ďYour Suffering And The Forces Of DarknessĒ†† 1 Peter 3:18-22†† July 24, 2011

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:I almost always use an approach to preaching called

†† lectio continua.That means ďcontinuous reading.Ē

The idea is that you chose a book of the Bible, and you start at the beginning,

†† and you read to a natural breaking point, and then you preach on that.

Then the next Sunday, you pick up where you left off, and preach on next part.

†† You keep doing that until youíre done.Then you pick another book.

 

Thatís not the only way to preach.

Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the 19th century,

the man who was called the Prince of Preachers did not preach that way.

In fact, he was opposed to it.He thought every Sunday the preacher should be open

†† to choosing any passage from anywhere in the Bible.

And he had good reasons.Iíve read his arguments and they are compelling.

 

But one of the arguments for continuous reading is that is forces the preacher

†† to teach his congregation the whole word of God.

He canít stick to passages he likes.

And he canít skip uncomfortable passages.

 

If you are preaching through Genesis and come to story of Sodom and Gomorrah,

†† you canít skip it.You have to preach about homosexuality.

If preaching through Matthew and come to chapter 19, you canít skip it.

†† You have to preach about divorce.And thatís good.

 

Today you are going to experience one of the downsides of continuous reading.

The preacher sometimes encounters a passage that is hard,

†† not because itís an uncomfortable subject, but because he doesnít understand it.

Itís too much for his intellectual ability.

 

I would never choose to preach on the verses we are about to read

†† because they are very hard to understand and trying to explain them

†† will make for an awkward sermon.Iím warning you.

If you want to slip out now, and come back at 10:45 for Ken Allenís sermon

†† I would understand.But here I am, preaching through 1 Peter and I canít skip it.

†† So letís dig in.

 


 

INTRO:Iím on a committee of our Presbytery called Candidates and Credentials.

One of our jobs is to exam men who want to become ministers in our denomination.

†† One exam we give them is Bible content.

We had a meeting this past week and I was looking over a copy of a Bible content

†† exam that is used by another Presbytery.

We were trying to decide whether or not to revise some of our exams.

 

So I was glancing through this ordination exam and I saw a question:

†† See if you know the answer to this Bible content question.

†† Which New Testament epistle deals with the subject of Christian suffering?

Doesnít that make you feel good?You are so smart!

†† You know the answer to a question on a ministerial exam!

 

Peter never forgets his main point, how to suffer as a Christian.

†† How through Christ the troubles of life can refine you like gold.

And at this point in the letter heís teaching Christians that you suffer right

†† by learning to counterbalance and outweigh your suffering with great

†† spiritual realities.

 

Iím going to repeat myself from last week.

Suffering is experienced as a weight.Thatís the very language people use.

†† They say:I feel weighed down.This is heavy on my mind.

†† Suffering is a weight that you carry.Can sometimes even see in countenance.

It can become all-consuming, even for Christians.

†† It can become your identity, not the fact Jesus loves you.

It can overshadow all the facts and evidences of Godís grace and goodness in life.

†† So that you become fatalistic, dark, and bleak.

 

At its worst, when you are suffering, you can give yourself an excuse to sin.

†† Iím hurting.Iím struggling.So I give myself permission to sin.

I have an excuse to be bitter.I have an excuse to be rude.

†† I have an excuse to numb my pain in ungodly ways.

Remember the Latin phrase Augustine and Luther used to describe sin?

†† Incurvatus in se.Sin is me turned in on me.

 

The way Peter addresses this is that he doesnít sayóBuck up and get over it.

†† If you had enough faith, if you loved God more, this wouldnít be heavy.

†† You wouldnít feel weighed down by this, you would have a spring in step.

No, he says that when Christians suffer itís real, itís weighty.

He doesnít deal with suffering by disregarding it or discrediting it.

†† Instead, he says that Christians have to learn to outweigh it with heavier things.

 

Imagine an old timey scale.

Your suffering on one side weighing it down.Then you start to add wonderful

†† things to the other side of the scale.What happens?

The suffering doesnít disappear.Itís still sitting there for all to seeó

†† but at some point, the scale tips, and the heaviest thing in your life is no longer

†† your sufferingóinstead you feel the weight of glorious realities.

Last Sunday we looked at four of those counterweights.Do you remember them?

†† Christian fellowship, Christís cross, Godís love, Your witness.

 

Well guess what?There are actually five.There is one more.

But the reason we didnít include it last week is because itís in these verses.

†† And we need a whole sermon by itself on these verses.

†† Because these verses probably the most difficult to interpret in the whole Bible.

 

Martin Luther said this about these verses.

†† ď(This is) a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament,

†† so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.Ē

And I donít know for a certainty either.But I think that Peter is adding a fifth

†† counterweight to our suffering, a final glorious reality that we are to

†† believe and pile on the scale of mindsóto outweigh our suffering.

Christian fellowship, Christís cross, Godís love, your witnessó

†† and in these verses, the cosmic war.Thereís a war on.Youíre in it.

†† Knowing that dramatically changes the way you view your suffering.

 

Letís work our way through this passage with just two steps, two points.

First, interpret the passage.Second, apply the passage.

 

First, weíre going to look at these verses carefully.

†† Iím going to give you the rules for interpreting difficult passages.

†† Iím going to tell you the main ways this has been interpreted.

†† And finally, Iím going to give you my opinion.

Second, weíre going to apply this passage to our suffering.

†† See how it helps to outweigh our suffering.

†† And hopefully youíll leave this morning encouraged.

Credit where credit is due:A sermon on this passage by Dr. Robert Rayburn

†† was a huge help to me.Iíll be sharing many of his word and insights.

MP#1Interpreting the passage

Letís start with some basic rules for interpreting Scripture.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable.Itís all the word of God

But, all Scripture is not equally clear.

 

Everything necessary for salvation clear.

Anybody can read the Bible and understand enough for salvation.

†† But there are other parts that that are hard to understand.

In Peterís second letter he says: ďPaulís letters contain some things that are hard to

†† understand.ĒAnd, of course, the joke that has been made for centuries by New

†† Testament scholars is:If that isnít the pot calling the kettle black!

There are very hard parts.So we need to approach with humility.

 

Most important rule:The hard to understand passages of Scripture are to be

†† interpreted in light of the plain passages and the overall teaching of Scripture.

You canít interpret the hard passages in a way that contradicts the clear passages.

†† All the cults ignore this rule.They take the hard parts,

†† give them a weird interpretation, and build a doctrine out of them.

 

So with those rulesin mind, letís look at this passage.

Iím going to give you the three major interpretations of these versesó

†† and Iíll tell you the strengths and weakness of each.

And remember that there are literally dozens of variations of these three.

 

Thereís a very old view that this passage teaches that Jesusí soul went to hell

†† during the three days he was in the grave, and that he did some preaching there.

Some say he preached to the souls of the people who died during Noahís flood.

†† Either to condemn them for their unbelief or give them a second chance.

 

Some say it was not actually hell but a kind of prison where all the Old Testament

†† saints have been waiting and watching for the Messiah to release them.

So he declared to David and Isaiah and all the saints his finished work,

†† and then took their souls out of this prison and into heaven.

 

Some say he actually suffered in hell, finishing his work of salvation.

†† And while he was suffering he was preaching the Gospel.

Some say he was in hell, preaching his victory over the demons.

I was friends with a Pentecostal minster in Florida.He invited me to a menís

†† breakfast at his church on the Saturday after Good Friday, before Easter.

A man came out with an electric guitar and said:

†† Do you know what Jesus was doing this Saturday 2,000 years ago?

He was in hell, kicking the Devilís butt!Then he gave a riff on his electric guitar.

†† And everybody clapped and cheered.And I clapped too.

†† Because Iím all for Jesus kicking the Devilís butt.

 

But whatís the problem with this interpretation?Some variations worse than others.

All the clear passages of Scripture make it plain that Jesus didnít go to hell.

†† He said:ďFather, into your hands I commit my spirit.Ē

†† He said to thief:ďToday you will be with me in Paradise.Ē

Paradise and hell are two very different zip codes!

 

What about the Apostles Creed:He descended into hell?

†† Thereís a long, complicated history to that phrase, and itís meant different things

†† to different people, but we say it as a simple affirmation that Christ suffered the

†† pains of hell for us on the cross.

Crucified, dead and buried is our affirmation of his physical, historical suffering.

He descended into hell is our affirmation that of his spiritual suffering.

†† But that didnít happen after he died, it happened while he was dying.

†† In the darkness when he cried:ďMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me.Ē

 

Thereís another big problem with this interpretation in the text itself.

†† Itís not about the time when Jesus was in the grave, itís about his resurrection.

ďHe was put to death in the body, but made alive by Spirit, through whom went and preached.Ē

†† Made alive by the Spirit is a reference to his resurrection body.

†† Then verse 22 is clearly about his ascension to the right hand of God.

And what does this have to do with Noah and ark?Whatís the logical connection?

 

A second school of interpretation is that Peter is saying that the Spirit of Jesus

†† preached through Noah when while he was building the ark.

Noah is called in another passage a preacher of righteousness.

†† So Noah preached a message of faith and grace.Believe God.Flee from wrath.

†† Come into the ark.The ark is a foreshadowing of Christ.

 

This was John Calvinís view.And itís very appealing.

†† Because it fits so well with Peterís theme of suffering.

Noah suffered.He and his family were the only believers.

†† They were mocked and ridiculed.But through their faithfulness Christ

†† was preached, and then they were saved through the flood.

I could almost go with that, but for one thing.Iím convinced that there is no

†† way to interpret the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago as spirits of people.

†† I think this is a reference to fallen angels, to demonic spirits.

Two reasons, first is that everywhere in the New Testament where the word

†† ďspiritsĒ is used without qualification, it refers to angels or demons.

 

And that is confirmed in this passage itself.In verse 22 is says that after Jesus

†† was raised, he ascended into heaven and is at Godís right hand with

†† ďangels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.Ē

Those words, angels, authorities, and powers are a NT way of referring to the

†† angelic world and specifically, to the forces of the kingdom of darkness.

 

That leads to the third view.This is my viewófor now.

This passage is about Jesus resurrection and ascension into heaven,

†† where he rules at Godís right hand over all creation.

And itís about a particular thing Jesus did in his ascensionó

†† He declared the beginning of the last battle in the great war,

†† and he declared a message of triumph over all the forces of evil.

He announced his certain victory.

 

There are two problems with this view.

First, this word ďpreachedĒ is not one ordinarily used to announce doom.

†† Usually itís an announcement of grace.But it is a possible use.

The other problem is:What does this have to do with the days of Noah?

†† What were the sins committed by fallen angels during that time,

†† and how does that relate to Christís ascension into heaven.

 

This gets very complicated, and we just donít have enough time to go deep.

But basically, there are a number of passages that indicate there was a demonic

†† attempt to corrupt the human race before the time of Noah that almost worked.

Everyone in the whole world, except eight people, Noah and family,

†† were under the control and influence of demons.

Why would the Devil want to corrupt and destroy the human race?

†† Because of the promise given to Eve that she would give birth to a Son

†† who would crush Satanís head.

As I said, it almost worked.It was the high mark of demonic evil in human history.

 

The world was so wicked, that God sent the Flood to wipe out the human race and

†† start over with Noah.He delivered through the flood and the ark.

Peter says that those are symbols of baptism and Christ.

And furthermore, God in some way from that point on, confined the demonic realm.

†† He restricted demons in some way that was to them like a prison.

So Jesus Christ, in his ascension, passed through this realm of angels and demons

†† and spiritual warfare, and triumphantly announced his present and future victory

†† over all the forces of darkness.

 

I think that what Peter is doing in these verses is giving just a hint about

†† the unseen world and this cosmic war.Itís not an idea he develops,

†† he doesnít make too much of it.Doesnít give many details.

Thatís typical of the whole Bible.It never tells us much about these things.

†† Just hints and rumors.

But Peter wants you to know that your suffering happens in a bigger context

†† than your little life.Itís part of a war.Your hurts are war wounds.

 

And that leads us to the hard part.


 

MP#2Applying the passage

What difference does it make?How does this help you in your suffering?

How does knowing just a little bit about a great war in the unseen spiritual realm

†† of angels and demons and Christís role in that war help you today in Cullman,

†† Alabama and the struggles you are having?

 

Well, you have to think about war and suffering in war.

When we were in NC on vacation a few weeks ago, found a used book at yard sale

†† called In Flanders Fields.About the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium in WWI.

The battle lasted four months.Half a million casualties.

†† And when it was over, British and French only advanced a few miles.

It was the very worst of trench warfare.

 

Troops suffered from artillery, and poisonous gas, and rain, and mud.

The region where this battle was fought is a plain and the ground is gray clay.

†† The mud was so deep and sticky from being ploughed up by artillery,

†† that the only way to get around was on wooden pathways, called duckboards.

If a man was wounded, and fell into mud, would be smothered.

†† Even horses and mules who pulled the artillery fell in and died.

 

At first, the strategy of the British, French, and German generals wasó

†† Letís just hurl enough men against the line, and eventually weíll break through.

They tried that again and again, tens of thousands cut to pieces by machine guns.

†† There were some offensives where as many as 50,000 men were killed, wounded

†† in just one or two days.I tried to imagine 50,000 men and all I could think of

†† was a crowd at a college football game.

Stacks of dead Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans.Trainloads of mangled

†† men returning home missing limbs, blinded by poisonous gas.

But they didnít quit.Didnít say, thatís not working.Need another strategy.

 

They just came up with a different rationale.

†† If we keep throwing men against the enemy, we wonít break through,

†† but hopefully we have deeper pockets and they will run out of men

†† and weapons first.So it was a terrible slaughter.

I couldnít put it down.And I think the thing that was so engrossing was the very

†† matter of fact way the author described this battle and the suffering.

And how, no matter how soldiers felt about what they were going through,

†† they were part of something bigger than themselves,

†† and it had to grind its way to an end.

The Bible has great sympathy for sorrowing and suffering Christians.

†† Immense sympathy.Think of our study of the Psalms a few months ago.

How so many painful emotions are given voice in the Psalms and treated

†† with such dignity and tenderness.

I have a little book of Bible verses that somebody gave me a long time ago called

†† Words of Comfort.One verse after another of soothing words to believers.

 

But, there is another message in the Bible that is, in some ways,

†† even more encouraging and invigorating.

That message is:You are suffering?

†† You are facing some sort of opposition?

†† You are finding your Christian life difficult in some particular way?

Of course you are.Why would you expect anything else?

†† There is a great battle underway in this universe and you are in the thick of it.

 

Every human being is on one side or the otheróeven if they donít know.

The Devil is like those generals at Ypres.

†† He sends his troops to fight with no care for their welfare.

†† He feeds them to the cannons and then laughs when their souls end up in hell.

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves every one of his soldiersó

†† But sometimes he still has put them through terrible things.

†† Long, wearying marches.Fierce combat with powerful enemies.

 

Just this week I got an email from an organization called Voice of the Martyrs.

†† Request to pray and send a petition to Pakistan government for a Christian

†† wife and mother named Asia Bibi.Maybe youíve followed her story.

She had a conversation with her Muslim co-workers about faith.

†† She said:Jesus Christ is alive.Accused of blasphemy against Mohammed.

†† Sentenced to death.Been in prison for over a year.

Why would Jesus send one of his soldiers to suffer like that?Thereís a war.

 

There are these two powerful armies colliding against each other every day.

†† Battling over the souls of men and women, boys and girls.

†† You are living your life on a battlefield.

No soldier in the thick of battle is surprised that his life is difficult.

†† When the artillery shells are exploding in the mud,

†† and the air is full of terrible soundsó

†† no soldier sticks his head out of his foxhole and says:

ďWhy are they shooting at me?Was it something I said?Ē

He understands that his place is on the battlefield.That explains everything.

He belongs to a particular army.His is serving under a particular captain.

Peter is saying the same thing to Christians.Donít be surprised.

†† Youíre in a war that unbelievers have no clue about.

†† Two powerful, invisible armies clashing in the heavens, earth is the prize.

Your suffering and how you use that suffering to glorify Christ part of the fight.

 

But, Peter saysóThatís not the whole story.You have a great advantage.

†† You know youíre on the winning side.

†† Because Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.

He has proclaimed his victory over the spirits in prison.

†† And now he reigns over angels, authorities and powers.

 

Listen, you may feel overwhelmed but you are going to see the end of this war.

†† You are going to survive your wounds.Did you know that?

†† Your wounds arenít going to kill you.They will leave scars.

But if you are faithful, one day youíll be proud of those scars.

†† Because you are going to march in the great victory parade.

 

That victory has already been announced.

†† The defeat of the enemy has already been proclaimed by the King of Kings.

 

I donít know where the battle rages now for each one of you.

†† I know about some of you.

I really appreciate it as your pastor and as a brother in Christ when you tell me

†† so I can know your fight and pray for you.

I like to know how your life is difficult and where your courage and your

†† faithfulness is being tested in this particular season of your life.

 

And in a way, Iím glad to know you are having difficulties.

†† Because anyone who goes through this great war without difficulty

†† is running from the fight.