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Dying to Rise: Victoriously

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17 May 2020
A Sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-22 by Samuel David Zumwalt

1 Peter 3:13-22 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 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, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18 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.

DYING TO RISE: VICTORIOUSLY

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In every season of life and at every age, remember who you are. That’s certainly good advice to people from every culture and every income level. But it is particularly true of those who have been baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. Why? Because Baptism changes everything. That is what St. Peter is telling his audience of Jewish and Gentile Christians.

We call it Holy Baptism, because Baptism makes us God’s holy people, those set apart for His purposes. Baptism isn’t a one-time bath in which we literally wash the dirt off or figuratively become ritually clean. Baptism is the way of salvation, because Baptism joins us to our Savior’s death and resurrection. Peter says it’s like Noah’s ark. If you are in the ark, you will be saved.

But life happens. When you are safely surrounded by Christian parents, who nurture you in the faith and guard you from the wolves, when you are a regular worshiper, a dedicated Bible student, an active participant in a youth group, then it’s easier to keep the faith. Easier not easy. Unless you are protected from every outside influence 24/7/365, you will meet and interact with those who don’t know who they were created to be. There are many who live by other stories that are diametrically opposed to God’s story. Indeed the greatest opposition to God’s story is “your” story. It’s hard to remember who you are as God’s child when the world is telling you that you can be whomever you want to be. Isn’t it funny how the world tells you who you are?

I’m quite sure that most people thought Noah was one crazy guy. Life was happening all around him, and there’s old Noah carefully building a huge wooden boat surrounded by dry land. I’ll bet there were people who admired Noah’s craftsmanship and, behind his back said, “Old Noah is a nutty guy, but he sure does nice work.” I’ll bet there were mockers who said to his face, “Noah, why in the world are you building a big boat this far from the sea? Who does that? Of what possible use could such a boat be?” And, when Noah began to warn all the people of the destruction to come, you know people laughed as the animals were being loaded, as the door was being shut, as the torrential rain began to fall, and to the very moment the water came up to their bottom lips. And, then, Noah wasn’t so crazy after all. But, then, it was too late.

Remember who you are. Outside the ark can be fun and exhilarating. When Israelite young men sneaked off to the temples of Baal to visit the women who worked there, I doubt they felt bad about it while they were there. Perhaps, they felt guilty on the way, especially at first, hoping Mom and Dad didn’t find out, but sin gets easier. Idolatry offers such powerful payoffs. The less you remember who you are, the more you can convince yourself that you’re your own person. Isn’t that what the anti-Christian culture around us promises? You can be you. Like God. Your own god. You can make God over in your own image. It all began with, “Did God really say?”

Remember who you are. When Adam and Eve rebelled, they lost paradise. They lost intimacy with God. They lost immortality. Suffering came, death came, and hopelessness came, because they wanted to be who they were apart from God. And what they finally understood is this: apart from God we are dead. The door was shut, and now everything, like adulthood, became difficult.

Remember who you are. There is suffering that comes as a result of our bad choices. Looking back from this time in my life, I see the bad choices I made as a youth and then as a man. I can remember the thoughts that did and did not go through my mind at the time. I had to learn from and through pain the meaning of the adage: “Sin in haste. Repent at leisure.” I chose. Pain came.

Remember who you are. Peter says there is suffering that comes from being faithful to God. If you surround yourself with people who don’t love God, they will mock you, or whittle away at you, or punish you, or betray you. Doubtless old Noah knew people who tried to distract him. Doubtless those who went to the pleasures of the temples of Baal succumbed to the pressures of peers telling seductive stories about the joys of sin. Adam and Eve forgot who they were and all that they had. It doesn’t have to be after the fact that we learn these things, but so often it is!

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, remembered who He is when He went to the cross to offer His innocent blood as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, yours and mine! During His earthly ministry He was tempted but did not yield. When tired of the noise, He went away for prayer to His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Mocked, He remained focused on His Father’s perfect will. Suffering and dying, He did what He came to do. He was victorious over sin, death, and Satan. And we know that, because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Week after week, we confess that Jesus descended into hell. He did not go there in order to suffer. Our Lord Jesus went to hell to proclaim His victory. There are those who want to say it never happened. There are those who want to say it just means God’s Son died, but the Apostles’ Creed already says, “He was crucified, died, and was buried.” His descent into hell proclaimed to those who are there, those who did not listen to Noah’s warnings, that Jesus Christ is Lord over sin, death, and the old evil one. The Formula of Concord in the Lutheran confessional writings says: “It is enough to know that Christ went to hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and has redeemed them from the power of death, of the devil, and of the eternal damnation of the hellish jaws. How this took place is something that we should postpone until the other world, where there will be revealed to us not only this point, but many others as well, which our blind reason cannot comprehend in this life but which we simply accept” (Tappert, 492:4).

When we are little children, there is much about life we don’t understand. When we are young people, there is still much about life we don’t understand. Even when we are old, there is much about everything we must admit we don’t understand. So, despite your curiosity, dear ones, accept limitations, the limits of your ability to know everything. Remember who you are. You are a child of God, crucified with Christ and raised with Him in the washing of Holy Baptism.

Remember who you are. Holy Baptism saves, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had mercy for us sinners when He was crucified for our sins and those of the whole world. His saving death is big enough to cover the worst sins anyone has committed in thought, word, and deed.

There are those who say that Baptism does nothing. Perhaps they have come to such a conclusion, because the baptized continue to sin and sometimes sin in very public and obviously gross ways. Perhaps they have come to such a conclusion, because they have made a decision to follow Jesus and think on all the things they left behind as evidence that it was their choice that made the difference. Perhaps, and this is most likely, mentors in the faith have taught them to ignore the clear Word of God or to explain it away as if God’s Word doesn’t mean what it says.

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us plainly that we are to make disciples by baptizing with water and teaching them to observe all that He has commanded (Matthew 28:19). Our Lord Jesus tells us plainly: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Our Lord Jesus tells us: “You must be born again (from above) by water and the Holy Spirit” (John 3:5). And, St. Peter tells us today: “Baptism… 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…” (1 Peter 3:21).

Remember who you are. When you fail as our first parents failed, when you fail as those who mocked or ignored Noah failed, when you fail as Abraham and Sarah failed, Isaac and Rebekah failed, Jacob, Moses, and Elijah failed, when you fail as St. Peter and all the people of God of every time and every place have failed, what do you do? You repent not in order to merit mercy but because God has already promised you and everyone mercy in His Son Jesus Christ, who died that none might be lost and all might be saved. Contritely turn around and climb back into the ark of your Baptism. Peter was safe when he was in the boat with Jesus. And so are you!

Remember who you are. When you remember you are baptized into Christ’s saving death and glorious resurrection, you do not have to be afraid of dying. As we sing in “When Peace, like a River,”… “My sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” (Horatio Spafford, 1828-1888). Baptized into God’s Son Jesus’ saving death, you can go to your death with confidence that you will saved, yes, raised from the dead bodily and live forever with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! So… if you have not yet been baptized, please ask. Listen. God is calling!

Dear ones, if you should happen to attend my funeral someday, the last word of encouragement I will speak to those who are there will be by the hymns I have already chosen. The sermon hymn for my funeral is this: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. No merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand” (Edward Mote, 1787-1874).

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Dying to Rise: Victoriously

Praying

“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1336).

Listening

1 Peter 3:15 “… a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Didymus the Blind [4th century theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “We must be so well instructed in the knowledge of our faith that whenever anyone asks us about it we may be able to give them a proper answer and to do so with meekness and in the fear of God. For whoever says anything about God must do so as if God himself were present to hear him” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: 1 Peter, 104).

1 Peter 3:19 “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”

St. Cyril [Early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Going in his soul, he preached to those who were in hell, appearing to them as one soul to other souls… And the only-begotten Son shouted with authority to the suffering souls, according to the word of the new covenant, saying to those in chains, ‘Come out!’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be enlightened.’ In other words, he preached to those who were in hell also, so that he might save all those who would believe in him” (107).

1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…”

St. Cyprian [3rd century Bishop of Carthage, Tunisia]: “Peter showed and vindicated the unity of the church by commanding and warning that we can be saved only through the baptism of the one church. Just as in that baptism of the world by which the ancient iniquity was purged, the one who was not in the ark could not be saved through water, so now anyone who has not been baptized in the church cannot be saved, for the church has been founded in the unity of the Lord, as the sacrament of the one ark” (109).

1 Peter 3:22 “… right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

St. Bede the Venerable [8th century British monk and ecclesiastical historian]: There can be no doubt that the angels and the powers of heaven were always subject to the Son of God, but Peter wants to stress that the humanity which that Son assumed has also been taken up into that glory, so that now it is greater than any angelic dignity or power” (110).

Reflecting

1. Do I understand the descent of Christ into hell is His announcement of His victory on the cross?

2. Do I doubt the promises God makes by my Baptism into Christ’s saving death and glorious resurrection?

Learning

Daily Prayers (from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism)

How the head of the family should teach his household to ask a blessing and return thanks.

Returning Thanks

Also, after eating, they shall in like manner, reverently and with folded hands say:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. He gives food to every creature. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love” Psalm 136:1, 25; 147:9-11.

Then shall be said the Lord’s Prayer and the following:

We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child, youth, and adult that you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship online with St. Matthew’s each week.

3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how to set aside time for regular prayer. Keep this order for returning thanks at your table and pray after your meal in this way.

4. During this time of quarantine because of the Covid-19 virus, reach out to neighbors who are shut in and who may need your help or simply your listening ear.

5. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please ask for a devotional booklet when you drive through to receive the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two and Week of 6 Easter).

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”