David McCullough is one of my favorite history writers (I loved his book on the Wright Brothers). One of HIS favorite authors was a man by the name of Conrad Richter, who won the Pulitzer Prize back in the 1950’s for a trilogy about pioneer life in Ohio. McCullough said he appreciated Richter because he wrote about the good that can come out of difficult things — “what Shakespeare called the ‘benefit of ill.’” McCullough wrote that “In his quiet manner, Richter would say that so much of what we experience in love, art, perseverance, wisdom — are born of difficulty.”
That is so true. No one likes to suffer — and yet if we are wise, we will realize that much good can come out of suffering. And it is certainly true that the greatest good that ever came to us, came from the greatest suffering ever: the suffering of Jesus on the cross for us. His suffering brought about our salvation, which our text for this morning reminds us:
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God”
I. Christ SUFFERED for our sins
The NASB is generally a very good translation, but I think here in I Peter 3:18 the KJV and others have it better where it uses the word: “suffered” for sins. That is a much better translation here. The Greek Bible word is “pasco,” which means “strong emotion, passion, or suffering” (Thayer) “Pathos” is a related word, which means “feelings” or “emotions”; our words “pathetic” and sym-pathetic (“to feel, together with”) are related to this word. So the word means to feel great suffering.
And this is important in the context here: Peter has been talking all through this book of I Peter about Christians who are suffering. In fact he just said in :17 “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” So it is in this context of suffering then, that he then says in :18 “For CHRIST also SUFFERED for sins, once for all …”. So he’s saying again: don’t be surprised if you’re suffering here on earth — suffering is not a sign of God’s displeasure — and we need to hear that, don’t we, because we tend to feel, when we’re suffering, like we have done something wrong and we are being punished for it. But he says here, NO! Don’t feel that way! Even Jesus suffered – and His followers are going to suffer too. So again the word “suffer” really fits in the context here, and is a much better word than just that He “died.”
So this verse emphasizes, that just as we “suffer” in this life, Jesus also “suffered”:
— Jesus said in Luke 22:15, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” He knew He was going to suffer.
— He said in Luke 12:50: “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” The suffering He was about to face was “distressing” in its intensity!
— Isaiah 52:14 says “His appearance was marred more than any man.” He suffered immensely in his torture before and during His death on the cross.
— Isaiah 53:4 says “Surely our griefs He bore, and our sorrows He carried.” We saw how I Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” No one, ever in all of history, suffered like Jesus suffered on the cross, because He bore the wrath of God for all of our sins there.
And WHY did Jesus suffer like this? The Bible says here He suffered greatly for one reason: it says it was “for sins.” For WHAT sins? It wasn’t for His OWN sins; He didn’t have any; Hebrews 4:15 says He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” So Jesus didn’t suffer for HIS sins; He suffered for OURS. We see that in the little phrase there “the just for the unjust.” Jesus was totally just; He was “without sin” as Hebrews says. I just read this week in John 14:30 where Jesus said before He went to the cross that “the ruler of this world is coming — but he has nothing in Me.” “Nothing in me.” Satan had NO foothold at all in Jesus’ life. NOTHING. There was no compromise, no sin, nothing to latch on to. Jesus was perfectly pure and holy. He was “just” — totally right with God and man, in every way.
But we, on the other hand, are the “unjust.” We have NOT been right with both God and men. We have sinned against God, and we have sinned against other people as well. So the “just”, Jesus, suffered for the “unjust”, us. Jesus suffered for what WE did; HE suffered for OUR sins. If you think about it; it is really an amazing concept; an amazing sacrifice, that He made for us.
Last week I was listening to someone preach about missions, and in his message he mentioned how back in the 1700’s, the Moravians (a fervent German Christian group) wanted to reach the slave peoples in the Caribbean islands. And he said some of them literally sold themselves into slavery, so that they could be taken to the Islands and live among the people to reach them with the gospel as fellow slaves. I thought, that would be an amazing sacrifice to make: to literally become a slave, to reach others?! So I looked it up, and it turned out that although that was a commonly held story, the Moravians did NOT literally become slaves; it said they considered it, and they were willing to do it, but they were advised against it (as you can imagine!) But it is still so neat that they were even willing to CONSIDER becoming slaves, just to reach other people with the gospel!
But here’s the thing we really need to understand: Jesus didn’t just “consider” it; He really DID do that, and infinitely MORE, to reach US with the Gospel! He was the King of Glory, Immortal, enjoying perfect love and glory with the Father and the Spirit; continuously adored before His throne, with infinite power — and He LEFT all that, to come to earth, to be born among slaves to the Romans; where He often literally went hungry and had nowhere to lay His head. He suffered mocking and beating and spitting and humiliation and whipping and ultimately crucifixion — and death. And He did all of this for one reason: to save us from our sins. Jesus didn’t “think” about doing something that radical to reach people; He DID it! And He did it for US; for OUR sins.
This ought to cause us to praise Him for His amazing grace — but it should also confront every one of us with the serious nature of our sins. Our sins are no “light” thing. Those of us who have been Christians for a long time, especially need this reminder. We’re just so used to thinking “Oh, Jesus will just forgive my sins;” that it can be easy to just fall into thinking that they are really no big deal. But we need to remember: Jesus had to DIE in order to pay for our sins. He had to “suffer.” There was no way around it (He asked the Father: if there is any other way, let this pass from Me!) But there was no other way. If we were going to be forgiven, Jesus had to suffer. And it was all for our sins.
— If you are going to genuinely be saved, you have to face up to your sin against God. You have to be willing to confess them for what they are, and turn away from them, and come back to Him and follow Him as your Lord and Savior from this time forward. Some of us need to do this today.
— And then those of us who are followers of Jesus, need this reminder that we must never take our sin lightly. Whenever we choose to sin, we are choosing to continue in doing the very thing that Jesus suffered and DIED for! How could we think lightly about our sins? It should be one of our greatest motivations for holiness: Christ SUFFERED for our sins.
II. Christ Suffered ONCE for all time.
This is an important point, and one that we see emphasized in this verse. Jesus didn’t just “suffer;” it says He suffered “once for all.” It is interesting that the Bible word here for “once” is the word “hapax.” “Hapax” is the word which is used to describe when a Greek Bible word is only found ONE time in the whole Greek New Testament — it is called a “hapax legomenon” — a word used ONLY ONE time. “Hapax” means “ONCE.”
So it says here that Christ died/suffered “once,” “hapax,” only one time.
The Book of Hebrews makes this very clear, in a passage which teaches the superiority of Christ over the Old Testament priests and sacrifices. They had to offer those sacrifices all the time, every day, over and over (and it says, and they never really did take away our sins!) But Jesus is superior to them, because He DID forgive sin, and He did it with ONE sacrifice for all time:
— Hebrews 9:25-26 “Nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now ONCE at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
— Hebrews 9:27-28 “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (:28) so Christ also, having been offered ONCE to bear the sins of many …”
Then in the next chapter, Hebrews 10 we have a 3-fold emphasis on the “once for all” nature of what Jesus did for us:
— 10:10 “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE for all.”
— :11-12 “Every (OT) priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered ONE sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God …”
— :14 “For by ONE offering, He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
SO we see here that repeated emphasis: “ONCE for all … ONE sacrifice … ONE offering.” Jesus died ONCE for our sins, and as He said, “It is finished”! He didn’t need to add anything else to it; and WE don’t need to add anything to it. “Once for all” it was finished.
We can be grateful that our salvation is not paid for by an installment plan! Many of you know our son Michael is attending North Greenville University, a Baptist school in South Carolina, which is a great school, but like Baylor, it is not cheap! Thankfully each semester we can use a payment plan, so we can pay some each month. And I’m thankful that we can do that. And many of us do the same things with cars, or homes, or other things too.
But here’s the thing: a lot of people mistakenly think that is the way it is with religion too: they think that Christianity is like paying “installments” on salvation: when you get baptized, that is like putting in your “down payment.” Then every week, you go to church, and that is like putting in another payment, and if you give money, that is putting in another payment; and if you teach a class, or go on a mission trip, that is like a payment, and so on. And if you put enough “payments” in, you will be saved and be able to go to heaven.
Well, that may be somebody’s religion — but that is NOT what Jesus came to do. Christianity is not about us putting in our little “payments” in to try to save ourselves. We could never do it. We could no more pay for our sins than we could pay off the National Debt! But thank God, Christianity is not about us paying for our sins; Christianity is that JESUS paid for our sins, ONCE FOR ALL! That’s why it’s good news! Because “It is finished!” He has done it; once for all!
We can say with the old hymns: “Jesus paid it all;” and “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul!”
And another old hymn may say it best of all:
Once for all, O sinner, receive it,
Once for all, O brother believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
(“Once For All/Free From The Law O Happy Condition”)
III. Christ suffered to bring us to God.
The word “that” here (“hina”) is a purpose clause: “SO THAT” — it shows us the PURPOSE for what He did. When we see these purpose clauses in scripture, we need to pay close attention: God is saying, THIS is the purpose for what I am doing. So what does He tell us here is the purpose for Christ dying for us, once for all? He says it is “SO THAT” — “for the the purpose that” — what? What did He do it for?
— to make us healthy and prosperous, as the false teachers teach?
— to make us gods of our own world, as the Mormons assert?
— just to “forgive our sins” — well that is true, but it’s not the full answer. WHY did He do what He did? What is the purpose? “SO THAT He might BRING US TO GOD!” THAT is His purpose. Jesus did everything He did, for the purpose of bringing us to God.
The great privilege of heaven/eternal life, is that we can come to GOD! See, this is what God made us for originally: to be with Him; to walk with Him in sweet fellowship just like Adam & Eve walked with Him in the Garden of Eden. But their sin spoiled that; and it has spoiled it for all of us too — and we have all followed them into sin, and our sin separates from God. But Jesus came, and suffered for our sins, so that if we would turn from our sins He would forgive us, and we could come BACK to Him. This is the purpose of Jesus’ suffering for us: “that He might bring us back to God.” THAT is what it is all about.
— He didn’t save us to make us healthy and rich, like the prosperity preachers teach. Healing and money is cheap compared to what Jesus really came to do!
— He didn’t save us so that we could be achieve our dreams – our dreams of success are nothing compared to what He’s really saved us for!
— He didn’t even save us just for “heaven,” though that is part of it.
Jesus saved us, the Bible says here, to bring us back to God, whom we were designed to know, and love, and be loved, in with a fervency and pleasure which cannot be found on this earth. As C.S. Lewis said:
“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”
Lewis says the greatest love and pleasure you can know on this earth is NOTHING compared to what is waiting for us when we are brought to God in heaven — and THAT is what Jesus has saved us for: “to bring us to God”! — and the pleasure and joy Psalm 16 says He has waiting for us at His right hand!
So if this is what Jesus has saved us for, then we need to take advantage of it NOW!
— Christ has broken down the barrier that your sin put between you and God. SO DRAW NEAR TO HIM — NOW! If you never have, ask Him right now to forgive your sins and save YOU, and come into YOUR life, and help you follow Him.
— And if you HAVE already done that, then realize what Jesus has saved you for: it was “to bring you to God.” SO DRAW NEAR TO GOD! You don’t have to wait until you get to heaven. Draw near to Him NOW, in His word and prayer, every morning! Read a Psalm, sing a worship song to Him; give Him thanks, and then talk to Him about your needs, and read His word, and listen to Him speak to you through His Holy Spirit. Christ died for the purpose of bringing you near to God — so DO IT! Draw near to Him; every day; that is what you were saved for!
The whole world watched last year, as 12 boys and their coach on a Thai soccer team were trapped in a cave in Thailand. Rescue teams frantically worked, first to locate, and then to save them. The process was difficult beyond description, as there were places in the caves that were so narrow, that the divers couldn’t wear their scuba tanks through them. But they had to try; water was slowing filling up the caves, and their oxygen was running out. Thai Navy SEALS were called in to help — and in the process, Thai Navy SEAL Petty Officer Sanan Gunan died while trying to take oxygen tanks to the boys in the cave. A few days later, team members WERE able to get in and sedate the boys, and bring them out. And when they did, they brought the boys back to their parents.
Here is a picture of one of those boys, sitting by his mother. In this picture, he has just been shown a picture of Sanan Gunan, that Navy SEAL. And he cried, as he saw the picture of the man who died to save him, so that he might come back, and be back with his mother again. He died, that they might be reunited.
And we need to realize that this is why Jesus died for us: TO BRING US BACK TO OUR FATHER! He brought us back to the One we were made to know and love; the One we left when we sinned. But because Christ died for us, we can come back to our Father now, and stay with Him in His glory in His house forever. THAT is why Jesus did what He did. It is why He suffered all that He did: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”