1 Peter 3:13-22 - The Hope That is In You
November 17, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 3:13–3:22
[Text: 1 Peter 3:13-22] “The Hope That Is In You”
There’s no doubt that Martin Luther was a brilliant theologian. So, it comforts me to read what he said about a portion of our passage today. He say, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other anywhere in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” We’re in deep waters, y’all, but there is some clarity here and help for strugglers, so let’s pray together and hear what our God says.
[Pray – Father, we’re talking about difficult things today. But they are difficult truths that you counted as worthy of being in your Word. So, help us, Father. Illumine our hearts and minds by the work of your Spirit so that we may see Jesus more clearly. We need to see him so that we can have hope and act as your people here. So, help us; we pray in the name of the risen Christ who died to bring us to you. Amen.]
[Read 1 Peter 3:13-22]
Teachers feel it when the end of the school year is on the horizon. Students do, too, for that matter. Folks working in retail feel it when the holiday push is almost finished and they look forward in hope to the arrival of restful days. Football players feel it when their team is up by five touchdowns with two minutes left on the clock. You might even feel it when you sense that I’m moving toward the sermon conclusion.
It’s that feeling you get when the end of a hard season is in sight and there are good things on the horizon – summer break, vacation, champagne in the locker room or maybe just lunch. It’s the hope that carries us through the remaining hardship. It’s the hope that keeps you going because you can see the end and the end is good.
That’s the hope Peter says is possible for us today because of Jesus – hope even in the midst of hardship. “So, get ready,” Peter says, “because we can see the end; Jesus is the victor and we are victorious in him.”
Now, that might strike you as an open door to an escapist mentality. And you’d be right (in a way) because Christians have taken the victory of Christ as an excuse run away from society. Or his triumph becomes “triumphalism” – a shallow view of his victory that pretends everything is okay now. Or (on the flip side of triumphalism) that statement about the victory of Christ might strike you as naïve since there remain struggles and sufferings in this life that don’t seem to mesh with the truth of a victorious Savior. Our circumstances can make us ask if that truth is really a truth at all.
But that’s nothing new. The circumstances these early Christians found themselves in may have, at times, felt a lot more like defeat than salvation. Their circumstances told them they were on the wrong side of life. They were powerless against a culture of power. They were vulnerable to abuse and had already suffered much abuse because they bore the name “Christian.” So, even if they were the new people of God (as Peter said 2:9-10) they were a suffering people. And when we suffer it’s hard to see a good ending.
It’s hard to see a good ending when we suffer for the sake of Christ today. A wife living with a selfish husband because she believes that is what Christ would have of her may have a hard time seeing a good ending. An employee suffering under the expectations and whims of a capricious boss out of reverence for God might see light at the end of the tunnel – but suspect (as they say) it is really an oncoming train. Whether it’s suffering mockery from a hostile culture or suffering waves of powerful temptation from the desires of our own hearts, when we suffer as Christians it feels impossible to reconcile claims of a victorious Savior with the fact that his people are struggling. But the Lord helps us here.
The Lord helps us because he leads us back to see Jesus, to see him as our good ending; to see him as our hope because Jesus has passed through suffering into victory. And we have the promise in him that whatever we endure here, we have been united to Christ by faith – so fully united to him that all that belongs to him is ours – his death, his life and his victory.
Resting in Christ – this thing we call “faith” – is what this passage us all about. And resting in Christ is what Peter calls us to do – even when our circumstances tell us that it isn’t working. I know that is a difficult thing to ask, so before we get into what we’re supposed to do, let’s flip this passage around and hear what Peter says about the victory Jesus we call the Gospel.
When we talk about the victory of Jesus, we’re talking about what we see in verse 22. We’re talking about the risen Christ in heaven at the right hand of God, already ruling over all things. If what we see on the horizon is supposed to encourage us, then this is it. It is the picture of Christ as victorious King, ruling over all things – his will being done, his people under his protection, and life in his world being as it was meant to be.
That is what the New Testament sees when it sees the end on the horizon. It’s what we see in Revelation when God says he makes all things new (Rev. 21). It’s the promise God made in Genesis 3:15 – the promise of one who would do battle with darkness and emerge victorious – fully and finally accomplished. That’s the reality just on the horizon. Our hope in Jesus as our King can keep us going.
But in the language of verse 22, the kingship of Jesus is a reality that has already broken through into our own; it all speaks of a present and continuing reality. It silently slipped into our world in the incarnation. But then the victory of Christ was loudly proclaimed. We often (and rightly) think of the resurrection as the arrival of the victory of Christ. But there is also a sense in which the moment it was won was the moment when it seemed like a lost cause – in the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
That’s what Peter wants us to understand in v. 18. We need to see that the victory of Jesus came through suffering – suffering that he endured for our sake.
(V. 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….”
This is the heart of the Gospel. It’s the Good News that there is a God who knows and loves broken, rebellious people. It’s the Good News that God does not expect you to “get it together” so that you can find Him because He Himself came to us in the person of Jesus to deal with our failures and weakness and outright rebellion. Jesus came and stood in our place and suffered the painful death of the cross – the Eternal God suffering the weight of our infinite offenses against Him – for one singular purpose; “that he might bring us to God.”
Christ endured unjust suffering to win us to himself. Yes, his death was the beginning of his victory. Yes, his suffering was the way he would take up his reign over all things. But he did not enter into his victory without his people, without you who hear this Good News and rest in it as your only hope. Through suffering death, Jesus claimed his victory and claimed the object of his desire at the same time – you. That is the hope that is supposed to keep us going; Jesus our King died to win us for himself. And in his victory, we belong to him no matter what our circumstances tell us otherwise.
What we see next is the section Martin Luther was referencing. “Christ also suffered…being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because the 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.”
Interpreters have offered several possible understandings of what Peter is saying here. Most agree that this is talking about Jesus’ work in between his death and resurrection, which would make this the only place in the Scriptures (so far as I know, anyhow) that speaks to what happened during the days when Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Now, there are some interpretations we can throw out as inconsistent with the rest of the Story, like the interpretation that sees this as Jesus sharing the Gospel with those who died in unbelief before his coming as a way to offer salvation to them. We don’t have time to get into all the inconsistencies of that position here but we can talk about it afterward if you like.
There are two possible readings I think stand up to criticism. One understands the “spirits in prison” of Noah’s day to mean the human beings who rejected Yahweh and ignored Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) during the days before the flood. The other understands the “spirits in prison” of Noah’s day to mean the fallen angels, spiritual beings whose rebellion against God resulted in their being “cast into hell and (committed)…to chains of gloomy darkness” (2 Peter 2:4). There are good arguments for both meanings. But where they differ on who the audience of Christ’s proclamation may have been, they absolutely agree on one thing; the message.
Although Jesus was in the midst of his own humiliation, having just suffered death and with his body lying alone in a tomb – even so – Jesus was alive in the spirit with the right to proclaim his victory over every power that had come against him. God’s purpose to sit Christ on the throne in fulfillment of His promised victory was not only unhindered by Christ’s sufferings but was fulfilled by Christ’s sufferings. And so our Savior descended into the place of his enemies, telling them that a new reality had come. He had become the victor.
Christ had become the victor and in doing so had rescued his people. The same act of God that sealed the fate of his enemies also sealed the safety of the people of God.
Think about what Peter is saying here at the end of v.20. He sees in Noah’s flood the pattern of salvation. The same waters that came as judgment against rebellious humanity lifted Noah and his family to safety. They “were brought safely through water.” In the same way, Peter says, the death of Christ was judgment against the enemies of God; the death of Christ was his moment of victory over them and, at the same time, it was God’s means of rescuing his people. We have been brought safely through death into life by the death of Christ.
That’s why he can say (in v.21), “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you….” As we come to God with our need – need for the removal of guilt and need for him to enable us to stand before him unafraid – as we come to God expressing our need of Christ, we hear him saying “Yes!” to us because of Christ. He says “Yes!” because the Christ who died for our sin rose again from the dead and reigns victorious. And with our faith and hope in him, we know that we, too, will be raised. Even though we suffer today, we don’t have to be troubled or afraid that we are utterly lost since we have been united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection. In Christ our sins have been dealt with. In Christ we have passed through death into life with him. That is a reality for us today as we come to him by faith. And as we look to Jesus in faith we see on the horizon the coming fullness of his victory.
So baptism isn’t about mere water. It isn’t about any particular mode (immersion, sprinkling, or pouring). It’s about union with Christ by faith and all his benefits belonging to us in him. And the victory of Jesus isn’t some ephemeral truth meant to distract us from today in some “pie in the sky by and by” sort of way. The victory of Jesus is a powerful, present reality meant to transform the way you and I live here. It is meant to be the greater hope that dominates over the great fears of this life because the rule of Jesus is the one, sure constant in an ever changing and uncertain world.
And that’s how Peter applies this passage. This whole focus on the victory of Christ is the foundation supporting vv.13-17.
Peter writes in v.13, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” He’d just finished a long section insisting that those who set their hope in Christ are called to follow him by enduring suffering while doing good to others – even those who cause the suffering. The possibility here is that the pursuit of good can, if God wills, bring an end to suffering. If evil is met with good, then the evil may end.
But Peter isn’t naïve. He’s a realist. He goes on (in v. 14); “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled….” Knowing the reality of their circumstances, Peter understands that suffering produces fear in us. But the antidote to our fear is Jesus; to rest in his victory is to displace all other fears with hope in him.
He says, “…Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard 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.”
I have a healthy fear of cats. They are unpredictable creatures; one second you can be petting them and they’re purring up a storm and then, in the blink of an eye, their claws are digging in. But there are cats and then there are CATS. I mean big cats – lions and tigers and panthers who will just as soon eat your face as look at you. I can tell you that my fear of big cats makes my “healthy fear” of housecats look like no fear at all.
That’s sort of what it means to “regard Christ the Lord as holy.” It means we count his Lordship – his authority over all things – as more powerful than the fearful thing we face. It means we keep him in his proper place in our hearts – on the throne. In the Gospel we’ve seen his power on display; how he brought us to God through his own suffering, how he proclaimed his victory over his enemies (even turning their own work to accomplish his purposes). So, when we are confronted with other fearful and troubling circumstances we can keep them in their proper place, too. They must ultimately serve the will of the one who reigns over all. And that means they must ultimately serve us, too, no matter how fearsome they look today.
So, there it is. Deep waters, right? (I know I feel like I’m in over my head.) When we suffer here we have every reason for hope. We have hope because Jesus remains Lord. We have hope because he has brought us to God through his death and resurrection. By faith in Him we have been united to him so that we have entered into his victory both now and in the age to come. And as you and I keep coming back to this truth, especially in the times when our circumstances tell us otherwise, as we keep coming back to this Good News and it leads us to endure in the face of suffering, there may be some who see it and ask, “Why do you have any hope right now?”
It might be a co-worker. It might be a spouse. It might be a stranger. Or, as it was possibly the case for Peter’s friends, it might be someone who has the power to kill you based on your answer. That is the circumstance facing some of our brothers and sisters even today.
But whoever asks for the reason for the hope that is in you. Your answer begins with a single word – “Jesus” – and expands from a promise in a garden to the cross of Christ and goes on through the Story to the arrival of the kingdom of God in its fullness on the day when the victory of Christ is complete.
But as you give the answer, Peter doesn’t allow us to use Christ or his victory as a bludgeon. Absolutely, we tell people that Christ is our hope and his death and resurrection and current reign is the reason why we don’t have to be afraid. Scores and scores of believers throughout time have done that in the face of unimaginable threats (unimaginable to us, anyway). Even though Martin Luther didn’t understand everything about this text he knew enough about Christ and his victory to withstand the death threats of those who would silence him.
No, Peter reminds us that we must give our answer “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience….” Such a response can silence the very accusations that come against Christians – that we are proud and self-righteous. If we are those things (which we are sometimes) then we ought to repent and run quickly back to Jesus, remembering that we have to answer with gentleness and respect because the truth of the matter is this; we don’t deserve this hope. And yet Christ came and suffered for sinners to bring us to God. He is gentle with us. We have to be gentle with others, too.
Some of you are being called to walk down incredibly difficult paths right now. Some of you are at the mercy of unmerciful people. Some of you face fears that few others will ever know. But even though I myself don’t understand the strength of those fears, I can only point to this Word, telling you that the end is in sight. I don’t know if the end will come in this life or if you will have to wait for the life to come to find rest. But this Word promises us that the end is in sight, just on the horizon. And what we see there isn’t just a finish line or a place. We see a person – Jesus. And seeing him in his victory is what can give us strength and hope to endure today.
In 1685 Margaret Wilson was a Scottish Covenanter who, at only 18 years old, was arrested for her faith along with along with 63 year-old Margaret McLachlan. They both refused to recant and bow the knee to the king so, the pronouncement upon them was that they be taken to the channel, tied to a post in the surf and left to drown with the rising tide. On the day of their death the older woman was set further out so that the agony of her death would persuade the younger to cower and recant and save her own life. But it didn’t. She had such a greater hope in Christ that even the threat of saltwater filling her lungs could not drown her trust in him. While the younger Margaret watched her older sister in Christ die, the soldiers asked her what she thought of the other now struggling with the pangs of death. She answered, “What do I see but Christ (in one of his members) wrestling there. Do you think that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ in us….”
Just before the waters reached over her own head, Margaret was given a chance to deny her Savior and save her life. But she saw her Lord with eyes of faith and she sang from the 25th Psalm, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!” As the waters overtook her, her head was pulled above the water one last time and she was asked once more to turn from her trust in Christ. She said, “‘I will not, I am one of Christ’s children, let me go.” And she was thrust down again into the water to finish the course of her earthly life.
Peter tells us in v. 17 that it may very well be the will of God for us to walk through these sufferings. But to walk through them does not need to hold fear for us. Because God is at work in them, conforming our lives to the pattern of Jesus’ own life; he suffered and glorious victory followed. By faith, we are in him and he is in us. So, we have the assurance of God that he suffers with us now and we now live in his victory.
[Pray – Father, for this Word we thank you. From this we hear that you have given us what we do not deserve. Through faith in Christ you have given us forgiveness and restoration with you. Through his death and resurrection we have been brought into the kingdom of your Son and become for you “a royal priesthood” to serve you and worship you and declare to all the reason for our hope. Help us to serve you today, Father, enduring what you would have us endure. And help us to do so in the way you have provided for us, through faith and hope in Christ alone. Help us to abandon all other hope and cling to him, seeing in him a Savior who is strong enough to deal with our greatest fears. Use us as we walk that way, Lord, causing other to see hope in us and ask us about it. Then help us to tell them about Jesus – about who he is and what he has done for sinners like us. We ask this for his sake, for his honor and glory and for the increase of his kingdom. Amen.]
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
 Quoted by Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).