“Every Work a Victory”
1 Peter 3:17-22
October 14, 2012
Every Work of Christ is a Victory.
I. Christ’s Death is a Victory
II. Christ’s Resurrection is a Victory
III. Christ’s Ascension is a Victory
Almost thirty years ago a singer named Carman released a nine minute song called ‘The Champion’ that depicted a battle between Jesus and Satan. The premise is that Jesus Christ is kind of a Rocky character, the underdog in a cosmic boxing match with Satan. I really don’t agree with that, because in a straight contest between Jesus and Satan there is no contest - Satan is not equal and opposite to Jesus in any sense; he is a created being whose own sin led him into rebellion. And the main purpose of Jesus’ death was not to defeat Satan - that was incidental. The main purpose was to pay the price of our sin.
But the song sets up this cosmic scene with angels and demons watching, and then Jesus and Satan step into the ring and Satan throws every punch he has, but not one can get through Jesus' defense. Then all of a sudden, Jesus drops his hands and stands there as Satan deals a death blow. The demons and evil ones go wild, thinking victory has been won; he's down for the count. Then you hear a voice saying "ten, nine eight" And Satan says “No, no; you're doing it wrong” "seven six" “You're counting backwards.” “five four three” “Oh no, he's waking up” "two one" “He's alive!” “He has Won!”
Now, Peter never would have pictured it that way, but he would agree with the feeling this evokes, the feeling of Christ's unbelievable victory. In our text today Peter talks about the death and resurrection and sovereignty of Christ, and sees in these truths a remarkable victory for Christ. In fact what Peter is trying to show us, is that every work of Christ is a victory. There are three areas of victory shown here. The first is this: that Christ's death is a victory.
I. Christ's Death is a Victory
This is found in verse 17 and the first half of 18. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. Christ's suffering is a victory.
In chapters 2 and 3, Peter has been encouraging his readers to do good. He has said: if you continue to do what is right, it will have a dramatic impact on those around you. They will glorify God, or turn from disobedience, or be ashamed of their accusations. But you need to continue to do what is right, even if it involves suffering. Peter repeats that theme here in Chapter 3, and in verse 16 he says: having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. But even if they aren’t, Verse 17, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
At this point Peter again brings in the example of Christ: “For Christ also suffered once for sins.” Why endure suffering? Because Christ suffered. Peter uses several phrases to show how the suffering of Christ is an example for you in your situation. But he teaches great theology in developing the example.
He says Christ died for sins ‘once.’ The NIV translates it "once and for all". Not once for all people, but once for all time. The writer of Hebrews says: Christ ‘has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’ He also died as the righteous for the unrighteous. Christ is a perfect example of one who was righteous, yet suffered anyway. He himself had no sin, he was totally righteous and without fault. Yet he suffered for the unrighteous - a category that includes all of us.
Always remember folks, that God's standards are both exceedingly high, and exceedingly fair. He requires nothing less than moral purity, untarnished goodness, complete freedom from failure and fault. And it is right for him to do so, because any failure or fault he accepted or approved would stain his own purity and righteousness and goodness. God would no longer be good if he tolerated evil. And since we are not totally pure and good, then we are the unrighteous, we are those who have sinned. And Peter tells us that Christ died for those sins, a righteous man dying for the sake of unrighteous men.
Why did he do this? Was it worth the suffering? What did he accomplish? Peter tells us ‘that he might bring us to God.’ You see, it was our sin that separated us from God. And when Christ took that sin upon himself and suffered for it in his death, then the thing that had separated us from God was removed. Christ himself fulfills all God’s promises so that we can once again come into the presence of God without fault and with great joy.
Do you see how much good news is in this one verse? Christ died for sins, one time for all sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. And do you see how Christ's suffering was vindicated? It was not a meaningless death, it was not meaningless suffering, because by this suffering he fulfilled all God’s promises. This is a tremendous testimony to us that our suffering is not meaningless. The suffering God allows in your life is not meaningless.
I’m going to be telling the kids tonight at Awana council time the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. As most of you know, she became a quadriplegic in a diving accident as a teen. And she has thought a lot about suffering. But God has use her greatly in many lives, and she has said many times that her suffering had a great purpose in his plan. In recent years she has been in a battle with cancer, and this spring on her website she reflected on that battle:
“So I’m with Job: I reply ‘though I’ve got quadriplegia, cancer, whatever, pain, though he slay me yet will I put my trust in him.’ You know when Job said that, a statement like that speaks highly of him, but it speaks far more highly of the God who can sustain him. And nothing deflates the Devil more than when God’s people choose the Lord over fear and doubts; when they choose their Savior over affliction and pain, and when through tears you whisper ‘I prefer you, Lord God, I chose you, I yield to you, I bow to you. It makes the life of the most insignificant person a front line on which the mightiest forces of the universe converge in warfare. And you and I, we’ve got the courage, we do, and God will give it to you to step up onto that cosmic battlefield, because we know who wins in the end, friend; so we can live rigorously and robustly and valiantly and courageously when we suffer.”
II. Christ's Resurrection is a Victory
Christ's suffering is a victory that speaks to us even in our suffering. But Christ's resurrection is also a victory; here we look at the difficult verses from 18 to 21: being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christ's resurrection was a victory. Notice how this section begins and ends with his resurrection. But the first phrase is hard to understand: he was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit. What does that mean? You could translate it ‘he was put to death physically but made alive spiritually.’ He was put to death by men, operating in this physical world, but made alive by God, by the Holy Spirit, using spiritual rather than physical means. And made alive in the spiritual realm, the kingdom where the Spirit reigns.
But you have to be careful, because one thing it clearly does not mean, is that Jesus after his resurrection was only a spirit, with no physical body and not of this world. He was here; he had a body, you could see it and touch it, put your hands in the hole in his side, and your fingers in the nail wounds. Yet it was a body remade by the Holy Spirit; Paul calls it in Corinthians a spiritual body. The resurrected Christ could do things a normal physical body could not. He could appear through walls and locked doors, things like that. Of course he’d always done thing miraculously, but Paul implies, by his words that some at least of these are capabilities of a resurrected, immortal body.
One of the things he could do, and apparently did, was to go to the prisons where the spirits of sinful men waited for judgment and declare to them his victory. Verse 19 ‘in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.’ Now these are difficult verses, but I believe the point of them is an additional example of how Christ's resurrection is a victory, displayed to all his enemies for all time.
Let me give you a clear outline of the questions associated with this verse: I can't go into all the arguments on every side, but here are the basic questions: (1) Who are these spirits in prison? Are they disobedient angels or disobedient people? (2) What did Christ preach or proclaim? A second chance at repentance? Or judgment? Or his own victory? (3) When did he preach? In the days of Noah? Or after his resurrection?
Okay, I'm going to give you my understanding of the answers to these questions. Keep in mind that not all evangelicals agree, though the positions I’m about to describe are common. Who are these spirits in prison? This is pretty clear if you read the whole sentence “to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” Now conceivably that could be a description of evil angels; some are mentioned in Genesis. But much more is written about the people who disobeyed in the days of the flood, the ones who ultimately perished. These people are waiting, in some unspecified prison, for final judgment, for the second death of Revelation 20.
What did Christ preach? Well, if he was preaching after their deaths, it certainly was not a second chance for repentance. Hebrews says it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this comes judgment. Peter tells us that God had already been patient with these people during the years when the ark was being built. So Christ didn’t preach a message of repentance to the dead. If he preached repentance, it had to be while these people were still alive.
It is possible that he proclaimed judgment: having risen from the dead, he went and proclaimed their certain doom. But it's even more likely he proclaimed his victory over them, especially over this group because they are the ones who mocked and ridiculed Noah, and refused to repent. Christ defeated just this kind of opposition. So, following his example, we face hostile opposition boldly and with cheerful hearts, confident not of our victory but of his. When did Christ preach? Well, you can tell from I've said so far, that I think it was after his resurrection, and probably before his ascent into heaven.
So to sum up, I understand this to mean that after His resurrection, Christ went and proclaimed his victory to the spirits of dead men awaiting judgment, men who were part of that last, large, hateful generation before the flood. And this is a comfort and example to us; though we may be surrounded by people who oppose us, as Noah was, Christ will ultimately have the victory.
Let me take a moment to sketch a second view common among conservative scholars, that before his incarnation Christ went and preached to that last generation through Noah’s words. Through him Jesus preached repentance to those who are now spirits in prison. It’s the same group of people, but at a different time, and so a different message, repentance rather than victory. The main reason I prefer my view is that Peter implies a chronology: Christ's resurrection, then this proclaiming, then his ascent into heaven. Preaching centuries before, spiritually, through Noah ruins the chronology.
Either way, the point is that Christ's resurrection was a victory, because through it he displayed the defeat of all who oppose and slander God's work. whether in Noah's generation, Peter's generation, or now. Further, his resurrection was a victory because by it we are rescued and cleansed. The end of verse 20: “while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The rescue of Noah from the flood is one of the great Biblical pictures of God's care. Noah is surrounded by a godless generation; there is nothing he can do to save himself from their judgment. But God reaches down in a special way and saves Noah from destruction, telling him about the flood, causing him to build the ark, and keeping it safe through the water. God rescues Noah.
And, Peter says, God rescues you, a rescue pictured in baptism. You and I, like Noah, were powerless to save ourselves, doomed to destruction through the awfulness of our sins. If rescue was to come, God had to do it, because all the energy, willpower, and good works we could muster were powerless against the flood of sin that engulfed us, and the judgment we would face.
So, as for Noah also for us, God provides the means of rescue: Jesus. In baptism we go through the waters symbolizing judgment and death. But we come out of the water cleansed, symbolizing new pure life in Christ. This is what Paul tells us in Romans 6: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Peter puts it even more bluntly: baptism saves you. How can he say that? He knows, and has said many times that salvation comes through Christ alone. But notice how he puts it - he says “baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter is not mistaken here; he says it's not the external symbol that saves you, the washing of your body in the water. Rather, that symbol reveals your inward cry to God for a clean conscience and your faith in him, which comes only through the resurrection of Jesus.
Baptism is a public acknowledgement that you’ve given up on yourself and trust in God alone to rescue you from the guilt, penalty and shame of sin. If I was to baptize you, I would put you underwater for a few seconds to remind you and all those watching that your sins deserve death and judgment. Then I’d lift you back out, because you, like Christ, have been raised to new life.
III. Christ's Ascension is a Victory
So the resurrection is a victory; a victory over all those who maliciously oppose the cause of Christ. Through it we are rescued and given a new life. Every work of Christ is a victory. Christ's death is a victory. Christ's resurrection is a victory. And the last verse teaches us that Christ's ascension is a victory. Verse 22: who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Christ's ascension is a victory. Do you see the flow of thought: Christ was put to death, he died for sins; but he was made alive in the Spirit, resurrected. Next he went to proclaim victory over those who had ridiculed and scorned the offer of repentance. Finally, he went into heaven and is at God's right hand.
These two phrases are associated with doctrines we don't talk about much in our churches, namely ascension and session. Ascension means to go up, and session means to be seated. Because Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came upon his people to do his work through the Church. And because Jesus literally, actually departed this earth, we have assurance that at the end of the age, Jesus Christ will literally, actually return to this earth.
And because Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, he intercedes for us. Paul says in Romans 8:34 “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” And because Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, he has sovereign authority. Peter says angels and authorities and powers submit to him: all angels, whether good or bad; all authorities, whether wicked or just; all powers, whether benevolent or evil. They all submit to him.
Christ's ascension is a victory because by it he receives his rightful power. In I Corinthians Paul says ‘for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive, but each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to the Father, after he has destroyed all dominion, power and authority. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
You see, Jesus' work is not completed by his death, nor by his resurrection, nor by his ascension, nor by his session: he must also reign. Each step is essential. If there were no incarnation, there would be no crucifixion, and if there were no crucifixion, no resurrection, no new life, and without that, no ascension and with no ascension, there would be no sovereign reign, and only a reigning Christ can enact God’s judgment and return to raise his people.
So what have we seen is that every work of Christ is a Victory. His death is a victory over sin to bring us to God. His resurrection is a victory over death and the grave, to promise us new and eternal life. His ascension is a victory over angels, authorities and powers, celebrating his sovereign authority.
Now what is the purpose? Why did Peter put into his letter all this marvelous doctrinal truth? It’s here for a simple reason: When we know the greatness of Christ's victory we’ll have confidence in God even if we suffer. That’s the lesson Joni Eareckson Tada was trying to teach in that video: that quadriplegia, chronic pain and cancer can be faced with bravado because we know that God has already done the important stuff, victoriously, for us.
The song High Noon that I made a music video for this week captures that perfectly. It spoke to me so much all week that despite the fact that we already played it for the prelude, I want to play it again. It’s a little like the Carman song I described at the beginning of the message, I think it’s more tightly rooted theologically. Listen for some of the key themes we’ve discussed, and remember, that it’s the valley of the shadow of death.
High noon in the valley of the shadow; When the deep of the valley was bright; When the mouth of the tomb shouted, "Glory, the groom is alive" So long, you wages of sin; Go on, don't you come back again I've been raised and redeemed; you've lost all your sting to the victor of the battle at high noon in the valley, in the valley of the shadow.
And the demons, they danced in the darkness, when that last ragged breath left his lungs; and they reveled and howled at the war that they thought they had won. But then, in the dark of the grave, the stone rolled away, in the still of the dawn on the greatest of days
High noon in the valley of the shadow; when the shadows were shot through with light. Jesus took in that breath, and shattered all death with his life. So long you wages of sin: Go on, don't you come back again; I've been raised and redeemed, You've lost all your sting to the victor of the battle; at high noon in the valley of the shadow
Let the people rejoice; Let the heavens resound; Let the name of Jesus, who sought us and freed us forever ring out. All praise to the fighter of the night, who rides on the light, whose gun is the grace of the God of the sky.
High noon in the valley of the shadow; when the shadows were shot through with light; when the mouth of the tomb shouted, "Glory, the Groom is alive" So long, you wages of sin; go on, don't you come back again. I've been raised and redeemed; all praise to the king, the victor of the battle. At high noon in the valley, in the valley of the shadow.
Every work of Christ is a victory. Rebellion and sin are defeated; the price has been paid; the stain is washed separation from God is ended; death itself is crushed by the resurrection; Satan and his hellish crew are defeated at the cross and the ascended Christ reigns over all powers. And at his return the curse and the fall will be reversed so that all creation and all creatures, cleansed and purified are restored holy to the Father Creator. Every work of Christ is a victory and his ultimate victory on our behalf is sure.