Suffering With Jesus
1 Peter 3:13-22
How many people here enjoy turbulence when you’re flying in a plane? Not many hands up. No one’s adventurous, huh? It won’t come as any surprise to you, then, that turbulence is most flyers’ number one anxiety, at least according to commercial airline pilot Patrick Smith, who flies Boeing 757s and 767s.
So much about turbulence seems dangerous. But Smith argues that from the perspective of the pilot, turbulence is usually just a blip. He says:
For all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down, thrown into a tailspin, or otherwise flung from the sky by even the mightiest gust or air pocket. Conditions might be annoying and uncomfortable, but the plane is not going to crash. Turbulence is an aggravating nuisance for everybody, including the crew, but it’s also, for lack of a better term, normal. From a pilot’s perspective, it is ordinarily seen as a convenience issue, not a safety issue. When a flight changes altitude in search of smoother conditions, this is by and large in the interest of comfort.
The pilots aren’t worried about the wings falling off; they’re trying to keep their customers relaxed and everybody’s coffee where it belongs…. In the worst of it, you probably imagine the pilots in a sweaty lather: the captain barking orders, hands tight on the wheel as the ship lists from one side to another. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Actually, Smith concludes, while the passengers are fretting about the turbulence, the pilots are having a casual conversation about their morning orange juice.[i] I’ve certainly been nervous on planes at times, but I’ve also told people, when you’re flying and find yourself afraid, find the pilot on the plane. Not the pilot OF the plane, but the pilot ON the plane – the one flying to another airport to pick up his or her scheduled plane. Usually you can find one … a pilot commuting, by flying, to work. I always say, if they’re nervous, you should be nervous. If they’re fine – sitting there reading or asleep – you have nothing to worry about, no matter how much the plane is bouncing around because of the weather.
Truth of the matter is, planes aren’t the only place we encounter turbulence, are they? Life itself can get pretty turbulent sometimes, can’t it. And just like when we’re flying, it leaves us unsure, scared, hurting, feeling vulnerable and insecure. But the truth is, when your life is in God’s hands, you have nothing to worry about, even if the worst does happen. And sometimes it does. Storms happen. Jobs are lost. The human body fails. The mind is impacted by sin too, often twisted and evil. People do horrible things to other people. Steal life. And we cry out to God for answers in our fear and pain and grief. And we can do that and should do that. Lament is a part of life on this earth.
But we also need to remember that no matter how bad things get for us here and now, with our lives in God’s hands, not just our earthly lives, but our eternal lives, we look forward to a future that is safe and secure with Jesus. Oh, we will suffer, and every one of us will die. We will suffer because we live in a broken world, and there will be times when we suffer BECAUSE we live for Jesus, and that goes against the flow of the culture around us. But when we die, we will not die alone, because Jesus will be standing right there, reaching out his hand to lead us into the presence of God. When we suffer, we will not suffer alone. And when we suffer FOR Jesus, we actually join with him in his suffering. His example, his suffering, is a source of encouragement to us when we suffer.
Turn with me to 1 Peter 3:13-22.
Peter starts by asking a question that seems to have an obvious answer: “Who is going to hurt you if you’re passionate about doing good in this life?” The assumed answer is, really no one. But we have to understand, and the rest of the passage makes this clear, that Peter isn’t making a promise here. He isn’t saying, “If you’re passionate about doing good, people will never do bad things to you.”
He’s saying, “As a general rule of thumb, doing good things will keep people from doing bad things to you.” He’s kind of making this like a proverb. You know, the short, pithy, wise sayings that we find throughout the Bible, and especially in the book of Proverbs? They aren’t promises per se. They aren’t promising that bad will never happen and good will always happen if you live wisely. They’re saying, as a general rule of thumb, this is going to be true. But there will also be exceptions.
Look at. V. 14.
Doing good helps people to like, or at least tolerate you, when you are living for Jesus and your life doesn’t always flow in the same direction as theirs, the direction they are comfortable with. They’re just going with the current. As followers of Jesus, our lives sometimes go against the flow, against the current. And when something is in the water, and isn’t going with the flow, what does it create? Turbulence. And that isn’t always pleasant for us as followers of Jesus, and it isn’t always pleasant for those around us who don’t follow Jesus.
Doing good – feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, having your name on a plaque at the blood bank for donating lots of blood, helping your neighbors out, just being kind and respectful, will go a long way toward reducing the turbulence. But there will still be times when our lives create turbulence anyway, no matter what we do.
And when that happens Peter gives us four ways to face the turbulence with confidence. The first is to not give in to fear and lose our minds. “Have no fear of them (who is “them”? those who are causing trouble for you, or opposing you aggressively), nor be troubled.” Instead, consider yourself blessed. Wait, what? Consider yourself blessed WHEN YOU SUFFER for doing good, for following Jesus? That’s exactly what Peter says. Being blessed isn’t always about being healthy and wealthy and comfortable. As followers of Christ, we are blessed, REGARDLESS OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES. We are blessed because regardless of our circumstances in this life, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and our lives are in God’s hands, both here and now and for eternity. We are blessed because absolutely nothing we face in this life can separate us from the love of God and from the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. And because of that, we have no reason to lose our minds to fear and start scrambling around in a panic, regardless of what happens. We can keep our minds and respond with the love and the grace of God, even in the midst of suffering.
The second way to face turbulence with confidence is to acknowledge that Jesus isn’t just your loving and forgiving savior, he is also the rightful lord of your life. Look at V. 15. For Peter, your heart is your core self. We might call it your soul or spirit today. It is the seat of your thoughts, will, and emotions. It is the real “you.” Your deepest self. Peter tells us that from our deepest selves, we are to “honor Christ as holy.” Remember, to be holy is to be set apart for something. In this case, it is to recognize, from our deepest selves, that Jesus really is who we say he is. It is to actually LIVE under the lordship, the rightful and complete authority, of Christ, and not just say that we do. It is quite easy to SAY that we follow Jesus and that he is our lord, our ultimate authority. It is much harder to actually crucify our wills so that it’s actually true. Because when he is my lord, I submit to his authority, even when my heart and flesh cry out for something different – a different path, an easier path.
The third way to face turbulence with confidence is to be ready to offer a gentle, respectful defense for my life following Jesus. When someone asks me why I insist on going against the flow, or why I make the decisions I make, or why my life sometimes looks different, I am ready to tell them. But only in a way that is gentle and respectful. I’m not yelling and screaming when others don’t go the way I do. I’m not yelling at them when they ask. I simply offer my life as a testimony to the goodness of Christ. Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me …
The fourth way to face turbulence with confidence is to keep on doing good, even when it gets hard.
Look at V. 16.
Just keep living for Jesus. Just keep loving people. Just keep offering forgiveness and grace. Just keep serving. Just keep helping. Just keep praying. Keep your own conscience clear, regardless of what other people say, or do, to, or around you. We face turbulence with confidence by refusing to fear circumstances and people, and instead fearing God, acknowledging Christ as lord and realizing that all of life is in his hands, even when life doesn’t make sense. But there’s one caveat.
Look at V. 17.
Peter is explicitly talking about the turbulence in life that is created because we follow Jesus and therefore do good. He isn’t talking about the suffering that happens when we mess up, make mistakes, and fall short. You see, that isn’t innocent suffering. That’s reaping what you sow. Christ is with us, even then, but it’s a whole different form of suffering.
But innocent suffering? It actually brings shame on those who oppose us. But that may not happen in this life. It WILL happen when Christ returns and God’s judgment and justice come in their fullness. You see, this passage is looking forward to that time, and it is in the real, future return of Christ that we find our hope, our ability to face turbulence with confidence. Unfortunately, we have to wade into what is perhaps the most confusing passage in the Bible to figure that out.
Look at Vv. 18-23.
So, my first thought when I read this passage is that Peter must have taken a big ole swig of wine right before writing it, and it went right to his head. V. 18 is straightforward enough. It’s actually a quite succinct explanation of the gospel. Christ suffered, once and for all, for our sins. And he did so as the ultimate innocent sufferer. The only truly righteous one ever to walk the earth, suffering and dying with the sin and filth of all who have lived on him.
It’s at V. 19 that things get interesting, and confusing.
What in the world is Peter talking about? The truth is , there’s no real agreement about that. The funny thing is, it appears in the Apostle’s Creed, perhaps the oldest and most well known testimony of the good news of Jesus in existence.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
The phrase “He descended to hell” comes from this passage. The problem is that we don’t really know what that means. There are three basic options. The first is that Jesus descended into hell to proclaim his salvation to those who had died before he lived, offering salvation to those who never had a chance to hear the gospel. The second is that Peter is describing the pre-existent Christ in the person of Noah and that through Noah, Jesus spoke to the people of that generation on earth before the flood. The third is that Peter is describing Jesus proclaiming his victory to the spirit world, over the spirit world. He is pronouncing judgment on the spiritual forces of evil that fell with Satan when he fell.I tend to take the third view, as did the commentaries I consulted as I studied. You see, Peter also references the story of Noah, but in a special way. He is specifically referring back to
Genesis 6:1-4. “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”
So, one of the most confusing passages in the New Testament is referring to one of the most confusing passages in the Old Testament, and again, this passage of Genesis has several possible interpretations. And the confusion rests on who exactly the “sons of God” are. But the gist, based on Jewish tradition, seems to be that prior to the flood, fallen angels sinned gravely by living with human women, creating a special kind of offspring referred to as Nephilim, an unusually large and strong group of beings or people. And because of the heinous nature of this rebellion, these demons have been kept in a special place of imprisonment in the spiritual realm, even to this day. There, they await future judgment, when they will be cast into the lake of fire. And it is over them that Jesus pronounced judgment over them and his victory over death, sin, and the power of Satan.[ii]
You see, the one thing everyone AGREES on about this confusing passage is this: CHRIST HAS ALREADY WON! Whatever his proclamation to the spirits was, and whoever the spirits were, the message was the same: sin and death are conquered. God has brought his salvation into the world. Those who follow Christ live securely in the hands of a loving AND almighty God whose authority is unchallenged and whose victory is secure. That’s the point of all passages dealing with God’s final victory over sin. Yes, they’re confusing. Revelation is confusing. Parts of 1 Peter are confusing. And parts of Jude. Because they deal with last things. They’re confusing and no one agrees about the details of how to interpret them. But one things comes shining through, and it is THAT that God wants us to pay attention to – CHRISTUS VICTOR, CHRIST HAS WON. And nothing that we face during our time on earth, not even death itself, whether that death comes at a ripe old age, or on the golf course with loved ones as it did our friend Ken two weeks ago, or in an auto accident, or at the hands of a madman with a gun, nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. And so we can face suffering the way our lord faced suffering, acknowledging pain, in grief, but with strong and secure hope.
In his book A Sweet and Bitter Providence, John Piper offers these thoughts about God’s providence:
Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.[iii] Let us pray.
[i] Patrick Smith, “A pilot explains what it really means when there’s turbulence during a flight,” Business Insider (8-9-17)
[ii] Chuck Swindoll, Insights on 1 Peter
[iii] John Piper, A Sweet and Bitter Providence (Crossway Books & Bibles, 2010), pp.101-10
 Patrick Smith, “A pilot explains what it really means when there’s turbulence during a flight,” Business Insider (8-9-17)
 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on 1 Peter
 John Piper, A Sweet and Bitter Providence (Crossway Books & Bibles, 2010), pp.101-102