fall over and get stuck. The path was elevated, so falling could have landed me in a ditch. But, because my “example” had gone before me, I knew the way. And because he had made the exact path, he was able to instruct me where to step. I had to follow—not only because he called me to, but in order to arrive safely. My father went before me and helped me all along as my mediator.

That’s what it looks like to follow Christ’s pattern, his underwriting, his example. Christ as The Good Example illustrates the path for us. He also models suffering for us, as Jesus exemplified Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (chapter 53) by submitting to unjust suffering in order to serve God’s plan of redemption.

It will not always feel natural for us to walk Jesus’ walk, just like it was awkward for me to step into my father’s footprints. But Jesus is patient with us as we learn to follow. Our heartfelt efforts and desire to practice a godly life please him. He knows that Christ-likeness will be a struggle on good days, let alone those when we’re suffering.

It is a radical change to think of life in terms of servanthood. There is no better analogy than that of death and resurrection: death to our old life of self-centeredness, self-preservation, and self-assertion and resurrection to a new life of service. In this new life, the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve without qualification or reservation. Our lives are to be about the service of others, like The Good Example given to us to follow.

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