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A Sermon on I Peter 3 by Nate Wilson
While you're turning to I Peter 3, let me try to give a little context to this passage:
I Peter 3:15-22 (NASB): but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to him.
I want to focus in on the command at the beginning in verse 15, "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you." The question is, are you ready to give that defense – to explain the hope of Christ to anyone who asks you about it?
What exactly is the hope of Christ, and how are we supposed to explain this to somebody? Well, Peter says right here in verse 18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." This Jesus whom Peter had seen crucified and then raised from the dead, died for a specific purpose, to bring us to God. How does that work? Well, it talks about sins at the beginning of the verse. Sins are everything we do that breaks God's commands and everything we don't do to measure up to His perfection. No one can measure up perfectly to God's rules in the Bible, and so God is obligated by His own justice to punish every human being on earth! The punishment for sin is death. However, God showed His love to us and sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to become a man and actually take on Himself the punishment for sins that we humans deserve. When Jesus was a man, he lived a perfect life; Jesus is the "just one" in this verse, and we are the "unjust ones," because we all have sinned. When Jesus died, He died "for our sins," taking on Himself the punishment of death which we deserve so that He might bring us to God. This is the essence of the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins to bring us to God! This is all we need to say to explain our Christian faith – not that hard is it?
Let's go on – verse 19 – "in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is 8 persons, were brought safely through the water." Whoah, what's going on here? (Draw timeline) You see, Jesus is right here, around 30AD, and we've just jumped back in time about 2½ thousand years to Noah. It's the same idea of sharing the story of salvation from sin, just in Old Testament terms. The setting has changed from Jesus in 30AD to Noah in 2300BC. Noah was a witness to the sinful world around him as he built the ark. God's patience with the sin of the world was stretched to the limit, and the time came that God, in His righteousness, punished them all with death, drowning everyone in a flood. Those people that Noah preached to before the flood are now in prison – or what we would call "hell." But God preserved the lives of Noah and his family of eight by saving them from the punishment of death and lifting them up through the floodwaters in a boat. That is salvation, Old Testament style – God delivering His people from the judgement of sin! It's the same thing we were talking about earlier about salvation from sin, but Noah just didn't have quite as many details about God's salvation as we have now.
Now look at verse 21, "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to him." Paul jumps back to the present, which for us, is the year 2000 (to round it off) and shows how we are still saved in the same way. Notice that Peter is still taking about sin with the mention of a good conscience, he is still talking about salvation, and he is still talking about Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul's letter to the Colossians clearly tells us in chapter two that all the powers and authorities were put in subjection to Jesus as a result of His death on the cross. It is Jesus' death and resurrection that saves us. So why does Peter say that Baptism saves us? Oho! Is he talking about getting sprinkled or dunked? No, Peter expressly says that he is not talking about that, it is "not the removal of dirt from the flesh." So if it is not water baptism that saves us, what sort of baptism is Peter talking about that saves us? It is the appeal to God for a good conscience – for forgiveness of sin so that we may escape the punishment we deserve for our sin and be brought to God. The word "appeal" is a better translation than the word "answer" which some other translations use. Not only does the Greek word eperotow mean "request," but also we cannot have a clean conscience until AFTER we have been saved, we have to ask God for that clean conscience, and He gives it to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, now that we have looked at Peter's explanation of salvation, are you ready to give a reason for the hope of Christ to anyone who asks?
One thing's for sure, you can't give a defense if you don't have the hope in the first place! So there is really a PRIOR question, "Do you have the hope of Christ?" If you have not asked God for your sins to be forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus, I call upon you to do that right now! All it takes is believing that you have offended God and that Jesus died in your place, taking on Himself the punishment you deserve for your sins. It's that simple.
If you already believe this, then you need to "sanctify Christ as Lord" in your heart and be ready to share this hope with others. It's not going to be easy. I hope that I'm not the first to break the news to you that it is God's will that you suffer. The sentence construction of verse 17 in Greek is what is called a True Conditional clause, Peter says, "It is better, if God should will it so (and God does), that you suffer for doing what is right..." In verse 16, it says there are going to be evil people who say all sorts of bad things about you. I'm sure Noah had to undergo that kind of mockery while he was building the ark, but he kept living a Godly life and kept telling the people before the flood that God had a way of salvation. Likewise we who are saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must keep on living a godly life no matter what the opposition and share the good news of God's salvation with others. If we are not living a holy life, why would anyone want to ask us about our hope!
I was just reading about some Christians in the country of China who decided to send an evangelistic team out to another village. When the team arrived in the village, they were met by a band of men who beat the evangelists, killing one of them. The team returned home, battered and bruised and told their congregation what had happened. They decided that they must go back, but they needed a replacement for the man who had been martyred. A volunteer raised her hand – it was the widow of the man who had been beaten to death. She wanted to share the hope of Christ even with the people who had killed her husband! When the team walked back into the village, another mob formed, yelling threats. The widow stepped forward and said, "Three weeks ago you killed my husband. My husband is not dead, however. He is living in paradise with our God." The crowd quieted. "My husband came to tell you how you can have the same eternal life, and now I have come to tell you about it. If you would like to hear more about this God, then meet us under the big tree outside town this evening." That night most of the village turned out to hear of this woman's hope, and now that formerly-unreached village has a church!
Perhaps you will not have to sacrifice your husband or wife for the gospel like our Chinese sister did, but are you ready to share the hope of Christ with anyone who asks? Let us be ready!