1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh…
Suffering is universal in the world. It comes from the first wailings of the infant to the last enfeebled cry of old age. It is found in the silent endurance of weakness and in the bold struggle of strength. It is in every station and rank of life. It is so various in its manifestations, that it seems as if we took a new lesson in it every day. To pass it by, to try to deny it, to make the ignoring of it a victory over it, is very short-sighted policy; it is what we would do with no other fact of like universal significance and power. And therefore, when Christ begins His gospel with the fact of suffering, we are at a loss whether to admire most the wisdom or the love of the method; together the boldness and the reasonableness of what He does startle us into asking the secret of One who could thus utilise the world's greatest enemy, and turn in defence of mankind the very weapons which have so long wrought their destruction. The man who taught to his fellow men the uses of destructive fire was the hero of ancient mythology; the men who have bridled the lightnings, and chained the forces of air and water, are the great names of modern civilisation. But what shall we say of Him, who stopped not with the powers and material of the earth, but, going into the heart and life of man, found there the fact of suffering, and out of that formed the cornerstone of His kingdom? who, out of the cries and groans to which we close our ears, made the praises of God resound through the world? In this bold action the first element of strength is, that all suffering is traced to one source. Suffering is made to flow from sin. Christ suffered for sin, suffered as a criminal, suffered because of sin, under the weight of sin. The wisdom of Christ, the singleness of His purpose, the central power of His action, start out before us then; and we feel that He was indeed one who was fitted to deal with the great fact of human suffering, as He could thus put His finger on the very place whence it all flowed. It is only by getting at the true nature of a difficulty that we are able to conquer it; the new and deeper knowledge opens ways of approach unthought of before. There stood in proud seclusion the steepest peak in the Alps. Men looked at it, and said that human foot could never scale its heights. Bolder spirits tried every way which they could devise, approached it from all sides but one; and they succeeded in reaching certain points, but still there towered above them that inaccessible point. At length a wiser, more experienced eye was turned to that very side which had been pronounced evidently impossible; and, as he thus faced what had seemed the most despairing side of the problem, he saw that the strata of the earth below, broken sharp off in the upheaval of that majestic peak, furnished a series of steps which made the passage possible directly to the summit; and now every year even unexperienced feet make their way over the path thus opened. If any of us stand wondering how the mountain of our own or the world's suffering shall be conquered, and have never seen the path opened on the side of man's sin, have tried every way but the fight against sin, have shed tears over every calamity but the depravity of our nature, have done everything but confess our sins in the sight of God, nay, have dismissed that as too dark and hard a side of the problem for us to face, now let the way opened by One who knew the secrets of our nature and of the generation of that mountain of suffering, — let that way be the one for our feet to follow. One of our greatest troubles, under the suffering which we feel ourselves or see in the world, is, that it does not seem to come upon the right people. But when this great Master approaches this very fact of suffering, as the one which He will use in His work, we have reason to expect a word of authority from Him on this most distressing feature of it. And it is here; "the just for the unjust," Christ suffered. That runs through all His life, the thought that it was the very sinlessness of His life that made Him able to do the work for sinful men, that made Him able to take up the load of sin. The fact that He came from the Father, and was ever bound to the Father, was the very thing that made Him able to call men back to the Father. It is the privilege of strength to suffer for weakness. As it does so, strength is glorified; it conquers weakness, it spreads the power of its own life, it becomes strength in its right place. Only the mighty can help; and, as He thus helps, we look to His might as the reason for it, and through the work for us we find our Saviour. It is not gratitude alone — that, indeed, moves us as we think of what He did for as — but it is the opening of the source of strength by which He was able to do it. We come to Him through gratitude; and, as we reach Him, we find Him one who is mighty to save, because He could bring us near to God. This shows us the meaning and power of the last clause of our text. The apostle has been saying that Christ's sufferings were so like the sufferings of the disciples, that they could feel the sustaining power of them. But here it is not likeness, it is dependence, that is brought out. These sufferings were to bring to God the very men who were now exhorted to imitate them. Never were they to forget that they had been brought to God by those sufferings. They had opened His love. They had drawn to Him who was able to reveal God to them. They had made the world a different place, one that had the power and presence of God as well as of man in it; never were they to forget that. But, as they remembered it, it would affect their lives, and change the whole character of them. The mystery of life's power would be made theirs. They, too, would have but one object — to bring men to God. Never was there a time when the suffering of the world was so keenly felt as it is today. A philanthropic age needs the Cross, men anxious to alleviate the sufferings of the world need to have their own hearts broken for their sins, and all of us need to cling to these events of the suffering and death of Christ, and to feel that they contain the very power of our lives within them — the power of forgiveness and redemption, the power of happiness, the power of true labour, the power of the life eternal for this world and for the world that is to come.
Parallel VersesKJV: For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: