Summary: When I follow Jesus He transforms my suffering in the flesh into triumph in the spirit
How many of you know who Vinko Bogataj is? That’s what I figured. That name isn’t real familiar for any of us. But for those of my generation who grew up watching “Wild World of Sports”, you may not know his name but you’re familiar with his infamous accomplishment.
Fortunately for Vinko, his injuries turned out not to be too serious and this previously unknown ski jumper became something of a celebrity here in the United States. So in some ways you might even say that he turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that in your life in a much more significant and important way?
This morning as we continue our study of 1 Peter we’ll once again look at the example of Jesus and see how He turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory and see how we can do the same by following His example.
Before we read this morning’s passage, let me preface it with a few things we need to keep in mind. There is pretty universal agreement among commentators, Bible scholars and pastors that this passage is one of the most difficult in the entire Bible to understand. So, not surprisingly, there are a number of different opinions about many of the details here. So let me share a few general suggestions about how we ought to approach these kinds of difficult passages.
Handling Tough Texts:
1. Don’t become so obsessed with the details that we miss the main point. Most times, and this will be true with this morning’s text, the main teaching in the text is pretty clear, even if we can’t understand all the details. So we need to be careful not to put too much emphasis of those details.
2. Interpret difficult texts in light of the clear teaching of Scripture. Difficult texts should never be the basis for new and novel doctrines or interpretations. In evaluating these texts, we need to choose the interpretation that best fits the context of the passage and the Bible as a whole.
3. Leave room for some mystery. Don’t feel compelled to have a satisfactory explanation for every detail. Tough texts remind us that God is infinite and beyond our ability to understand completely.
4. Don’t be overly dogmatic about the conclusions we reach. We should hold our interpretations loosely and not make them a test of the genuineness of someone’s salvation.
Keep these principles in mind as I read this morning’s passage. You can follow along in 1 Peter 3, beginning in verse 18:
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, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because 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. Baptism, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
(1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV)
I am going to spend quite a bit of our time this morning on some of the details in this passage because they require the most explanation. But in order to do that accurately, we must keep the big picture in mind. So let’s begin by identifying Peter’s main point here:
When I follow Jesus
He transforms my suffering in the flesh
into triumph in the spirit
This passage begins a section of Peter’s letter in which he is going to draw some sharp contrasts between what we experience in the flesh and what we experience spiritually. And once again he is going to go back to the example of Jesus to make his point. So, not surprisingly, this entire passage is primarily about Jesus and how He has made it possible for us to turn the agony of defeat, which occurs in the physical realm, into the thrill of victory in the spiritual realm.
How Jesus turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory:
The passage that we’re looking at this morning begins and ends with teaching that is quite clear. It is the section that is sandwiched in between those two ideas that is the difficult part of our text. So it seems like a good approach is to begin with what we can understand clearly and use that information to help us make sense of that which is more obscure.