2017-8-20 Christ, the Supreme Exemplar of Unjust Suffering, Redux

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          August 20, 2017

“Christ, the Supreme Exemplar of Unjust Suffering, Redux
Text: 1 Peter 3:18-22

We have noted in recent weeks, in this series, that suffering for righteousness’ sake hangs over much of the material in 1 Peter.  We also saw, in our last installment in this series, that there is good—and that there is blessing—in suffering thus (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-20).  Today we see again, as we saw in 1 Peter 2:21-25, that Christ is our supreme Exemplar of unjust suffering—and that for righteousness’ sake.  Let us hear God’s Word once again in this place—and may what was said of the Emmaus travelers be said of us, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).


Our text today, admittedly, is the most difficult text to understand in all of 1 Peter—and is one of the most difficult in Scripture as a whole.  Hence, as noted last week, I required a second week of study to prepare this text for preaching—a week of study that proved a blessing to me.[1]  I also pray the fruit of that study, in God’s goodness, may bless you too.

The text cleaves neatly into three sections.  First, Christ suffered unjustly, for righteousness’ sake, unto death—and, thus, was humiliated (cf. Philippians 2:5-8).  The Jewish leadership at Jesus’ trial, not to mention the Roman executioners, committed egregious injustice against Jesus.  He was guilty of nothing.  Certainly He was guilty of nothing deserving death.  Yet the Jewish leadership incited the Jewish crowd to cry concerning Jesus, “Crucify!  Crucify!”  Not only did Jesus endure the sham of trial—the grossest miscarriage of justice in history—but He also endured unspeakable agony in His death both prior to and on the Cross.  He was scourged, buffeted, and pierced—and these for His Father’s glory and our redemption.  Consider Him Who endured such suffering—the Just for the unjust—and let this frame temper our sufferings somewhat.  No matter our sufferings—though their degree and injustice appear much in our eyes—they compare not with what our Lord bore for our sakes.  May this consideration help us deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.

Second (and this and the next will help tremendously), Christ was made alive by the Spirit—and, thus, was glorified (cf. Philippians 2:9-11).  The same Christ, raised from the dead about three decades before Peter wrote, is eternally pre-existent—and He preached by the Holy Spirit through Noah.  In this Peter, led by the Spirit, displays further excellency of Christ to encourage his suffering readers.  Noah preached to unbelieving, disobedient folk (such as the Nephilim [Genesis 6:1-4], et al.) in his day—folk now and at Peter’s time imprisoned eternally in hell (though not yet imprisoned at the time of Christ’s preaching through Noah).  Note God’s patience with unbelieving, sinful folk in Noah’s time: It was both extensive (120 years in this case) and finite—and then the judgment.  The same was true in Peter’s day, and is true now.  Let us then, in view of the foregoing, recall and exercise patience under unjust suffering.

Alas, only eight were saved, the eight enclosed in the Ark, from deluge: Noah, his wife, their three sons, and the wives of those three sons.  The Holy Spirit tells us, through Peter, that baptism corresponds to this.  Baptism, like the Ark, saves, rescues, and heals.[2]  Let us be clear, as Peter through the Spirit is clear, that this refers not to the external act of baptism itself—with water however and whenever applied.[3]  Baptism, as used in today’s text, refers to the thing signified: the internal cleansing of the soul by the effective work of the Holy Spirit—to which the sign testifies.  Again, this salvation, this rescue, this healing, is not the removal of dirt from the body.  It is an appeal to God: both of the believer’s good conscience (his good-faith confession of Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord, predicated upon his regeneration, his God-given saving faith, etc.) and on the basis of Christ’s resurrection.  God answers this two-fold appeal in the positive.

Third, Christ—both humiliated and glorified—now is ascended into Heaven and reigning from there.  Indeed He has gone into Heaven, from whence He shall come in glory to consummate history and God’s eternal plan—and that, perhaps, soon.  Now He sits at God’s right hand of God—ruling on high, with angels, authorities, and power subject to him.  It is true that angels, authorities, and powers—that is, incorporeal, or non-bodily beings—are subject to Him.  This may stand also as a synecdoche, or a part for the whole.  In other words, not only are angels, authorities, and powers subject to the risen Christ—but, by extension, everything and everyone else is subject to Him as well.  More than this, Christ now intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus, the victorious One, the supreme Exemplar of unjust suffering for righteousness’ sake, prays for us from God’s right hand.  He prays for us both in our unjust sufferings for righteousness’ sake and in every other time and setting too.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  He always was, is, and evermore shall be.  He has won, He wins, and He evermore shall win.  Therefore, our unjust suffering for righteousness’ sake is tempered somewhat in view of Christ’s sufferings.  Our suffering also, apparently paradoxically, is blessing to us, and it is good both to us and through us (Romans 8:28).  Moreover, our suffering is temporary—very, very temporary in light of eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Therefore, since Christ has suffered in our place, let us bear what our triune God calls to us to bear in a way that makes Him glad.                                                      AMEN.

[1] I am indebted to many scholars and commentators generally in my pulpit preparations, but I own a particular debt this week to Robert Leighton (1611-84), a Scottish Presbyterian minister who served for a period in the Anglican church without renouncing Presbyterian views, whose commentary on today’s text (in his larger, two-volume commentary on 1 Peter) enlightened my mind, warmed my heart, and somewhat framed my treatment of today’s text.

[2] These are the three usual glosses for the Greek verb sodzo [swzw].  See Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).


[3] To affirm that the physical act of baptism saves is to affirm baptismal regeneration—a serious error roundly condemned on all orthodox sides.  Some who received baptism, sadly, are lost—while others, though unbaptized, are saved.  See Westminster Confession of Faith, 28:5.