[I’ve written about this topic before…]
“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.” –1 Peter 3:8-22 (NLT)
This passage seems a bit disjointed: the first half is a list of commands to do this and that. Then the second half talks about high theology, who Jesus is, and where he is. How do we make sense of that?
Let’s first look at those commands: they tell us to be good and do good, because that pleases God. It doesn’t sound terribly exciting, it looks a dry list of rules. It might even sound kind of naive. Do good and be nice to other people if you want to be happy, are you nuts? Look at the news!
Or maybe we look at these commands and we get on board. They sound good, let’s live by them. Do good, be good; it’s a good way to live. But then we might treat them like a checklist. Do enough good, be a good enough person, and things will be ok.
But things are not ok. Bad things happen to good people.
What’s more, these good, moral commands produce good, moral people; but they will also produce good, moral, burnt out people. Hold on tight, be good, don’t repay insults, don’t be afraid of threats, suffer for being a Christian, take it like a man. These are good, moral commands. But you will burn out. It will kill you.
So how does our passage even make any sense?
That’s where the second half of our passage comes in. Why does Peter give us a command, and then remind us about Jesus?
Peter was writing to Christians living in Turkey, who were being treated badly because they were Christians. Did you notice the things he said? He’s not saying be good, because that’s the moral thing. He’s not saying be good because if you do, everything will go well. He tells them: don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t be afraid of threats. You will be insulted. You might have to suffer for being a Christian.
Where’s the hope in that? Do Christians just take it like a man and hang on tight, right till the day we die, so maybe, just maybe, if we were good enough, God will let us into heaven?
But then there’s that switch halfway through our passage: Jesus Christ suffered for our sins. He died, but God raised him to life. Why do we do these things? Why do we live good lives? Why do we keep our consciences clean? Why do we bless people who laugh at us for being Christians?
Because Jesus did. This is where our faith gets grounded, where it stops being a mad fantasy. There was a man who did all these things for you. And he wasn’t praised for it, he didn’t get a pat on the back by the nice people of his day, he didn’t get a high-paying job because he was an excellent man, because he pushed himself hard and loved everyone.
He was murdered. He was stripped naked, he was whipped with metal, he was spat on, he was beaten so badly that you couldn’t recognise him. Two nails were driven through both his wrists, one through both his ankles. The bone shattered and twisted. He screamed. He cried. He asked, “God, where have you gone?” Every time he tried to breathe, it killed him just a bit more. Not a regular breath. Just a drowning, gurgling noise. And all the while, the catcalls. The jeers. People that had been given to Jesus to love and teach and save, now laughing and spitting and muttering.
Jesus died. But he was dead, and now he’s alive. That’s what makes today’s passage work. Why do we love unloveable people? Because Jesus did. And he’s alive. Why do we not repay evil with evil? Because Jesus didn’t. And he’s alive. Why do we have Christian hope, that the bad times now won’t take us away from God’s goodness? Because Jesus did. And he’s alive.
Jesus is alive.
Non-Christians, it doesn’t get simpler than this. If there’s one idea, one person that can sum up all of Christianity, it’s Jesus. All the things from the Bible that you could know, or do, or say, or feel, or think, all of it leads back here – knowing Jesus closely, closer than you’d know your best friend, or your parents, or even yourself.
Christians, it doesn’t get better than this. Christians suffer. Christians have to live by God’s law. But all the things it seems you have to do, all the things you have to say, it all leads here. These difficult commands that will slowly kill you – this man has done it all for you. So we don’t have to be afraid of messing up and failing to keep these commands. He has done them for us already.
He was dead, and now he’s alive. All the times you’ve ever messed up; all the things you’ve had to hide; all the times you wished you’d done better; all the times your friends left you out in the cold; all the times you realise you’ll never escape your mistakes; dragging yourself forward everyday to prove yourself just one more time, and then one more after that; all the times you knew it’s over; all the times you were left to fight for yourself though you were told you would never have to; all those times you’ve looked at the road ahead and just despaired because who could possibly begin it; all the whispers, the sleepless nights, all the times you wished it would all just end…
…he’s the guy. He’s the one. He was dead. Now he’s alive. He’s alive for you, he’s good, and righteous for you, he’s victorious for you. He was dead, but now he’s alive, and so we know, it’ll be ok. We’ll be alive like him too. But like our passage says today, Jesus didn’t give us his life, just so we could live like he doesn’t exist. Take him seriously. Do what he says. Jesus is alive. And he is Lord. Let that change who you are, how you see the world, how you live your life. Every good thing we think, and do, and say, it all tells the whole world that message – Jesus is alive, he is Lord.
Be brave. Please, be brave, hang on. It’s going to be ok. Jesus is alive.