“Strengthened for Suffering”
(1 Peter 3:18-22)
Series: Strength Through Adversity
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
- Take your Bibles and join me in 1 Peter, chapter 3 (page 816; YouVersion).
These verses, verses 18-22, are very interesting to say the least. This passage of Scripture has caused many to scratch their heads. Martin Luther said this passage is, “more obscure than any other passage in the New Testament.”
When a passage is unclear it may generally be understood from the immediate context. If it still remains unclear, it should be compared with other passages in the context of the book in which it is found and then compared through the entire Bible.
Verse 17, “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Why is it better to suffer for doing good? Certainly one reason is because of the power of our witness to others. When people see you suffering for righteousness’ sake and trusting God through it all, believing in your hearts that Christ really is in control, then it has an effect upon them.
If you suffer for doing evil that doesn’t really draw people to God. They look at your suffering for doing evil and they say, “Well, he had that coming to him,” but when you suffer for doing good, people see that and God often uses your suffering to draw them to God. So Peter goes on in verse 18 and says, “That’s what Christ did, you know.” Verse 18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…”
Now, look at the verse immediately following this passage, chapter 4 and verse 1: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind…” That is, prepare to suffer. Arm yourselves. Since Christ suffered for us, you also prepare to suffer. So, wherever we land on trying to figure out all the stuff in the middle, this passage is about how we may prepare for suffering, about God’s strengthening to face our suffering for Christ.
- Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,
20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
I don’t imagine the logo, “Called to Suffer for Christ,” would be very successful in winning followers to Jesus, do you? Suffering is no fun. It’s something we naturally try to avoid. Yet, as we have noted in previous studies of 1 Peter, God tells us suffering for Christ is to be expected.
Stephen Neil says in his History of Christian Missions says that in the first three centuries of the church, when the church was spreading like wildfire, he said, “Every Christian knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life (page 43, as cited by John Piper, sermon: “Strengthened to Suffer: Christ, Noah, and Baptism”).”
And that hasn’t changed today. We learned a few Sunday evenings ago the number of people who die for Christ each day in the world. The number of Christian martyrs worldwide, according to research by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2010), is staggering: An average of 159,960 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith per year. That comes to 438 Christian martyrs a day.
It is all the more necessary for us as Christians in America to remember that suffering is the norm of Christian experience. Persecution and martyrdom is not the exception and never has been the exception worldwide. Our nation is atypical of the normal experience of Christianity, especially throughout the world and throughout history.
To remember this is vitally important. If we get this down, then when we suffer, we will have a healthy theology of suffering. Unfortunately, too many Christians in our western, largely affluent context assume that we are always to be safe, healthy, and happy. So when these Christians encounter some kind of suffering–whether suffering for being a Christian or just suffering generally–these people feel they are a unique and doomed minority of sufferers with whom God is either angry or has decided to withdraw His blessings.
Just consider the typical prayer request. It is usually for someone’s health, isn’t it? “Pastor, pray for my great aunt’s neighbor’s father-in-law’s third wife.” Why? “Because she has a goiter and they just don’t know what they’re going to do about it.” Okay, I’ll pray. While I’m at it, anybody need to be saved in your family? With whom have you shared the Gospel lately? Anybody’s soul for whom you’re burdened? Shall I pray for God’s missional call in your life, too? After all, we are not promised a life free of health problems or bad days.
My oldest son, Matthew, recently introduced me to a phrase: “First-world problems.” What are First-world problems? Well, they are problems of privileged countries like ours relative to problems experienced by people living in Third-world countries, third-world countries comprising 3/4s of the world’s population.
First-world problems are frustrations and complaints that are experienced only by privileged individuals in wealthy countries like America. First-world problems cause persons of third-world countries to roll their eyes at us.
First-world problems are typically used as tongue-in-cheek comedic expressions to make light of small so-called, “problems.” In fact, the phrase has become an internet meme and is often found in the hashtags of Twitter users. Examples of First-world problems? Here are a few one liners from Twitter and other places on the internet. By the way, it’s okay to laugh. No need to feel guilty. This is the reality of the situation. First-world problems:
“Had to wait in the airport for 3 hours to go on my Caribbean vacation.”
“Both of my cars are in the shop.”
“Can’t find the right balance between my fan and my electric blanket.”
“My work days are too short, so I’m bored most of the day.”
“I have two phones and an iPod. Charge is low on all three. Hate when that happens.”
“My Persian rug doesn’t really tie the room together.”
“I ate too much for lunch, but then my manager brought in cake and biscuits.”
“That perennial messy sunscreen hands and iPad conflict.”
“I have to get dressed so that I don’t look too lazy when I go out to pay the gardener.”
First-world problems. Can you relate? Some of you experienced a First-world problem this morning when you arrived today and couldn’t find a close parking space…for your CAR! First-world problem.
The point is that our experience as Christians in America is the experience of a privileged people. We shouldn’t feel guilty about this if we are being good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. At the same time, however, this means that we should never be surprised when we do suffer for following Christ.
Now the passage is about how God strengthens us for times of suffering. How are we strengthened for suffering? We’ve talked before about how we are strengthened in our suffering or through our suffering (1Peter 1:6-7), but how are we strengthened for suffering? How may we prepare for suffering? What does God do for us to strengthen us that we may be able to endure times of great trial and difficulty?
Well, let’s take a look at these five verses, verses 18-22, and then, after studying them, I want to give you a few practical reminders. But let’s first take a closer look at these verses. We read here of two persons, Jesus Christ and Noah. So we read about the suffering of Jesus Christ and the suffering of Noah. Verse 18:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just (singular) for the unjust (plural), that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
We looked at this verse briefly last week in preparation for our observance of the Lord’s Supper. It’s a great verse that summarizes Christ’s work on the cross. Peter says Christ suffered “once for sins.” He suffered once for all time. It’s a concise way of saying that Christ paid completely the penalty for our sins. He is “the just (singular)” who died for “the unjust (ones; plural).”
Christ suffered “that He might bring us to God.” He suffered and died so that we could be reconciled to God. We needed to be reconciled to God but our sins stood in the way. God is holy and man is unholy because of sin. So Jesus took our punishment upon Himself that He might bring us to God.
Then, the last part of verse 18 says that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” Some of you have translations where that word “Spirit” is not capitalized and I think that is correct. In the original it is not capitalized and I think it should remain uncapitalized because Peter is contrasting the physical realm with the spiritual realm, the realm of the Holy Spirit’s activity. In the spiritual realm, Christ was raised from the dead.
This is important because in the New Testament generally this ‘spiritual’ realm is the realm of all that is lasting, permanent, eternal. Christ suffered physically that He might attain spiritual gain, the spiritual gain being “that He might bring us to God.” Similarly, we Christians often experience temporary suffering in this temporary world knowing that we will one day receive spiritual gain, an eternal inheritance when we go home to be with the Lord.
So Christ was “made alive by the spirit.” It is in this spiritual realm that Christ has been proclaiming His Word for all time. The second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, is eternal. He has been around forever. You’ll remember that we looked previously at Chapter 1 and verse 11 where Peter says that “the spirit of Christ” was in the Old Testament prophets years ago (1Peter 1:11) and that He revealed His message about His future sufferings in them and through them.
It is in this same spiritual realm that Christ had also spoken in the days of Noah. In fact, Christ spoke through Noah. In Peter’s second letter, Peter refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5).” The “spirit of Christ” preached through Noah. That’s what Peter says next. Referring to–last part of verse 18–the “spiritual realm”–Peter continues in verse 19:
19 by whom (or better, “in which,” in the spiritual realm) also He (Christ) went and preached to the spirits in prison,
That is, in the spiritual realm Christ preached to people who are now in the prison of hell (so NASB). They were once alive in the days of Noah, but are now spirits in the prison of hell because they rejected the message Christ preached through Noah, a message of repentance.
So these are people who were alive in the days of similar persecution as the persecution faced by Peter’s readers. These are people who, verse 20:
20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in (better, “into”) which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
Peter is saying that Christ was preaching through Noah when the ark was being built. Fascinating, isn’t it?! Every time we witness, the spirit of Christ witnesses through us. Remember the principle from last week? “When I speak about Christ, Christ speaks through me.”
The spirit of Christ was preaching through Noah when Noah was building that ark and telling everyone to get in. Noah’s message was, “Hey! The judgment is coming. Repent and get into the ark.” And the spirit of Christ preached that message through Noah.
Did they listen to Noah? No. Peter says they were “disobedient.” And Peter even underscores the “Divine longsuffering” of God, God’s incredible longsuffering or patience. How long did God give the people an opportunity to repent? How long did Noah build the ark? 120 years! God is very patient.
He’s the same patient God of today. He is patient with unbelievers today, giving them yet another day to repent and be saved. He is patient with the unbelieving husbands of Christian wives, unbelieving teenagers and unbelieving co-workers. God doesn’t have to give us a chance, at all, but He does.
So this passage is about Christ, in the spiritual realm, preaching through Noah to the unbelievers of Noah’s day while Noah was building the ark.
We won’t take time to other views of this passage, views which I do not think are correct. Some believe this passage teaches that Christ died on the cross and then descended into hell to preach to lost people in hell or to preach to angels in hell and so forth, but this just doesn’t seem right to me.
Certainly, the idea that lost people in hell receive some kind of second chance to receive Christ goes against everything the Bible teaches about the Gospel. Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgment.” There’s no second chance after death. Furthermore, Jesus’ spirit went to be with the Lord immediately after death. He had said to the thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).”
Rather, this passage teaches that in the spiritual realm Christ was preaching through Noah when the ark was being built. This is the view of Augustine and a number of other good and wise scholars.
Those in Noah’s day rejected Christ’s message. Only 8 souls were saved through the judgment of the flood. Peter says at the end of verse 20, “8 souls were saved through the water,” through the waters of judgment.
It seems that as Peter talks about the floodwaters of Noah’s day he is reminded of the waters of Christian baptism. He says in verse 21:
21 There (or, this) is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer (better, “appeal”) of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
The baptismal waters correspond to escaping the judgment waters of the flood. Christian baptism symbolizes the escaping of judgment.
Peter is not saying that baptism saves us. We know we are not saved by our works, but by grace through faith in Christ alone. Elsewhere Peter is clear that we are not saved by anything we do, but by Who we know–Jesus Christ–and what He has done.
Rather, Peter is saying here that baptism is an “antitype” or a “symbol” of our salvation. It’s not the washing way of dirt from our bodies, Peter says in verse 21, “Not the removal of the fifth of the flesh,” but, “but the answer (or appeal) of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
That is, “We cry out to God, we appeal to Him, we ‘call upon the name of the Lord that we may be saved (Romans 10:13)’ through the resurrection of Christ.” We believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. And that is what baptism pictures (Romans 6:1-5).
So we could paraphrase Peter this way: “Baptism now saves you–not the outward physical sign and ceremony, but the inward spiritual reality that baptism pictures and portrays.”
“Salvation is portrayed through baptism but not in baptism.”
Of course, in the New Testament baptism occurred very closely following salvation. And one reason it did was because of this beautiful picture of death and resurrection. So baptism occurred very closely after conversion, so much so that an “unbaptized Christian” was something of a walking contradiction.
And Peter wraps up this imagery by expanding upon the resurrection of Christ. He says after Christ rose from the dead, verse 22:
22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
Christ has triumphed over all His enemies. He is now “at the right hand of God” and everything is subject to Him–all angels, demons, powers, and so forth. Christ rules over everyone and everything. He is Lord.
Now, we talked about how this passage prepares us for times of persecution and suffering for following Jesus.
**How are we Strengthened for Suffering?
1. Remember You are Not Alone.
Christ also suffered (verse 18). The main point here in these verses is that like the readers of Peter’s letter in Peter’s day and like Christians today, Christ has also suffered. You are not alone. Jesus has suffered and He knows what you are going through.
The devil wants you to think God has forsaken you. God has not forsaken you. He is with you always and He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are not alone. Christ also suffered for you, “leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps (1Peter 1:21).”
2. Remember that Christ is in Control.
Verse 22 teaches that Jesus Christ has absolute authority over all things, over every angelic being, principalities and powers, including the devil himself. This idea of remembering that Christ is in control is similar to the phrase we studied last week from verse 15, “In your hearts, sanctify Christ as Lord.” In your heart of hearts, believe–really believe–that Christ is in control of everything in your life.
3. Remember Your Ultimate Home.
Noah knew God was going to save him through suffering and bring him finally into another world, didn’t he? Noah knew that. He weathered the storm–literally!–and prepared for a better place. He withstood 120 years of persecution, looking forward to a new home, a better place after the flood.
Noah was a righteous minority just like Peter’s readers and just like you. He was surrounded by hostile unbelievers just like Peter’s readers and just like you. But he remembered that this world was not his home. He was a temporary resident, an alien, building an ark to take him away to a better place. Christian, remember that this world is not your ultimate home.
4. Remember not to be Discouraged in Witnessing.
Don’t be discouraged by small results. Noah preached for 120 years and had only 8 conversions. Some of you have been witnessing at work, school, etc., and feeling discouraged about the results. Remember that God has called you not to be “successful,” but, “faithful.” And remember the encouraging principle: “When I speak about Christ, Christ speaks through me.”
5. Remember our Greatest Need is to be Ready for Judgment.
This is especially important given that we are temporary residents in a “First-World” home.
Our greatest need is not be be comfortable and enjoy perfect health and make a lot of money. Our greatest need is to have our sins forgiven and to be saved from the judgment to come.
Noah preached that judgment near. Our judgment is near. Peter says in 2 Peter 3:10, “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” Our greatest need is to be ready for judgment. Our greatest need is to be saved from eternal misery in hell.
Following Christ is a call to suffering, but it is a suffering that is temporary. It is a suffering in this present time that is “not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).”
So we are honest with non-Christians. We tell lost people, “Yes, coming to Christ means you will suffer. It is not health, wealth, prosperity. It is not even, ‘Come to Christ for a meaningful life.‘ Rather, it is, ‘Come to Christ and yes, suffer, but know that this suffering saves you from eternal suffering in hell.’”
- Stand for prayer.
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.