Have you ever felt alone, left out, or mocked because of your faith? Jesus’s victory over sin and death offers us hope in our present suffering and secures our glorious future with Him. Blake Holmes walks through 1 Peter 3:18-22, encouraging us to live a life of holiness in all circumstances.
When Life Is H.A.R.D. | 1 Peter 5:6-14
Who’s in Charge at Watermark? | 1 Peter 5:1-5
Trusting in the Suffering | 1 Peter 4:12-19
The End Is Near | 1 Peter 4:1-11
What Christ Accomplished Through His Death, Burial, and Resurrection | 1 Peter 3:18-22
Hope in Jesus on Display | 1 Peter 3:8-17
The Key to a Better Marriage | 1 Peter 3:1-7
God’s Identity, Calling, and Example for You | 1 Peter 2:13-25
How To Find The Right Church | 1 Peter 2:4-12
3 Indicators of Spiritual Growth | 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Battling Spiritual Amnesia | 1 Peter 1:13-21
Praise in Present Suffering | 1 Peter 1:3-12
Remember Who You Are | 1 Peter 1:1-2
In our lifetime, we will face suffering that comes with a cost for being a Christian. There will be loss, pain, and hurt because our faith compels us to live in a way that is different from the world. Like the church in 1 Peter, we must be prepared for persecution but stand firm in the hope of a Savior who has secured our victory.
Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 3:18)
Christ’s Proclamation (1 Peter 3:19-21)
There are many interpretations of this text from different times in history, denominations, and creeds:
Christ’s Exaltation (1 Peter 3:22)
Good morning, friends. My name is Blake Holmes. I'm so excited that you are here. We are deep into March. You know what March means. It's the most wonderful time of year. March means March Madness. How many of you filled out a bracket? How many of you have a lot of red on that bracket right now? Yeah, that's exactly right. I think my friend Bruce Kendrick (yep, I called him by name) might have scored 40 points. That's it. So Bruce is the ultimate loser on our staff team. Did I say his name out loud? I think I just did.
Listen. I love March Madness because I love the rivalries, the pageantry, the bands, the last-minute shots, the Cinderella stories, the friendly banter amongst friends, a chance to connect with old friends, all of the rivalries that exist out there. March Madness is a ton of fun. I want to show you a picture of one of my friends who found himself amongst other friends, let's say. He is a Kentucky Wildcat, and he was amongst Georgia fans this particular year. You can see they welcomed him with open arms.
The reason I show this to you, which he gave to me, which I think is a great picture… I mean, that is a great picture. Look at that. The reason I show this to you is there are times when, as Christians, we are going to feel like we stand out in a crowd, and it's not going to be a friendly rivalry where it's all about basketball. It's going to be where it comes at a cost, and there's loss and pain and hurt. Why? Because we wear a different uniform, so to speak.
It's because our convictions and our belief and our faith compel us to live in a way that's different than the world. You're going to be mocked. You're going to be laughed at. You're going to be overlooked and ostracized, and it hurts. I don't want to be Debbie Downer this morning, but, Watermark, let me be clear. I think it's going to get worse, and I think it's going to get worse in our lifetime.
Today, you can say you know and love Jesus, and you can come to church, and it might cost you, but I think it's going to cost you more in our lifetime. I really do. I just want to know that my heart, that your heart, that we're ready for that, much more than just being booed and laughed at because of a basketball game. Are we ready when the world turns against us and says, "Hey, I'm not so excited about you meeting on Sundays"?
Some of us experience it right now. I think about students who, at a young age, begin to walk with the Lord, and teachers and professors begin to ostracize them and belittle them. If you don't experience it in high school, you will in college. I think about students who sit there on Friday night, and the phone doesn't ring. Their friends drop them. I think about friends in here who I know who are overlooked for promotions because of their conviction of faith and the way they live it out. It doesn't make sense within the folks they work with who are just driven by the bottom line.
I think about the way in which sons and daughters feel ostracized by their parents because they happen to make a profession of faith. It has really divided your family. I mean, Christmas comes around, and it's awkward. Why? Because you believe Christmas is about something much more than Santa and gifts that are exchanged.
Walking with Jesus sometimes feels very lonely. If that's you this morning, then this message is for you. Peter is writing to a group of people who are experiencing persecution, and because of that persecution, they've literally been forced out of their homes, and now they're scattered to different places. They're suffering because of their faith, and Peter writes to encourage them and tell them that there's hope and victory because of what Christ has done for them.
They can walk with hope because they have a glorious future, and they need to hold on to the victory found in Christ, because their suffering and the opposition they experience creates opportunities for them to be a witness in a hostile world. We're looking at 1 Peter 3:18-22. Truth be told, this is a thorny passage. I was talking to friends before the service down here. They were like, "How did you get chosen to teach this passage?" You'll know what I mean when I read it. We're going to walk through this verse by verse. Here we go.
"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."
This passage could be broken up into three parts. In verse 18, you see Christ's suffering, and then in verses 19-21, we're going to look at Christ's proclamation. What did he proclaim? To whom did he proclaim? Then in verse 22, Christ's exaltation. I want you to stay with me. I want you to remember the context. Peter is writing to a people who are experiencing opposition and suffering because of their faith. It's coming at a real cost.
Previously, he talked about how Christ is our example. Because Christ suffered unjustly, we should follow in his example, and we can suffer. We can endure and suffer injustice because Christ did it for us. He left us an example for us to walk in. This is a little bit different of a passage. This is a passage which is speaking of not "Follow his example." This is a passage of encouragement that, "Hey, you are on the winning team," that there is victory in following Christ, that the outcome of the game has already been determined, so be encouraged. Walk in strength and faithfulness and boldness. That's what this passage teaches.
So, let's look at verse 18. This is so significant. I want to walk slowly, phrase by phrase, through this passage, because you must understand this. It's the gospel in one verse, so we're going to take it phrase by phrase. Here it is. Let's start at the very beginning. "For Christ also suffered once for sins…" This is so important that you understand Christ's death on the cross was sufficient, final, complete. He paid the penalty for our sins. It is paid in full. It is done. It is finished.
That's why he can say, "It is finished." In the Old Testament, sacrifices were made in anticipation of the ultimate sacrifice, but none of the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin. They were just a shadow of the substance that was to come, Jesus Christ, who was eternal and perfect. Because he was eternal, righteous, and perfect, the very Son of God, it is over. There's no more need for sacrifices because it's finished.
Hebrews 10:12-13 says, "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…" It's finished. "…waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet." The Bible says we've been justified by faith. We have been declared righteous.
Now listen. I want you to hear me really clearly. Have you ever walked into a Roman Catholic church? Do you notice what's different in a Roman Catholic church? Jesus remains on the cross. Why is that? Jesus remains on the cross because in the Roman Catholic theology, we draw upon a bank account of grace, but then what happens is you sin, so through the sacraments you continue to draw upon this bank account of grace, and he is, so to speak, re-sacrificed.
That's not what we believe. We're not Roman Catholic in our theology. We are Reformed in our theology. We believe, in the tradition of the Reformers, that Christ died once for all. You have been declared righteous. His righteousness is credited to your account, and you are secure, because you've been saved by the perfect blood of Jesus Christ.
Notice what it says. "…the righteous for the unrighteous…" This is so important. Jesus served as our substitute. He was fully God so as to be without sin, and he was fully man so as to serve as our substitute. He could take our place. The righteous for the unrighteous. Second Corinthians 5 says, "He made him who knew no sin to become sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him."
The righteous for the unrighteous. He was our substitute. He paid our penalty on that cross. "…that he might bring us to God…" This implies that we were once enemies of God, separated from God because of our sin. But what was the purpose for which Christ died on the cross? To reconcile us to God, to bring us back into a right relationship with a righteous, perfect, holy God.
Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace…" Not like an internal peace, like, no anxiety. No. Peace with God, because we're now children of God. "…being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…" In other words, since Christ died… He died a physical, bodily death but was resurrected. Christian, no matter what you're going through, you have hope. Because Christ was resurrected, and he lives, so shall you. Death is not the end of the story. That is a crazy, profound thought.
As believers, when we gather and mourn… And we do mourn when we lose loved ones, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We grieve because those we love we're no longer going to spend time with, but those who know Jesus we're one day going to be reunited with, and we come, and we declare what is true.
Romans 8:11: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." One commentator said this: resurrection means the worst thing is not the last thing. Amen to that. Resurrection means the worst thing is not the last thing. Death is not the final word.
In 1 Peter 3:18, we see Christ's suffering, but really, what we see is Christ's victory over sin and death. Because he's victorious, regardless of the opposition we experience, the suffering we face, and the loneliness we may feel, there's hope because we have a glorious future, and he secured it for us. Now, those of you who are visual learners out there, I want to see if I can illustrate this in a familiar way. Hang with me.
Here's a simple way to understand everything I just told you. We have been separated from a perfect, righteous, holy God because of our sin. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 says. That's you. That's me. All of us. We're over here. That's you. I'm pretty short. That's me. Now it is true, some people live a more moral lifestyle than others, so they say, "Hey, look. I'm a pretty good guy."
They think, "Well, I go to church. I pay my taxes. I give generously, and I'm not as bad as the other guy." It is true. You may be more athletic, more moral, more righteous. So, when you try to jump to earn God's love and salvation, you jump all the way out there. But you know what? I run, and I'm not in good shape, and I jump to right here.
Here's the problem, gang. I'm not in competition with you. Do you want to know what the standard is? Holiness. That's the standard, and we all fall short of that. But here's the amazing thing. First Peter 3:18 teaches us that Jesus Christ came, and on the cross he built the bridge between a sinful man and a perfect, righteous, holy God.
So, as the God-man, the one who is fully God and fully man, he is the only means of salvation. That's why he says, "I'm the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me." That's why the book of Acts says, "There's no other name under heaven by which we must be saved." He's the only bridge between a sinful people and a perfect, righteous, holy God.
So, we don't come to him saying, "Look at how far I can jump. You should be so impressed." We come to him recognizing our sin, that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. But it's not enough just to believe in that. It's not enough just to intellectually understand it. We must trust in what Christ has done for us, and when we rest and trust in that, then we are forgiven. We're made new. The Spirit of God lives within our lives. We have hope, and we can face whatever opposition is out there.
In the Protestant Reformation, they said it like this, the five solas, the clarion call of the Reformation: we've been saved by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone according to the Scriptures alone. We've been saved by grace alone (there's nothing good in and of ourselves that merits God's favor) by faith alone (it's not by our good works plus what Jesus did for us; no, it's only what Jesus did) in Christ alone (because he is the God-man) to the glory of God alone (not because of anything we've done or figured out) according to the predetermined plan of God, the Scriptures alone.
Because of that, friends… If you don't know anything else or you tune out for everything else I say the rest of the day, don't miss what I just shared with you, because that is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus Christ came to offer us life, and because of that we have hope, and because he not only died on that cross but three days later rose again, it validated everything he claimed, said, and did, and because he's alive, we can have life. Amen?
It's not just what it does for us after we die, though. It's the resurrection that gives us life, hope, power, and meaning right now, that marriages could be restored, that lives could be changed, and that you could live with hope and peace. Now let's get to verses 19-20. Here we go.
"…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." Okay. This passage is what I refer to as an interpretive challenge, on many levels. It raises so many questions. When you're reading Scripture, it's good to ask questions. "What does that mean?"
First of all, who are the spirits in prison? Were they unbelievers who died in the days of Noah, fallen angels who were cast into hell, the dead prior to Christ? What did Christ preach to them? Did he preach a message of repentance, his victory over death, their final condemnation? Where did Christ go? What does it mean? Where did he go between his death and his resurrection? Did he go simply to the place of the dead? Did he go to hell? And when did he preach? In the days of Noah, between his death and resurrection, after his resurrection?
I mean, there are so many questions here. The good news is Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said this about this passage: "A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know…" This is Martin Luther. Let me tell you, as a pastor, when Martin Luther goes, "I have no idea," that makes you a little nervous before Sunday. "…so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means."
Let me have an aside really quickly. I want to tell you, whenever you come to a difficult passage of Scripture… This is why I like preaching through books like we're doing, because we're just going verse by verse. You have to go through the… You can't skip that passage. So, as an aside, as you're reading God's Word, let me encourage you with a few thoughts. Anytime you're reading God's Word and come to difficult passages, first, don't skip them. Wrestle.
Years ago, my wife and I were training for a bike ride around Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe has a lot of hills. In our training program, there were times it would call for hill days when we'd ride our bikes. I'll just be honest with you. There were days where I just wanted to go, "Ugh! Hill day. Let's skip the hills." You're tempted to skip the hills because the hills are hard, but do you know what happens? You don't become a very good cyclist if you skip the hills.
In the same way, if you read Scripture, and you're kind of like, "'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…' Oh, I like that." So you highlight that. Then you just go, "'…in which he went and proclaimed…' Okay. No, I don't understand that. Uh, verse 7. 'The end of all things is at hand.' Nope! That's not good. Uh, 'Don't be surprised when fiery trials come upon you,' verse 12. Still not good. Um…oh, here we go. Verse 5: 'Casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.' Okay." Then you highlight that.
That's not the way to read Scripture. You have to take the hills. Okay? Secondly, remember, context is key in any passage of Scripture. You have to read that verse in context of every paragraph, each chapter, each book, in context with the rest of Scripture. Context is more than just literary context. There's a linguistic, cultural, theological… There's a lot to every passage. You don't just pull a verse out of context. Context is key.
Thirdly, you want to interpret Scripture with Scripture. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. You want to take the unclear passages, and you want the clear passages of Scripture to help you interpret the unclear. Scripture will not contradict itself. So, if you see it, and you go, "Oh, there's a contradiction," it means you've taken a wrong turn. It could be unclear, but you want the unclear passages to be interpreted by the clear.
Then, fourth (I just have to say this), the meaning resides in the text, not you. The goal of Bible study is to understand what God was trying to communicate through Peter to the original audience such that we could understand that, and then interpret it and apply it to our day. Then, lastly, we want to learn from others throughout church history.
Like no other time in the history of the world, we have the opportunity to get on the Internet, to read books. There are so many great resources, teachers, commentaries, and websites where you can go and learn from so many great resources and learn to see, "Hey, how has this verse been understood? Throughout literally the centuries, how has the church understood this passage?" You can do that.
Now I want to warn you. Not all resources are the same. Just because it says it somewhere on Google, that doesn't mean it's so. There are good doctors out there, friends, and then there are not-so-great doctors out there. You may still call them doctor, but it's not necessarily the one you want to go to when you're sick. There may be people who will tell you, "Hey, I have the interpretation," but it may not be the one you want to believe.
If you ever come across someone, or you yourself find yourself in the place where you go, "I'm the only one who understands it like this," that's a bad place to be. You don't want to be novel in your interpretation. All right. Having said all that, I want to walk you through this passage, verses 19 and 20, specifically. I'm going to share with you three common interpretations, and we're going to climb the hills for no more than three or four minutes.
Some of you, we're going to drop. That's what they call it when you're on the hills. "Don't be dropped." If you don't want to climb the hills, you can look at your phone or read the Watermark News. I'll tell you when we're getting out of the hills. You can come back. Okay? If you've climbed the hills before, you're going to be familiar with what I'm saying. You're going to go, "Oh! You know what? That was helpful. I've wrestled with that."
If you've never climbed the hills, what I walk through… There's no way I can help you understand all this in a short message, but I'm going to give you enough to where you're going to go, "Okay. I can come back to it." Are you ready? Who's going to climb the hill with me? Come on. All right, here we go. This is what we're trying to figure out. What in the world does it mean? Who are the spirits in prison? Where did Christ go, and what does this mean?
Okay. The first one is this. It is commonly held that Christ descended into hell between his crucifixion and his resurrection to proclaim his victory over death. Now, this has been popularized by the Roman Catholic theology and some versions of the Apostles' Creed, which perhaps you grew up stating, which stated, "He descended into hell," but there's debate over the original wording of the Latin of the Apostles' Creed.
It's the difference between the word infernus and inferna, which means to the dead versus to the underworld. So, depending upon what tradition you grew up in and depending upon the Apostles' Creed that was used, you may have grown up believing that Christ died and then went to hell. The point that was being made, I would argue, is not that Christ went to hell. No, Christ went to the place of the dead.
The argument is an argument of Christology. Who was Jesus? At that time, you want to understand that Jesus was fully God and fully man. He died a physical, bodily death, and that was the point he was trying to make, because he serves as our substitute. So he died, and he went to the place of the dead. He died a physical death. He was fully man. He served in our place.
The Westminster Confession corrects the Catholic theology, even, and says, "Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried and continuing in the state of the dead and under the power of death till the third day, which has been otherwise expressed in these words, 'He descended into hell.'" So, where did Christ go? I do not find that Christ went to hell. He was dead. He died a physical death, and he was buried. He went to the place of the dead.
Now, who did he preach to? What did he preach? There are two interpretations of this I want to unpack with you. We're in the weeds. Remember, we're climbing the hill. One thought is the preincarnate Christ preached through Noah to unrighteous humans before the flood. Notice what it says here. "…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…"
Some have argued what this means is preincarnate Christ was simply preaching through Noah to those of the day who disobeyed, which brought about the flood. The support for this is that Peter describes Noah as a preacher of righteousness in 2 Peter 2:5, and in 1 Peter 1:11, Peter refers to the spirit of Christ in the Old Testament prophets, yet this answer doesn't explain where Christ went. If it's the preincarnate Christ preaching through Noah, why do we have language about where Christ went? It seems to not satisfy our questions.
Then the third option is not that the preincarnate Christ preached through Noah to unrighteous humans, but Christ proclaimed victory over fallen angels after his resurrection. Now that sounds really strange…spirits in prison, fallen angels. Where do we get that? Well, you have to understand… Again, now we're at the very top of the hill. Hang with me. If you're familiar with the book of Genesis, you always have read Genesis, chapter 6. You see Genesis 6.
One interpretation of the sons of God who cohabitate with humans… Many people believe, and in Jewish literature, when Peter wrote, it was believed that those were fallen angels. The word for spirits almost always in the New Testament refers to angelic beings. The idea of imprisoned spirits fits within Satan's imprisonment in Revelation 20:7.
I've told you that you want to compare Scripture with Scripture. When you look at 2 Peter 2:4, it says, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…" People look at that passage and go, "Oh, look. So it's the fallen angels. They were fallen angels at this time in prison when Peter wrote."
It says in Jude, verse 6, "And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…" Yet this view doesn't explain why Christ would proclaim his victory over, specifically, these fallen angels. There's no view that you go, "Oh, that's it! It's obvious."
Okay. We just finished our hill crawling. Are you ready? Did everybody follow me on that? Kind of. I get it. Here's the point. What we're trying to do is to take every verse and go, "What does that mean? How are we to interpret that?" We've come to a passage where we go, "Wow! There are a lot of options here." So what do we do with it?
Well, here's what I would say. Wayne Grudem, one commentator, said it like this, and I so appreciate this. "This passage, once cleared of misunderstanding, should also function today as an encouragement to us to be bold in our witness (as Noah was), to be confident that, though we may be few, God will certainly save us (as he did Noah), and to remind us that just as certainly as the flood eventually came, so final judgment will certainly come to our world as well, and Christ will ultimately triumph over all the evil in the universe."
What he's saying here is we may wrestle over "Hey, who are the spirits in prison and what exactly is the nature of this?" but the application, the big-picture view, is simply this: if you do not know Jesus Christ, it is your time. Today is the day of salvation. Get on the ark of salvation, because just as there was a day in which Noah was calling people to repent and get on the ark because judgment was coming… People had to look at him and go, "What a fool for trusting and believing there's going to be such a flood. Why is he investing in wood and wasting his time?"
If you don't know Jesus Christ, I'm begging you to consider everything I've shared with you this morning. I'm begging you to consider what 1 Peter 3:18 says, the clearest passage in this whole paragraph, and your need for Jesus, because there will be another flood. There will be another great day of judgment. It is coming. In 2 Peter 3:9-10, Peter warns us.
"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed."
Friends, just as God flooded the earth in Noah's day, someday he's going to come back. His Son Jesus Christ is going to come back, and just because he hasn't come back yet doesn't mean he's not coming. The only reason he hasn't come is to provide us another day and offer us repentance. Every day is an invitation to his grace. So he waits, because he wants more to come to know him.
If you're a believer, this passage is so clear in saying, "Hey, like Noah, hold on. You remain steadfast. You preach. Even if you're ostracized, overlooked, feel funny at times…even if you're sitting in a crowd of Georgia fans who are all throwing things at you…it's worth it, because one day you're going to be vindicated."
Note that it says just eight persons were brought safely through the water. If you're going to walk faithfully with Jesus Christ, just count on it. There are going to be days you're going to feel like you are all alone. Just count on it. I mean, if you want to walk with Jesus, you're going to feel like you're swimming upstream. Why do I say that? Well, in Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
So, let's look at verse 21. "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…" This is also difficult to understand, but he's speaking metaphorically. Notice what he says. He says, "Baptism, which corresponds to this [this illustration], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body…"
What he's saying is baptism is a picture of salvation of what God does for us. When we trust in Jesus Christ, we are baptized. We identify with him. We are put into the water. We identify with his death and burial, and we come up to new life. We've been saved through the waters, if you will, just as Noah was, and it is our countercultural proclamation, "Count me in with Jesus." That's what baptism is. "I want to be a part of the family of God."
It is a welcome to the family. "I am a believer. I am identifying with Jesus Christ publicly, boldly. Here I am. Count me in. You can know the uniform I'm going to wear." So, you are baptized and brought up to new life, just as Noah was saved through the waters. This illustrates that we no longer will face judgment but we, too, will live, not the mechanical action of baptism of just going through the motions.
For my Church of Christ friends who grew up believing that baptism is necessary for salvation because of Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized…" That's what Peter said. But 1 Peter 3 is a good cross-reference and explains what is meant in Acts 2:38. Yes, you should repent, and yes, you should be baptized, but notice baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith for those who have been saved because they've placed their faith in Jesus Christ, not because they went through the mechanical act of being baptized.
Okay. Verse 22, the passage I'm most excited to share with you this morning. This is so important. "…who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." This passage is so important because I really believe most Christians don't understand the significance of what is referred to as the ascension. It is critical, obviously. Paul makes the point in 1 Corinthians 15 that you take away the resurrection and there is no Christianity.
But you have to understand. We stop at the resurrection, and we don't consider the ascension. What is the ascension? That Jesus not only rose from the dead, but he ascended to the Father. He left earth locally from a real geographical place, visibly, in front of many witnesses, bodily, in physical, bodily form, not some ethereal state, and today… Some of you are going to go, "Is that right?" Today, the God-man is at the right hand of the Father.
Kevin DeYoung, a respected author today, says this. I want you to understand this. "The God who, in the fullness of time, became man will never, for all time, cease to be a man. The ascended Christ shows us what Adam was supposed to be and what we will one day become—not the natural Son of the Father, but kingly and priestly sons of our Father given to rule on the earth."
The ascension, friends, is significant because it teaches us that Christ triumphed over his enemies, that he reigns victoriously, that he's at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. The right hand is a position of authority and privilege. He's not here on earth anymore. He ascended. He is with the Father. He's at his right hand. He reigns triumphantly over all of creation, over all spiritual forces.
The Heidelberg Catechism, coming out of the Reformation, says this: "First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father." Think about that. Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is known as the accuser of the brethren. Well, guess what. You have an advocate. So, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of the Father.
"Second, we have our own flesh in heaven, a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven." One day, you and I will be raised bodily…resurrection…in heaven with him. "Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit's power we make the goal of our lives not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is sitting at God's right hand."
The ascension is so crucial, friends, because so many of us walk embattled by the voice of shame. Even as believers, we're beat down, hearing voices, like, "I don't measure up. I don't belong. I'm not good enough. I'll never be accepted. I don't have what it takes." It's against all this… The ascension says, Jesus says, "You are forgiven. You are freed. You are loved. You are mine. It doesn't matter what the accuser of the brethren says anymore, because you're mine, and I love you, and you're secure."
I grew up playing sports, and I remember one friend of mine, no matter what game we were playing, every competition we went to… He was probably the best athlete on the field, but his dad's voice was so loud. Every time he missed the goal or threw an interception or missed the kick, or whatever it was, whatever sport we played, you could always hear his dad. You could just hear his dad condescending above all the crowd.
I just thought, "Man! What would it be like to live with a 'Don't come home tonight!'" Literally. What would it be like to live like that, knowing that your dad is in this constant disappointment? If that's your view of God, friends, you don't understand the gospel. You don't have a father who's sitting there going, "Ugh! You missed it again. You missed it again." No, you have a God in heaven who's a good Father, and shame is never his tool. That's the tool of the Enemy.
The ascension reminds us that God in heaven pleads on our behalf. Jesus pleads on our behalf. The accuser of the brethren has not won. He will not win, and there's life and hope. We have peace with God now because of what has been accomplished for us. Amen? So, you, friend, no matter the opposition you're going to face in this world, walk knowing that your Savior Jesus Christ reigns triumphantly, and someday you will too. Let's pray.
Father in heaven, I thank you for a passage which just reminds us that you're good and that we don't have a God in heaven who's disappointed in us. He's not mad at us, but he loves us. I thank you, Lord, that you sent your Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sin, that he died in our place, and he bridged the gap between a sinful people and a holy, righteous God so we could have life, we could have peace with you.
If we just trust in this gift of your grace, we are a new creation indwelt by your Spirit with hope of knowing that one day, Lord, we will be with you. So, Lord, help us to walk courageously today, despite opposition, despite how lonely we may feel, despite how ostracized we may feel. Despite the cost, help us to be faithful, like Noah, in the face of opposition. Help us to get on the ark and declare to a watching world that judgment is coming. Help us, Lord. Help us to be faithful while we are here, faithful in proclaiming the good news, and that you live, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.