Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 25, 2014
“Baptized, Saved, and Ready to Speak” (1 Peter 3:13-22)
Are you ready? Let me ask you again: Are you ready? And you say, “Ready for what? Ready to do what?” So I say, “Ready to speak.” “Ready to speak about what?” Are you ready to speak about the hope that you have as a Christian? If someone were to ask you about your Christian faith, about your hope, would you be ready to answer? That’s the situation that St. Peter addresses in our text for today, the Epistle reading from 1 Peter 3. There Peter encourages the Christians hearing his letter, and he encourages us, to always be prepared “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” And he does this, not by hammering them over the head, but rather by reminding them of who they are in Christ. Thus our theme for today: “Baptized, Saved, and Ready to Speak.”
Now the specific situation that Peter has in mind is Christians who are being pressured and persecuted for their Christian faith. They may be brought in for questioning by the government officials because they belong to this weird little religion called Christianity, which doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the culture. This Jesus religion makes people feel uncomfortable. They don’t understand it. They don’t like it. And so the Christians may take a little heat for being Christians. They will be under scrutiny. People will have their eye on them. They’ll be watching their conduct. If the Christians mess up, if they slip up, that will give people a reason to dismiss their religion, or even to justify persecuting the Christians.
So Peter tells Christians living in this sort of a situation to watch their conduct and to be ready to speak up for the Christian faith. He writes: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
Now even though we Christians in America are not facing violent persecution or imprisonment for our faith–at least not yet–to some extent things have not changed from Peter’s day to ours. Still today Christians are looked upon by people in our culture as being a little weird or strange. The world does not understand our religion. They don’t get it. They don’t like it. We make them feel uncomfortable. We remind them that there is a God in the heavens who is looking down on all of us and seeing how we’re doing. People want to get out from under that. Their conscience nags at them. They’d rather not think about things like God and guilt, sin and death and what happens after that. And we Christians remind them of all that uncomfortable reality.
So don’t be surprised when the people of this world look for opportunities to make fun of us Christians, or focus on our flaws and foibles, in order to dismiss our faith. “Oh, those Christians, they’re just a bunch of phonies and hypocrites. Who needs their stupid religion? Who needs their church?” That’s the attitude of the world around us.
So what Peter is saying is, basically: Don’t give them ammunition. Don’t give the world extra reasons to dismiss Christianity by doing wrong and bringing shame to the name of Christ. It’s going to be bad enough anyway for Christians living in a hostile world. Don’t make things worse by your bad behavior.
And this is a reminder for us, too. How are we living out there in the world? Is our behavior bringing praise or disgrace to the name of Christ? Are we living any differently from the people of the world? We should be. The Holy Spirit makes a difference in the way we live. Love and good works are the fruit of a living faith. But if we behave in a way that people say, “If that’s how a Christian lives, if that’s how the people of that church act, then I don’t want any part of it”–in those cases, we are giving a negative witness to our Lord and his church. If so, then we need to repent of our sin and return to the Lord for his forgiveness and his help to do better. And he will do it.
But even when we are conducting ourselves in a way that befits the Christian life, the people of this world still will be looking at us a little skeptically. So we return to our opening question: Are you ready? Are you ready to speak up if someone were to ask you about the hope you have as a Christian? I want to encourage you today, dear Christian, I want you to be able to say that yes, you are ready. Why? Because you are baptized. You are saved. And thus you are ready to speak.
You are baptized. You have been joined to Jesus, connected to Christ, in Holy Baptism. Your life is all bound up with his. And this is good. In fact, this is great! This is everything, this being connected to Jesus. Without him you have no hope, you have no future. Only death and the grave and eternal separation from God would lie in front of you. You would be the walking dead right now apart from Christ. But with him you have everything going for you, all the stuff that really matters: peace with God, forgiveness for your sins, the Holy Spirit working in your life, the sure hope of everlasting life to come. All this and more is what you received when you were baptized into Christ.
And so you are saved. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Or, as Peter puts it in our text today: “Baptism now saves you.” Yes, here and elsewhere, the Bible teaches the saving power of Holy Baptism. The main thing in baptism is what God is doing. God acts in and through baptism. That’s why we call it a sacrament. God is working, working to save us from our sins and to unite us with Christ and to bring us to life, new and eternal life.
Peter compares the saving waters of baptism to the flood of Noah’s time. Noah and his family were saved through the waters of that flood. They were “brought safely through water.” The water saved them by separating them from the corrupting influence of the unbelieving world around them. The water saved them by separating them from the destruction that God was pouring out on the evil world.
So it is for us, in the waters of Holy Baptism. Baptism now saves you. It gives you a good conscience before God, Peter says, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, all your sins have been washed away. You stand clean before God, with a clear conscience, and it’s all because of what Christ your Savior has done for you.
So it always comes back to Jesus. Notice how Peter grounds everything in Christ: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” That’s what Jesus did when he died on the cross for us. Jesus was perfectly righteous, with no sin of his own, and yet he suffered death for us, in order to bring us to God, righteous by way of forgiveness. That’s what Jesus did for us by his atoning death on the cross.
And then what, what did Jesus do next? Peter continues: “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 they formerly did not obey.” This is talking about Christ’s descent into hell. After Jesus died, and before his resurrection, at some point during that time, Jesus descended into hell to proclaim his victory over hell and the devil. Yes, Christ’s victory and authority extends over death and Hades, so that the devil has no more power over us. More good news!
And then there is the resurrection itself. The victory has been made known and seen by witnesses and now is proclaimed for all to hear! “The resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Peter writes, “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” Notice how Peter here basically has taken us through what would become the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. For in this text Peter has hit on all these points: that Jesus Christ our Lord “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.”
And so this, dear friends, this is how you have the hope you do. It’s all centered in Christ and in what he has done for you and what he has in store for you. This is the Christian faith. This is the Christian hope. This is what you have been baptized into. This is how you are saved.
And this, then, is why and how you are ready to speak. Just tell the people about Jesus. Run ’em through the Apostles’ Creed, if you can’t think of anything else to say. It’s all there, you know: Who God is, and who he is for us. The heavenly Father, who created us and cares for us. God the Son, Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose for us, to bring us to God and to give us eternal life. The Holy Spirit, who quickens our faith in Christ and keeps us close to him and draws us into the life of the church.
And so I ask you again, one more time: Are you ready? Are you ready to speak up about your Savior and the Christian faith and hope? Yeah, you bet you are! You’ve got so much going for you! You’ve got so much to speak about and share. For you, dear Christian, you are baptized. You are saved. And that, in turn, that makes you ready to speak.