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Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
14 May 2023
1 Peter 3:13-22
Preacher: Ron Vonk
Friday, May 10, 1940 was a dry day ideal for the gardening work that my grandfather was so good at. My father who was 12 years old at the time was his helper. As my 38 year old grandfather worked he smoked his pipe. World War 2 had started September 1, 1939. My grandfather was sure that Holland would remain neutral just as Holland was neutral in the First World War. Suddenly that day thousands of enemy warplanes flew overhead on their way to their mission to bomb the city of Rotterdam. Of course no one knew where these planes were headed but it suddenly became clear to my grandfather that Holland would not remain neutral. My father clearly remembers watching his father stand up, look up into the sky, with the pipe in his mouth shaking violently. From that day forward my dad says that his father was an old man. My grandfather was very afraid of what was coming.
Our reading from 1 Peter this morning is Peter’s encouragement not to be afraid in those Circumstances of life where we have reasons of be afraid. Peter makes two references to old Testament characters who were afraid. Peter also has a clear example of when he was afraid. This morning we look at these three Bible references to people who were afraid. After that we will look at Peter’s words of encouragement to Christians in Asia Minor who were afraid. Finally I hope we hear words of encouragement for us who are also afraid from time to time.
Peter’s first Old Testament reference is to the Israelite generation who escaped slavery in Egypt but later were afraid to enter the promised land. At God’s command Moses sent 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan. The 12 spies came back with a glowing report about the land They proclaimed, “theland does flow with milk and honey. But 10 of the spies also declared, “The land we explored devours those living in it. We saw the Nephalim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes.” The Israelites responded to this report with fear. They asked, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? They concluded, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt the land of slavery.
Who were these Nephalim who struck such fear in the heart of the Israelites? The Nephalim were the descendants of spiritual beings called “Sons of God” in Genesis 6. These spiritual beings slept with human women in the days before the flood. Jewish literature of the time suggests that evil spirits worked through the Nephilim who were then responsible for the wickedness on the earth that grieve God so greatly and necessitated the flood. The Nephalim were greatly feared in the ancient world. They were called the giants of old.
Peter’s second Old Testament reference is to King Ahaz, one of the nation of Judah’s later kings who ruled Judah at a time when the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the King of Aram were threatening to invade Judah. Israel and Aram had an army that was many times larger than King Ahaz’s army. At that time the prophet Isaiah came to King Ahaz with these words, “do not fear what they fear and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one are to fear.
Peter uses Isaiah’s words except Peter changes Isaiah’s wording from fear or sanctify the Lord Almighty to sanctify Christ as Lord. Peter makes Jesus and the Lord Almighty one and the same person.
Peter has his own example of when he was afraid from the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. The crucifix at the front of our sanctuary reminds us of the words posted above Jesus as he was on the cross. The Latin inscription INRI above the cross is a reminder of the sign above Jesus that said in English, Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. I imagine that this sign infuriated the people and Rulers who sneered at Jesus “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God the chosen one. Along with them the soldiers mocked Jesus with similar words: “If you are the King of the Jews save yourself.” We are not surprised to learn that just before the crucifixion Peter declared to these same scorners “I don’t know Jesus.” Peter was afraid. Many of us can relate to Peter’s fear.
So what words of encouragement and instruction does Peter have for these fearful, suffering Christians in Asia Minor? Surrounded by a world scornful of their faith in Jesus?
Peter has 2 words of instruction for his readers. The first is easy to accept. Few people are going to harm Christians for living the Christian life. A person who lives in harmony with others, a sympathetic loving person, a compassionate humble person. A person who does not repay evil with evil, a person who does not repay insult with insult but with blessing is normally considered a good citizen of most countries. Often we have no need to be afraid.
Peter’s second word of instruction is more difficult to accept. Peter effectively repeats what Jesus also says in the beatitudes. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It may be God’s will that good citizens, that the righteous suffer at the hands of those offended by righteousness. Some of Peter’s readers have been targets of wrong accusations, ignorant talk, evil and insults, threats, and malicious talk. Not participating in socially acceptable practices because they are not right by God’s standards can earn a Christian insults, threats and malicious talk. In this case Peter repeats the message given by Jesus. In this case they are blessed. These people have nothing to fear.
Often a Christian lives his or her Christian life with nothing to fear. Sometime we have something to fear. Even in those times, says Peter, we have nothing to fear.
What is the Christian to do when they face people, when they face situations that are fearful? Peterhas a three part answer to this question.
First, and I repeat this, do not be afraid. Do not fear what other people fear. Do not be intimidated. To live in a way pleasing to God and suffering for it is a sign of God’s favor, a sign of a persons’ salvation. Do not be afraid.
Second word of instruction from Peter: remain faithful to Christ. Christ is the one we ought to fear. Christ is the one we set apart as holy. Christ will be a place of safety for us. Live life openly as a Christian in the midst of a world where it is not always popular to be a Christian.
First, do not fear. Second remain faithful.
Third, Peter instructs us to always be ready to make our defense to anyone who demands an accounting for the hope that is in us. As we openly live as Christians, we just as openly explain reasons for our Christian faith, using words that our neighbours find meaningful. Our reading from the book of Acts this morning gives us an example of how Paul found meaningful words in his explanation of the Christian faith while in Athens by talking about the Athenian altar to an unknown God.
We make our defense of the gospel with gentleness and respect. We cannot live in ways, we cannot talk in ways that contradict our hope. If people take offense at what we say, it should not be because of the manner we deliver the message. Offense may be taken at the context of the message but not because our walk does not match our talk.
Do not be afraid. Remain faithful. Be ready to give an account.
One final question Peter answers for us this morning. The question is, “Why bother? Why should I not be afraid of suffering either because of some physical suffering or less likely in a country like Canada, because I am asked to explain to someone why I am a Christian. Peter’s answer, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous in order to bring you and me to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit. Christ is our example. Christ also suffered.
At the end Peter takes us to the Nephilim, the giants that Ancient Israelites were so afraid of when they first tried to enter the Promised land. In the Sprit, after his resurrection at the time of his ascension Jesus went to the evil spirts that controlled the Nephilim, evil spirits that brought God’s Judgement on the earth, evil spirits that are at work even today.
Jesus went to the most remote and unlikely audience imaginable. There Jesus proclaimed his victory over all authorities, even evil spirits. These evil spirits too, like all other powers in the universe, must now submit to the sovereignty of Jesus. Wherever these powers might be, in every place these powers were secure against Christ, they too submit to his sovereignty.
It is true, at the time of Noah only a few people, eight in total were saved. The point is that as God remembered Noah and his family, God remembers a small group of Christians in Asia Minor. These Christians are not lost to God’s concern in the midst of non-believing humanity. The God who saved Noah and his family now saves these small groups of believers.
Peter finishes his picture of Noah with the water imagery of baptism. At the time of Noah water is what Noah and his family needed to be saved from. Yet the water that threatened to drown Noah and his family was also their means of deliverance as the ark floated safely on the surface of the water.
Noah was saved through water. The Christian is saved through the resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is a beautiful picture of that salvation. As water removes dirt from the outside of the body the water becomes the good clean conscience we have as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts. But a good conscience cannot save us. Only God saves us. God shows his willingness and power to save visibly and audibly at the time of our baptism.
There are times when we are afraid, just like my grandfather was afraid in the opening days of world war 2, just like the early Israelites were afraid of the Nephilim as they prepared to enter the promised land, just like King Ahaz of Judah was afraid when he faced any army much bigger that his own, just like Peter was afraid at the time he denied knowing Jesus.
That will we do with our fear? Will I be tempted to turn away and live in a way that appears easier, in a way that dishonors the pledge we renew Sunday by Sunday in a worship service like this one.
The challenge from Peter is not to be afraid. The challenge is to remain faithful to Christ. And the challenge is to be ready to make a defense to anyone who demands an accounting of the hope that is in us.
Suffering will come our way in one form or another. But suffering, even death, is not the defeat it appears to be just as the suffering and death of Christ was not the defeat it appeared to be, but was a victory over all angels, all authorities and all powers.
May God help each of us live as His blessed people.