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Christ’s Victory Accomplished Through Suffering (3:18a)

Easter Sunday | | April 1, 2018

Christ’s Victory Accomplished Through Suffering (3:18a)

An extremely challenging passage. This morning we step into a passage that might be considered an odd choice for an Easter Sunday service. What I desire to do this morning is break up this message into two parts. The first will consider the statement in , “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Following our meditation on this verse, we will celebrate communion, as a reflection of the last true Passover and the first Lord’s Supper, the Thursday night prior to the death of Christ.
Following communion, we will transition into our celebration of the resurrection through song, scripture reading, and a closer look at the end of this section in First Peter. In verses 19 through 22, Peter discusses both a proclamation and salvation offered by and in Christ.

Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate example of suffering.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins” ( ESV). If Christ also suffered, then we can logically conclude that other people have as well suffered. In fact, the primary purpose of the book of First Peter is to encourage a group of suffering believers. We find in chapter 2 a discussion on the suffering of these believers, but more specifically we find a discussion in the immediate preceding context. Look up just a few verses. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” ( ESV). Just three verses later we read, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” ( ESV). These believers were suffering and motivated by a desire to encourage them, Peter reminds them. Christ also suffered.
Christ also suffered. In asking you to suffer for righteousness sake He is only asking you to do something that he was willing to do himself and in fact did do himself. He was an example for you. Isn’t it nice, amid something new (whether it be a new job, hobby, or concept), to have an example to follow? Jesus seemed to understand this human need.
As a sophomore in high school, my friends suggested and convinced me to drop basketball and join the wrestling team. I walked into wrestling practice that first day with no knowledge of what to do. As the weeks went by my coach would use different players, usually the new guys, to show wrestling moves on, single leg take down, ankle pick, firemen’s carry, etc. We’d get tossed all over the place so that we could see an example of the move. It was painful but extremely helpful.
Consider suffering for doing what is right. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an example of what that might look like? Peter tells us that Jesus offers us an example.
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. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. ( ESV).
Perfect example. Christ was not simply an example, but he was the perfect example. In learning a new task, most assuredly we would desire the best example we could find. We’d hate to follow someone’s example only to find that they weren’t really good at the task. This is not the case with Christ. He offers us a perfect example. He paid the ultimate price. He was the ultimate example.
[Look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ( ESV).

Christ’s sacrifice was a single offering for sins.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins” ( ESV). There is no further work for Christ. It was comprehensive.
Let’s dwell on the fact, for just a moment, that Christ offered one sacrifice. To appreciate the full weight of this singular sacrifice, we should better understand the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Of course, this moment doesn’t allow for much depth in the Old Testament sacrificial system, but let me offer the cliff notes (or spark notes) for a quick overview.
We are going to do a quick dive into the book of Leviticus in a moment. Before we do let’s first realize that there were at least two offerings offered every day, by the priests, for the sins of the people.
Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. . . . 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations (, ESV).
In addition to these to daily offerings, Leviticus outlines for us at least 5 other offerings. (1) The first chapter outlines the burnt offering that was a voluntary act of worship or commitment to God. It could also be used to atone for unintentional sins. (2) The second chapter outlines the grain offering. This offering was taken from the fruit of the field and was offered to express thanksgiving to God for his provision. (3) Chapter 3 outlines the third offering which was a peace offering. This was a sacrifice of thanksgiving and fellowship which would often be followed by a shared meal. These three offerings were all voluntary offerings, primarily for worship and thanksgiving.
There were as well two required offerings. (4) The sin offering must be offered to atone for sin and cleanse from defilement. The guidelines for this offering are in . Chapter 5 walks us through some of the sins one might commit to need a sin offering. If someone sins by not testifying to something they witness, they are guilty. If someone touches something unclean, they are guilty. If someone utters rash speech, he is guilty. If this individual comes to realize their sin, they must follow the guidelines, come to the tabernacle (or temple) and offer a sin offering. (5) The rest of chapter 5 outlines the guidelines for the guilt offering. The guilt offering was brought if someone sinned unintentionally and restitution was needed to be made.
Now, let’s jump to chapter 16, and there we find that, on the Day of Atonement, an annual sacrifice for sins was offered. It was only on this day that the high priest could enter the holy of Holies to perform elaborate rituals to atone for the sins of the people.
Admission to the holy of Holies was barred to all except the high priest, and then he could enter it only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to create a perfect and remarkable coalescence of the most sacred individual, the most sacred of space, the most sacred day of the year, and the most sacred rite.[1]
These were all sacrifices offered in the temple. These do not include the many types of offerings that God directed them to perform outside of the sanctuary.[2]
So then, each day, sacrifices were being offered. Imagine the number of sacrifices being offered as person after person brought different types of sacrifices to the tabernacle or temple to either worship God, display gratitude for his provision, or sacrifice for intentional or unintentional sins.
Consider the effort put in by the people to follow the guidelines for each of these sacrifices. Consider the awkwardness and potential shame as day after day they would lead their perfect lamb to the tabernacle and offer sacrifice, once again, for their sins.
I imagine the noisy neighbors or the insightful priest that leans over to their companion and whispers, “Isn’t this like the fifth time this week that Joab is making a sin offering? Yikes!”
All of that was comprehensively eliminated with the sacrifice of Christ – once! “For Christ also suffered once for sins” ( ESV). Paul refers to the sacrificial system as “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” ( ESV).
We have a high priest that “has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” ( ESV).
So, the perfect sinless Son of God died for the sins of the world. It was a penalty due to all the unrighteous that He bore in their place.
MacArthur. He took the judgment that belonged to us, He was the perfect full final sacrifice for sins. And what do we learn from Him? That unjust suffering at its most extreme point can be triumphant. Even though an ultimately worthy one was dying for unworthy sinners, even though He didn't deserve to die, and we did, He triumphed through it all.[3]

Christ’s sacrifice restored us back to God.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, [to what end, what was his goal?] that he might bring us to God” ( ESV). Have you ever gotten to the end of something and wondered, “what was the point of all that?” Of course, we have already acknowledged that the point – at least in one sense – was to pay for sins. But, why did Jesus desire or need to pay for sins?
Peter answers this question, so that “he might bring us to God.” Sin separates us from God. Isaiah declares, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” ( ESV). In Ephesians, Paul writes about how we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In that state, we were “separated from Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” ( ESV).
Christ’s sacrifice was not merely a great example of suffering. He is not simply the model martyr. He didn’t die simply so that we would know how to react and live through suffering as well. There was a much greater purpose to his death and that was your reconciliation to God.

Christ’s Victorious Salvation Proclaimed (3:18b-22)

I would like to acknowledge, up front, that this is a really challenging passage. As you read this passage, there are probably several confusing statements and resulting questions that jump out at you. How was Christ put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit? What does it mean that Christ made a proclamation to the spirits now in prison? Where was Christ when He made that proclamation? Who were the spirits in prison? Why or How is Noah connected to these spirits? What does it mean that baptism now saves?
I would also like to suggest, up front, that we not take this morning to offer a thorough explanation for all the opposing views. I’ll attempt to clearly acknowledge them, but we don’t have the ability to wrestle through each of them this morning.
My emphasis this morning will be that as a result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a glorious proclamation was made, a glorious salvation was offered, and a glorious reign was initiated.

A Glorious Proclamation was Made (3:19-20)

When did he proclaim? To understand when Christ proclaimed this victory, we must first wrestle with whether or not he proclaimed it when he was “dead in the flesh” (his crucifixion) or when he was “alive in the spirit” (his resurrection).
First view. The pre-incarnate Christ made proclamation through Moses to those in Moses time. Taught by Augustine, Aquinas and many of the Reformers. The primary theological reason for this view was the rejection of the Catholic dogma that Christ descended into hell and proclaimed the gospel to those bound in hell for the purpose of offering them postmortem salvation. Driven by a desire to refute such a doctrine, men such as Augustine concluded that Christ’s proclamation must have taken place at another point – likely the time of Noah through Noah’s preaching.
Second view. Christ made proclamation during the 3 days his body was in the tomb. This view is a bit more likely than the previous, but the one primary problem with this view is that it has Christ making proclamation prior to his resurrection which seems a bit premature. Is not his resurrection a primary and necessary point in His victory?
Third view and most likely. Christ made proclamation following His resurrection. I would like to propose that this is the best understanding for this passage, for theological reasons, but as well since the proclamation, within the passage, chronologically follows the acknowledgment of Christ’s resurrection.
What did He proclaim? If we reject the idea that Christ did not descend to hell and offer postmortem salvation, then we could logically conclude that this proclamation is not the gospel. Instead, he heralded the good news of His resurrection. The word translated as “proclamation” in this passage is kerusso whereas euangelizo is the word more often used in the context of preaching the gospel. This alone would not be sufficient to draw a conclusion, but just a couple words later we see the word for spirit.
To whom did he make this proclamation of victory? This proclamation was made to spirits. The word for spirits is rarely used to speak of people.[4] While people can have a spirit, they are not traditionally considered to be spirits. In fact, people are referenced in verse 20, and the word used there is different (psyche). Spirits almost always refers to angelic spiritual beings. As well, Peter makes a point to reference how all the angelic realm is subjected to Christ, in verse 22.
Therefore, we conclude that, as a result of the resurrection, Christ went somewhere and made a proclamation of victory to some angelic beings, specifically demons.
Where did he make this proclamation? These demons are in an actual place, a prison of some kind. To narrow our focus in on these particular demons, let’s first consider a broad understanding of fallen angels. To do so, we go back to Genesis and Job. Following God’s creation, everything was very good. Therefore, we can conclude that neither angels or humanity had fallen at this point – otherwise his creation would not have all been very good. At some point following creation, but prior to the sin of Adam and Eve, a group of angelic beings, led by Satan, defied Christ and were cast from heaven to earth.
Since the fall they have sought to destroy God’s redemptive plan. This group of fallen angels is made up of two subgroups. (1) The first subgroup is loosed and roam the earth. We read of some of them in . Jesus healed a man possessed by demons. When Jesus cast them out, “they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss” ( ESV). This abyss is a bottomless pit, and a place for shutting away the devil and his spirits. (2) The second subgroup of fallen angels are presently bound. Both Peter and Jude mention these spirits.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; ( ESV).
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day ( ESV).
To what event are both these authors referring? Peter writes, “they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” ( ESV). While I acknowledge the potential danger in over simplifying this, let me propose that the event to which these two authors refer is found in .
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. ( ESV).
It is traditionally understood that the “sons of God” in this passage refer to fallen angels. Fallen angels impregnated woman and as a result “the mighty men of old” were born. In so doing, they went outside the bounds of what God would tolerate, and he placed them in the abyss. They’ve been there ever since. All along, these demons are hoping that Satan will be victorious in destroying God’s plan and power. They cheer at numerous times throughout the Old Testament as it appears that God’s promised people are going to be destroyed. They cheer as Satan tempts Christ in the wilderness. They cheer as men are enticed to kill Christ. They cheer as Christ is crucified, and they cheer as his body is placed in the tomb. When Jesus died, all hell thought they had won. The demons in the pit were probably anticipating release, but in the midst of their celebration over their perceived greatest defeat, Christ arrives and proclaims that He died and paid the penalty of sin and rose again conquering sin and death.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses . . . God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses . . . he set aside [your debt], nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. ( ESV).

A Glorious Salvation was Offered (3:21)

We now step into what is likely the most challenging section of these verses, the statement, “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (). First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that we actually do believe this verse. Baptism does save us. The important question to answer is, what kind of baptism is being referenced in this verse?
We are told that baptism corresponds to something. To what does it correspond? Well, the passage makes it fairly clear that baptism corresponds to Noah and the flood. So then, let’s consider that for a moment. What saved Noah and his family? The ark saved them. So then, they were placed into the ark and they were saved from the water which was the actual and symbolic wrath of God. The water destroyed everything but because they were immersed or placed into the ark, they were saved.
Corresponding to this picture, baptism now saves. But, baptism into what? Peter helps us by very quickly acknowledging that this baptism, whatever it is, isn’t “a removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it’s not just a physical washing of some kind. Instead, this baptism is somehow connected to an appeal to God for a good conscience.
MacArthur. an appeal to God for a good conscience. What's that? Repentance. I'm tired of my accusations. I'm tired of my guilt. I'm tired of the burden of sin. I want my conscience cleansed. And you cry to God for, not an outward washing, but an inward cleansing, which is available through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, you recognize Jesus died for you and he rose again and that, therein, is the provision of salvation and the sinner comes and says, "God, through the work of Christ, wash me on the inside.
Simply put, this baptism is not referring to anything physical, but instead spiritual. The sinner is pleading with God to be relieved of the burden of guilt and the threat of hell. Because of this repentance, God places the sinner into the body of Christ, which is symbolized by the ark, and the sinner is freed from the wrath of God and is saved. This placement into Christ, this immersion into the body of Christ, is spiritual baptism – and that baptism, into Christ, now saves you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( ESV).
This salvation was made possible by the resurrection. The reason that Christ was an effective “ark” of safety was due the victory found in His resurrection. The death and resurrection of Christ allowed Him to be the vehicle through which we pass through the wrath of God unscathed.

A Glorious reign was Initiated (3:22)

Peter concludes this section with one more glorious note due Christ’s triumph due his resurrection. Christ “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” ( ESV).
Both the Old and New Testament confirm that the right hand is a place of power and prestige. It was to this position that Christ was raised.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. ( ESV).
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ( ESV).
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” ( ESV).
[1] Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 212.
[2] Richard E. Averbeck, “Offerings and Sacrifices,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 574.
[2] Richard E. Averbeck, “Offerings and Sacrifices,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 574.
[3] John MacArthur, “The Triumph of Christ’s Suffering Part 1,” Grace to You (blog), October 8, 1989,
[3] John MacArthur, “The Triumph of Christ’s Suffering Part 1,” Grace to You (blog), October 8, 1989,
[4] Likely its only use is found in . “and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” In Hebrews it contains a modifier. It doesn’t stand alone.
[4] Likely its only use is found in . “and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” In Hebrews it contains a modifier. It doesn’t stand alone.
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