“The Temple’s Zeal” – John 2.13-22

Last week we considered Jesus’ first prediction in Mark’s Gospel of his death and resurrection. This is the first of three such predictions in Mark’s Gospel. That was around 8.30. The other ones are around 9.30 and 10.30—to remember it more easily. And what Jesus confronts us with these predictions is the cost of saving others. And what the cost is for following him.

The point of such sacrifice is not to merely make you frustrated with life—“I can’t do that” or “I have to do this”—it allows us to be freed from the shackles of self-centered living. It expands and multiples and fills our lives many times over. Like Jesus will say later in the Gospel we are looking at today, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” What did Jesus win by dying? He glorified God through his perfect life—perfect obedience—perfect sacrifice. And in his breaking forth from the ground, his faithfulness was multiplied produced more seeds.

But the path that Jesus chooses. The path that God chooses for us. It is a foolish path in the world’s eyes. It is a path of suffering and giving. It is a path of weakness and disgrace.

John 2.13-22

13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

John 2:14    He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”

John 2:18   So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

Main Point: God is zealous to be known by his people. As such he sets out to destroy pretense and religiosity.

The Way of God is not the ways of men

There are three points from our text that support this main theme of the passage. Our first point is: The Way of God is not the ways of men. We have already thought about this point the past two weeks as we considered the price the Anointed One of God had to pay for his people. But we drill down a little deeper into this as we see the Temple being a marketplace.

Jesus is moved to throw out all those who were making profits from the sale of animals. What we see here is how subtle our self-centeredness creeps into our professions of faith and religion. The people needed animals to sacrifice at Passover. Those who were selling these animals could have easily said, “Hey! We’re just serving people by providing a service for them. They don’t have to lug an animal across the Judean countryside. They can just show up and buy the animal.”

This is true. But why does Jesus seem to go over the top in his reaction? I mean, he makes a whip!

Quite simply, the vendors were taking advantage of a situation. They were overcharging and had presumed to move into the outer court of the Temple to set up shop. God became the means to the miserable and ultimate goal of serving the creature. But they were also minimizing the life of faith to one of transaction.

There are two implications we can draw from Jesus’ statement about a marketplace:

  1. We must be careful not to try and justify our actions using religious means. We can easily make the Christian life one of buying goods and services. We replace the rich texture of relationship with the Almighty with a flat and thin system of have to’s. Bible studies. Community groups. Prayer. Giving. These are intended to be overflows of the heart to where you want to do them because they stem from love for God and others.
  1. Be careful not to compartmentalize life.I remember in college I had a t-shirt that looked like the Play-Do logo on the front, but the words said “Pray Mo’.” I remember going to a fraternity party with my shirt on and thinking that I was taking a great risk to my great popularity. I walked into the party, stood against the wall, and stood and watched people partying. And then I walked out, believing I had done my Christian duty of witnessing for Jesus.

    What would have been better in that scenario? Not going? No. It would have been better to saddle up next to someone and start talking to them.

    We cannot reduce the life of faith to a transaction or to a moment. It is a life of faith. A constant walking and growing and changing and loving others. At great risk to ourselves. For the sake of others.

Let’s look for a moment at John’s comment in v. 17: His disciples remembered that it was written: Zeal for your house will consume me.

This comes from Psalm 69.9. Whenever the biblical writers make a commentary on what’s happening, we need to go back to the place it comes from. They are not just pulling the verse out of context, but they are using the verse as a placeholder for the entire passage. In this instance, John wants us to go back to Psalm 69. I’d really encourage you to go back to this passage today and meditate on the entire psalm, but for now let me just read the first 9 verses:

1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.

3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.

My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

4    More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.

What I did not steal
must I now restore?

5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6    Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;

let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

7 For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.

8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons.

9    For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

Don’t let the moment escape your notice. Jesus was ridiculed and shamed in this interaction. It ends with the Jewish leaders saying the obvious: It’s taken 46 years to build and you’re just a charlatan. It wasn’t until the Resurrection that Jesus’ words were made clear.

Jesus is the True Temple

This leads to our second point today: Jesus is the True Temple. The Temple Jesus was cleaning was the Second Temple. The first Temple was made by Solomon. It was destroyed when the Babylonians came and destroyed it. This Second Temple was constructed when they returned from that Exile—between 521 and 516. You can read Ezra to get more details on this.

What was the purpose of the Temple? To manifest and remind God’s people of his perpetual presence. After the first Temple was constructed, Solomon prayed this prayer (2Chronicles 6.18):

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!”

Solomon knew that the Temple represented a greater reality. But, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and like our tendency to equate God with the finite situations and material stuff of our lives, Israel began to find comfort in their religiosity. The prophet Jeremiah indicts the people when he tells them that God will destroy the Temple they had put so much confidence in—you can read more about this in Jeremiah 7. Listen to the prophet:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’

Jer. 7:5   “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple shows us that God is more concerned with a life of humility and loving others. What is more, God destroys those things which compete with him. The Temple was destroyed twice.

The Way of God is not only different, it is foolish and weak.

We heard earlier in our Epistle Reading the Apostle Paul comment on this tendency among the Jews of Jesus’ day to demand a sign. We see it here in v. 18: “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 

The sign that Jesus gives to base his authority to cleanse the Temple comes from his future Resurrection. As we discussed last week, a suffering and destroyed Messiah was ludicrous to the Jewish religious leaders.

This is the problem Paul was seeking to address in Corinth. This is made clear in his first chapter that the cross is utter foolishness and weakness.

Have you ever considered why God chooses weakness and foolishness according to the world’s measurements? Think about it for a moment. Why would God choose this way?

I would submit to you that the reason God does this is to free us from our tendency to preserve ourselves—be self-referencing. What is Paul talking about in 1Corinthians 1? He is addressing the divisions throughout the church to follow certain teachers and eloquent speakers. He says in v.17 of 1Cor 1 that if we opt for wisdom, then the cross is emptied of its power. In this way, the way of humility and weakness is the way to be filled—the paradox of the life of faith. The cross forces us to come to terms with not only what kind of Savior do we want, but it forces us to come to terms with what kind of existence we want.

Why do these divisions happen in the church? Why do quarrels happen? As James will say, they happen because we want and crave to satisfy ourselves. Our appetites end with our own bellies.

I wish I had more time to go into this. We will do it another day. But consider later what the Apostle Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

The grain of wheat died so that it could bring many sons and daughters to glory.

“Salvation Economics” – Mark 8.27-9.1

Yesterday was a great day to reflect on Jesus’ call to us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and to follow him. It is important to understand that Scripture is not merely meant to be read and understood in its original setting, but it is vital (i.e., life-giving) to know that Scripture is God’s very words to us in our time and in our various settings. Too often we can dissect and parse out all that a certain periscope meant, but spend very little time in the hard work of letting it dissect and parse our own souls.

One of the big pieces for me as I was studying was Jesus strange phrase: “If you want to follow me…then follow me.” What a strange thing to say. Really. “If you want to follow me, you must follow me.” And yet this is the story of Christian discipleship for the last two millenia. There are many who claim the name of Christ, yet live their lives like everyone else. The kind of Messiah we want too often is merely an addition to our somewhat happy lives. He provides us with a some insurance at the end of our lives.

Below is my manuscript from Sunday:

Last week we considered how suffering for the sake of the Gospel proclaims the beauty of the Gospel. It does this when we embrace the suffering in such a way that it points to the sufficiency and love and acceptance of Another. We also considered the fact that our suffering for the Gospel is derivative of Christ’s suffering. That is, only his suffering was sufficient to pay for our sin. Our suffering doesn’t pay for our sin, but it conforms is into his image.

Today we are looking at the passage I mentioned a couple weeks ago as being the hinge of Mark’s Gospel. Up to our passage today Jesus has been showing his authority and power over sickness and demons—over all Creation. At this turning point in Mark, there is a turn.

And it’s not merely a turn in the story, but it’s a turn toward you and me. It’s as if Mark is writing his gospel and he looks up from his parchment and looks at you and me and asks us—“What do you think about all this?”

Jesus just finished healing a man who was blind from birth. And just like it took a while for his eyesight to be restored from blind to fuzzy to clear, so also we will see the disciples’ sight of who the Messiah is and what his mission is will go from blind to fuzzy to clear.

Mark 8.27-91

Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:31   Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

Mark 8:34   Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

There are two edges to our passage today, so there are two points to our message. Both of these points fall under the main point of this passage, which is: Death is the cost of admission into the Kingdom of God. As we will see in our passage today, the death Jesus calls us to is representative and mirrors his death. He physically died as the payment for our sin. In light of that, he calls us to lay down our lives—not literally—but entirely. Entirely is an umbrella under which literally can fall. In other words, he’s not telling us the only way to enter the kingdom is through physical death. This, honestly, would make entrance into the kingdom easy and up to our whims and wills. Consider the deranged extremists who believe that if they blow themselves up, they will go to Paradise. He is telling us that entrance into the kingdom is much more demanding. It demands dying to yourself, while you are living.

The first point of our passage is The Cost of Messiahship (vv. 27-33)

Jesus has caused quite a stir in the Judean countryside. He’s made those sick all their lives well, by merely telling them to do so. He’s attracted large crowds of people and fed them out of nowhere. He challenges the religious—the ones who had a corner on the market of righteousness. Quite a stir! Indeed, in all of these interactions we see the Messiah has come!

What kind of Messiah, though?

Everyone is buzzing about who this wonder worker is. They had merely seen the miracles but never made the connection as to why these particular miracles. The crowds were amazed by the works, but did not consider the why behind them. Why did Jesus go to such lengths to heal and to rebuke—demons and the religious leaders? They, like us, make a superficial connection with who Jesus is and what we know about the world. That is, they saw Jesus heal people and they simply thought, “He’s one of the prophets. Perhaps even the great Elijah. Or a good moral teacher.” They were happy to have Jesus heal their son or daughter, but did not stick around long enough to find out why.

Peter makes the stunning claim, “You are the Christ.” This term “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word and concept of “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Throughout the OT, God’s leaders are anointed with oil to set them apart for God’s purposes—priests and kings. But in each of these offices—prophets, priests, and kings—they pointed to a greater fulfillment that was to come.

This concept of the Messiah grew and grew to signify and highlight the power and strength of the One to Come. By the time Jesus arrives, there had been such a buzz about An Anointed One of God who would destroy all the Jews’ oppressors. Listen to one passage:

Gird [your Anointed One] with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers;

And purify Jerusalem of the nations which trample her down in destruction.

In wisdom, in righteousness, may he expel sinners from the inheritance:

May he smash the sinner’s arrogance like a potter’s vessel.

With a rod of iron may he break in pieces all their substance.

May he destroy the lawless nations by the word of his mouth.

This was a psalm at the time. People were singing that God would devastate their oppressors. This is why Jesus told people to keep the healings a secret. And this is why Jesus immediately teaches them that the Anointed One, the Son of Man, must suffer and die and be raised again.

And like us, Peter focuses only on the part he wants to hear. He didn’t hear the being raised again part. Even if he did, it didn’t compute with the suffering and dying part. We want resurrection and glory before we want suffering and death.

Which brings us to Jesus’ question to you and me. “Who do you say that I am?” Before you too quickly answer that, “You are my Savior!” Let’s consider our daily actions in light of Jesus. Perhaps here are some other questions that may help us parse out who we say Jesus is:

—When difficulties come, do we merely want the cup to pass or do we ask for the strength to drink the cup of suffering?

—When there’s a break in our relationships, do we indict all the wrong that someone else has done to us or do we confess our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us?

—When we are hanging out with friends and the topic of conversation turns so that we could share the beauty and worth of the Gospel do we keep our mouths shut so that we don’t sour the conversation or so that they don’t think we’re weird?

—When we seek to make more money to make more sales or to do better work, who does the work revolve around? Is it merely to make yourself look better or is it so that you can be promoted in order to serve even more people?

—When we consider what kind of church we want to go to, do we consider the kind of disciples that are there or are we merely looking for a place that looks and sounds cool. Has good music and the people dress like me and talk like me and act like me?

Much of our lives end with ourselves and show that our thoughts hardly ever get past ourselves.

What kind of Messiah do we want? Who do we say that Jesus is? Is he merely my wonder worker or my wish giver or the one who makes everything better? Jesus challenges our notions of glory and grandeur.

And so we hear Jesus say to us in our second point—The Cost of Discipleship (vv. 33-9.1) “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The Cost of Discipleship is death. As one commentator put it, “The way of the world is conquest and subjugation. Human weakness and depravity desire a path of least resistance and greatest power.” The economics of the world teaches us to give less than we can get. Give as little of yourself as you can get away with so that your revenues can be even greater. The Economics of Salvation teaches that to get your life, you have to first lose it.

Consider the three levels of what Jesus is defining of following him.

Deny: This means to renounce. In order to follow Jesus we need to renounce any claims to ourselves. This is not simply self-discipline. This is, like Peter denying that he even knew Jesus, a denial of our own self-sufficiency and autonomy.

Taking up our Cross: The cross was the punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. It was humiliating and excruciating. This is not simply embracing hardship when it comes. It is choosing to take the path of being thought less in others’ eyes. It is a path that really is a result of first denying ourselves.

Follow: What a strange thing to say. Really. “If you want to follow me, you must follow me.” And yet this is the story of Christian discipleship for the last two millenia. There are many who claim the name of Christ, yet live their lives like everyone else. The kind of Messiah we want too often is merely an addition to our somewhat happy lives. He provides us with a some insurance at the end of our lives.

But between the now and then, he has very little to say and definitely no demands on our lives. And so we we live our lives fooling ourselves that we are Christians and saved, when our lives demonstrate the opposite. When he takes us into deeper truths of who he is in the path of suffering, we give up. We walk away—this teaching is too hard. Instead of a life determined by Jesus, we still are self-determining.

This is not following Jesus.

And lest we think we’re giving up everything just for the sake of giving it up and being ascetics and austere, Jesus asks two rhetorical questions to assure us that this death to self is worth the cost.

Imagine if you would that you win the lottery…even if you don’t play the lottery. Not only do you win the lottery, you find out that you inherited all the possessions in all the world. In fact, the whole world is yours. You get to enjoy it all you want. It’s all yours. But…you will still die at 100 years old. Pretty good deal? In this way, none of it was really yours. You didn’t retain ownership. In fact, at the end of the deal, you are the slave to another.

And Jesus reminds us that we cannot give anything in exchange for our souls.

Both of these questions lay emphasis on our souls…the infinite value of our souls. The price of your soul is to give it over to Christ. You know the beauty of all of this, though? He doesn’t want your soul to merely put it in a cage and shrink it. He wants to breathe life into it and expand it! Indeed, he wants to give you all things. And all those who are his will reign with him when he returns.

—BUT— That’s still not the beauty of the Christian life. Because we are merely stuck with stuff. No, the life he wants from you is with the purpose of opening your eyes, unstopping your ears, giving you strength in your legs to walk and not grow weary. To experience life right now. And this is done in reference to him. Laying down our lives costs us everything, but we get true life, who is Christ. We are found in him and enjoy him and savor him and are captivated by him now. If we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Brief Thoughts on Church Membership (altogether incomplete)

I have been reflecting on the subject of church membership for the last few weeks. This stems from planting a church and having folks join who are members of existing churches. This also stems from folks who joined our church plant and have moved their membership–both issues had to do with distance to our new location and a desire to be involved in a more specific way to those who attend another church for purposes of ministry (both great reasons!).

My thoughts haven’t just been a result of circumstances. Rather, they come from a desire to think theologically about this issue.

First, I want to make clear that membership in a local church is the primary means of discipleship in the Christian journey. We make commitments to others to love and serve and be loved and be served by others. It is a beautiful and necessary commitment that we take way too lightly.

BUT too often pastors and church leaders speak about church membership in very unhelpful terms. We speak about it being like a marriage. It most certainly is not. It is not a covenant either. Scripture speaks about our membership in the Body of Christ. The local congregation is a physical manifestation of that reality. Everything we do is in the context of local–geographically and temporally. My fear is that church bodies can begin to assume that members of a local congregation cannot leave. Much like the Hotel California, people are often guilted in staying. People are made to think they are being less committed to the mission of the Church (yes, that’s a large C, signifying the Church Universal).

We have a membership class coming up for Redeemer in a few weeks. I take great pains to help people see that our congregation is one among many faithful churches in time and space. We do not have a corner on the market of faithfulness. We are one very small player on the great stage of history. The more we recite this truth, the more humble and grateful we will become. Every time we say this, we are reminded that God’s purposes are much larger than us. We are reminded that we have certain proclivities and characteristics that may set us apart by way of trends and passions. We are reminded that there are many other brothers and sisters seeking to do the same thing as us–take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus (individually and corporately).

One of the things I make sure to tell people is that if they want to make a commitment to be a member of Redeemer, it ought to be based on it mission and vision. We try to keep it very simple, as you’ll see from our website. How we go about accomplishing these things are called our Core Values. That’s how we seek to accomplish the vision right now in 2018.

But the Church is an organization, but it is also a living organism. As with all organisms, change is inevitable. Indeed, it is desired. As human beings we necessarily grow and change if we are alive. It is inherent to the very definition of life. Change is beautiful. Inevitably, our church will grow as people are added to our congregation. This is beautiful because it enables and empowers people to contribute their gifts and passions to the whole, and for the whole to shape the particular person.

Over time, there may be people who have changes of convictions for how “to do” church. That is, they may disagree with our emphasis on church planting, mission, and mercy. They may disagree with our commitment to simplicity. At the end of the day, as a pastor I want people to be freed to serve and be served by others. If they are staying at Redeemer just because they made a commitment in 2018, that is not healthy. Rather, my desire is that they be involved. Intimately involved in the growth and development of our church. If they cannot do so, it is healthier that they find a congregation where they can faithfully live out their convictions.

This doesn’t have to be an ugly thing. Rather, it can be a very beautiful thing where we are again reminded and remind each other that we do no have a corner on the market of biblical fidelity. Jesus promised to build his Church. I get to be a small observer in that construction project–stone upon stone.

We want people to be a part of Redeemer who believe in the vision and mission and who want to play an integral part in seeing that vision become a reality in our small corner of the universe. So when folks leave, we don’t need to guilt them. Sure, we will miss folks as they leave, but may we depart to meet again.

“Baptized in Suffering” – 1Peter 3.18-22

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the season of Lent. Epiphany began with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, Lent begins with Jesus’ baptism in suffering. What kind of solace does the Apostle Peter give to Christians around 64AD who were being persecuted and killed at the hands of the wicked Caesar Nero?

1Peter 3.18-22

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Wherever there is suffering for the Gospel, the beauty of the Gospel is proclaimed.

The Nature of Suffering

We could deny that it exists, like some Eastern religions do. We could try and reinterpret it, that suffering is actually good, like popular psychology does. The short answer in the Judeo-Christian worldview is that suffering and pain are a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Given the choice to live life under God’s rule or under their own rule, suffering and pain resulted from choosing to throw off God’s rule and opt for our own.

But the suffering we experience isn’t by our decisions all the time, are they? And on a macro-level, the answer is still the same. The suffering we experience is because people choose to live their lives in reference to themselves and their kingdom. But that merely answers the question in the abstract.

I do want to put our suffering in perspective to our brothers and sisters around the globe. And specifically during this first 300 years of the church’s existence.

If you haven’t heard of it, there is a ministry called Voice of the Martyrs. It is a ministry that intercedes and seeks to relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters all over the world. I went on the webpage on Friday to see about any news. These three stories were just posted on Friday:

Five Khmu believers in Laos were arrested and fined for holding a Christmas celebration on Dec. 15. The Christians had received permission from village authorities, but district officials arrested them after learning they had invited a pastor from a neighboring village. The five believers were held in prison for a few nights and fined about $600 before being released.

Christian widows whose husbands were killed in Islamist attacks are gradually returning to their coastal Kenyan homes. After an attack in June 2014 in which Islamists went door to door killing Christians, Naomi and her four children fled to her parents’ home in another village.

After focusing on an unreached area for the past 11 months, an evangelist has seen hundreds of Muslims come to faith in Christ. As a result, some have experienced persecution. A young married couple took shelter in a VOM-supported safe house for several months when they were kicked out of their family because of their Christian faith.

 

This is not about guilt, friends, this is about putting our lives in perspective. Putting our coconut milk latte with extra foam on notice.

Not only now, but the situation into which Peter was writing was even more tenuous. This epistle was written during the time of Nero’s reign (54-68). He was notorious for his extravagance and evil. He killed his own mother. And he accused the Christians for a fire that decimated Rome in 64. So Peter is writing to a group of believers wrongly accused of arson and being killed to rescue the skin of a wicked emperor. What comfort does he afford them?

The verses right before our passage tell us…and they really put into perspective how we ought to view suffering and pain.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Peter says you have one job: Honor Christ. Don’t try to figure out what God is doing. Just know he is pleased with you when you honor him.

And we come to our passage today that provides the support for suffering for doing good. For Christ suffered for sin. If it is God’s will for you to suffer unjustly, for doing good!…it is better. Because Christ suffered.

Our suffering is derivative of Christ’s suffering. He was the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for sins. We often can think of how thankful we are for being saved from our sins, but we forget the injustice at which it came. No cursing was found on his lips. He blessed those who scourged him. He forgave those who killed him. He loved to the uttermost. He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

He suffered on account of sin. The Righteous One for those who are Unrighteous. While we were still enemies, Christ died for us. While we were still reviling and cursing, he bid us to come to him. When we were still kicking, he opened our eyes. So that we could see. So that we could be brought to God. He suffered not merely at the hands of others. He suffered in order to bring those very ones to God.

Jesus died. He actually died. His body got cold. A body in a morgue. But he was resurrected by the Spirit. The next layer of suffering Peter draws out is how God uses it to proclaim to those who are in prison to sin. Verse 19 has been a hot topic of debate. Who are these spirits in prison? The early church believed them to be the spirits in the realm of the dead. Scholars today believe them to be the angels that rebelled against God and God declared himself powerful over death in the Resurrection. The third option is the one the Protestant Reformers held. Through Noah’s faithfulness and suffering in the face of persecution, the Gospel of Grace and Judgment was preached. But there is a fourth option! My answer to this is that it is a little bit of all three. When Jesus was resurrected in the Spirit, he proclaimed his victory over demons and death. This victory was proclaimed to all things in heaven and under the earth. This victory was the final and full proclamation of God’s victory over principalities and powers (look at V.22!). Before Jesus came God had been whispering this truth of his victory through installments–Abel, Noah, Abraham, David. All those who had been vindicated through their suffering to declare God’s power and love were foretastes and preachers of this same victorious message Jesus proclaims in his resurrection.

But this is the tree branch. The great oak tree of Peter’s argument is that suffering proclaims the Gospel to a watching world. Noah is merely one example of the Gospel being proclaimed that God is King over all. And just as Jesus, through the Spirit was proclaiming the Gospel through Noah’s suffering…so also, the suffering the Christians are unjustly going through proclaims the Gospel in Rome. We see this in Acts 5 and 6 where the Apostles were beaten in (5.40) and “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus” and then a few verses later we see that “the Word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (6.7).

Suffering demonstrates the worth of another. Not just enduring suffering, but embracing it as God’s means of sanctifying you and changing you and helping you see that he is more valuable than the comfort you seek.

The Nature of Baptism

This suffering is what is symbolized through baptism. Our second sentence and point. When we baptize someone, we submerse them under water. We don’t sprinkle. Why? It symbolizes the death they have undergone the Flood as it were. And then the believer is raised to life in the Spirit.

This has been a contentious issue for the last 500 years. I want to first remind us that the early church practiced both modes of baptism—baptism for infants and baptism after conversion. They allowed the parents to make the decision up as to what they would allow them to do. We see this in the life of St. Augustine—who his mother Monica deferred his baptism and he would be baptized as an adult.

But before that, we believe the first believers practiced baptism following conversion to Christ and it wasn’t until after the church became the state religion under Constantine that baptism became a rite for infants.

What is more, the witness of Scripture compels me in this direction.

I have many friends who are in other denominations and we disagree on this passage, but let me lay out for you a couple issues that make it impossible for me to baptize babies.

First, the issue of “baptism saving you.” If we stopped there, then we could say that baptism is salvific. But Peter doesn’t stop there, does he. Remember, there are a several layers to Peter’s sentence: V.21 Baptism, which corresponds to this [that is, Noah passing through the waters], 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. The text literally reads: “A good conscience in answer unto God.” And so, baptism is for those who answer God’s call to them.

This is why Baptism happens after someone has made a decision to follow Christ. This is his or her answer to God stemming from a good conscious decision to submit the life to Jesus.

Secondly, take into consideration the parallel itself. Those eight people on the boat with Noah had to decide to get on the boat. They weren’t coerced. They weren’t carried. They were told of the impending destruction, and they followed Noah onto the boat.

But this is also a branch on the tree of Peter’s argument, isn’t it? The Nature of Baptism is that we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord over all facets of my life. Jesus commands my destiny.

The point of the Flood was to wash the earth of its wickedness. The point of baptism is to show that we have been washed clean by the Spirit. Our soiled souls have been dipped in blood. They have been dipped in the ever-flowing river of God’s forgiveness.

At every baptism, the heavens open up. There’s a bow in the clouds reminding us that God has not and will not deal with us as our sins deserve. The clouds open up and declare you a child of God. Never to be orphaned. The heavens open up and proclaim that even your suffering proclaims the value and worth of your Savior. You may suffer for doing good, but God would remind you to flee to him and know that your one job. Your one job is not merely to do the right thing. It is to find your delight and satisfaction in Another—namely, Jesus, so that when you suffer, you will be counted worthy to suffer for that great name.

 

Questions to Consider:

Take time to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering and being persecuted around the world.

How does Jesus’ preeminent baptism in suffering bring solace and comfort in the midst of ours?

What’s the difference between suffering and suffering for the Gospel?

What steps of faith might God be calling you to take that you have been afraid to take because you do not want to suffer for the Gospel (loss of friends, notoriety, comfort)?