1 Peter 3:18-4:6 “Christ Suffered for Sins”
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.
1 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Introduction: In verse 18 we read, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” In this one verse is all the good news of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled and explained. There are so many people who divide the body and church of Jesus Christ by arguing about minor points of doctrine, and in doing so, obscure the heart of the Gospel, which is, that Christ Jesus suffered for sins to bring us to God. There is much more that can be said, and many other ways to say it, but, in the end, if you understand this, that Christ Jesus suffered for sins to bring us to God, then you understand what life and death, the world and creation, and God himself, is all about.
And even here, there are more details. He says first of all that “Christ suffered once”. This is important, and serves to make the same point, because there are always people who are trying to add to the sacrifice of Christ for sins. They seem to think that what Christ Jesus did was good, but, we, or the Virgin Mary, or God, or some preacher or religious person or someone else needs to add just one more thing for our sins to be forgiven. I went to a website, and found the following quote, “I like to hold my Rosary during Mass, to remind myself that I am with Mary at Calvary accompanying her, and to ask her to help me to understand and love the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus Christ is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in His Glorified Body in the Eucharist. Through the separate consecration of bread into His Flesh and wine into His Blood, Jesus Christ presents Himself in His glorified Body to God, in atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world.” [Dr. Jerome Dominguez] This typical of many, who speak of the death of Christ, but, then add the Rosary, and Mary, and the Mass as a sacrifice of atonement by Christ for our sins. Which is exactly why the apostle says, Christ suffered once for our sins. There is no repeated suffering, or repeated or imitated sacrifice. His sacrifice on the cross was complete and sufficient to pay for any sins.
And then he tells us why this is true. He says, “the just for the unjust.” The problem with all man-made ways of salvation is that sinful men come up with schemes to save sinful men. In an odd way, the chief priests and teachers of the law who mocked Jesus was right, when they said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” [Mark 15:31] for if the righteous one were to have saved himself from death on the cross, he could not die to save us. But, Praise God!, that is exactly what he did. He who did not sin, who was alone worthy to live and not die, did die, and he died for unjust men and women.
But again, there are those who pervert the meaning of this verse, who say that Jesus our Lord died to merely give us an opportunity to be saved, or to make salvation possible. This is not so, for he says, that he died, “that He might bring us to God.” The death of Jesus Christ for the ungodly is a complete sacrifice. It lacks nothing. When the just Jesus Christ died for the unjust sinners, the effect was to bring us to God, to pay for our sins, so that, as the Lord says, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33)
There are those who do not understand this, or who wish to deny the reality of this event. He tells us at the end of verse 18, “being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” That is, the death of Jesus Christ was a real event. This is offensive to the unbelieving mind, that he who is God in the flesh should die. That’s why all the major cults—the Watchtower, the Mormons, the Christian Scientists, and others, deny the reality of the death of Jesus Christ. But it is this central event which pays for our sins, the just for the unjust.
And to deny the death of Christ is also to deny the glory of what follows, that he who died did not remain in the grave with its corruption, but as he says, he was “made alive by the Spirit.” Christ Jesus indeed died and remained in the grave for three days, but on the third day, neither death nor grave had any power over him, for he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Corinthians 15:20]
There are those who think and speak of the Holy Spirit as having begun on the day of Pentecost when he was outpoured on the church, but he has been active in salvation from the earliest times. To emphasize this point, the Lord tells us here that the Spirit who made Jesus live again was the same Spirit by whom Jesus our Lord went in the days of Noah to preach to those who are now in hell. That is, while the ark was being prepared, Noah was a preacher of righteousness, who in the power of the Holy Spirit preached to those who are now in prison, that is, hell. [2 Peter 2:5]
And that we might see how God had shown his salvation even from old times, he uses the events in the days of Noah as an example. He says that “eight souls were saved through water.” Just as water condemned the world but saved the eight members of Noah’s family, so also the death of Christ led not to death but to life for those who trust in him.
He draws a parallel between the water of baptism and water that saved Noah. It was not the water in itself, which in itself can only remove dirt from the flesh, but what it symbolized. In the case of Noah, it symbolized the salvation of our God who used the water to lift up Noah in the ark together with all those in his family. In our case, it is the water of baptism, which in itself cannot save, but as a symbol of a good conscience toward God does save us, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
And this Christ Jesus who rose from the dead has risen victorious, for we read in verse 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.” We do not serve a dead Saviour, but one who is living, and who reigns over us, and over all of creation. I know that many people wear crosses and crucifixes because they wish to remember the price that Jesus our Lord paid to save us from our sins. But, we should not think now of Christ as suffering on the cross, but as risen from the dead, and ascended on high in victory.
I almost want to stop this sermon here, for when we think of the glory of the work of Christ, that he died, and rose again, and lives now victoriously, we should be filled with such great wonder and joy. But, the Lord wants us to understand that this event should transform our lives. So he says in chapter 4 verse 1, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind.” Whenever we read “therefore”, it means that on the basis of what has just been said, that is, because Christ Jesus died and rose victoriously, we should do the same. We should suffer and die as Christ suffered and died, for we follow him.
When he says “arm yourselves with the same mind” he means that our way of thinking should be transformed so that our whole way of living is transformed. He says, “for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” Just as Christ Jesus did not live for himself, but gave himself to dies for our sins, we no longer live for ourselves. We have died to ourselves, and to sin. Its power over us has been broken by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So now, we have been freed from the lusts of men, to live for the will of God.
He does not deny the reality of sin. Instead, he speaks of it as a regrettable memory, as he says in verse 3, “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” I don’t know. It’s hard for me to think of St. Peter as a “party animal.” And yet, then, just as today, there were those who lived for pleasure, for what they could get in the moment, for the lusts of the flesh, to satisfy themselves.
We are surrounded by these people. They drink, they get high, they sleep with anyone that will sleep with them, and in the end, they have nothing. And, when we don’t join in their foolishness, “they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.” He calls it a “flood of dissipation”, that is, such people are taking their lives and throwing them away in lusts, having nothing to show for them. We can see whole nations and empires that arose with great power and effort, only to see their empires dissolve in a mist of drinking and sexual debauchery. And I fear that that is where our nation is headed, if we do not repent. Such people think that we are foolish for not joining in with them, that we are missing out on something. They even speak evil of us, as if we are intolerant. And of course, we are intolerant of evil. We refuse to accept drunkenness and sexual immorality as if they are nothing and have no effect upon our lives.
And such people will not escape the effects of their actions. They think that they can get away with it, that is, that they can sin without any long-term effects. In verse 5 we read, “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” Those who live the party lifestyle think that they can “Party! Party! Party!” and that’s it. But, as he says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” [Hebrews 9:27] “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” [Galatians 6:7]
And so he says in verse 6, “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” He calls those lost in their sins “dead.” But wait, they are alive, walking around, going to their parties, drinking, having sex, but, in the end, they are already dead in their sins. They have no hope, no life, for they are captive to their own desires of the flesh. But that is why we preach the good news to them, that they might escape. Yes, they will be, like us, rejected and judged by men according to the flesh, but, like us, they will “live according to God in the spirit.”
Wait! They are dead! How can they hear this Gospel that we preach if they are dead? But it is as the Saviour says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” [John 5:24-25] The dead will hear, and live, for they do not give life to themselves, but are born again by the Spirit of the living God.
We do not preach the good news in the expectation that people will hear it, and like it, and accept it. We preach the good news to people who are dead, in the full expectation that the Spirit of God who preached through Noah, and who raised Jesus from the dead, will work in their hearts to make them alive, just as he made Jesus alive. But in all of this, we live in the knowledge that the victory has already been won by Jesus Christ. He has triumphed over sin and death through his death and resurrection, and all that remains is for us to preach the Gospel, and to gather the elect that God has chosen, that the dead might live and have eternal life. Amen.