Nothing to Fear
1 Peter 3:13-22
May 17, 2020
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. 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, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Peter begins our reading by asking, "Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?" The answer is: lots of people everywhere. Everyone who's has watched TV lately, or who's read the newspaper, let alone if they have even a splash of historical knowledge, everyone knows that people who are passionate about doing good things for others get abused. If you think Christian persecution is not like it was back in the day of Jesus, think again. Here is part of an article I read on opendoorsusa.org:
A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.
A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.
A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.
A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
These people don’t live in the same region, or even on the same continent. But they share an important characteristic: They are all Christians, and they suffer because of their faith. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. From Sudan to Russia, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Colombia to India, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked; they are discriminated against at work and at school; they risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.
In just the last year*, there have been:
Over 260 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution
2,983 Christians killed for their faith
9,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.
3,711 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
These numbers are heart-breaking. And yet, they do not tell the whole story. James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” That joy is what this organization sees when they hear and work with Christians all over the world who suffer because of they serve Jesus. God cares for His people, and He will never leave or forsake them. There is more information on this site and I encourage you to take a look when you get time. Again, it is “opendoorsusa.org”.
As Christians, we don’t need to look any further than the persecution of Jesus. Jesus was the most loving, caring, humblest and giving person that ever walked this earth and see what happened to Him. His own people turned against Him, the Roman ruler washed his hands of the whole persecution thing and the people picked a murderer (Barabbas) to be released instead of Jesus. And, he was crucified between two notorious thieves. He died a blameless death for all the sinners of the world. And what did Jesus say as he hung on the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Even to the very was Jesus thinking of the well-being of others. Even those who nailed him to the cross. Even Jesus feared death when he asked his Father to take the cup of death away from him as he pleaded with God in the Garden of Gethsemane. But then he remembered that it was all part of God’s plan and Jesus said, “Yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Even the one who knew the story before it ever took place; the one who knew that his resurrection from death would be just a few days away, feared death.
Fears are part of life. We all have fears of some type. Some of us are afraid of the dark called Nyctophobia. Some fear swimming in the ocean - Thalassophobia. Some of us fear everyday life - Panphobia. There are people who have a phobia for just about everything around them. I am not crazy about snakes or rats if they catch me by surprise. The sight of maggots gives me the willys too. And I am not too crazy about heights or flying but I’m much better about flying than I used to be. Helen is much worse than I but she is better as well. Several years ago, we were traveling to Florida (by plane) and we were forced to sit up front where the seats face toward the rear of the plane. At this time Helen was extremely fearful of flying. But sitting across from us sat a U.S. Marshall who had flown on many, many occasions. Finding out about Helen’s fear of flying, he took the time to explain every creek, twang and bump that you could possibly hear on a normal flight. The sound of the landing gear being raised and lowered and the doors opening and shutting behind them. The noise the wing flaps make as they go up and down. Everything. By the time we landed, we were experts on plane noises and we became much more at ease with flying. However, you still won’t see me lining up to take a ride on a small prop plane or Johnson’s yellow crop-duster. Finally, there is Thanatophobia, or fear of death. Many, if not most, people are afraid of dying. Some people fear being dead, while others are afraid of the actual act of dying. I can honestly say that I am not afraid of dying, I just don’t want it to happen anytime soon. And I don’t want it to be painful or a long-drawn-out process. I think most of us feel that same way.
Right now, I believe we all have some level of fear about the Coronavirus, COVID-19. The uncertainty of it, where did it come from, who will get it next, who will survive – who will not. And most of all, will it make a comeback if we (society) take it too lightly. And the fact that it is a worldwide pandemic that literally caught everyone by surprise makes it that much more dangerous. The Coronavirus has caused the fear of the unknown to take center stage. It’s called Xenophobia. According to Wikipedia, Xenophobia is derived from the Greek word 'Xenos' meaning “foreigner or stranger” and Phobos which means 'morbid fear'. Xenophobia is the irrational sensation of fear experienced about a person or a group of persons as well as situations that are perceived as strange or foreign. Again, fear of the unknown.
That’s where faith in God comes in. If we look at every situation as an opportunity overcome something with the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot fail. If we look at life from the perspective of no matter what happens to us, because of our love for Jesus and God’s love for us, we cannot lose. I have explained to many people that, regardless of whether we live or die, if we trust in God, He will take care of us. If we survive, we get to live longer here with our families and friends. If we don’t, we have the promise of eternal life in Heaven. We cannot lose. Either way, we continue to live in the glory of God’s presence. Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “I (God) will never leave you nor forsake you.” What a comforting note to live by. No matter what happens to us, regardless of the outcome, God will be right there with us.
In our scripture reading from 1 Peter 3, Peter, the Rock, tells us “even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed” (v.14). REPEAT. So, what is Peter saying? If we are doing good things in the name of Jesus Christ, we will be blessed and protected by the Great Guardian, our Creator God. Peter goes on to say, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil” (v. 17). Look at it this way. If you are delivering food and supplies to a needy family in a dangerous part of town and you get robbed, beaten and all the food taken from you, God will take care of you. But if you are the one doing the robbing, beating and stealing, there’s a pretty good chance you will not find your way into God’s kingdom.
Looking at the historical context of our reading, you need to know that Peter's letter was written in a time when Christians were convinced the end was rapidly approaching. That soon Jesus would be returning and it would all be over and there wouldn’t be enough time to reach all the people in the world with the Gospel of Jesus to make sure they would have a place in heaven when they died. What does that mean for those who never had the chance to hear? What about those who lived before Jesus came into this world? Those that Peter refers to as “imprisoned spirits”. Peter's letter seems to say that, even after death, God is going to give them the opportunity that they might have missed. Peter refers to in verse 19 have some connection to the people mentioned in the next verse, "those who in former times did not obey when God waited patiently in the days of Noah" (4:20). We all know that in the story of Noah and the ark there were some who were saved and some who weren't. The ark is a symbol of salvation; it rescued eight people. For Christians, Peter says the counterpart to the ark is baptism. It's through baptism that we are rescued. If we look deeper into the story about the ark, we know that there were a lot of people who didn't make it onto the ark. In fact, most of them didn't make it. Only Noah and his family. Just as there are many people in the world who haven't been baptized or heard the saving announcement of the gospel. Does God's grace only come to those who are in the ark? Does God's grace only come to the baptized, to those who are a part of the church?
Despite all the confusion about what this passage from 1 Peter might mean, there is one thing that it is clearly saying: We don't have the last word when it comes to God's grace. The last word belongs to Christ. There is no person who is beyond the scope of God's grace. Even death can't separate us from the love of God. There is no place you can go where God won't come after you, even if it means hunting you down after you die. Listen to Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (death), you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. — Verses 7-10.
God never gives up on us. Even the person who earlier robbed, beat and stole, still has a chance with God. Confession of sins brings along Redemption, which invites forgiveness from God which covers us with the blanket of salvation. So, you see, nothing to fear.
So often you hear someone call a Christian a “do-gooder” or a “goody-goody”. The society of non-believers feel that to be a Christian, a follower of God, means you can’t have any fun. Well, I don’t know about you, but my life, since giving it over to God in the name of Jesus Christ, has been pretty darn great. I have met some incredible people is all aspects of my life who care so much about Jesus, that they don’t need to use curse words when they speak, or get drunk or high or in trouble to have a good time. I have been in settings (when it was still allowed) with fellow Christians, including my wife, where all we did was sit and talk about Jesus and all the wonderful things He has done for us. We became part of the Kenton Church and the Woodside Church families that we have grown to love and admired for their love of Jesus and each other. And now God has given Helen the same opportunity to do the same at Houston. To develop a loving and caring relationship with each member there and to help them grow in their faith and their love for Jesus Christ. Helen and I have become part of an Emmaus family that will go to the ends of the earth to make sure we are taken care in times of trials and temptations; that will make sure our spiritual tanks are full and that we are spreading our love for Jesus everywhere we can, whenever we can, to everyone we can. Some of you have heard me use the acronym, ADAPAT, any day, any place, any time. That is what being a Christian is all about. We should be prepared to defend our faith, share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the mercy and grace of God, any day, any place, any time – ADAPAT. Peter tells so in verse 15, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Don’t get upset when someone puts your faith to the test. The fact is, underneath that evil attitude of questioning, lies a heart that is yearning for the love of Jesus and the fellowship of a friend who truly cares about them and wants to help them make better choices in their lives. They, my brothers and sisters, are looking to you for help. And can cast away all fears and know that God is right there with you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All God is asking of you is to tell your story – the one where Jesus came into your life and made you what you are today – a true lover of Jesus.
We sing about the wideness of God's mercy, but we can't even begin to know how wide it is. We recall the words of Jesus when we bless the bread and wine of holy communion, which was shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin, but we can't even begin to understand who the all are that Jesus includes in that promise.
The best we can do is to allow God's grace to transform our lives. And to trust that the God whose grace knows no limits in this life or even in the next life can be found even in us. We cannot lose in life or in death as long as we let God take the wheel. There is nothing to fear, ever again.