September 18, 2016
Every month we see the insert called, “The Church Around the World.” If you read it you know that there are always stories of persecution. I am amazed at the amount of persecution going on these days. Persecution is taking place in China, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
How do we respond to this? Well, of course we pray for these persecuted believers. But sometimes I wonder if we respond in the way Hezekiah responded when Isaiah told him that the day would come when all of his wealth would be carried to Babylon along with some of his sons who would be eunuchs in the palace of Babylon. In Is.39:8 Hezekiah says, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good." For he thought, "There will be peace and security in my days.”
Well, do we feel that way when we consider the persecution going on around the world. “O good, at least it’s not here in the United States.” Peter was writing to believers who were experiencing various kinds of persecution. He wanted to encourage the believers and he tells us that suffering for Christ reaps valuable reward.
I. BELIEVERS WHO SUFFER FOR CHRIST WILL REIGN WITH CHRIST. 1Pt.3:18-22
I need to let you know at the outset that it is difficult to understand some of what Peter is saying in these verses. In the context Peter refers to suffering. The believers that he was writing to were experiencing various degrees of persecution for the sake of Christ. In v.17 we read, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” Peter wants to encourage the believers, so in v.18 he points to Jesus Christ as the example for us to consider. He did the same thing in 2:21-25. The basic idea in these verses is that just as Jesus suffered and was victorious over death, so those who suffer for Christ will also be victorious.
Before I go any farther it is important to pause for a moment to consider v.18. “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” As I was on my prayer walk this past Tuesday I was asking the Lord to open the hearts, eyes and ears of people that they might respond to the gospel message of life in the kingdom of God through the forgiveness of sins. The thought occurred to me that since we are such a consumer society and since we are so accustomed to hearing commercials which inflate the benefits of a product, I wonder if the gospel sometimes sounds like a glorified infomercial. We want to promote the benefits of knowing God through faith in Christ and it sounds like a commercial.
Men and women, at the end of the day we are accountable to God our Creator. You may not believe in God or you might believe in God but keep him at arm’s length. Whatever you think in no way changes the reality that God is our creator and we are accountable to him. What is more, the fact of the matter is that every person alive has a natural bent within their heart to refuse to honor God as God. We want to be our own god. We want to choose what rules we will follow. We want to be the center of our universe. All of this pushes God away. Our attitudes and behaviors at worst fully reject God and at best simply ignore God. We are sinners who have usurped God’s rightful place in our lives. And when we do this we separate ourselves from the author of life. And to be separated from the author of life is to choose death. But God loves us and sent his Son, Jesus to die in our place and rise from the dead. God has exalted Jesus to the highest place and has given him all authority in heaven and earth. Through Jesus we can come to God and receive forgiveness and new, eternal life. It is the very same kind of life that Jesus has. So if you are not a follower of Christ I urge you today to embrace Christ as the only Lord and Savior of your life.
Now in v.19 we read about how Jesus, “being made alive in the spirit, 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.” Well, what does this mean? This is one of those passages that no one knows for sure what Peter is saying.
There are a number of views that have been promoted throughout church history. Dr. Simon Kistemaker summarizes them well. I am only going to mention three. View #1 goes back to Clement of Alexandria, about 200 A.D. Clement taught that Christ went to hell in his spirit to proclaim the gospel to the souls of sinners who were imprisoned since the flood. But scripture does not teach on the imprisonment of souls condemned by God. Also Scripture does not seem to support second chances after death. View # 2 was offered by Augustine, around 400 A.D. Augustine suggested that the pre-existent Christ was actively speaking through Noah to the people who lived before the flood. But this view seems to ignore what Peter says. Peter doesn’t refer to the pre-incarnate Christ, but to Jesus who died and rose from the dead. View #3 teaches that the resurrected Christ, during his ascension proclaimed to imprisoned spirits his victory over death. Specifically Christ proclaimed victory in the realm of where the fallen angels are kept. In Eph.6 Paul refers to cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. In this last view the message that Christ proclaimed was one of victory over sin and death. The same victory that we enter into through faith in Christ
A second issue concerns v.21 where Peter uses the waters of the flood as a metaphor or symbol for baptism. Again, Kistemaker points out that, “…as the flood waters cleansed the earth of man’s wickedness, so the water of baptism indicates man’s cleansing from sin. As the flood separated Noah and his family from the wicked world of their day, so baptism separates believers from the evil world of our day.” But notice that Peter makes it clear that being baptized does not save a person. The waters of baptism cannot clean a person‘s heart of sin. Rather, as Peter points out, baptism is a symbol for the cleansing of sin through faith in Christ. Verse 18 clarifies that Christ’s death for sin and resurrection to life is our salvation. Baptism is a public statement that the believer has appealed, called out to God, for the forgiveness of sins which results in a good conscience. And at the end of v.21 Peter again refers to our resurrected Savior who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, having all power.
Now why is Peter writing this? I believe Peter is encouraging believers who are experiencing persecution. He wants believers to have assurance that their experience of persecution will not be in vain. Just as Christ suffered and is now reigning, so believers who experience persecution will also reign with Christ. Christ’s victory over death is our victory over death.
It is very easy to become short sighted when we are in pain and feel demoralized. Persecution does this. It demoralizes us and separates us from acceptance by society. We are Christians. The central focus of our life is found in our name. We follow Christ. We take the long view of eternity. In 1941 Alfred B. Smith wrote a little chorus. Smith, by the way, was Billy Graham’s roommate at Wheaton. The chorus goes, “With eternity’s values in view, Lord. With eternity’s values in view. May I do each day’s work for Jesus. With eternity’s values in view.” The values you keep in view throughout the day are important. Our values are shaped by Christ. As we live for Christ we live with the truth that a day will come, when all will be made right and we will reign with Christ.
II. BELIEVERS WHO SUFFER FOR CHRIST WILL GROW IN CHRIST. 1Pt.4:1-6
For Christians, suffering not only leads to victory, but suffering aids in the process of sanctification, becoming like Christ in our living. Is Peter saying that all suffering leads the believer to make a complete break with sin?
I don’t think so. Christians respond to suffering in many ways. Some leave the faith, blaming God for their suffering. Some become bitter and of little use for any good. Instead the context found in 3:17 seems to specify the idea of suffering for doing good.
Let’s think about this. Peter is not saying that a person who suffers for doing good never sins again. No one was or is sinless accept for Jesus. We all struggle with sin. But when a person arms herself with the mind of Christ and chooses to do what is right and good out of obedience to Jesus, knowing that it might bring persecution, that person has made a break with sin. That person is putting Christ before all else. That person has eternity’s values in view. In fact, whenever we choose to honor Christ with good, moral, loving behavior we are often choosing to not indulge our own passions and desires. In v.2 Peter says as much. Suppose persecution suddenly stopped for these believers. Well as they continued to seek to honor Christ by doing good, they would continue to mature in Christ and turn away from sin.
And then in v.3 it’s as if Peter is saying, “Look, you have had plenty of time living a sinful lifestyle like the Gentiles. In turning to Christ you have entered into a new season of life. It’s time to move on to a new way of living, the way of Christ.”
Now what do the Gentiles do? Well they live in “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” How does that sound to you? Peter is not talking about committing a sin here or there. He is talking about a sinful way of life that is focused on indulging one’s desires. It is a way of life that promotes self-indulgence in oneself and others. And when Peter talks about living for the will of God he is not just talking about being moral and nice. Living for the will of God is about letting Jesus Christ be the Lord of our lives. So do not think that just because you are a nice person that Christ is Lord or your life. Doing good is not just being nice. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus shows that Christian goodness flows out a heart and mind that is filled with Christ. So not only do we not curse the person who hurts us, we extend love and forgiveness to them. That goes beyond the world’s idea of goodness.
In v.4 Peter reminds us that when we choose to live like Jesus, our unbelieving friends will take note that we no longer join them in the flood of debauchery. And that’s when we are probably going to be maligned and mistreated. It may also be the time we are asked to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ.
Now please allow me to say something here. I grew up in pretty conservative churches. As Christians there was a list of things that we did not do. We did not smoke, drink, curse, chew tobacco, go to movies and we did not dance.” As one old time evangelist used to say, “You will never find a dancing foot attached to a praying knee.” But this list sometimes became a cause for pride. I remember in elementary school, my dad wrote a note to my teacher asking that I be excused from square dancing during gym. Why? Well, because we are Christians and we don’t dance. As I grew up I began to realize that the list approach to Christian living is not a Biblical approach. A list approach tells you that you are okay as long as you don’t do certain things. Now it is good to not do certain things. But not doing certain things doesn’t make one a Christian. What makes one a Christian is putting one’s confidence in a certain person and living in accordance with that person’s character and conduct. Of course that person is Jesus. Our unbelieving friends do not just need to see what we don’t do. They need to see what we do do and come to understand why we do what we do. The source of our life is Christ, not some rule book. The reality is that all of the unbelievers in this world are going to be judged. They are going to give an account of themselves before God. This is why the gospel must be proclaimed. We are all going to die and without Christ we face God’s judgment. The world needs to see what knowing Christ is like.
One of the reasons I wanted to preach through 1Peter is because Peter is writing to believers who are experiencing persecution on various levels. Most of us do not experience any sort of persecution. But I believe we have entered into a time that could easily lead to increasing restrictions on the practice of our faith and has the potential to bring persecution. At all times we must recognize Christ as Lord. Because he is our Lord, we have victory in him and no amount of persecution can change that victorious outcome. Because Christ is Lord, we know that if we face persecution, God will use it in our lives to make us more like Jesus. Amen.