Imagine attending a church worship service and never hearing the message of the gospel taught or proclaimed. Sadly, there are many contexts where that has been an issue historically, and it's also a concern in some contexts during present day. It can be a little too easy for us to lose sight of who Jesus really is and what He has chosen to accomplish on our behalf.
When we read the Scriptures, sometimes we have the benefit of learning something new. Other times, we have the benefit of being reminded of something we already know that we haven't necessarily thought about in a while. The portion of Scripture that we're about to look at probably incorporates both benefits. As we think about its content, some Christians will learn something new while others will be reminded of things they haven't thought about in a while.
What would our lives be like without Jesus? What kind of future would we be currently looking forward to if He hadn't intervened on our behalf? Sometimes, it can be far too easy for us to become complacent in our understanding of what He has accomplished on our behalf. We're so used to the benefits He brings to our lives that we don't consider the kind of mess we'd be in without Him.
This portion of Scripture helps us gain a better glimpse of some of the obvious and some of the behind-the-scenes things Jesus accomplished for us. The work He has done on our behalf is of far greater significance and far greater effect than we often realize.
1. Jesus experienced death and resurrection in order to defeat sin's power in our lives
Several times during my life, I have sprained my right ankle. Two of those sprains were severe. I could barely walk. My leg, almost up to my knee, was swollen and changed all different colors. When the injuries were fresh, it felt like the pain and suffering would never end, but eventually it did. My leg and ankle healed, but I can tell that they are prone to repeat that injury.
During the earthly ministry of Christ, His body was tortured. Jesus suffered and experienced all kinds of malice at the hands of the very people He had lovingly created. But His suffering was only for a season. He isn't suffering now. I regularly see portrayals of Him suffering and I recognize that some theological traditions held by certain Christian denominations treat communion as if it is a repeated crucifixion of Jesus, but that isn't the case. Jesus suffered once to pay for our sins. He isn't in a state of perpetual suffering.
Sin has consequences. Before mankind rebelled against God, we were warned that if we broke fellowship with the Lord, we would die. We did it anyway and were doomed to suffer the fate of eternal condemnation and separation from God. We were all guilty and none of us could correct this problem because we were all guilty of the same thing. Into this mess we had created, Jesus inserted Himself to address the problem.
Jesus, God the Son, took on flesh, became a man, and suffered the penalty we deserved. We were guilty, yet He was righteous. The righteous died for the guilty in order to satisfy the wrath of God against our sin and then bless us with the gift of His righteousness, which we lacked. Then Jesus rose from the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit. And now, all who trust in Jesus can look forward to experiencing resurrection as well as the Holy Spirit indwells all who believe.
Now, we don't need to be mastered by sin, Satan, or the fear of death. Christ has defeated their power in our lives.
2. Jesus proclaimed His victory over those who were defeating us
There's a lot of debate over what is meant by these verses. Some of the things that are referenced in this passage are regularly debated by theologians and I don't suspect we'll settle all the questions that arise from these verses today. But I do want to point out a few things about what Jesus graciously did for us. When I look at this passage, I see a picture of Jesus proclaiming His victory over those who delighted in defeating His people.
When we read through the pages of Scripture, we learn certain things about the spirit world. We're told that there are such beings as angels and demons. Angels and demons aren't people who have passed away. They are a separately created order of beings. Demons in fact, are fallen angels who rebelled against the Lord and chose to follow the lead of Satan, another fallen angel.
Scripture tells us that in the days before the great flood, this world was filled with people who lived in a state of continual rebellion against God.
We're also given the impression that fallen angels may have produced offspring with human women and contributed to the corruption that was present on the earth, to God's great displeasure. It appears that these fallen angels have been cast into hell where they await final judgement.
During that time, the Lord told Noah to build an ark. The ark was huge. It took Noah and his family 120 years to complete it. During that time, people certainly would have seen it and asked about it. It served as a visible testimony that judgement was coming. Every time they took a glance at it and thought about what it represented, they could have elected to repent of their unbelief toward God, but they didn't. Only eight people entered that ark when the flood waters came. The rest of humanity perished.
Satan works against humanity and encourages us to blaspheme the Lord who gave us life. The fallen angels that partner with Satan do the very same thing. It may be that 1 Peter 3:19 is telling us that sometime after Christ's resurrection and ascension, He announced the victory He had secured to the fallen angels who have been working against humanity throughout human history. Their attempts to defeat humanity and God's plans for His most precious creation have failed, and Jesus has made it known.
3. Jesus has allowed us to identify with Him
My family was watching a classic sit-com the other evening. In it, one of the main characters was starting high school. His plan was to spend his first day in school becoming good friends with the coolest guy in school in the hopes that others would think he was cool too. Unfortunately, the cool guy didn't want this new student to associate with him.
Thankfully, that's not the case for us. Jesus, the one who spoke creation into existence, allows us to identify with Him. In our case, we become identified with Him through baptism. Baptism is referenced multiple times in Scripture. We're told that the moment we trust in Jesus, we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, united with Christ, and united with each other.
We also practice baptism with water as a visible symbol of what the Holy Spirit has done for us. Some people treat water baptism as if that act has the capacity to save a lost soul, but that's not its purpose. Peter himself even says that the baptism that saves isn't the removal of dirt from the body. Salvation is accomplished as an act of God's grace that is received through faith in Jesus Christ. Water baptism is a visible symbol of the Spirit's baptism that happened the moment we believed.
The point being made here is that Jesus allows us to identify with Him. He has blessed us with the gift of His righteousness and He isn't ashamed to call us His brothers. In His resurrection, He defeated sin's strangle-hold on us, and now, as forgiven believers in Him, He has granted us the gift of a clear conscience before God. We can stand before God the Father, confident that when He looks at us, He will see the presence of the righteousness of Christ.
4. Jesus rules and reigns with perfect judgement
I saw a news report just the other day that claimed that more and more people were struggling to get a good night's sleep. When asked why, many of the respondents claimed that their fear of world leaders making bad or dangerous decisions was keeping them up at night. They questioned the judgement of the very people that have been empowered with the ability to lead nations and set governmental policy.
While that's a concern for me too, and while I'm also a bad sleeper, those aren't the kinds of concerns that are robbing me of sleep because I trust that what this Scripture tells me is true. While human leaders frequently let us down, our ultimate hope should never be in the people we elect to office. They can do good things, but they are no substitute for Jesus.
This Scripture tells us that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. All creation is subject to Him, even though there are many on this earth who don't yet live like this is true. Still, there is also coming a day when Heaven and Earth will be united, and Christ will visibly rule with fairness, benevolence, and perfect justice. There will be world peace when the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, is sitting on the throne and calling the shots.
Isn't it amazing to consider all that Jesus has accomplished for us and all He still intends to do? He suffered for us, defeated sin's power over us, proclaimed His victory to those who were bent on defeating us, allows us to identify with Him in baptism, and He rules and reigns with perfect judgement and benevolence.
When we get too wrapped up in ourselves or our day-to-day situations, it can be easy to forget about these blessings. But gratefully, the word of God continually brings to our attention the wonderful grace of our Savior and Lord.
© John Stange, 2017