May grace and peace be multiplied to you! Amen.
1 Peter 3:15-22
In the name of Jesus our dear Redeemer – fellow Christians:
Life throws some pretty big troubles our way at times. We begin to wonder how we can cope. We ask the question – where do we find hope? This is nothing new to the experiences of people throughout history. St. Augustine who was born in the year 354 AD wrote, “Our hearts our restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in you.” Only God can set our hearts at rest amidst the turmoil. Only God can strengthen us to face the ongoing challenges of life. Only God’s love for us in Christ can give us the comfort we need in the face of temptation, frustration, and hardship. So the secret to facing the struggles of life is found in Christ. He is the one who loved us and set us free from sin by his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death! So the direction given us today for our comfort is In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord! This is a priority of hope and a comfort from hope.
Set apart Christ as Lord! That is the spiritual life-advice that Peter wants to share with his fellow followers of Christ. Certainly Peter writes not only by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but also fro personal experience. For he had failed to set apart Christ as Lord in his heart, when he denied even knowing Jesus. He repented, Jesus forgave him, and now Peter is encouraging others not to make the same mistake he made. These are words of encouragement for people who are facing hardship because of their connection to Christ. So we are encouraged: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Christ is your priority – set apart Christ as Lord. He takes priority over everything else. That may seem like a harsh statement and you may anticipate that this preacher will now proceed to tell you of all your sinful neglect of making Jesus your priority in life above all else. However, I want you to consider the other side of that coin for a moment. There is great value to you in setting Jesus apart as Lord in your heart. This is a priority of hope. When Jesus is first in my heart then my heart is filled with hope – a sure and certain kind of hope that knows that I am forgiven in him and that he has given me eternal life. So my heart hopes for what he has won for me, or I look forward to the heaven he has given me! This hope makes all problems appear very small. We are absolutely sure that in the end we overcome all because Jesus has overcome all for us! So see all that follows as an encouragement to live your life in this kind of a positive hope.
Yet, you all know that there are many things that work against this hopefulness in our lives. Our own sinful flesh rebels at the thought of setting apart Christ as Lord because the sinful flesh wants to be lord and master of our lives. So we need to very consciously think of Jesus as having first place in our hearts. We will examine our lives to see if we are just giving Jesus lip service or if we are indeed putting our faith into action. We can examine our time spent in worship and Bible study – what does the amount of time we devout to the Lord each week say about us? How does it compare to the amount of time we spend on other things? We can take a look at the checkbook and see where the monetary wealth God has given us is being used. What story does that checkbook tell about our lives? How important is the Lord and his work to us when compared to the other things in our lives?
Life always comes down to priorities. The priority of the new person of faith is always focused on Jesus. The priority of the sinful flesh is always set on self. So Peter speaks to us about our daily struggle here. He encourages us always to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus. The preparedness consists of three things: 1) a priority on the Word – to hear it, read it, study it, live it. Every year in training camp coach Lombardi would gather the team together, hold up a football and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” The point was to emphasize the fundamentals of the game. Today the I hold before you God’s Holy Word and say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is God’s Word.” The point is go back to this and study and know it so well that you can share its message with others! 2) a desire to confess. God’s people cannot keep silent about their Lord and Savior Jesus! We are compelled to tell the world this good news of a God who loved us so much he died for us! We are so filled with joy over the fact that because Jesus rose from the dead we will live for eternity, that we can’t help but share this good news with the people around us in life. 3) Peter also encourages us to speak of Jesus with gentleness. While the time may be short and the need for the gospel is urgent, we need not become impatient about the results of our witness. Speak the gospel and leave the results in God’s hands. Trust that the Word will work – God promises as much! So keep on gently sharing the gospel!
As you confess Jesus to the world you will face hardships. The sinful world and the sinful flesh don’t care to hear about Jesus. Our witness will cause us hardship. As we face these hardships, let us remember that Jesus endured much more to secure our salvation! Let us also remember that heaven awaits us! We have an eternal life ahead of us free from all trouble because Jesus died and rose again!
We have a sure and certain hope in the Lord Jesus! This hope is our priority in life! It is also our deepest comfort!
Peter speaks of a comfort we receive from the hope of heaven that we have in Jesus. 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.
These verses remind us that Jesus is in control of all things for the good of his Church. His descent into hell is all about his victory over Satan and his offspring – unbelievers. Our Lutheran Confessions state the teaching of Scripture about Jesus’ descent into hell clearly when they assert: “ Therefore, we confess, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, God’s Son, who died, was buried, and descended into hell.’ In this creed the burial and Christ’s descent into hell are distinguished as two different articles, and we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended into hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his power.” What incredible comfort! The old evil foe is defeated! Satan’s lies, temptations, and accusations have been emptied of their power over us!
All of that also means that sin is paid for in full! It means that our deep guilt before God is removed forever! What a comfort to know that through faith in Christ we are declared not guilty!
Holy Baptism gives us this sure hope! It connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection. It also connects us to Christ’s ascension. Just as Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, we too, through him, will rise from the dead and be taken off to heaven! Jesus promises that he will not leave us as orphans. He will come back to get us and take us to be with him in heaven. Baptism connects us to Jesus for eternity. It makes us sons and daughters of our heavenly Father and brothers and sisters of our Savior. We are assured of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through Baptism. So cherish this gift that God has given to his Church and to you – Holy Baptism! Relive that baptism through daily sorrow over sin and daily trusting that your sins are indeed forgiven in Christ!
Put your hope in Christ and you will not be disappointed ever! We find our only rest from temptation, accusation, and guilt in Christ. So dear friends , continue to set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts! For this is where you will find comfort for today and for ever! Amen.