The following sermon was preached at Owaka Grace Presbyterian Church (otherwise known as Owaka Grace Fellowship), New Zealand, on October 13, 2013.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” I’ve probably quoted that verse fifteen times in the last fifteen weeks or so that we have been studying 1 Peter, because the verse captures the message of the whole letter. This is a letter about hope. Hope, you have heard me say again and again, is more than some weak wish that tomorrow might be brighter than today; it is the confidence that God is at work now, and the confidence that God will be at work in the future, both for our good and, ultimately, for his glory. Peter says that we have a “living hope,” meaning that our hope is based on a living person. Our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ is alive! Christ is present with us always! And not only that, but, as we will discover in our passage for today, Christ is powerful over all!
Peter’s first readers needed to be reminded of the presence and the power of Christ, because they were experiencing trials—they were suffering. We learned last week that these early Christians in Asia Minor were “suffering for doing good.” They were committed to Christ, and this led to them being shunned by society. “Elect rejects,” I have called them. Last week, Peter told these early Christians, and us, how to respond when we find ourselves suffering for doing good.
Today, in 1 Pet 3:18-22, Peter is going to continue telling us about “suffering for doing good.” We know that our passage today is primarily about suffering because of the context. Look at the bookends of the passage. In 1 Pet 3:17, we read: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” And then in 4:1, Peter writes: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…”
I point this out because this is a very complex passage and I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees. I want us to understand the big picture here. In our passage this morning, Peter is going to tell us that, as we find ourselves suffering for doing good, we must remember that we (believers) have no need to fear, because Christ has suffered for us and he has secured victory over all evil forces. As complicated as this passage is, the main idea can be stated simply: Christ is victorious!
Now, before we walk through the passage together, you need to know that Martin Luther, the great Reformer and hero of church history said this about 1 Pet 3:18-22: “That is as strange a text and as dark a saying as any in the New Testament, so that I am not yet sure what St. Peter intended.” We come today to what is probably the most difficult text in the NT. You’re going to need to “role up the sleeves of your mind,” as Peter told us earlier in the letter (1 Pet 1:13), because today we are going to do some heavy lifting. We’ll do the best we can with the passage in the thirty minutes or so that we have this morning.
The question to keep in mind as we look at the passage is: how do I remain strong when I suffer for doing good? Based on the bookends of the passage, I think these verses function primarily as encouragement for suffering believers. The way Peter encourages us is by taking us on a journey, a journey with Jesus. This passage places us on the path of Christ, the path from the crucifixion to the ascension, the path from suffering to exaltation. On this path, we find three encouraging truths.
To continue reading, please download the following PDF. Traveling the Pathway from Suffering to Exaltation (1 Pet 3.18-22).