Breakfast with the Bible, Chelmsford Cathedral 30 October 2016, on 1 Peter 3:13-22.
Rather than expound the passage verse by verse, I want to look at three concepts which are present:
- Effective evangelism begins with others asking
- Baptism in the New Testament is faith in action
- Jesus is Lord of all
Effective Evangelism Begins With Others Asking
Our lives should cause others to wonder why our lives are different from others. Our lives should give non-Christians food for thought. This is what Peter has in mind when he writes: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence….. (3.15-16)
Peter does not say: “Be ready at all times to take the initiative and share your faith”.
Rather, in the words of the GNB, he says: “Be ready at all times to answer…., to explain“.
Peter presumes that if we are living truly Christian lives, then people will automatically want to ask why:
- What is it that makes us tick?
- What is it that makes us different?
- What is it about the Christian faith which makes us live our lives in the way we do?
One of the best books on evangelism has the wonderful title of The Provocative Church. There Graham Tomlin writes:
Unless there is something about church, or Christians, or Christian faith that intrigues, provokes or entices, then all the evangelism in the world will fall on deaf ears. If churches cannot convey a sense of ‘reality’ then all our ‘truth’ will count for nothing. Unless someone wants to hear, there’s no point in shouting louder. Churches need to become provocative, arresting places which make the searcher, the casual visitor, want to come back for more.
He goes on:
Is our church just another little club for likeminded people who happen to enjoy singing, religious emotion and sermons? Or is there anything in the life or worship of our church that would make an outsider looking in want what we have?
But it is not only the church which is called to be provocative. We as individual Christians are called to be provocative – provocative not in the things we/say, but in the way which we live our lives. Our values expressed in the way we live, at home and at work, should provoke others to want to know more about what it is that makes us different.
Our life-style is crucial to our evangelism. Yes, of course, there comes a stage when we do need to speak. But Peter assumes it is in response to people asking us why we are different..
When asked, then, each one of us needs to be able to “explain” what Christianity is really all about. For as, Alister McGrath, an Oxford theologian has rightly said:
Most people have very confused understandings of what Christianity is about! They don’t reject Christianity because they have given it careful consideration and decided that it is wrong. In most cases, they encounter a caricature of Christianity and reject that instead.
There is a place for telling others about Jesus. But there is no place for imposing Jesus on others. Rather, we should attract people to Jesus by the kind of lives we lead. We should provoke people to ask ‘why’.
Question: What experience have you had of people asking you about your faith? How easy have you found it to explain what you believe?
Baptism in the New Testament is Faith in Action
At this point I sense that some of you may want to close your ears. After all, for many years I have been a Baptist minister. However, my concern this morning is not to talk about Baptist baptism, but Christian baptism – and in particular Peter’s understanding of baptism.
1 Pet 3.20-22: “In the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, 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”:
Or as the GNB puts it: “ “The few people in the boat – eight in all – were saved by the water, which was a symbol pointing to baptism, which now saves you. It is not the washing away of bodily dirt, but the promise made to God from a good conscience. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ“.
Peter, like any good Jew, knew his OT well, and so it is not surprising that when he sets out his teaching on baptism he does so by referring to the story of the Flood and see this great watery event as a pointer to baptism.
God, so the story goes, was so appalled by the wickedness of men and women that he caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights – the upshot was that there was a great flood – and all living beings on the earth – human beings, animals and birds – were destroyed.
Whether or not it was a universal flood or rather a more localised phenomenon is neither here nor there: the thrust of the story is that those who ignored God – who went their own wicked way – were destroyed by the water. The Flood was a story of God’s judgment in action.
For Peter the Flood was also a picture of salvation. For not all were lost in the Flood. There was an ark – and thanks to that Ark Noah and his family were saved.
“Eight people were saved through water“. Sadly, we’ve tended to tended to view the story of the Ark as a piece of music-hall comedy. “The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo“. But the animals are irrelevant as far as the Bible is concerned. The point is that eight people were saved from destruction.
They were saved through their faith in God, faith expressed in building a boat were saved.
And says, Peter, we too shall be saved – not by faith expressed in the building of an ark, but rather by faith expressed in the water of baptism.
My mind goes to Peter’s very first sermon the Day of Pentecost. In response to the question, “What should we do”, Peter declares: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven…” (Acts 2.38)..
“Baptism…now saves you“.
Is Peter here teaching baptismal regeneration? How does baptism save?
Do note that the mere fact of being sprinkled/or doesn’t save. Peter says: “The baptism which now saves you” is “not the washing away of bodily dirt” (GNB).
Baptism doesn’t make us clean like a bath after a game of rugger. There is nothing magic about the water – the mere fact of having been sprinkled in a font or immersed in a tank is no guarantee of salvation.
Baptism is an outward sign of an inward event. Baptism points to the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus which can cleanse us from the deepest of sin’s stains.
It is the promise made in baptism saves: “Baptism now saves you… as an appeal to God for a good conscience” – or as the GNB put is “the promise made to God from a good conscience“. NIV: “the pledge of a good conscience towards God”
The Greek word variously translated as “promise/pledge” (eperotema) was a technical term used in the ancient world for making a contract (Latin: ‘stipulatio’). It denoted an undertaking given by one of the parties in answer to formal question addressed to him/her. For a contract to be legal & binding there had to be a definite question and a definite answer. The question was: “Do you accept the terms of this contract and bind yourself to observe them?”
The answer made before witnesses was: “Yes“. Without that question and answer the contract was not valid. The same thought is present here. Baptism involves a kind of contract – a contract between ourselves and God made in the presence of witnesses.
In baptism we make a formal promise to go the way of Jesus. Ultimately, of course, it is the Lord to whom we make our pledge who saves
Listen again to the GNB:
Baptism saves you. It is the promise made to God from a good conscience. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Repentance and faith are necessary, but we are not saved in the first instance by our repentance and our faith, but by Jesus.
Let me give you an illustration. Suppose you, a non-swimmer, were to fall off Southend Pier when the tide was in and I was to throw a lifebelt to you – would you congratulate yourself for having grabbed hold of the life-belt – or would you thank me for having the presence of mind to throw a lifebelt to you? The answer is obvious..
Likewise, in the first instance we are not saved by our response to the death & resurrection of Jesus, but rather by Jesus who died for us, Jesus who rose for us.
Jesus saves. Jesus on his Cross and in his Resurrection has done everything necessary for our salvation. BUT nonetheless there is one action we must take – we must stretch out our hand and hold onto his hand. Otherwise the outlook is bleak – otherwise we are still in our sin – otherwise we are still liable to judgment and to destruction
Question: Can other people make promises for us?
Jesus is Lord Over All
If you think Peter’s teaching on baptism is complex, it is as nothing compared with what he has to say about Jesus the Lordship of Christ, as illustrated on the occasion when Jesus “went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison”.
Look at vv18b-20a, 22: “He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey…. Jesus.. has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him”. REB: “Put to death in the body, he was brought to life in the spirit. In the spirit also he went and made his proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, those who had refused to obey in the past”
Alas, these verses have been misunderstood by many.
It has not helped that for centuries when people declared their faith in the Apostles’ Creed, they said “He descended into Hell” – in my judgement the modern version, “He descended to the dead” is not much more helpful.
Today most scholars believe that the “spirits in prison” are angelic spirits. The phrase “spirits in prison” refers to the so-called ‘fallen angels’ in Gen 6.
Both in the NT & in Jewish writings, the term “spirits” (pneumata) is used of angelic beings.
If the reference was to dead people, then the word souls (psuchai) would be used..
The spirits in prison are Peter’s description for what in v22 he calls “angels, authorities, and powers”.
Today, most scholars believe that when Jesus “made a proclamation” (ekeruxen), it was a proclamation of his victory over the principalities and powers.
Jesus did not preach good news – he proclaimed judgement.
Today, most scholars believe that this proclamation took place after the resurrection.
There was no descent to Hades.
Rather, it was as he ascended to his Father that he proclaimed his victory.
Look at the words: He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit – the reference is to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The natural understanding is that Christ made his proclamation to the spirit in all his resurrection glory. It was on the occasion of his ascension that Jesus announced his victory to the angelic powers.
A close parallel to 1 Pet 3 is found in Eph 4.8: “When he [Jesus] ascended on high he made captivity itself captive”. In Eph 4 the ascending Christ leads the powers in his triumphal train; in 1 Pet 3 the ascended Christ proclaims his victory over those powers.
Phil 2.9-11: It is to the ascended Lord that the principalities and powers bow
Col 2.15: The risen, ascending Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it “
1 Tim 3.16: “He was vindicated in spirit, seen by angels”. The exaltation of Jesus is the moment of divine vindication: for the angelic powers their moment of truth comes when the ascending Christ appears to them in his risen glory; their doom is sealed
Peter finishes by saying that Jesus “has gone to heaven and is at the right-hand side of God, ruling over all angels and authorities and powers” (3.22).
The right-hand side was a place of authority. The one sitting at the right-hand side shared in the authority of the one upon the throne.
The imagery of Jesus sitting at God’s right hand was inspired by Ps 110.1: “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put our enemies under your feet’”
Did you know that in the NT this is the most frequently quoted OT passage? Originally a coronation psalm written with King David in mind, the rabbis applied this psalm to the coming Messiah. Not surprisingly it was taken up by the early church and used of Jesus.
Indeed, it seems in so doing they were simply following Jesus, for Jesus applied this verse to himself. “The Lord (viz. God) said to my lord (i.e. the King) sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under his feet”..
Here King Jesus shares in the authority of the Lord himself.
So Peter writes: Jesus “is at the right-hand side of God, ruling over all angels and heavenly authorities and powers”.
Remember the context which Peter was addressing. Peter was writing to a small group of struggling Christians who were beginning to experience persecution. Some of them were perhaps being tempted to throw in the towel. But Peter reminds them that as a result of the death & resurrection of Jesus the back of the Evil One has been broken, his power has been shattered. Jesus is Lord.
For Jesus is at God’s right hand. One day all the enemies of God will be put under his feet. Indeed, the process has already begun. The Devil may still “roam(s) round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5.8), but his days are numbered. What a comfort this thought must have been.
Question: To what extent is the lordship of Jesus a future hope rather than a present reality?