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When Jesus began his ministry, people were drawn to him like he was a magnet. They saw his miracles and heard his preaching and deduced he was a prophet sent from God at the very least. And perhaps he was even more.
Perhaps this prophet from Nazareth was the Messiah that they had been waiting for. The Messiah they expected to bring a new era of political freedom and economic prosperity to the nation of Israel.
It was so ingrained in the minds of the people that the promised Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom for the Jews, that even after years of preaching to the contrary, and after his death and resurrection, the disciples of Christ still insisted on asking,
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV).
Jesus told them that instead of glory, they should expect persecution and suffering in this world. The followers of Christ would be seized, thrown out of synagogues, put in jail, and dragged before civil authorities.
Instead of glory, they would get injustice.
As human beings we are sensitive to injustice, or perceived injustice, especially when it is directed at us personally.
It’s one thing to have to fix what you broke, or apologize for hurtful words that you said. But when a person blames you for something you didn’t do, or ridicules you for doing something that was actually right and good, that’s harder to take.
In our reading for today, the apostle Peter teaches that in this life Christians are called to suffer injustice in the name of our Savior.
And Peter highlights two things that help us to suffer personal injustice with grace. First of all, when we look to Christ, we see that he experienced great injustice to redeem us. This makes our suffering for him a great honor.
Secondly, when we look to God’s promise of final redemption, we learn to endure injustice in this life as an exercise of faith. An exercise of faith which will ultimately end in glory.
1 Peter 3:17-22 (NASB)
17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
This is the eighth sermon in our ongoing study of Peter’s first letter. As we’ve already noted, Peter wrote this letter to a group of churches located in Asia Minor in the first century AD. He wrote to them because he heard that they had been suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and Peter wanted to encourage them in the faith.
In the verses just preceding our reading for today, Peter encouraged his fellow Christians not to retaliate when people told lies about them or ridiculed their godly lives.
When people tell lies about us, or make fun of us, our natural instinct is to respond in the same way. To repay angry words with our own angry words. To repay slander with slander, and insult with insult.
But Peter says that the Christian should take the high road instead. The follower of Christ should note that it is better to suffer for doing right, than to suffer for doing what is wrong.
There is nothing to be admired when a criminal receives what their crimes deserve. But when a righteous person endures under injustice because of they trust God, that is admirable.
If you and I are going to bring this teaching into play in our own lives, we need to start with the small injustices. We need to learn to endure them with grace. Forgiving those who commit them, and looking to God for the strength to respond with gentleness and love.
If we practice repaying the small evils with good, then we’ll grow in spirit. Then we’ll be prepared by God to face greater injustice in a way that brings honor and renown to the name “Christian”—to our Savior’s name.
Peter directs his brothers and sisters in Christ to remember the injustice that Jesus endured on our behalf. Verse 18 says,
“18For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1 Peter 3:18 NASB).
Every year, during Lent, we remember the injustice that our Savior endured on our behalf. He was arrested without any real charges being cited against him. He was beaten and interrogated. Coached witnesses told lies about him. Men spit on him and slapped him around while his hands were bound.
When Pontius Pilate proclaimed Jesus innocent of all charges, he then had his men scourge Jesus with an iron studded whip. Then, to add more injury and insult, Pilate again pronounced Jesus innocent and sentenced him to be crucified to death.
But greater than this, while Jesus was on the cross, he carried our guilt on his soul. Peter says that Christ, “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust.” That is to say, for all the wickedness that had ever been committed by human hearts and hands, Jesus suffered and died.
Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was even separated from his heavenly Father while securing our salvation. He suffered our hell, when he had only, ever, done what was right and good.
This puts things into perspective for Christians enduring injustice in their own lives. Jesus knows what we’re feeling when injustice happens. And it is the divine forgiveness that comes to us through his sacrifice that enables us to face injustice with courage, gentleness, and love—instead of anger, spite, and harsh words.
Because of what Christ suffered to redeem us from hell, anything we might suffer for his name is now a privilege, and a great honor. Like the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1,
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (Philippians 1:29 NASB).
But to help his fellow Christians in Asia Minor to bear up under injustice, Peter not only directs them to look back to Christ. He also directs them to look forward to the glory which will one day be ours in heaven.
After Jesus humbly gave himself to save the unjust, he was raised from the dead in glory. And after appearing to many, to show them that his sacrifice on their behalf had been accepted, Jesus ascended through the skies to sit enthroned at the Father’s side, above all angels, authorities, and powers.
But before he left his little band of followers on earth, he promised them that one day he would return for them. But this next time he would not come in lowliness to suffer. This next time he would come in glory with all the angels of heaven. And all who looked to him as their Savior and King would be gathered into the Father’s house once and for all.
When we look forward to Christ’s return, and our vindication before the whole world, we again receive perspective. Any indignity or injustice that we suffered in this life will mean absolutely NOTHING. It will be a blip on the radar, a sand on the seashore, a drop in the ocean—compared to the glory we will inherit. Like Paul says in Romans 8,
“…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NASB).
When we respond to evil with good, and refuse to settle the scores ourselves when faced with personal injustice, we are exercising our faith in Christ’s promise. And with exercise comes greater strength. Greater trust in Christ’s promise, and a firmer grasp on the glory to come.
This explains why the Christian church has so often flourished in the face of persecution. It was when times were easy that Christians were tempted to grow spiritually fat and lazy. But when kings and emperors tried to stamp out Christianity, that’s when the power of Christ flared up and the message of forgiveness through Christ found its way into more and more homes and hearts.
It was during times of persecution and injustice that Christians were forced to look back to the cross, and the empty tomb, up to Christ enthroned at the Father’s side, and forward to the time when he would return in glory.
But we don’t need persecution to do these things do we? Not if we take Peter’s words to heart. We can look back to Christ in faith, and forward to Christ in faith—even if we’re not in chains for our faith. That’s what we’re trying to do here today isn’t it!?
When some personal injustice, small or great, weighs on your heart and mind, bring it to Christ. Don’t let it fester. Bring it to Christ, for the power to forgive. And look forward to the day when all wrongs will be made right in the kingdom of God.
Now before we close our mediation today there are a few more important theological points to talk about in our reading.
Into this portion of his letter, Peter weaves three such points. One is the Christ’s descent into hell. Look again at verses 18-20.
“18For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20 NASB).
This is the only section in the whole Scripture which specifically refers to Christ’s descent into hell. It states that after Christ was raised from the dead He went, in his new glorified state, to make a proclamation to spirits imprisoned in hell and awaiting the final judgment.
These spirits included, at least, those who rejected God in the days of Noah. While we aren’t told specifically what Christ announced to them, we know from the rest of Scripture that it wasn’t the Gospel. Their opportunity to come to faith in Christ had ended when they had died. So, we conclude that Christ’s message to them was a proclamation of victory over all who had rejected God.
It is notable that the Apostles’ Creed includes a line referring to Christ’s the descent into hell. The Apostles’ Creed evolved in the first five centuries as concise confession of what a Christian believes. While the version we use today is first found in its entirety toward the close of the fifth century, we find bits and pieces of it being used all the way back to the first century.
Some find it strange that the early Christians would include the descent into hell in the creed. After all, it is only communicated to us by a single passage of Scripture. But rather than strange, it’s educational. It teaches us how early Christians viewed Scripture. It didn’t matter if it was only one verse in Scripture, if the Holy Spirit had it written down, it was solid. It didn’t need to be said five or six times in five or six different books of the Bible to be true. This was the word of God.
In this way, every time we say, “He descended into hell” in the Creed, we’re also saying, “I believe the Bible is the Spirit inspired Word of God in every part.”
The second theological point Peter weaves into our text for today is that Baptism saves a person from sin. Look at verse 21 again.
“21Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21 NASB).
To understand what Peter is saying here, let’s break it down a little bit. First of all, let’s take out the phrase in the middle and look at the basic statement Peter is making here. Peter’s basic statement is…
“…baptism now saves you… …through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21 NASB).
Baptism can be said to save a person from sin ONLY because it creates and strengthens faith in Christ. Christ is the one who offered himself as a sinless sacrifice in the place of all sinners. God the Father then raised him from the dead as testimony to the world that his sacrifice on behalf of sinners was accepted.
Baptism saves, but not apart from faith in Christ. It’s not a magic get-to-heaven-free card. It saves because it creates and strengthens faith in the one and only Savior!
Because Baptism creates and strengthens faith in the Savior, it gives us a clean conscience before God.
Peter makes a comparison here between the way God saved Noah and his family through the waters of the flood, and the way God now saves sinners through the waters of Baptism. In the ark, Noah and his family were rescued. In Christ, sinners are rescued.
A lot of churches are confused when it comes to Baptism. They say it doesn’t save, even though the Bible clearly says otherwise. I think they say this because they don’t want people to think Baptism is a magical ticket to heaven. Just get baptized and then you’re all good, no matter what you believe afterwards.
Better to teach them what Baptism really is. It is a tool that God uses to create and strengthen faith in Christ—who is the one way to forgiveness and eternal life.
We’ve already touched on the last theological point Peter weaves into our text for today, and that is the importance of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to suffer and die to save sinners. But he also told them that three days later he’d be raised from the dead.
When the Father raised Jesus from the dead, he was proclaiming to the world that the sacrifice his Son made on the cross was accepted. In other words, if Christ was really raised from the dead, our sins are really forgiven before God. That’s what the resurrection means.
Maybe you don’t feel like you’ve ever faced injustice because of your faith in Christ. But if you believe in the things that the Holy Spirit wrote through Peter in our text for today, the world considers you crazy.
We should bear up under injustice by trusting in God? What? Two thousand years ago a man died for our sins? Really? The flood was real? Jesus descended into hell to proclaim his victory to the souls of unbelievers? Baptism saves a person from hell? Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead, and now reigns over all powers and authorities?
If you haven’t faced ridicule for your beliefs yet, you will. But as you speak of God’s grace and the truths he reveals in Scripture, you will be blessed. You and those who hear you.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.