Christ Suffered in the Flesh

1 Peter 4

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
1 Peter 4:1

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
1 Peter 4:12-13

Advent begins with hope. Traditionally the first Sunday in Advent focuses on the prophets of the Old Testament who told about the coming hope of a Messiah—a divine warrior who would set up God’s kingdom in the world. But the Messiah described by the prophets was not merely a warrior. He was described as a servant too. In fact, he was described as a suffering servant.

When Peter, in his letter to the early church, talks about the truth that Jesus suffered in the flesh, he affirms the fulfillment of Old Testament hope for a Messiah in Jesus Christ. How did Christ suffer in the flesh? He suffered in at least three ways.

He suffered the things we all suffer as humans. He was tired, hungry, and poor. He had to work to eat. He communicated to others with well-intentioned words, but those words were often misunderstood by those closest to him. The difference between his human suffering and ours though was that he never suffered because of his own sin.

We sin when we wound one another out of our own broken passions. Augustine described sin in the human heart as disordered love. That’s another way to define broken human passions. You may love your children, but if you love them in a disordered way, you might use harsh words to discipline them. Or you may choose never to discipline them out of a fear of being too harsh. Either way, your love is disordered. Your passion for your children is broken. We end up sinning both actively (sins of commission) or passively (sins of omission), and we are sinned against by others.

Christ suffered in the flesh. Peter uses this phrase as shorthand for the historical life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. He did his work on behalf of sinful humans, those of us with disordered loves and broken passions. Since he has suffered for us, we no longer bear the guilt. That’s what it means that we have ceased from sin.

It was incredible for Christ, the innocent one, to suffer for the us, the guilty ones. Christians now look at our own suffering in the world as a participation in Christ’s suffering rather than an unfair state of living. We now have power to fight against our own broken passions and to obey the will of God.

Christ came once to start this process. We remember the anticipation of that coming in Advent. Christ will come again to finish the process. We also anticipate that final coming now during Advent. In between the first and second coming, we share in Christ’s suffering knowing that what would otherwise be a day of judgment will actually be a day of rejoicing when he returns.

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