Hidden Treasures: New Testament Word Studies–IN HIS STEPS

Sand artwork adorns the beach around the Bandon seastacks on the south Oregon Coast.

In the photo above, Thomas Robinson, nature photographer, captures an image of a person walking along the beach in southern Oregon near the town of Bandon. An unknown sand artist has created a beautiful path to follow, step by step.

This is the picture found in 1 Peter 2:21, where we find our hidden treasure this week, the phrase IN HIS STEPS.

“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.”

Peter tells us we have been called by God into a specific way of living, a way of life Peter describes as a step by step walking journey.

Christ is our trail guide, having gone before us along this same way, a way that includes suffering. Peter uses the word “suffer” 19 times in his five chapter letter, more than any other book in the entire Bible. Christ’s suffering and our suffering as followers of Christ is one of the main themes in 1st Peter.

Christ suffered for us. Jesus’ suffering included all he suffered while living on earth, and uniquely, his suffering on the Cross. In his suffering, Jesus leaves us an example. The word Peter uses for “example” is HUPOGRAMMOS, literally to trace in outline. The example we trace in outline with our lives is the suffering of Jesus.

We are called by God to walk the way of the Cross, tracing in our lives Christ’s example. Jesus invites us to daily take up our Cross and follow him.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Peter was a follower of Jesus, literally walking behind him along miles and miles of roads and paths for three years. Peter heard Jesus speak the invitation found in Luke 9 above. When Peter writes his first letter, he too invites us to follow Jesus. The Greek word Peter uses is the same word Jesus used, to walk behind or to follow someone while walking.

As I’ve walked on the beach, over the past three decades, because we live just a few blocks away from the ocean, I’ve often put my footprints in the impressions left by someone else, following in the exact footprints I’ve found in the sand. Everyone has a slightly different length of stride and slightly different size of foot. I’ve adjusted my steps to fit into the steps of the person who walked before me.

This is exactly what Peter calls us to do: to walk behind or follow Jesus, stepping IN HIS STEPS. In Greek, this phrase reads τοῖς ἴχνεσιν αὐτοῦ (tois ichnesin autou), or literally “the steps of him.” The word STEPS, ichnesin in Greek, is literally the impression made by the sole of a foot in sand or earth. When you see someone’s footprints in mud or sand, you are seeing what Peter is talking about. He invites all of us who have not seen Jesus face to face, to follow by faith, stepping one footprint after the next, walking in the exact steps of Jesus, steps which include a willingness to suffer, to experience pain, loss, grief, hardship for the sake of our live with the Lord.

In what ways have you been following in his steps?

Of course, this phrase, IN HIS STEPS, also became the title of a dearly loved novel by Charles Sheldon, first published in 1896, in which the author asks the question, “What would Jesus do?” and answers this question by following “in his steps,” quoting from our scripture passage, unearthing and bringing into daily life this hidden treasure from 1 Peter 2:21.