Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today I want to take a walk through our epistle reading of 1 Peter 3:13-22. Peter starts off:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
It’s a fair question. What police officer would give you a speeding ticket if you were going the speed limit? If you are helping your neighbor who would say that you were robbing them? If you are doing nothing wrong what do you have to fear? Nothing.
In prefacing this question Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16. This psalm was written as David was fleeing from the unrighteous persecution of Saul. Listen to what he says, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12).
If you are zealous for what is good the Lord will see it. He takes notice.
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
Much like David we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to us. I don’t like saying those words and I don’t like fostering an Us vs. Them mentality. But, it is true. Think of the righteous things Christians stand for: unborn children, people with disabilities, people with terminal illness, the elderly, marriage, families, children. All of these are under assault in the Western world. In Denmark, they have “highly encouraged” pre-screening in pregnancy for Down-Syndrome. If your child tests positive they give you two options: abort the baby and your governmental insurance will pay for everything, or keep the child and pay for the rest of the pregnancy and delivery out of pocket. Why? Because they see somebody with Down Syndrome as a drag on resources. This attitude is seeing a revival in America.
The truth is, we will suffer for righteousness sake. Last week one of the readings was about the stoning of Stephen. Stephen was not stoned because he refused to take an unpopular stance on something. No, he was killed for preaching Christ to those with hard hearts that did not want to listen. Just because the truth is unpopular does not mean we abandon the truth.
Rather, we are told that if we “suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” You will be blessed? It might not always feel like a blessing. It does not feel like a blessing when Westboro Baptist shows up with their signs. But, if I have the world angry with me on one hand and those who do not know the love of God angry with me on the other, then I am probably doing something right. To know that is a blessing in-and-of itself.
But, the blessings are not just of this world. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” The blessings of our good works – of standing up to evil in the name of our Lord and for righteousness’ sake – are those treasures stored up in heaven. It is the love of neighbor expressed in our words and actions. It is proclaiming the Gospel. We are not to be troubled by how the world treats us, we know how it treated our Lord.
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
All this is to say that when we are slandered, degraded, or outright persecuted for our beliefs we do not store up hate in our hearts. For we know of a better way and a better place. I love what Peter says here, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” You want to be salt and light? You want to be the city on the hill? You want to be the uncovered light? Live like you have a hope of something so strong, powerful, and different that it actually changes you and how you live. Do the really unpopular things, live the Lord’s commandments.
Come to church. Keep God first in your life. Respect your parents and those in authority. Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t swear, don’t curse, don’t cohabitate before marriage, don’t do things before you’re married. That will get your friends’ attention. Why do you do that? Be prepared to tell people that in this crazy world where people are freaking out about everything, why it is that you can stay so calm.
Because people are freaking out. I just read the abstract of a study over the rise of radicalization by means of the internet. It did not just talk about ISIS and those type groups, but also the alarming rise of white supremacy groups within the Western world. Both groups work remarkably in the same way. They create a space for those who feel like society has left them behind and then give them somebody to blame. It takes their feelings of hopelessness and despair and turns it to hate.
Christianity is the antithesis to this. We “turn the other cheek.” We are a people of hope knowing a God of love. And, we spread that message with “gentleness and respect.” Those are two words vastly removed from societal conversations today. However, why we may be in the world we are not of the world. So we preach Christ crucified, the ultimate act of love, to a world so desperately in need of love.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
What good is to suffer because you have done evil? There is no reward. But, if you do good you shall store up treasures in heaven.
18 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, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 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.
Through Christ’s suffering the sins of the whole world have been paid for. Here is God dying for the ungodly. Here is the Holy being profaned for the unholy. Here is Christ dying for us.
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Into this righteousness, we have been baptized. Baptism is not merely a symbolic act of wanting to identity as Christian. It is God washing us clean of sins, “Baptism…now saves you.” This is the grace of God breaking into our lives. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-6).
Okay, this is all we have time for, this is the end of five pages and if I go over I start to get around 20 minutes instead of 15. Funny enough, I recently looked up how Martin Luther ended his sermons and he would often say something to this effect. So, this is all we have time for.
Now may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.