"I've been baptized." Have you been baptized? When? I was baptized on 28 January 1968 in the Holy Cross Anglican Church in Albany in New Zealand. I don't remember it happening; some of you will. But my parents and godparents were there as witnesses. And this certificate tells me that it's true. The great church reformer Martin Luther was baptized on 11 November 1483 in St Martin's Church in Eisleben in Germany. As you probably know, Luther stood up for the Gospel against the most powerful people in the world. He was banned from the Catholic Church by the Pope. And then he was put on trial in front of the Emperor for his beliefs. And he was asked to change his mind. He is reported to have replied: "Here I stand. I can do no other".
"Since your serene Majesty and your lordships request a simple answer, I shall give it, with no strings and no catches. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of scripture or plain reason (for I believe neither in Pope nor councils alone, since it is agreed that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I neither can nor will revoke anything, for it is neither safe nor honest to act against one's conscience. Amen."
The authorities didn't like that too much so he had to spend the next seven months hiding to avoid being killed. (Mind you while he was there he translated the Bible into German so he put the time to good use!) What did Luther do when the going got tough? He tells us that he used to say to himself: "I've been baptized". If you had been banned from the church and the most powerful people in the world were trying to kill you would you say to yourself: "It's going to be alright. I've been baptized"? Later on Luther wrote a little book to explain the basic Christian beliefs. And in that book he wrote these words about baptism:
"Suppose there was a doctor who had the skill to stop people from dying – or, even if they did die, they afterwards lived for ever. Just imagine how people would shower him with money! What with all the rich people wanting to see him, nobody else would get near him! Well, here in Baptism what is delivered free of charge to everyone's door is a priceless medicine just like that. It swallows up death, and keeps everyone alive. This is the way to look on Baptism and to let it be of use to us: We should draw strength and comfort from it when our sin or our conscience puts pressure on us, and should say: 'In spite of everything, I've been baptized! And if I've been baptized, I have the promise that I'll be happy for ever, and have eternal life for my body and soul'." (Luther's large catechism)
Martin Luther knew about suffering. The First Letter of Peter was written to people who were suffering. They had been forced to leave there homes and move to a foreign country. There lives may have been in danger because of their Christian faith. Peter writes to them and says: If you do suffer make sure it is because you have done what is right, not because you have done what is wrong. Why? Because Christ already knows what it's like to suffer. And he suffered for a reason. Even though he did nothing wrong, Jesus went through suffering to bring us to God. We see this in verses 17-18 of today's reading:
vv. 17-18: For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit . . .
Christ "suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God." But he didn't just die. He was resurrected! "He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." What does this have do with our suffering? The answer is really very simple. Because of Christ's resurrection in the end it won't matter what we suffer in this life our future is certain. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. So if we are in Christ, even if we are put to death in the flesh we will be made alive in the spirit. As Peter says in chapter 4, verse 6: "For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead". I think he means those people who were alive when they heard the gospel but have now died. The gospel was preached, "so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does."
Just as Noah's Ark was the symbol of God's triumph over evil in the flood, so baptism is a symbol of God's triumph over sin in Christ. And God's triumph was so great it even had to be proclaimed to those "spirits" who opposed God in the time of Noah (vv. 19-20). Peter then tells us in verse 21 that "baptism now saves you".
vv. 21-22: And baptism, which this prefigured, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Baptism now saves you. How? Of course, it is not automatic because pouring water on someone does something magic. But baptism is approaching God to receive salvation. In Peter's words here in verse 21 it is "an appeal to God for a clear conscience". But our conscience is not clear because of anything we have done. It is clear "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". And dead or alive our future is certain because Jesus "has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him" (v. 22).
That's why Peter could say back in verses 14-15:
But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.
Peter isn't talking about the sort of suffering that comes from disease or injury is he? Although I think he would probably encourage us with similar words: whatever happens your future with God is certain. (Martin Luther suffered from lots of health problems. Rumour has it that he didn't change the sheets on his bed until he was married in 1525, aged 42, so that could have had something to do with it!) Peter is talking about when you "suffer for doing what is right". That is when you are treated badly because you live a Christian lifestyle. That is when you are treated badly because you refuse to conform to the values of the world. What does Peter want his readers to do about suffering? It seems to me that it is this: "learn to think like Christ" (Eugene Peterson).
Notice how Peter begins chapter 4:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.
What does Peter mean by saying in verse 1: "for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin". He can't mean that we don't sin anymore can he? I believe he means that if we have committed ourselves to living a Christian lifestyle, even when other people treat us badly for it, then we have turned the direction of our lives away from sin. If we are prepared to suffer so others can be brought to God then we are learning to give up what Eugene Peterson calls "that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way".
How does Peter want us to cope with "suffering"? Does he want us to just "grin and bear it"? To keep "a stiff upper lip", as the English would say? Peter wants us to remember we should have the same intention Jesus had? What was his intention? Wasn't it to bring people to God? And isn't that why Peter says in chapter 3, verses 15-16:
vv. 15-16: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
Unlike the Christians in 1 Peter, or Martin Luther, most of may never face death for our beliefs. The sort of persecution we are likely to experience is different. Someone was telling me recently about how their son had been laughed at by people at his work for not living with his girlfriend before they are married. Thank God he stood he ground. I'm sure he didn't enjoy it. But he didn't compromise his values. Many of us, especially our younger members will often face that sort of persecution: being criticized or ridiculed for our beliefs. I believe there is both a challenge and also encouragement for us in Peter's words today. Not all of us are gifted evangelists. I don't feel that I am. But I am committed to evangelism. And I do believe there are two things all us can do. We can know what we believe as Christians – what believe about relationships, what we believe about the use of our time and money, what we believe about truth and integrity, what we believe about care of the disadvantaged. And we can draw a line in the sand around those convictions. And when we are challenged we can all say "with gentleness and reverence" – this is what I believe and why. And if we are looking and praying we'll probably find that we are presented with many opportunities "to give an accounting for the hope that is in us."
When Martin Luther said: "Here I stand. I can do no other", he had no idea that he would change the world. He probably thought he would die and the world would go on as usual. We may not change the world like he did. But if we are prepared to say, "Here I stand", then we will see people brought to God as we have been brought to God. And then their future will also be certain just as our future is certain.