This is the now traditional sermon blog post – this time on 1 Peter 3:15-16. I noticed as I was reformatting my script for the blog post that it is definitely written to be spoken, so it doesn’t always read well, and I did relatively often diverge from the wording here as seemed appropriate at the time, but it will give a flavour at least.
Always be ready. As Peter writes these words I wonder if the words he had said to Jesus in the upper room echoed in his head at all “I am ready to die for you Lord”. Peter had uttered those words back in the upper room on the night before the cross. He’d proved dramatically that he wasn’t ready as events unfolded. Now the restored and renewed Peter writes to explain how to be ready. How to be ready in the midst of intense suffering and difficulty to speak of Jesus and live for Jesus.
He writes from Rome. Christians are not being persecuted everywhere in a systematic way – yet. A few years after Peter writes Nero will begin the attacks, and other emperors will persecute yet more intensively the strange people who will not bow the knee and say “Caesar is Lord”.
But as Peter writes it is a matter of local officials, egged on by local synagogues or temples worried about a loss of business who attack the Christians.
It’s not like living in Iraq or Syria with IS around (yet), but it might be like living in many other parts of the world today where being a Christian just makes life harder in a myriad of small, and sometimes large, ways.
For us on our frontline it may not feel that we are persecuted as such, but sometimes following Jesus makes life harder. And it always seems hard to speak of him and tell others.
Peter knows that, and in this letter he writes to help us be ready always to speak for Jesus when we are under pressure for following him. Peter talks about this in the context of a life where we are to “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness” in everything we do.
That means having a life that is marked by all the things we’ve looked at so far in the frontlines series.
It means that when appropriate we speak of Jesus. Not necessarily all the time, we all have different gifts and abilities, and some are natural evangelists, able to talk easily about faith. (I’m not)
But even if that isn’t true for you, what everybody needs to be able to do is give an answer when asked. Peter’s assumption is that life as a Christian will look so different because of the new birth into a living hope, because of resurrection life, starting now, lived with the perspective of the end that people are bound to ask why we do things the way we do because we will be operating out of such a different value system.
So we have three parts to being ready to speak of Jesus:
- Honour Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts
- Be able to explain why you believe (and live) differently
- Speak with humility, respect and a clear conscience
First: Be ready to speak by honouring Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts.
Peter here is dealing with the fear that we all have of people and what they will think. In v14-15 he’s actually quoting something God said to Isaiah 100s of years before. Isaiah lived at a pretty bleak point in Judah’s history, when a foolish king was trying to make clever alliances to stand up to the Assyrian empire. The King wasn’t pleased with Isaiah pointing out his errors, so God spoke to reassure Isaiah and said:
“Do not fear what they fear, do not be terrified, but make the LORD Almighty holy in your heart – he is to be your fear, he is to be your terror”.
Peter’s point is the same – don’t fear people, but set apart Jesus the LORD as holy
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord (NIV)
but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy (ESV)
In some ways it is slightly odd to talk about making God holy. Usually we talk about him making us holy. It is the same word, though, as is used in the Lord’s prayer “hallowed be thy name”. Easy to make this into something we say without really meaning, thinking that it just means “may everyone respect Jesus a bit”. But to treat Jesus’ name as holy is to honour him, to respect and fear him, and to obey him.
Another example of this concept is found in an episode in Moses’ life:
When he is told he won’t get to the promised land because when God tells him to speak to a rock so that water will flow to quench the people’s thirst he strikes the rock, and scolds the people God says to him – “because you did not treat me as holy”. All he did was one small act of disobedience, but it signified that treating God as holy had become in that point less important to him than doing what seemed to make sense.
Treating God as holy, means treating God as he is God being holy means that he is infinitely above us because he made us and we are mere creatures, and because he is utterly good and we are sinful people.
It means he knows what is best and right because he is good.
Notice too that in the reading from Isaiah, Isaiah was told to make God holy, But Peter tells his readers to make Christ the Lord holy – it makes the point that for Peter Jesus is God. The God Isaiah was told to make holy came and walked on the earth as one of us. Jesus is that God. He is the LORD Almighty.
And so he doesn’t call us to do anything he hasn’t already done – Peter makes that point a couple of times – Jesus suffered for us – the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God – that is what this time of year is all about in the church calendar. Jesus knows what it is to suffer and to die for what is right – and he calls us to do the same.
So when we seek to obey Jesus we are not obeying a cruel taskmaster with no idea what we are going through, we are obeying one who loves us more than we can imagine and who knows what is best and who knows what is good and what is right. Our job is to set that in our hearts – in our minds – the heart was seen as the control centre of the body.
Because if we do that we won’t fear other people, we won’t fear what they fear. Other people fear other people. We all fear other people.
But if we revere Jesus Christ the LORD as holy in our hearts we will fear him above anybody else. We will do what he wants, and no one will be able to stop us.
The question here is: what are you afraid of? Ask that question honestly.
What is it that terrifies you. It is a good question. In the context of giving a reason for the hope that we have it is often “what will people think?” What will people say if they realise I’m a Christian? What will they say if they hear me talking about Jesus? Maybe it is a fear that they will hold us to account – and so it might stop us doing certain things. Maybe it is a fear of them making it hard for us.
Peter says we are to deal with that fear by returning to Jesus Christ the Lord and making him holy in our hearts. How does this change our fear?
Well, standing at your shoulder is Jesus. He is with you by his Spirit. He sees the way you shuffle awkwardly. He feels the awkward feeling. He wants to breath courage into you. He wants you to step out and realise it’s not so bad. Because his Spirit is at work.
Because really, it’s not so bad – when I am actually having those conversations I realise that. It is all in the anticipation. And he’s ready to cheer and help, and remind you – you just need to ask. And if you fail. And if it goes wrong. And if you do clam up at the last minute. He’s ready. To turn you back round, and rebuild the pieces – just ask Peter.
Then: Be ready to speak by knowing why you live the way you do
Be ready to give a defence of what you believe. A defence sounds like a trial – and indeed Peter may well have a trial in view. It was reality for the apostles – Paul gives a defense in Jerusalem before Romans and Jews which tells the story of how he came to meet Jesus and realise that Jesus was God. Can you do that? Write down sometime how you became a Christian, and the story of what God has done in your life since. Then
you will be part way ready.
Be ready with reasons for the hope you have:
Peter in this letter spells out how the hope we have is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. Can you defend why you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? There are lots of good reasons: The tomb was empty, the disciples believed they had met him, Paul talks about 500 at once – no one ever produced a body, the resurrection was radically different from other ancient beliefs, and no-one among the Jews was expecting just one man to rise. There was the changed lives of first Christians who lived transformed lives ever since
We need, says Peter, to be ready to give the reason why we believe.
It isn’t so much that we are going to argue anyone into God’s kingdom. Rather we need to know that the gospel is reasonable, that it does make sense. Faith is not about a leap in the dark. Faith is about trust in a person
who gives us good reasons to trust Him.
And it’s about Reasons for the Hope that we have.
The hope of resurrection. The hope of life now that goes on forever.
This is not about hoping in an everyday sense. It is not the same as “I hope my football team don’t go down”, or “I hope England can manage to win a one day cricket match”. It’s not even the same as “I hope I get promotion”, “I hope a get a pay rise”. These hopes rise and fall, and are dashed.
In the Bible hope is about something that is certain. Heaven is a reality for all who trust in Jesus. One day we will be like him. One day we will be with him forever, and he will be with us, and he will wipe away every tear from every eye, and he will reward all we have done out of love for him. In some way all the good we have done will be a part of that new creation. That is the living hope Peter talks about at the start of the letter, the new birth into a living hope.
It is that hope that changes life now. Christians who changed our country: I think it was Lord Shaftesbury (child labour laws) who said that he had not lived one day without consciously thinking of the Lord’s return. It didn’t stop him fighting for reform in Parliament.
It was said of Wilberforce (slavery) “I would be as happy as he is, if I had the hope of heaven that he has”. Right now we live in a country and a world starved of hope. We need the hope that the gospel changes lives,
that God turns things around. He has done it before.We need to pray and live in the hope that he will do it again,and in the certain hope that he will one day make all things new.
Which brings us on to the final point;
Be ready with gentleness and respect – living a true “good life”
Peter’s letter is full of exhorting to live a true “good life”, a life where our conduct is measured and marked by God’s standards, and where we are ready to answer with gentleness and with respect. Peter may mean gentleness and respect directed to people, or because he uses the word fear so soon after he has talked about not fearing people, he may be reminding us of the need to have a right fear of God as we go about speaking to others.
Both are important – both treating people with respect, and having a right fear of God. Both will help us as we answer people. Treating other people gently means listening to their questions, and making sure we give a good response to what they have said – not just riding roughshod over their question to get to what we do know, but being ready to admit when we don’t have the answer.
With a right fear of God means that we won’t fear them, so will give an honest answer, even when that contains something they won’t want to hear – obviously done in a loving and gentle way, but we will hold firm to what is true and right.
We keep a good conscience, suffering only because we do what is good, and right. Because we have a life centred on Christ, Obeying his rule, Living like him, So that when people do speak against Christians then those who look down on Christians would have a sense of shame at the mistreatment they see.
The hope ultimately is what Peter wrote earlier in 1 Peter 2 – live such good lives among the pagans that they may see you and glorify God when he comes to “visit”
How zealous are we for what is good? How eager to do these other things we’ve spoken about in the frontlines series. If we really do them and put them into practice we will be noticed. We need each other’s help to support each other so that we can be ready to speak, ready to give an answer, ready to help each other do this.
Peter wrote this letter to a bunch of Christians scattered in the Empire. 250 years later the entire Roman Empire was Christian in name because so many people had come to believe this message. It took a lot of persecution and suffering, but God turned the world upside down through them. Christians stood out a mile.
They treated women, children and slaves as people not objects. They took in the unwanted babies left to die.They didn’t fight back. They didn’t cause trouble. They did refuse to worship the emperor. They died for their beliefs.
If they could stand out then, surely we can in our day too. We can be ready, by setting apart Jesus Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts, by having a defense of our faith ready and by living a life that matches our profession.
We can do it because the same God helps us. The same God who raised Jesus from death. He will do it.
1Pet. 5:10-11 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.