Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sharing in suffering. 1 Peter 3: 17-22.

Someone asked me as I left the church whether I enjoyed my birthday. I tried to remember. It was like any other day. There is no pleasure in birthdays when you get older. I said that my best year was when I was seven and my second best was when I was 43. There was a time when I thought that there would be years of struggling, but eventually I would break through to a time without worries or problems and all would be serene. I now realise that that is never going to happen.

In this world we will have tribulation, says Scripture, and it isn't going to stop until we get to glory.

People sometimes ask why God doesn't stop the trouble. They may conclude that he can't because he doesn't have the power or that he won't because he doesn't care. But the truth is that he will, but because the Day of Judgement will mean the end of the Day of Grace, he is delaying until as many as possible take the salvation that is offered.

I know of a Christian who is tragically dying from cancer at an early age. This person has been taught that with enough faith, healing is possible. Another church member told me that when they were in a similar position they were castigated because they didn't have enough faith for one of their friends to be healed. "How can you expect 'X' to be healed of his cancer, when you have so little faith?"

How sad when Christians are taught so badly! It is the strength of the one we trust that makes the difference, not our strength in holding on to Him; He holds on to us.

The Cross is central to our lives. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21.
"I resolved to know nothing," says Paul, "except Jesus Christ and him crucified" 1 Corinthians 2:2 and "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". Galatians 6:14

Some today talk disdainfully of a 'bloody gospel' and want to sideline the cross as an inappropriate analogy for today. I prefer the spirit of the old hymns - Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand ('fain' means 'gladly'); I cling to the old rugged cross and When I survey the wondrous cross. This is the context, then, that Peter is speaking in for our next section of his first letter; though we do good; yet we will suffer.

It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed 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, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. 1Peter 3:17-22.

This is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. What exactly do verses 19 and 20 mean?

Some want to invent some fanciful trip that Jesus took between the crucifixion and resurrection to preach to unbelievers in a Hellish holding cell to give them a second chance or perhaps to crow over them. But we have evidence of where Jesus went after death, "This day you will be with me in paradise," he said to the dying thief.

Doctrinally this is an important passage because it speaks of the Trinity. Jesus was made alive by the Spirit. No problem there, but we are told this about the Holy Spirit: that same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead was also acting as the agent of Jesus when Noah preached to unbelievers in his day. Noah was a prophet and prophets spoke when filled with the Spirit and what they spoke was the word of God.

Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, speaking via the prophet Noah, spoke to the antediluvian unbelievers offering them a chance to repent. Such was their imprisonment to sin, they refused to hear. As is His wont, God waited patiently for them to repent, but in the end, only eight were saved, through water.

One God in three persons. Churches have fallen out over whether the Son sends the Spirit or if that is just the prerogative of the Father. It sounds like an 'angels on the head of a pin' argument but here is the answer: 'through whom also he went and preached '. Jesus was the preacher through the Holy Spirit.

But the difficulties of this passage don't stop there. What about 'baptism that now saves you '? Again we can go to the thief on the cross. No baptism for him. Baptism is clearly not an essential element of salvation. Baptism is the 'pledge of a good conscience toward God'. It is a symbol of 'the resurrection of Jesus Christ'. Baptists have no problem with this, seeing Baptism as a symbolic representation of going down into the grave and then rising up from it with new life.

Now I admit that this may be pushing the analogy too far, especially as it wasn't Jewish tradition to dig a pit to bury bodies in as we do, but rather to place the remains in a cave to rot and later collect the bones into an ossiary.

But writing a script for the meaning of Baptism is prone to tumbles. According to Peter he is not referring to that other symbolic meaning of baptism either - 'not the removal of dirt from the body ', Peter seems to want baptism to be a symbol of the rescue of Noah from the Flood.

We are saved by 'the resurrection of Jesus Christ'. This same Jesus 'has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. '

Do you see Jesus as the babe of Bethlehem, or as the 12-year old child teaching Rabbis in Jerusalem, or as the obedient carpenter's son planing a table, or as the traveling preacher and miracle worker, or the suffering servant on the cross. None of those is an inaccurate picture, but all are incomplete. If you like they are part of his CV. What he is now is the commanding figure of verse 22. All authority and power reside in him. He holds everyone in submission.

Every week or every month, depending on our churchmanship we hold a service to remember his death, but there is a danger in that, that we will see him as a continuing victim. He is the king of the ages, the ruler of the universe, the one in control. When we take up our cross to follow him we are not entering into a speculative enterprise, but a winning formula. Though we share in his suffering we will share in his glory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey doc--
Joyfull ? Or depressed . ? trials--
yes but There is such
joy in living. Every birthday is a miracle.
Please enjoy where you are in life- you
are a blessing to so many.
Thank you Lord Jesus.