What are you afraid of? All of us have fears. Sometimes fears are good: they are life-preserving, like the fear of a dangerous situation. Sometimes fears can be terribly debilitating, especially when we feel under-equipped to deal with what we’re facing (or imagining). As Christians, we can face a whole new set of fears: Have you ever held back from saying something about Jesus because of fear? I have. Have you ever gone back to doing something you know is wrong because of fear? Perhaps in the form of peer pressure? I have. Or if you aren’t a Christian, are you scared because you don’t want to turn to Jesus in repentance, receive his forgiveness and begin to live a life that pleases him? Does it scare you to wholly give your life to someone?
1 Peter 3:13-22 speaks about how it is possible for a Christian to work through fear. But as we look at what Peter says, I want to start at the solution and work backwards: “For Christ also sufferedonce 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…” (1 Pet 3:18 ESV).
This verse makes all the difference when it comes to our fears. Christ died for all of our sins. This means that Jesus died for everything in our lives that expresses our rebellion against our Creator. The small stuff, the big stuff–all of it. And he did it once and for all, meaning that everything was accomplished in one go. There is no need for more sacrifices of any kind. Jesus, who was right and perfect, took the punishment for us who were wrong and imperfect. On the cross, Jesus took away the consequences of our rebellion, in order to bring us to God. In this way, Jesus restores our broken relationship with our Creator. And after dying that death, Jesus then rose from the dead. No wonder this was the most significant event in all of history!
Peter tells us that Jesus then proclaimed this message to the spirits in prison (verse 19), which shows the cosmic significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And while it is tricky to figure out just who these spirits in prison might be, what we do know is the death and resurrection of Jesus is cosmic. It is not just the defeat of the evil of the physical world we can see, but it is also the defeat of the evil of the spiritual world that we can’t see. Peter is saying is that as we find ourselves in a hostile world, Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead, has proclaimed his death and resurrection evento the hostile spiritual realm. The death and resurrection of Jesus really does change everything.
And to ensure we really understand, Peter then gives us an illustration from the Noah story (cf Gen 6-10). From verse 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.” Now remember that the days of Noah were so bad for humanity that God wanted to blot out all people from the face of the earth (Gen 6:5-7). So Peter is saying here that the victory of Jesus is so great, that even the physical and spiritual forces of evil in Noah’s day heard of his death and resurrection!
And what was true of Noah’s day, was true of Peter’s day and is still true in our day. The world is hostile, people mock God–and yet God continues to wait patiently. In Noah’s day God was waiting as the ark was being built. Now, God waits as his spiritual house is being built (1 Pet 2:4-5). But this waiting isn’t forever. In Noah’s day, the flood saved God’s people from the judgement against evil, and now Peter says this saving is demonstrated through baptism (vv 21-22). Baptism is the demonstration of salvation and shows us that if we turn to God in sincere repentance, then we are saved. It is not about going through the motions of the ritual of baptism. It is about the death and resurrection of Jesus, trusting that Jesus’ once-for-all death on the cross and his powerful resurrection is sufficient to save us from judgement.
Knowing this is helpful when we consider our fears, because we know the outcome of Jesus’ work of salvation is that Jesus “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (v 22). This is the reality of things. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, and everything sits under him. The crowned King is recognized for who He really is.
And so Peter gives us some perspective: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (v 13). We know what Jesus has done and where Jesus is. Seeing this big picture means there is an alternative to fear in our hearts. That alternative is living like Christ (vv 14-17). As Christians, we can live God’s way and know that Jesus is the crowned King who has got us covered. And if you are not a Christian, and you have fears that might be stopping you from coming to Jesus, Peter encourages you to look to the crowned King who sits in heaven, who has demonstrated that he has conquered all things–to bring us to God.