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“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.” (1 Peter 3:18-20 ESV)

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (ESV) When we are in the midst of suffering, as were the Christians to whom Peter wrote, we may wonder if we do have any reason for hope. This text provides great comfort.

First, we read that Christ “suffered once for sins.” When the text says “once,” it means “once for all.” Christ suffered for all of the sins of the world for all time. As the righteous Son of God, He did this for the unrighteous; in other words, for you and me. What a great comfort this is when we suffer! When we suffer, we are often tempted to think that God is out to get us, but it’s not true because He already “got” His Son for our sin on the cross. There are still times of hardship in this sinful world, but that is not evidence that God is out to make us miserable. And so we cling to the truth that Christ suffered for our sins to bring us to God.

After Christ suffered once for sin, He was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (verse 18) His suffering was complete. He suffered the ultimate wages of sin, namely, death. The price has been paid in full, evidenced by the fact that He was made alive again. Now He promises deliverance and eternal life.

Made alive in the spirit, Jesus descended into hell to proclaim to the spirits in prison. You know that a victory is complete when the king walks into the enemy’s palace, sits on the throne, starts making proclamations, and no one stops him. That’s what Jesus did when He descended into hell. But the proclamation He made is not for the spirits who are there. They don’t want to hear it. The proclamation is for us. You see, when someone is suffering, a common temptation is to believe that the Lord is too weak to completely overcome our problems. To that, Jesus says, “I’m not too weak. My victory is complete! I marched into hell to proclaim My victory over sin, death, and the devil, and no one could stop Me.” And then He left, and no one could stop Him. Christ has been to hell and back for us so that we can be sure that He will deliver us.

Finally, there is an encouragement to be patient. God is patient with our world as He gives more time for people to hear His Word, repent of their sins, and believe in Him. As we live in God’s patience, we may feel as if God has forgotten us. It’s not true. In the days of Noah, the number of believers was only eight, but they were not forgotten. The Lord delivered them, and He will deliver us, too.

Is there a reason for hope? Absolutely! As long as there is sin and evil in this world, there will be suffering, but we are not forsaken. Christ has suffered for sin once for all. And so, He tells us that we are righteous and that we have life in Him.

Christ has been to hell and back for us so that we can be sure that He will deliver us.

Robert Sauers is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Winter Haven, Florida, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions.