Your Crucified, Risen, Ascended Lord Saves You!

How can we who have sinned against God, we who are unrighteous, come into the presence of a holy God, a God who is too holy to tolerate sin? 1 Peter 3:18–22 focuses on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. He also points you to the way that God makes visible the reality of Christ’s work.

Christ died for you. Christ died once. Christ’s death is unique. It cannot be repeated. Christ died once for all. His death is sufficient. It accomplished what it set out to do.

The righteous died for the unrighteous. Christ died because of sins. It was your rebellion and disobedience that made his suffering and death necessary. He died in your place. The substitutionary atonement is at the heart of the gospel.

Christ died to bring you to God. Salvation is not just a matter of relieving you of the consequences and punishment of your sins. It has as its goal fellowship with God. The idea of a “carnal Christian,” saved, but uninterested in serving God, is a myth.

You are saved by Christ’s resurrection. By the Spirit Christ was made alive and preached to spirits in prison. Christ was made alive. Christ died in the flesh (body). His death is an essential part of your salvation. But he was made alive by the Spirit. The Spirit is the agent in Christ’s resurrection, see Romans 1:3,4; 8:11; 1 Timothy 3:16. The Spirit is life-giving, 1 Corinthians 15:45. Christ preached to the spirits in prison. The text is a difficult one. It apparently does not refer to activity of Christ between his crucifixion and ascension (he told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”). Christ’s Spirit spoke through the prophets, 1 Peter 1:10,11. Here Christ, by the Spirit, spoke to Noah’s generation–through Noah. See 2 Peter 2:5. Noah’s life and words for 120 years were God’s patient call to repentance. The patience of God in Noah’s day parallels his patience today. Disobedience was punished. The spirits are now in prison. As you suffer unjustly, remember that God is in final control. He has the last word!

Salvation came! Salvation came to Noah through water. The water of judgment flooded the earth. By God’s grace salvation came to eight through water. Salvation comes to you through the reality that baptism symbolizes.

“In 1 Pet. 3:20–21 Peter says that just as Noah and his family were saved from death by the water that bore up the ark, so believers are saved from perdition by baptism. But that baptism must then be viewed, not as… putting away the filth of he flesh… but as… an appeal to God for a good conscience, free from guilt. Only baptism can be this through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as proof of our justification (Rom. 4:25).”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4. p. 505

Peter is not teaching salvation by water baptism. Baptism is a symbol, an “antitype,” a figure. The reference is not to the cleansing power of water, but to the reality of a good conscience, 1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism is a sign and seal of your union with Christ in his death and resurrection.

“Baptism is the sign and pledge and seal that God’s mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him and His righteousness unto children’s children.”

John Murray, Christian Baptism, p. 92

Share in Christ’s triumph. He is victorious. He rose. He ascended. Do not underestimate the importance of the ascension. It is the triumphal procession of the victor. Authorities submit to him. You share in his triumph, even though you may not feel that way, even though it may be hard to believe as you suffer persecution.

Whether baptism or the Lord’s Supper, the connection between the sacrament and the reality it represents is so close that language can sometimes be interchanged. Don’t let the sign distract you from the reality, which is Christ. But don’t neglect or disparage the reality which is sealed to you in the sign.