For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit —1 Peter 3:18
In the broader context of this letter, Peter means for his readers to find in the suffering of Jesus at the hands of the unjust great encouragement for the injustices the followers of Jesus suffer themselves at the hands of non-believers. He points us to three aspects of Christ’s suffering that ought to sustain us when we are called to follow in His footsteps.
First, Christ suffered once for sins. Some manuscripts read that Jesus “died” once for sins. The effect is the same. The sinless Son of God—who came to love out loud the Father’s glory for all to see—personally experienced rejection, rebuke, and retaliation at the hands of those he came to love. Jesus was not merely sidelined or marginalized. He was not simply ignored or tolerated with indifference. He suffered. He experienced. He felt the full effect of human pride and arrogance in His body, His heart, and even in His spirit: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And He suffered not only at the hands of sinners, but for sinners, on their behalf, in their place! He “suffered once for sins,” Peter wrote. “For sins”? If He was sinless and innocent, then for whose sins did He suffer? Yours. Yes, yours. Don’t look over your glasses at your kids scuffling for attention in the other room. Don’t allow an image of your spouse, or a family member, or a boss, or anyone else float across the canvas of your mind. Peter says Jesus suffered, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” That would be Jesus suffering for you; Jesus dying for your sins; Christ taking the beating for your bad attitude. The Truth taking the nails for your lies. The Way wearing the thorns for your rebellious heart, your drive to have things in your life your way rather than God’s way. That is the Life dying for your deadness. Oh, I beg you, let the love Peter frames in these words break like waves on your mind and heart and soul and strength! Christ suffered for you!
But why? Why would He do such a thing? It is such a small comparison I almost hate to mention it to you, but perhaps in a most meager way it will help you see. There is a man with whom I am friends who sometimes attends our church. He works for the county highway department. He drives a snowplow in the winter. I live in northeastern Minnesota. We get a lot of snow here, and it often snows late at night and into the early morning hours. My friend rises at 2 AM on a Sunday while the rest of the world sleeps. He plows his own driveway so that he can arrive at the county garage and drive the plow to clear the roads that will allow me to get from my home to church on time for worship. He accepts the joy and the inconvenience of duty in order that through his effort I can get where I need to go. He gives his life to get me to church.
Why does Jesus suffer and die? Because He loves the Father’s glory, a glory revealed in the divine effort to save lost creation, surely. Because He loves the Father’s plan, yes. Because He loves the Father’s children, certainly. But most especially Christ suffers to bring us to God. Jesus gave his life to personally and actively get you from hell to heaven, from death to life, from darkness to light, from fear to faith, from “away” to “near,” from lost to loved. Christ died to utterly transform the nature of your experience in this world and the world to come.
Three pride-challenging questions confront us in relation to these three aspects of encouragement Peter presents. First, Christ died for your sins, are you dying to your sin? Are you treating sin (and the invitation to sin: temptation) as a condition worthy of only of death? Paul speaks of “crucifying the flesh” and “dying to self.” Paul, in Romans 6, points out that we who have died to sin (through faith in Christ) can no longer live in sin. Since Christ died for you, are you dying to you? Second, in a similar train of thought, are you living with sin and living in sin rather than nailing your sin to the cross with Christ. So many today accept their sins as reasonable traveling companions on the journey of life rather than confessing sin, confronting sin, and abandoning sin as Jesus Himself abandoned life, on the cross, as a rejection of sin. How are you handling your sins? John wrote, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, ESV).
Finally, have you transferred your location? Peter explains that Jesus suffered for sins in order to “bring us to God.” Listen, if you ain’t “brought” the work ain’t done. There is no lingering on the sidelines as an observer. Christ suffered for sins to cause a transformation, to actuate a vital realignment of our lives, including our affections, our values, our interests, and our desires. He suffered to bring us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. So, did it work? Is your life relatively self-centered or primarily God-centered? The point of Christ’s suffering can be seen in a realized new nature, new heart, new mind, new spirit, new life. How new are you?
Take a few minutes, in fact, take a lot of minutes if you want, and thank God for the work Christ did in His suffering. Thank Him for His sacrifice on your behalf, and commit again your life to the fulfillment of His life purpose.