Message Preached at Poole Christian Fellowship on Sunday 23rd February 2014
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Reference: 1 Peter 3 v 18-22
Peter has been writing to a group of believers who are struggling to come to terms with what it means to be God’s missional people, in a situation where they are exiled and marginalised. Life, even with all the joys of belonging to God, is not always easy and not always happy. How do you cope in such a situation? Peter encourages them to cast their minds back to some fundamental truths that they know and love. If we are to handle well the pressures of being God’s people under pressure we can only do so as we remember. This passage tells us about four things we should call to mind constantly.
1. Remember the Cross
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…”
Peter, encouraging the believers to remain steadfast in the face of suffering, encourages them to remember the example of Jesus as an example of suffering at the hands of others. There are ways in which the sufferings of Jesus are like the sufferings of Christians. They are both sufferings at the hands of unbelievers and as a consequence of others’ sin. They are both examples of those who are righteous suffering at the hands of the unrighteous. We can genuinely be encouraged that our struggles have already been modelled by Jesus. However, the cross is much more than an example of suffering in the face of adversity. The sufferings of Jesus were not only as a consequence of sin, they were paying the penalty for sin; they were a once for all sacrifice; they were not only at the hands of the unrighteous – they were in the place of the unrighteous. God treated Jesus on the cross as if it was me there, in order that today he can treat me as if I was Jesus. And the sufferings of Jesus make it possible for us to come to God, to have a relationship with Him that starts today and goes on into eternity.
Remembering the cross enables us even in difficult circumstances to know that Jesus has gone before us in our pain, and that his pain has made it possible for us to know God. Our sufferings are temporary, and a part of our path to glory which has already been won for us. We call that to mind and therefore have hope.
2. Remember the Days of Noah
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…
Peter encourages the believers to remember the days of Noah, days which led up to God’s judgement being poured out in a terrifying display of power across the earth. We and they live in days similar to those. God is waiting patiently to give as many people as possible the opportunity to repent. Just as Noah faced opposition to his message, so are they. Just as Noah and his family are saved, so are they, and just as Noah presented an unbelieving world with the opportunity to turn to God and to be saved from judgement, so we too have a message for a sceptical world. We live in the days of Noah. We can be comforted about the provision of God’s salvation in the ark which is Jesus, inspired by the example of Noah who stood up to an unbelieving world, and challenged by his preaching so that others may be saved.
Before moving on, we have to say a few words about the difficult passage:
After being made alive he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago
What are we make of this? We can take some encouragement from the words of Luther, who honestly confessed: “I do not know what Peter means…”.
Broadly the views fall into three camps:
- Post-resurrection. Jesus ascended to heaven and proclaimed to the powers and principalities the victory of the cross, especially to the powers who had rebelled in the days of Noah, and were now awaiting judgement.
- Post-cross but pre-resurrection. In the time between the cross and resurrection, Jesus “descended into hell” (as per the apostle’s creed) and preached to
- The rebellious angels who had been active in the days of Noah, proclaiming God’s victory
- Or maybe to the disobedient humans, proclaiming the victory of God.
- …and there is a third liberal version of this that read into it a second chance to respond to the gospel – something that conflicts with the rest of Scripture.
- Pre – incarnational. Jesus was in Noah preaching righteousness and repentance to those who would hear him, those who are now in chains awaiting their final judgement.
Whichever of these are true (they could not all be right – but they could all be wrong!) it does not change our need to remember the days of Noah. We are being saved from judgement and have a message of salvation to an unbelieving world.
3. Remember your Baptism
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.
The talk of the waters of judgement remind Peter of the waters of Baptism. When we are baptised we enter waters of judgement, just as Noah did, but we are saved from them just as Noah was. So we can look back on our baptism with joy and encouragement to remind us that just a Noah was saved…so are we. And in the light of that salvation we are able to put our current troubles into context.
Pete talks about “baptism that saves you also”…seemingly a strange thing to say in the light of the fact that it is clear throughout the New Testament that salvation is found only by faith in Jesus. But in the New Testament baptism was so strongly identified with conversion that it was only natural to equate it with salvation. But in case there should be any doubt about the matter Peter goes onto say that it is not the physical act of washing that saves us, but what goes on internally. Salvation is by faith in Christ only – and in that context baptism then becomes a dynamic, meaningful wonderfully powerful and anointed way of confirming that salvation.
So, remember your baptism and the evidence that it is of your deliverance from judgement and salvation to a new life.
4. Remember Jesus
Finally, remember Jesus and who He is. No longer a baby in a manger or a teenager working in his father’s business. He
“has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him”
This means that the Jesus we serve is over every situation that we are in. He knows how to protect, deliver and bring home safely all those who trust in Him.
We need to
Remember the Cross
Remember the days of Noah
Remember our Baptism