Easter: God’s solution to our greatest need (1 Peter 3:18)

(mega tsunami, Indonesia 2004, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

1. Introduction

The deadliest tsunami of all time hit the Indian Ocean on 26th December 2004. “In the aftermath of the quake, resultant tsunami waves … killed over 280,000 people in towns and villages along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Over 3 million of survivors have [had] their livelihoods destroyed.”[1]

The death toll in the earthquake in Haiti was expected to be over 100,000 according to the Haitan Prime Minister.[2]

Is our greatest need to end all earthquakes and tidal waves of the enormity of tsunamis?

What about curing all paedophiles, all diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C?

What about stopping war and violence around the world? If we could solve the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, the Sudan, North Korea, would that provide the solution to our greatest need?

What about the tragedy of murder and suicide in our own country? What is the world’s greatest need? What is your greatest need?

I’d like to share a verse from Scripture with you that, if practised, would help to put an end to war, violence and sexual abuse. It helps us to understand why tsunamis, earthquakes and the September 11 2001 disaster happened.

It causes us to reflect on what is wrong with our world and what can be done about it. The verse I am referring to is: 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (NIV).

The title of this message is: “Easter: God’s solution to our greatest need.”

This verse shows us what is wrong with our world and proclaims the solution. Here we see:

  • The greatest problem with our world;
  • The greatest need of individuals and our world.
  • And the solution to the greatest problem;

2. The greatest problem with our world

This verse uses two words that describe our greatest problem, but we don’t want to hear them. I don’t expect that you’ll hear them too often on the radio or TV. Some of you may object with me this morning for even mentioning them. But unless we understand the greatest problem, we will never know the greatest solution. If we don’t understand what is really wrong with our world, we won’t want to seek the best way to solve it.The greatest problem is NOT:

  • Osama Bin Laden[3] and Al-Qaeda[4],
  • the Americans and their Allies in Iraq; OR
  • paedophilia, murder and violence around the world.

These are symptoms of the greatest problem.

Those two words that spell out the greatest problem with our world from this verse are:

a. Sin, and

b. Unrighteousness

We don’t like to be told we are sinners, but if we don’t understand that every human being since the time of Adam and Eve has been born sinners, we won’t understand the solution.

What does it mean that we are sinners? Most of us think that the meaning is simple: We do wrong. That’s only part of the answer. Those of us with a long association with the church can easily rush over this greatest problem in the whole world. Briefly, let’s talk about


In this 1973 book by a secular Jewish psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin, he wrote this:

In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of “sin,” a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone’s mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles . . ? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? . . Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sins?[5]

Menninger says that “the sinful act” includes “an implicitly aggressive quality—a ruthlessness, a hurting, a breaking away from God and from the rest of humanity, a partial alienation, or act of rebellion. . . sin has a willful, defiant, or disloyal quality; someone is defiled or offended or hurt.”[6]

These are amazing statements from a secular psychiatrist. Karl Menninger pushed the boundaries of what is wrong with our city, our country, the world – what is wrong with you and me.

Our text agrees that the major problem is “sin.” SIN, with a big “I” in the middle.

Too often we think of “sin” as an act of wrongdoing like telling a lie, stealing, killing somebody, sexually abusing a child. Sin includes wrong actions such as those, BUT its fundamental understanding in the Scriptures is “a state of alienation from God. For the great prophets of Israel, sin is much more than the violation of “[7] something that is forbidden or breaking some external law.

Sin indicates a breaking “of a personal relationship with God, a betrayal of the trust he places in us.”[8] Here are a couple of examples.

Isa. 6:5, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'”

Luke 5:8, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'”

The British evangelist, Michael Green, put it this way:

“What would you think of a doctor who, on discovering you had a tumor buried deep in your body, responded, ‘Take two aspirin and you’ll be just fine.’?

“How about a fireman who responded to the fire alarm by saying, ‘It’ll probably burn itself out soon enough,’ or a policeman who, on arriving at the scene of a robbery, merely shook his head and said, ‘Boys will be boys’!

“In each case the response is inappropriate to the situation. Is your response to sin also inappropriate.”[9]

Our greatest problem is not only that we are alienated from God, but that the sinful acts that come out of this alienation, flow from deep within all of us. Jeremiah put it as straight as you can get: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV)

So, SIN is a state of alienation from God and this comes from deep within all of us.

And this SIN is associated with:


What does it mean for all of us to be unrighteous? “Righteous” or “just” is based on the Hebrew word meaning “straight” or “right.” “The corresponding Greek term[10] in Greek society referred to that which is in accordance with law or social norm.”[11] For example, the God of Israel, asks, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).

If righteous means to do what is right and in accordance with the law, what do you think unrighteousness might mean? The opposite: To fail to do what is correct and to do what is against the law.

Here’s the BIGGEST problem: We all are sinners by nature, alienated from God, and we DO what is wrong and against the law – against the law of God, against the law of the land, and even against the law of our own consciences.

Unless we understand the GREATEST problem, we will not grasp the GREATEST solution celebrated at Easter. We will not understand the wickedness in our world if we miss the meaning of these two words: SIN and UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.

That great British Baptist preacher of the 19th century, C. H. Spurgeon, often told this story:

“A cruel king called one of his subjects into his presence and asked him his occupation. The man responded, ‘I’m a blacksmith.’ The ruler then ordered him to go and make a chain of a certain length.

“The man obeyed, returning after several months to show it to the monarch. Instead of receiving praise for what he had done, however, he was instructed to make the chain twice as long.

“When that assignment was completed, the blacksmith presented his work to the king, but again was commanded, ‘Go back and double its length.’ This procedure was repeated several times. At last the wicked tyrant directed the man to be bound in the chains of his own making and cast into a fiery furnace.”[12]

We are like that cruel king because sin takes a dreadful toll in our lives. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death. . .” In the verse we are considering in 1 Peter, it says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” Why was it necessary for the righteous one, Christ, to die for the sins of the unrighteous?

  • Since sin means we are alienated from God;
  • Since unrighteousness means that we do wrong and crooked things,
  • that tells us something about our greatest need. This verse from First Peter nails it:

3. Your greatest need . . .

is “to bring you to God.” Wait a minute, you might be saying: “I haven’t the faintest interest in God.” In fact, I’m of the Perry Como vintage and I believe “Love Makes the World God Round,” and my greatest need is LOVE. Or if you’re of the Madonna vintage, “Love [still] Makes the World Go Round.”

Just a moment folks. Who or what makes the world go round? Who is the one “who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:25-26)?

There would be no understanding of “love” without the one whose love endures forever and the one who provides food for every creature, sends rain on the just and the unjust, and who sustains this world – in spite of its sin and unrighteousness.

We think our greatest need is love, human love. Our biggest need is not to deal with war, tsunamis, Sept. 11, cancer, crime, our job and our family.

God says that your greatest need is to be in fellowship with God himself – your greatest need is for somebody “to bring you to God.” The greatest issue is that we are cut off from Almighty God, our Creator and Sustainer.

If this greatest need and greatest problem are NOT solved, then the anger of God will rest on us and our eternity will be miserable.

Please understand what this would mean. If we were in fellowship, companionship, friendship, in love with the Lord of the Universe, we would not want to tear one another apart, violate one another, and do violence in our world. We would want to love as God loves.

You see, no matter whether you have been raised in deepest, darkest Africa or deepest, darkest Bundaberg, you know that God exists. How do I know? God tells us in Rom. 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (TNIV).

Deep down within you and me, our conscience convicts us of the existence of God. But we feel out of step with him. The Bible puts it that we are “alienated from God.” Augustine of Hippo, Northern Africa, was a sexually immoral man who indulged his passions in his youth, fathering an illegitimate child.[13] He eventually obtained a reputation to be called, St. Augustine, and described this alienation in the 4th century in his book, Confessions. In that book he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.[14]

Our greatest need is for somebody who can bring us to God. We are rebels who don’t want anything to do with God but our greatest need is to be in relationship with the Lord God of the universe.

How can that happen? I’m glad you asked. That leads us to what this verse tells us about.

4. The greatest solution to our greatest need

If sin and doing wrong are our problems, we too often think of better security, more police, bigger prisons, tougher penalties, better parenting.

If you don’t understand the greatest problem with our world and reject the greatest need that we have, you won’t be interested in the greatest solution to our personal problems and the world’s problems.

A T Easter, we are directed to the greatest solution and it has nothing to do with police, prisons and security: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”

These are the steps to the greatest solution.

  • Christ suffered for sins;
  • Christ, the righteous one suffered for us, the unrighteous;
  • Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead.

A. Step One: Christ suffered for sins once for all; [15]

What’s the deal about Christ’s suffering “once for all”? Understand what happened for the Jews in the OT. If they wanted to be right before God and have their sins forgiven, “God set up a system by which the people of Israel could make atonement for their sins. To atone is to make amends, to set things right.”[16] God’s law was that “the high priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year to sprinkle blood [of animals] as an atonement for the sins of the people (Lev. 16:3-34: Heb. 9:7, 25).”[17] To set things right between the Jews and God, blood was sprinkled on the altar only once a year.

When Jesus Christ suffered on the cross, he provided the blood atonement, not once a year, but once for all people for all time, so there is no need to wait for this once a year sacrifice. You can set things right with God any day at any time because “Christ suffered for sins once for all” times. This is wonderful news of freedom from sin and easy access to God.

You might ask: “Why does any blood have to be shed? That sounds gruesome to me.” We need to understand that when it comes to dealing with sin and unrighteousness, we don’t set the rules. God does.

That’s step one from this verse: Christ suffered for sins once for all.

B. Step 2: Christ, the righteous one suffered for us, the unrighteous.

This is God’s justice in action. There are no unfair, unjust sentences with God.

When Peter was preaching to the Jews in the Temple at Jerusalem, according to Acts 3:14, he said, “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” He was speaking of Christ, “the Holy and Righteous One.”

Jesus is “righteous.” He’s without sin. We are unrighteous – with sin deep within us and in the behaviour we do. How is it possible for us, the unrighteous, to enter the presence of the totally righteous and holy God?

This is how God does it. God set in place this wonderful solution to our greatest problem. This is how he says it in 2 Cor. 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin [or a sin offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

So, what’s the effect of this? Simon Kistemaker summarised this beautifully when he wrote:

Jesus’ sacrificial death is to enable us to enter God’s presence. Jesus opens the way to the throne of God, introduces us to the Father, and re-establishes for us an intimate relationship with the Father. By removing sin as the cause of our alienation from God, Jesus provides access to God and makes us acceptable in his sight.[18]

This is what is means to be justified by faith – to be declared righteous before God. For all those who place their total trust in Jesus Christ by faith, they now have a friendly relationship with God, “are acceptable to him and have assurance that he is favorably disposed toward us.”[19]

The third step in this greatest of all solutions is:

C. Step 3: Christ did this by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead.

I Peter 3:18, “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”

We must always keep these two actions together: Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection.

The resurrection shows that God was satisfied with Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. This means that God will be satisfied to have you, if you become a believer, in his presence because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We know that when Christ died on the cross that he continued to live in a new realm. How do we know that? To the repentant thief who was crucified alongside Christ on the cross, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Then Christ was resurrected three days later, transformed into a new “spiritual body” that didn’t have the limitations of his fleshly body.

God said a big YES to Christ’s death as a substitute for our sins by raising him from the dead.

5. Conclusion

Let’s pull this all together, based on 1 Peter 3:18. That verse again, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

a. The greatest problem with our world is not tsunamis, Sept. 11, crime, violence & sexual abuse. Our greatest problem is defined by two words that you probably won’t hear on TV tonight: SIN (a state of alienation from God) and UNRIGHTEOUSNESS (sinful actions that we do).

b. The greatest need of all people is not to solve the teenage rebellion or broken relations, to find peace in the Middle East, Iraq, the Sudan, or in downtown Bundaberg, but that greatest need is to deal with our alienation from God. How can we ever have a relationship with the holy, righteous God of the universe?

c. The greatest solution, that you won’t read in tomorrow’s newspaper, is found in 3 steps that are linked together:

  • First, Christ suffered for sins once for all;
  • Second, the righteous one suffered for us, the unrighteous;
  • Third, Christ did this by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead.

I would be remiss if I did not offer this challenge. This message is wasted if you do not respond.

  • How are you going to deal with the biggest problem you have – your sin and unrighteousness?
  • Since your greatest need is to be in relationship with God and you are alienated from him, what will you do about that today?
  • What’s the point of the greatest solution: Christ suffered for your sins, the righteous for the unrighteous by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead?
  • What’s the meaning of all this if you don’t repent of your sin and trust Christ alone as your Lord and Saviour?
  • How can you do that? The Bible says:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

If you repent and receive Christ by faith, what will happen to you?

  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17 TNIV).
  • Won’t you receive the greatest solution today? If you want to know more, please speak with me after the service.

Chuck Swindoll once said:

If our greatest need had been information,

God would have sent us an educator.

If our greatest need had been technology,

God would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money,

God would have sent us an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure,

God would have sent us an entertainer.

But our greatest need was forgiveness,

So God sent us [the][20] Savior.[21]


[1] Dr. T. Matthew Ciolek (ed.), “2004 tsunami disaster: Scholarly and factual analyses,” updated 22 January 2020, Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library, available at: http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVLPages/AsiaPages/Tsunami-Analyses.html [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[2] “Death toll in Haiti expected to be over 100,000 says Prime Minister”, Gather News, 13 January 2010, available at: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977993233&grpId=3659174697244816 [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[3] See “Osama Bin Laden”, Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[4] “Al-Qaeda”, Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Qaeda [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[5] Karl Menninger 1973, Whatever Became of Sin, Bantam Books, New York, p. 15.

[6] Ibid., p. 22.

[7] D. G. Bloesch 1984, ‘Sin’, in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 1012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Michael P. Green (ed.) 1982, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 346.

[10] Dikaios.

[11] D. W. Diehl 1984, ‘Righteous’, in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 952.

[12] ‘Sin’s Deadly Wages’, Our Daily Bread, Saturday, December 28, 1996. Also available as Richard W. De Haan, ‘Sin’s Deadly Wages’, Sermonettes, available at: http://www.nccg.org/Sermonette-16.html [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[13] Earle E. Cairns 1954, 1981, Christianity through the Centuries (rev. & enl.), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 146.

[14] Confessions of Saint Augustine, 1.1 (I have modernised the language), available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confessions.iv.html [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[15] Some of the following information is summarised and changed, but based on Pastor John Piper, May 18, 1997, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, “What is Baptism and Does It Save? 1 Peter 3:18-22,”, available at: http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper97/5-18-97.htm [Accessed 23 January 2010].

[16] R. C. Sproul 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, p. 173.

[17] Simon J. Kistemaker 1987, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, p. 139.

[18] Ibid., p. 139.

[19] Thayer, p. 544, cited in Kistemaker, p. 139.

[20] The original said, “a”.

[21] Charles R. Swindoll 1998, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, p. 315.


Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.