The Work of the Living Christ
1 Peter 3:18-22
Are you a person in need of encouragement? Maybe for all of us, the answer in some way is, “Yes.” If you don't think that you’re a person in need of encouragement, you are surely near someone who is, and you will be that person someday soon.
I had a professor once tell me in seminary that if you ever need to speak to a crowd of people that you do not know and you want to speak a word that will apply, speak a word of encouragement or comfort.
There is a way in which suffering is the universal experience of all, this side of eternity, because we do live in a broken world. And Peter has been particularly talking about a certain type of suffering, suffering because of your faith, suffering because of your stand for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so this passage that we’re looking at this week – 1 Peter 3:18-22 – is intended to be a passage of encouragement. And I'm concerned that as we look at this passage, which is a bit of a curious passage, a passage which has been the subject of lots of discussion, that you do not lose sight of what the passage is intended to do.
Peter would encourage the people that he's writing to by first pointing to the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, then pointing to the Old Testament example of Noah, and finally by pointing to the work that God is doing in His children in the ‘here and now.’ And in that way, remind us, not only of our calling as those who are called as God’s ambassadors and as His ambassadors, called to experience suffering for the sake of the Gospel, but be reminded of who we are as children of God.
Make no mistake, however, First Peter 3:18-22 is by all accounts the most difficult passage to interpret in 1 Peter – some say the entire New Testament. Martin Luther writes in his commentary: ‘A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.’ As Ed Clowney notes, ‘Study of the passage may have progressed since Luther’s day, but his confession still warns us against over-confidence!’
Yet, whatever the uncertainties in 1 Peter 3:18-19, the main theme is clear: ‘When Jesus suffered unjustly, God vindicated him, and he will vindicate us, too’ (Dan Doriani). Furthermore, there is a tight connection between verses 18 and 22, where the word usage (in the Greek language) ‘connect[s] what humans did to Jesus and what the Father did for Jesus’ (Doriani). Hence, a threefold declaration forms the framework for the passage: Jesus was put to death, and then rose to life and ascended into heaven. In other words, Peter wants us to know that if we suffer and even die for the faith, God will raise and vindicate us, too. Indeed, we should find courage in knowing that we will follow the pattern of Christ, through suffering to resurrection and vindication.
Remember, Peter is writing to a people who were being mocked and rejected. So he goes back to the work of Christ for them, and he wants them to reflect on this ultimate, awesome reality of their lives – even though they were misunderstood, even though they were mistreated, even though they were mocked – they had received the most glorious, wonderful acceptance that any human being could ever want: they now had acceptance with God because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He brought ‘them to God.’
There'll be a day when the mockery will end. There'll be a day when there'll be no more torture, and no more rejection, and no more suffering, and no more sadness, and you will live with Him forever. And He will not relent; He will not sit down; He will not quit; He will not rest until that work is complete in every one of His children. He reigns; He reigns on our behalf.
So, I ask you: when you're discouraged, what do you do? Head for more chocolate? I'm serious. Cut open the tube of chocolate chip cookie dough and try to numb yourself with sweets? Scroll on social media for hours, hoping you can escape your discouragement? Question the love and faithfulness of God? Give yourself to victim themes, repeating to yourself how unusually hard your life has been, harder than anybody you know? What do you do when you're discouraged?
Here is your model: encourage yourself with the example of Christ, with the substitutionary work of Christ on your behalf. Encourage yourself with the Gospel. Encourage yourself with the legacy of the people of God, story after story of how God rescued and vindicated His people by His power. And encourage yourself with the reality of the redemption that is now going on for you. Yes, you are saved, but you are being saved, and you will be saved, and you remember that you are never alone, but you have been drawn into the family of God, and King Christ now rules on your behalf.
In a word, when you're discouraged, do you preach to yourself the Gospel? Do you seek someone who will preach to you the Gospel? Or do you go somewhere else?
As long as you are living in this fallen world, as long as suffering exists, you are a person in need of the Gospel. There's never a day in your life where you don't need the Gospel. May God make us people who run to the Gospel. For it is there we find hope, we find encouragement, we find reason to continue, in Christ and His work in us and His work for us.
Hope to see you running after the gospel this Lord’s Day. Grace and peace to you.
For His Glory,