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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
 www.smithvillecanrc.ca
 
Preached At:Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church
 Yarrow, BC
 yarrow.canrc.org
 
Title:In the Wrongs of Life always Take Christ's Lordship for Real
Text:1 Peter 3:8-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Desolation/Despair
 
Preached:2010-10-10
Added:2010-10-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 4:1,2   

Ps 79:3

Ps 94:1,2,3,4,5

Ps 34:1,5,6

Hy 32:1,2

1 Peter 3:8-22

Psalm 34

1 Peter 3:15a

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

It happens to us all: a wrong is done to us, we’re needlessly hurt, abused.  We don’t like it one bit – and that raises the pressing question: how is one to react to being wronged??

Truth be said, we don’t find that an easy question to answer.  In a society that has adopted an evolutionary worldview, we’re taught to fight to stay on top, told we need to stand up for our rights, hit back – lest we be seen as a wimp and be victimized the more.  Yet we realize that that kind of reaction does not typify how our Lord Jesus Christ reacted to wrongs done to him, and that’s what makes the question so pressing: how, then, are we to respond?

This, brothers and sisters, is the topic Peter next takes up in his letter to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.  He needs verses 8-22 of our chapter to answer this question, and puts the heart of his answer in vs 15: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

IN THE WRONGS OF LIFE ALWAYS TAKE CHRIST’S LORDSHIP FOR REAL.

1.       When one is to take Christ’s lordship for real.

2.       How one is to take Christ’s lordship for real,

3.       Why one is to take Christ’s lordship for real.

1.  When one is to take Christ’s lordship for real.

The question of ‘when’ requires us to catch first a bird’s eye view of what Peter’s argument in this letter has been so far.  Peter had written to persons living in what is today known as Turkey, people in the Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, whom God had chosen to life eternal (1:1).  These elect of God had born again (1:3) by the mighty work of Jesus Christ, so that they were alive in a manner not true of the people with whom they rubbed shoulders day by day – for they were heirs of life eternal (1:4).  This mighty work of Jesus Christ in their lives resulted in them having a new manner of living.  As Peter puts it in 4:3: in time past these Christians used to live as the pagans around them were still living, and that’s to say that they used to give themselves to “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”  But not anymore; they were so changed as to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (2:9).  The result was that the people of town thought them weird, strange, aliens (see 4:4), and that’s what they called them (2:11).

That reality in turn raises the awkward question: just how is one to live as a Christian in such a society?  You can’t join the pagans around you to do the same things they do, and you can’t get out of society either to live in blessed isolation away from ridicule.  So what do you do?!  That’s the question Peter answered in 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.”  Then he works out what “living such good lives” actually looks like in various social relations, be it as subjects to ungodly authorities (2:13ff), be it as slaves to a harsh and overbearing master (2:18ff), be it as wife to an unbelieving husband (3:1ff) or as husband in an ungodly world to a wife that may not fear the Lord (3:7).  Invariably, if one wishes to be holy, Christian, and so follow the apostle’s instruction in how to relate to ungodly authorities or masters or spouses, one shall invariably be hurt, abused, wronged – be it through hurtful words or painful punishments.  So: how to you respond when you’re the victim of wrong?!

You see: there’s the answer to our first question this morning.  When is one to take Christ’s lordship for real??  It’s in the grunt and grind of daily living, as you relate in your home to your spouse or when you join your spouse at some social activity after work.  It’s when your master (and in today’s western society that’s your boss or your supervisor) unfairly and publicly chews you out because he didn’t like the job you did.  It’s when the authorities –be it the police or the tax official or the judiciary– give you a fine you don’t deserve or impose a new law that we find unnecessary, intrusive and unfair.  It’s in those sort of situations, as they arise day by day as we live the lives we’re given to live in our modern world, that the apostle tells his readers to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.

Here we also need to notice what the apostle means with the word ‘Lord’.  For he reminds his readers in vs 22 of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and His position at God’s right hand – a position so powerful that He has “angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.”  Those three terms ‘angels’, ‘authorities’ and ‘powers’ refer to the spirits of the air, angelic beings some of whom have fallen into sin – demons.  The Bible elsewhere describes the influence these angelic beings have, demons included, in the world of ideas and so of government (cf Daniel 10:13; Colossians 1:16).  The authorities Peter had mentioned earlier, then, in 2:13ff, as well as the evil masters (2:18ff) and even the mindset of the unbelieving spouse (3:1ff) do not make their demands out of the blue, but behind ungodly authorities are “(fallen) angels, authorities and powers.”  Yet those angels, authorities and powers influencing government and employers and spouses are all subject to none less than Jesus Christ!  It’s as He said to His disciples before He ascended: “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18).  That’s to say that there is no abuse, no ridicule, no wrong from anyone bigger than you unless your Lord and Saviour permit!

Given that that is so, it follows that the child of God is to acknowledge Christ’s lordship every moment of every day, all the time.  That’s vs 15: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”  Behind abusive governments, bosses and spouses, in every situation where one is wronged, Peter would have the child of God see the mighty hand of His Sovereign Saviour.

That brings us to our second point: in the hurts and injustices and wrongs of life,

2.  How is one to take Christ’s lordship for real?

Peter answers this question for us in vss 8-16.  He tells his readers (in our translation) to “live in harmony with one another” – and our thoughts go to the chemistry the apostle wants to see between believers.  But the Greek does not limit the need for harmony to fellow believers.  It’s with the unrighteous authorities, the heavy-handed boss, the non-understanding spouse that Peter would have the elect of God live in harmony.  Yet his point is not that the Christian lose his Christian colours so that he no longer sticks out as being different; his point is rather that his readers are to be non-adversarial.  Think of the wife of 3:4: though her husband be pagan and do the pagan thing (cf 4:3!), she is to respond by cultivating “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (3:4).  Or, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18).  Peter adds that his readers are to “be sympathetic”, and the point here is that the elect of God need to try to stand in the shoes of the authorities, of the boss or of the spouse, and walk some distance in them.  You may feel wronged, says the apostle, but look at the issue from the side of the one who wronged you.  Again, one is to “love as brothers”.  Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, undeserving though they were, and in so doing showcased what the gospel was actually all about.  His action was the example the disciples were to follow – and so Peter tells the chosen of God to do exactly that, not only to fellow Christians but also to the ungodly, and to do so even when they wrong you.  It takes, we understand, much compassion and humility….

And what about that reflex to strike back, to insult, to return evil for evil?  Peter is emphatic: “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing.”  Counter-intuitive though it be, you were, says Peter, called to such behaviour.  Peter had earlier mentioned Christ’s example when He was abused.  2:23: “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.”  That, we understand, catches exactly what the Saviour’s response was when He was arrested, scourged, crucified….  And, says Peter, herein Christ gave you an example, that you should follow in His steps (2:21).  Hence his instruction in 3:9: “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing.”

We don’t like it, but we recognize that there’s nothing new here.  This was Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’.  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…” (Mt 5:38ff).  And we say: No way!  If we adopted that attitude, we’d be victimized always!  We’re convinced: we need to stand up for ourselves, insist on our rights, demand an apology!

Peter, of course, is as human as we are, and as human as the people to whom he writes.  So he anticipates that reaction and gives the answer of Scripture.  That’s the force of the word ‘for’ at the beginning of vs 10; that little word ‘for’ explains that Peter quotes from Ps 34 in order to make plain why one is to be non-adversarial, sympathetic, love one’s enemies – and why one is not to repay evil with evil.  So we need now to turn to Ps 34 to follow its line of thought and its instruction.

The heading over this psalm tells us that David wrote this psalm “when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech.”  Commentators agree that the Abimelech mentioned in this psalm is Achish from 1 Samuel 21.  David had been badly wronged by Saul, king of Israel, for Saul in jealousy had tried several times to take David’s life.  In an effort to get away from Saul David sought refuse with Achish, king of the city of Gath, a Philistine stronghold.  The Philistines, we need to know, were at this time sworn enemies of the Israelites.  David’s thinking would appear to have been that someone who was seen as a pain to King Saul would find refuge among Saul’s enemies – if only because it would give him space to regain strength and torment Saul more.

But see, scarcely has David landed in Gath when the people of Gath turn on him.  Hence David’s fear of Achish the king.  Though David had done Achish no wrong, Achish began to hound David.  Hence the question: what shall David do?  Repay evil for evil?  Fight him?  He could have tried… (cf 1 Samuel 23:1ff).  But he didn’t.  Instead, “he pretended to be insane in their presence; … he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13).  Humiliating, to say the least….

Now, what was David’s line of thinking when he pretended to be mad?  It turns out that he tells us in the psalm he wrote after his escape from Gath.  In this psalm he does not boast of his own brilliance, how he got away from Achish, does not boast either of putting egg all over Achish’s face by his conduct.  He doesn’t whine either about how he was hard done by, be it through Saul or through Achish, so that he had to embarrass himself by pretending he was mad.  Instead, in Ps 34 David’s focus is firmly and only on the Lord his God, so much so that he says he extols the Lord at all times (vs 1).  Why is he determined to extol the Lord at all times?  Vs 4: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me.”  Vs 6: “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him.”  That’s the reference to the fear that wrapped itself around David’s heart when the men of Gath wronged him to Achish.  His response to the wrong was not anger or revenge or taking matters in his own hands; his response to the wrong that he took God for real – and so sought His help through prayer.  And David experienced it: God delivered!  How did God deliver?  God gave David the insight in that situation to pretend he’d lost all his marbles…, so that Achish drove him out of town unharmed.  The point: the Lord heard!  That’s why David extols the Lord, and that’s equally why he uses the psalm to instruct all Israel to do the same.  Vs 11: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”  Detail?  “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies.  Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  That’s exactly what David had done; though wronged in Gath he did not repay insult with insult, did not speak evil of Achish either (or of Saul!) but in his awkward circumstance sought to do what was right before the Lord.

Those, now, are the very verses Peter quotes to the Christians of his days who suffer wrong from the powers that be in the unbelieving environment in which they live.  Those Christians are to live in harmony with all, be sympathetic, love, be compassionate and humble, and not repay evil for evil or insult for insult – according to the example and the instruction of David back in Gath as recorded in Ps 34.

Does following that instruction mean that you’ll escape all harm??  Not at all, and Peter knows it.  The book of Samuel is clear that Saul continued to hound David even after he wrote Ps 34.  So Peter can write the words of vs 13: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”  Why are you blessed?  Peter quotes in vs 14b from Isaiah 8, where the Lord told that prophet not to be afraid of the people who resisted his preaching.  For those people feared people, and fearing people is silly exactly because they’re only people.  As Isaiah says further, “the Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear…” (Isaiah 8:13).  Hence Peter’s conclusion in vs 15: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”  Exactly because He is Lord –“with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him” (vs 22)– fear Him, trust Him.  His eyes “are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of Lord is against those who do evil,” as Peter quotes from Ps 34 in vs 12.

That eye on the sovereign Lord (and not on the wrong done to you, or even on the wrongdoer) results in that manner-of-living that sticks out like a crown in a crowd.  It gets people wondering how you can be so different, and it attracts that grudging admiration that brings about the question: why don’t you get angry, why don’t you insult, why do you respect the authorities, the boss, the spouse?  And Peter would have his readers prepared always “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for hope that you have” (vs 15b).  But again, that answer needs to be given “with gentleness and respect.”  And we realize now: that answer has to focus on who Jesus Christ actually is, needs to focus on His lordship.

That brings us to our third point this morning:

3.  Why one is to take Christ’s lordship for real.

Peter, you see, is not content simply to tell his readers that Christ is lord so that they take Him for real in the midst of the wrongs they encounter in this broken life.  For Christ Himself also suffered wrong – yet the way He handled the wrong done to Him prompted the proclamation of His sovereignty even among the dead!

Look at vs 18.  Our translation has there that “Christ died for sins once for all.”  That, of course, is true, gloriously true!  But, as most other translations also have it, Peter speaks here of Christ’s suffering.  As Peter’s addressees suffer (and wrongly so), so Jesus “suffered”, uniquely, “once for all”, righteous man undeserving of suffering – and yet He suffered for the benefit of the unrighteous.  In His suffering Jesus Christ did not take matters in His own hands, on the cross He did not repay evil for evil or shout out insult for insult, but He endured suffering so that the very people who abused Him might be reconciled to God; “Father,” He prayed, “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Through His suffering even Peter’s readers were brought to God!  The point: in His suffering Jesus acted according to the principle David outlined in Ps 34, the words Peter had just quoted.  That is: Jesus on the cross kept His tongue from evil.  Instead, in His suffering He did good even to His enemies.  He could do so because He wasn’t afraid of what people fear (be it other people, being laughed at, or being victimized again), but He feared God – and so dared not disobey or mistrust Him!

Did that mean that Jesus escaped suffering?  No, it didn’t.  Vs 18b: He “was put to death in the body.”  We say: that’s the end of things, and it gives the lie to David’s confidence that the Lord delivers from evil.  That’s why Peter hastens to tell his readers that one needs to look farther than Jesus’ death, for Peter adds that Jesus was “made alive in the spirit.”  Again, our translation prints the word ‘spirit’ with a capital S so that our thoughts go to the Holy Spirit, and then uses also the word ‘by’ to that –says the NIV– Jesus was “made alive by the Spirit” – a reference we connect to Easter Sunday when Jesus arose from the dead. 

But that’s not Peter’s point.  The word ‘by’ is not present in the Greek (and the capital letter isn’t either).  The Greek has it that as Jesus was “put to death in the body” He was (at the same time) “made alive in the spirit.”  When one dies one does not cease to exist, but one’s soul (or spirit) lives on in the realm of the dead.  So the people who drowned in the flood of Noah 4000 years before Christ’s death still existed, be it in the realm of the dead.  Those people had seen Noah building an ark for some 120 years (mad he was, they surely thought!), and they’d seen Noah stocking the ark with feed for countless animals, and they’d even seen the animal enter the ark two by two….  But they ridiculed and scorned that “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) – until the rains came and drowned them all.  They died in their unbelief and became –as Peter has it in vs 19– “spirits in prison”, dead people doomed to the eternal judgment of God as per the prophecy of David in Ps 34: “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (vs 16).  Those people in the realm of the dead, says Peter in vs 19, received proclamation of Jesus’ triumph on the cross.  For on the cross Jesus suffered the insults of man, but –like Noah– He persevered in trusting the Lord God.  Then Yes, “He died in the body” but “was made alive in the spirit” – for upon His death He did not join the deceased in the realm of the dead but He went immediately to His Father in heaven.  It was the assurance He’d given to the criminal with Him on the cross: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) and it was the confidence that moved Him to cry out before He died, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).  His being received directly into heaven was proclamation to the “spirits in prison” that the Lord God definitely hears the cries of the righteous when they are wronged.  The right reaction to being wronged is not to strike back or insist on one’s rights or anything of the sort; the right reaction –whether it be to oppressive government or inconsiderate boss or selfish spouse or any other crooked circumstance in this broken life– is living in harmony, being sympathetic, loving as brothers, being compassionate and humble.  For the Lord keeps the promise of Ps 34 – and so Christ was taken into glory.

But, you say, surely it was Noah and his family who were the victim of ridicule and scorn in the years before the flood.  Exactly – and the eyes of the Lord were on them so that He at His time and in His manner saved them from the ridicule of their townsfolk.  How the Lord saved them?  Vs 20: in the ark “only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.”  Note: through the ark they were not only saved from the water (true, of course, unlike the rest of the world’s population), but in the ark they were saved through water from those who thought them weird and ridiculed them.  And that water of the flood, Peter continues, in the New Testament dispensation symbolizes baptism – and baptism, of course, is the sign and seal of the washing away of your sins through Jesus’ blood.  The sins that are forgiven include those sins of not reacting as ought to the injustices of the world coming our way, those sins of anger and striking back, those sins of self-righteousness and demanding an apology.  They’re forgiven through the blood of Him who suffered and died, and arose from the dead and ascended to that seat of glory in heaven above, the first of those who shall inherit the blessed inheritance of life forever with God Himself in the New Jerusalem.

 

Where this leaves Peter’s readers, ourselves included?  There’s much injustice in this broken life, no doubt about it.  But in the midst of life’s injustices the apostle teaches us to take Christ’s lordship for real.  He’s sovereign in the situation, so that we can leave the wrongs of things to Him to unravel.  It’s for us in the midst of wrong simply to do what is right, to keep on bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit.  And Christ as sovereign Lord will rescue, will deliver, at His time and in His manner – as He did Noah and David and Isaiah.  This quiet trust, in truth, is what faith looks like in the crunch of wrong.  So: “the Lord I will extol, At all times bless His holy Name.  I will not cease to sing His praise; His goodness I’ll proclaim” (Ps 34:1).




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. C. Bouwman

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