April is L-Plate month, where I’ve turned over this website to my students. They are studying an introductory preaching subject this semester, and writing for this website is part of their assessment, as well as a learning exercise for them. I’m hoping you’ll interact with them a bit via the comments function at the bottom of each post, offering some feedback. (Particularly, feedback that’s constructive or affirming – they’ve got me to deliver the negative stuff! Remember, some of them will never have preached before, and some have English as their second language.) They will then incorporate this feedback in a sermon they present in class at the end of semester.
We continue today in 1 Peter.
1 Peter 3:13-22 | Huan Deng
When I read this passage, it reminds me that on the Good Friday Service, our pastor has announced a sad news that about around 150 people were killed at Kenyan University. Christians were particularly targeted.
As a Christian, when talking about suffering or persecution, I don’t know what you would relate. I am from China, a country had history of Christians being treated with hostility. One of my Christian friends, his father had cancer and needed operation. Because he refused to give the bribery to the doctor, his father was suffered with bad treatment. He came to the church, crying and pleading for help when he suffered guilt to his father and criticism from his relatives and friends.
Peter, when he writes to his fellow Christian friends, the Roman imperial persecutions would sweep across and the believers would be compelled to affirm the deity of Caesar. We would know how much persecutions the early Christians had suffered.
These might seems very unlikely and even way too far from us in Australia. But, you may know better than me, what difficulties would Christians have to face in Australian context? What kind of struggle of being a Christian in the workplace, personal relationship, family and community, where the value is different from what it says in the Bible. Christians may be mocked and ridiculed often as old-fashioned, intolerance, and uncool, you name it. The struggle and difficulties are real; and we are heartbroken and groaning about the unjust world when we heard about such the incidence in Kenyan, in China or in other part of the world. The life that Christians are living in whatever part of the world is mean to be different from that of the majority of the world. From that, the suffering or possible prosecution is inevitable. Just as Jesus has said that “in this world you will have trouble…”
If this is the fact we Christians have to face, then how should Christians respond?3:13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
- “do not fear” (v14 )
Peter comforts the believers not to fear the threats from whoever has the authority on the earth; and not be frightened whatever situation they might be in, because they are blessed, blessed by the Lord who look after those who follow the way of Jesus, but judge against those who go after the evil way.
- “be prepared to give an answer” (15a)
Peter has urged the believers to live an everyday life, whether as a citizen, a employer, as husband or wife, not as same as that of the world. So that the questions may be aroused by the unbelievers and the answer is prepared to give. When the Christians in Kenyan did not deny their identity as Christians even though they have to died for that; and when my friend refused to follow the corruptive practice even though he has to see his dad suffering from the bad treatment; in the same way, when we don’t follow the world, but stand for our values and identity in Christ, even though we might be isolated or mocked, people would ask: “what’s wrong with your people? do you even care about yourself? What is that for you so you can give up your own interests, even your lives?” then it is the opportunity for Christians to proclaim the hope and the new life that laid in Jesus Christ. How often do we so touched and gives thanks to God when we hear testimony from others especially those who by the grace of God, stand firm in the time of adversity.
- Answer “with gentleness and respect” (15b-16)
Though the answer is important, the manner of the response is also a way to testify to Jesus Christ. Peter talks about the humility of responding to hostile questioning. This humility is found in Christ’s character. It is so easy for us to respond in the wrong ways to oppositions to ourselves or to the gospel. We might try to win the argument and prove how wrong is of other views aggressively and arrogantly. Peter has reminded us that to imitate Christ’s humility even if we are not able to win the argument; and to bring the witness to Christ in responding in a hostile situation.
- Keep a clear conscience in Christ (v16-17)
Peter not only reminds the believers to have the Christ’s humility, but with our heart accountable to Christ. Because when we have a clear conscience in Christ, those who maliciously against our good deeds will be put to shame. Peter assures us that Jesus Christ has the last word. Peter is very realistic here by saying that not everyone will see the good deeds of believers and respond politely; rather there are some will stand against or even respond violently. But God will turn His face against those who do evil. Therefore v17 leaves us a question: which is better “if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”?
You might think ok, then what about now Christians mocked, killed or ridiculed and the opponents apparently triumphant? How can we so sure that those evils will be one day standing ashamed? Peter leads us to the answer to consider Christ.
Confidence in Christ’s victory (verses 18-22)
If this is the fact we Christians have to face, then how should Christians respond?3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Peter says that Christ has gone through the same suffering, even more unfair to anyone: the completely innocent died for the sinners. But this is not the end of the story. Jesus is resurrected. Peter goes on to say that Jesus resurrection is not only brings the defeat to the physical death, but brings to the spiritual realm. The journey of Christ after resurrection Peter describes from v19, 22 says that the risen Jesus goes down to the spirits that put in chains and waiting for the final judgement, then goes up to the right hand of God in heaven. It gives us a picture that Jesus Christ, though suffered unjustly is now in heaven and has triumphed over all the evil power and authorities. For the believers, Peter uses the example of the Noah’s story, might be the very minority, like the only 8 people in the Noah’s day, but by the water symbolised baptism, our sins are been dealt with and we are saved, while the evildoers will be judged.
We Christians, as a minority, the forces of evil may still do their worst on earth as they persecute us, but the Lord Jesus Christ is victorious and one day the people of God will be delivered and all the evil authorities and power on heaven and earth will recognise His Lordship as they will bow their heads in shame.
To think about
How is our life different from that of the world? Is it worth questioning? Or are we living a compromised life so to avoid embarrassment or ridicule from others around us?
Are we despaired of how we been treated by this world? How Jesus Christ’ victory give us hope and confidence in standing up firmly in the hostile world?