It’s baseball season! Pitchers and catchers showed up at Spring training last week and full rosters report this week. That means the Pirates are in Bradenton getting ready to go all the way this year! Baseball always lends itself to good sermon illustrations. And this morning is one of those cases.
In baseball, there is a thing called a “sacrifice.” It is when the batter hits a ball that is caught or fielded in a way to throw out the batter, yet the runners already on base advance to the next base or to home plate.
The batter is out, but the result was good for the team.
This morning we are going to talk about another kind of sacrifice. One that doesn’t contribute to the winning of a ball game, but one that accomplished infinitely more – salvation to all who will call on God.
We are going to look at one verse in Scripture. And while we will reference others, we will focus on this verse. Please turn with me to 1 Peter 3:18. Here’s what it says:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.
Peter is writing to a group of Christians who are experiencing persecution because of their faith. Peter reminds these disciples that when they suffer for doing what is right – they are blessed (3:14) and shouldn’t fear.
This text about suffering and persecution is critically important in light of world events. Current reality is that in certain areas of the world Christians are being brutally persecuted; beheaded, set afire, tortured, raped all because of Jesus by people who literally despise Jesus and the cross.
In the context of 1Peter it would have been a similar experience. In the East in places like Asia and the Middle East, Christians are persecuted violently and killed. In the West in place like Europe and the US, Christians are persecuted because of ideology. And in the context of 1Peter, we have this word of hope. Jesus has suffered and his followers should expect the same. But Jesus overcame and so will his followers.
So what we need to talk about today is what Jesus has accomplished to bring you into a relationship with God.
And here is the point that Peter wants to make – Jesus suffered on our behalf. And his suffering and death is the very act that reunites you with the Father.
Jesus, God in the flesh, was the Suffering Servant. His coming had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier. The prophet Isaiah said the future Savior would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). He was to be the willing lamb led to the slaughter. Isaiah wrote of Jesus: “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Why? To pay for human sin and make salvation possible.
Though fully God, Jesus also took on the same humanity as we have, in order to accomplish his saving grace. He also experienced the suffering and pain that humans do. Jesus confronted disappointment, felt pain, became hungry and tired, faced temptation and apprehension.
Jesus endured torture and finally hideous torment on the cross. Jesus had suffered through the entire human experience. Think of it: God in the flesh shared our human pain. The suffering and death of Jesus once and for all put to rest the idea that life must be fair, or that God is unfair. No one could accuse God of hiding himself or not caring.
Then he takes us beyond Christ’s example to the uniqueness of His substitutionary death.
The substitutionary death refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all people are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). It’s the nature we are born with. A Biblical worldview makes this point in Genesis 3 when the first humans chose to sin. They were our representatives and so the human race fell into nature of sin. It is our nature to sin that cause actions of sin. The penalty for our sin nature and sin actions is death. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Death, physically and eternally is punishment for sin. So without Christ, we are going to die and spend an eternity in hell as payment for our sins. Death in the Scriptures refers to a “separation” – separation from God. Everyone will die and there are consequences for sin – both in nature and in actions. The death spoken of here refers to the life in hell. However, the second thing this verse teaches us is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. This is His substitutionary atonement.
Jesus Christ died in our place when He was crucified on the cross. We deserved to be the ones placed on that cross to die because we are the ones who live sinful lives. But Christ took the punishment on Himself in our place—He substituted Himself for us and took what we rightly deserved. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Here again we see that Christ took the sins we committed onto Himself to pay the price for us. A few verses later we read, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Not only do these verses teach us about the substitute that Christ was for us, but they also teach that He was the atonement, meaning He satisfied the payment due for the sinfulness of man.
We can only pay the price of sin on our own by being punished and placed in hell for all eternity. But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to pay for the price of our sins. Because He did this, we now have the opportunity to not only have our sins forgiven, but to spend eternity with Him. In order to do this we must place our faith in what Christ did on the cross. We cannot save ourselves; we need a substitute to take our place. The death of Jesus Christ is the substitutionary atonement.
Christ’s suffering involved “the just for the unjust” (or, “righteous for the unrighteous”). Only Christ is just or righteous. None of us, when we suffer, can truly say, “I don’t deserve this!” We do say that because we erroneously compare ourselves with other sinners and think, “I’m a good person! I don’t do drugs or cheat on my mate or murder. I’m basically honest and law-abiding. Why should I suffer when scoundrels get away with murder and enjoy a good life?”
But our problem is, we’re comparing ourselves with the wrong standard! If we would compare ourselves with the absolute righteousness of God, we would see that the only thing we deserve is hell! Each of us has broken God’s commandments and laws over and over and over. We put other gods before the living and true God. We make idols for ourselves. We take His name in vain. We don’t keep His day as holy. We dishonor our parents. We murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet. If we think we don’t, read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows the self-righteous what the true standard of the law means. We are unrighteous; only Jesus Christ is righteous.
God, in His perfect justice, cannot just shrug off our sin. But He took our sin and put it on Jesus Christ, the righteous, to bear the penalty we deserve. The purpose was that Christ might “bring us to God.” This is the idea for an admission to an audience with the Great King. You just didn’t stroll into the presence of a great king and say, “How’s it going?” You had to have someone to introduce you properly. Because the righteous Christ bore our sins, He can bring us into an audience with the Great King.
One other point: Christ’s death for sins was “once for all.” His death was sufficient to pay for all the sins we have committed and will commit.
The point is, if you’ve put your trust in Christ, then your sins are on Him and you have been reconciled to God once-for-all. God wants every believer to come to the place of full assurance where you understand that the basis of your acceptance with God is not your performance; it is His grace, that Christ died for your sins once for all and you have trusted in Him, not in your own good works.
We’ve covered a lot of difficult material. But I don’t want you to miss the clear application of this text for your life. Three questions we each need to answer:
Have I truly trusted in Christ as my sin bearer? To do that I need to view myself as unrighteous, unable to present myself to God by my own good works. The pervasive pride of the human heart always wants to earn salvation based upon personal merit or worth. But God’s way is always to humble our pride and strip us of everything in ourselves that would commend us to Him. We can’t trust in our own goodness or hope that God’s standard is not absolute holiness. That’s a false hope. Make sure that you have let go of all human goodness and trust in the righteous Christ who died for the unrighteous.