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1 Peter 3:13-22 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
“The Good News of Easter: Christ is Exalted!”
1) This is good news to believe
2) This is good news to confess
One of the things that pastors learn relatively early in their ministries is that not every sermon serves the same purpose. The situation or the text usually determine the point of the sermon. Some sermons are meant to primarily touch the heart. Think of funeral sermons or sermons based on the psalms. Those texts, those sermons, give us comfort in a difficult time. Those parts of God’s Word take what we already know and drive us into a deeper faith, a stronger connection to our Savior and our God. They bring us peace, and sometimes they call us to action as a result of that peace.
Other texts and other sermons are more about reminding us or teaching us about God and his plan to save us. Sermons based on those texts are more like Bible studies. In those texts God wants to teach us about who he is or who we are, about what we’ve done or what he has done. One of the first questions a preacher asks himself is what kind of text is in front of me this week?
And this week the answer is both. Our epistle reading today continues the series of readings we’ve had from Peter’s first letter. Over the last five weeks he’s shown us that Easter is a season of good news. Christ is risen. Death is defeated. All who die in the Lord will rise again. But a part of the good news of Easter is that our Savior Jesus, once humbled, is now exalted. God teaches us here that this is good news to believe, but then encourages us to do something with it. This Easter good news is good news to confess to others as well.
Part One: This is good news to believe
If you think back to your catechism studies, you may remember studying the Apostles’ Creed. Now the creed is made of three parts, one for each person of the Trinity. So when we talk about the First Article, we are talking about God the Father and his work of creation. When we talk about the Second Article, we are focusing on God the Son and his work of redemption. The Third Article is about the Holy Spirit and his work that we call sanctification. How the Spirit “sets us apart,” both as believers in faith and as faithful believers in how we live.
Chances are, if you grew up Lutheran, when you studied the second article about Jesus you talked about his humiliation and his exaltation. Jesus’ humiliation isn’t talking about him being embarrassed or mocked. It refers to the limited time that he limited himself. Remember, Jesus existed before his conception and birth. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later on he says, “The Word became flesh.” We heard it last week, and in this week’s Gospel reading, everything that the Father is, so is the Son. All the glory, all the power. But Jesus set aside his use of that for a time. He humbled himself to come down from heaven to be man to save mankind. The Apostles’ Creed lists the things Jesus did in his humiliation. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (God is not conceived). He was born of the virgin Mary (God is not born). He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. (God doesn’t do any of those!)
You understand why Jesus did though. He was conceived and born man, fully man, so that he could fulfill the law perfectly in our place. We break God’s law every day. Jesus obeyed it every day of his life. Our sins deserve punishment. Jesus suffered and died to take on himself the punishment we deserved. Jesus’ humiliation, his lowering himself, was necessary to save us. Without the steps of Jesus’ humility we would still be in our sins, guilty without any chance of heaven. Epiphany and Lent remind us of that. But we’re in Easter now. We are celebrating that Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” The work was done. Peter says this all beautifully in the heart of our text. Verse 18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
With the work done, Jesus’ time of self-imposed lowering was over. He took up his power and glory once again. No longer did his enemies mock him. No longer did he suffer. The creed describes the good news of Jesus’ exaltation in these steps: he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
And here we have a chance to stop and let God teach us. I think that a majority of adult Christians don’t think of the phrase “he descended into hell” as exaltation. They think of it as part of his suffering. But it’s not, and this text is where God helps us understand why Jesus descended, and when.
The end of verse 18 says, “He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit (A better translation would be “put to death in body, but made alive in spirit”). But look at how verse 19 helps us understand the timing and purpose. Here the updated 2011 NIV is much better than the old one most of us have at home. “After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – to those who were disobedient long ago…” Do you get it? Jesus didn’t descend into hell to suffer for our sins. He already did that on the cross. Remember his words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That was his suffering. It was over when he said, “It is finished.” So why descend into hell?
To proclaim his victory. With his work done and the sins of the world forgiven, Jesus goes into “enemy territory,” so to speak, to declare his triumph. After he was made alive, he went in spirit (whatever that means) and shared the news. He announced the completion of God’s plan to all who had rejected that plan in the past. And the unbelievers from the time of Noah perfectly fit that description.
As Peter references Noah and the flood, he also gives us one of the most important descriptions of how Jesus’ victory gets applied to us. In baptism. We usually think of the floodwaters as destroying the world, but those same waters also lifted Noah’s ark up above the destruction. Those waters saved him and his family. Peter says that water, is a picture of how baptism works too. Baptism saves us, not because it removes dirt from the body but because it ties us to Jesus and his resurrection. In baptism God creates faith, and that faith buries us with Christ and raises us with him. It’s an active thing. It does something. Something powerful. Peter says, “It saves you…” In baptism we are connected in faith with Christ. Our sins are gone, washed away, and by Christ our consciences are then clear. No matter what our sins have been, we stand forgiven before God. This is good news to believe.
Part Two: This is good news to confess
And with that good news burning in our hearts let’s go back to the beginning of our text and see what Christians do with that good news. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” Jesus died for you. He won the victory for you. Now set him apart and live for him! The first part of Christian living is having a Christian mindset. Christ comes before everything else. Before work, or family, or parties, or picnics. Christ is our everything in everything. And when we do that, people will notice. They’ll ask. So Peter tells us to be ready. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
“Be ready,” he says. Study the Word and know it better. Strengthen your faith and trust God more. Let go of the world and turn to him. Do this and you’ll be ready to answer the questions people ask. And when you do, do it with the same gentleness and respect that Jesus showed. Don’t tolerate sin, and don’t waffle on the truth – Jesus didn’t do that. He called out the sins he saw. But he spoke in love born out of humility rather than holier than thous. Never forget – it’s our Savior who’s better, not us.
We are prepared to speak by what we know, but also by what we do. Peter says, “Keep a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Remember when Peter said that the faith we have through baptism gives us a clear conscience before God? Brothers and sisters, keep that conscience clear. Live such a holy life that no one can doubt your faith and no one can make an accusation against you. If you suffer, then you suffer. Better to suffer for God than to prosper without him.
That brings us right back to the heart of the text. Our reason for confessing is the same as our reason for believing. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Praise God that he has. Praise him in your heart. Praise him in your mind. And praise him before everyone you meet. He is exalted on high. To God be the glory. Amen.