Reading 21 Peter 3:18-22

Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedientwhile God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear 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 subject to him.

On this Sunday start in Lent, we had some references to Noah and the Ark in the opening reading, and in a mention of it in the epistle. Did you happen to read this week that scientists and archeologists have pretty much confirmed a site in Turkey to be believed as to be the landing sight and remains of that ark voyage long ago, matching up to the Noah account? Fascinating! An interesting timing. Details on the 11 o’clock news! Or next week’s daily papers!

I have a Scripture for us to dig in and unearth a bit more for meaning for our faith. It’s some bits of 1st Peter 3:18-22. I will provide one big middle message with the Scripture examine—and that is that Lent is about Love.  (After all, it started this 2024 on St. Valentine’s Day, didn’t it?!)

From 1st Peter 3 we are given some Bible verses to launch our first full week of Lent. We just heard it fully read; I’ll highlight some points and tie it together.

“Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.”  This verse of Peter says, my friends, how you and I have had SOMEONE come and suffer in love to set us straight and good. It is Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of man.  Christ suffered for sins, and thus, He has changed the course of broken, fallen human history, to set a new course, should you want to go into that freedom. Sure, sin is an immediate pleasure and enticing, but there’s always a lie in it, and a pretense that offending God (or yourself, for that matter) is nothing. Yet, we know, it is a step in the wrong direction, and with that continuing on and on—it leads to destruction.  “Pride leads to a fall.”  It led Lucifer to it, and now he wants to take you down to that state of misery forever.

Jesus is the Righteous One come to get us right. He does this act of love for the unrighteous (raise your hand, fellow human, that’s us!) but He has a master plan to get us holy and to eternal Glory. And, you do want that, right?! What have your choices been saying?  Lent starts out with a shout: “Repent, and believe the Good News!” (You can wash the ashes off your head, but keep these six words of Jesus in your ears and towards your mind and heart all through Lent!)

“Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.“  Say hello to the Dying-Rising Mystery of Jesus. He will introduce us to how to change. Imitate His own self-sacrifice and unconditional love of others and His life for the Father Almighty. This is His High Example of the Dying part of the Paschal Mystery. Dying won’t likely require a Cross like Calvary for us, for He did it to save us.  He first took on our inquities, knowing truly how we could not save ourselves from separation situation from God. So, He did that very hard part—being put to death in the flesh, as sacrifice for you and me.

So what’s our own dying part, in response to His offer?  For the answer, do remember Jesus words to His disciples:  “Unless you deny your very self, take up your cross, and follow Me—then you cannot be My disciple.” (Matthew 16:24)  Lent calls us to humble ourselves, and to find God’s provision of grace and love to get us there.  Can we be in the manner of exalting God and then in being of a denying more of self? Can the mighty I diminish, with the help of God, and can The Spirit of Christ increase in me.  Pray dear God that it can be so!!  Have this them in your life, beginning in Lent—that you will not be in love with the world, or rather, lusting not with the world, in the self-centered, me first life of its practice.  Pray to Live as Jesus instead. That’s a Lenten call worth its salt!   

What happens with that dying to rising mystery, if indeed you live it, dear Christian?  1st Peter 3 says “(In dying, then) “He was brought to life in the Spirit.” And that’s your prescription in the Dying-Rising mystery of the Christian. You are called into Life in the Spirit. That’s new life, freedom, grace, and the love of God that can be going on finely in you.  Swallow your pride, or take the pills of repentance and humility, and get very healthy as a believer.

I think that Lent is so much about finding ways to deny self so as to finding ways to be loving and being loved…in the Lord.

I go back to a Lent long ago, as I was working for a DC media and print firm. The media jobs that would be done by the graphics department came in by the work that my team of people found in DC, Virginia and Maryland.  We found lots of work; it was a prosperous time. The graphics department manager was loaded with work to have done, and he met the demand by being hard-working and good at it, even always being pleasant about it—even when we were pressed by urgent deadlines.  When I first came to the job, he (let’s call him Mark) was trying to do night and weekend classes to advance his own education. It could help him rise up in the company ahead. But the death of both of his parents suddenly left him, as a young adult, with the immediate care of his high school sister, who was a girl with some emotional difficulties growing up, and now already intensified by the loss of the parents. In a great act of self-denial, and doing the “right thing,” Mark stopped taking the night and weekend classes, and gave all his off-time from work to the care of his little sister.  He gave her lots of love and good attention, so that she did not fall apart.  She stayed in school; he stayed in his graphics manager job—but all his focus turned to acts of love and support for his sister.  I was blessed by seeing that true Christianity going on in my co-worker.

Where did he get the inspiration from to be self-less in this trying time of his life? It came from faith in Jesus.

Mark and I had discussions about how to live honestly and well as a Christian. He took the call of Jesus as personal and serious to his choices in life.  He had experienced a revival in his heart for the Church by attending a Billy Graham talk or two in Washington.  It was a talk on knowing peace.  Graham re-directed his listeners to go to Jesus, like the shepherds on Bethlehem’s hills did, and find their peace and hope. The message hit home for Mark.  Being in such turmoil over his recent loss, he had went to get fed with some encouragement from the evangelist. Mark had taken his sister with him to it, too.  He had heard Graham speak about the message of the angels to the shepherds said that THIS JESUS born in prophecy to their little town would bring peace on earth, and good will to us to be shared—from Heaven and God down to people on earth.  Mark accepted that Jesus would be that peace for he and his sister ahead, and with God caring for their parents now, Mark and sis would find peace with God and by the Christ-centered life.  It surely happened.  I watched it being lived out week-by-week in Mark.  We had a connection in being Christ’ followers now.  He said that what he now knew to be true in his mind and heart, ought to be lived out in faith.  I agreed that my Catholic faith and Mark’s other Christian faith were in agreement—we need to respond in kind to God and in love.  Mark confided that he had heard for himself that call (in the hidden personal message he was discerning), to love his sister, his remaining family member, with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength—and to provide all the big brother attention he could and all the Christian attitude he could receive from God to pass on.  Mark wanted to love his sis, and he saw that it was Jesus he was serving in her.  He’d have to give up his academic advances and immediate work prospects with it—because love called him to do so, at least for the immediate future.  Mark was faithful in this love and response to God.  He began church going with his sister, and he knew that I was a church goer and worshipper of God, too, and with my own callings of selfless love to live out.

God would be faithful to us who tried to live an authentic, just life.  We could count on it.

In First Peter 3, it speaks of an act that Jesus did after His death and burial, something done in secret.  Upon being the sacrifice for sinners, Jesus “also went to preach to the spirits in prison” as to save them now into His sacrifice. What is this verse about? It’s about what we pray today in the Creed, after the line “He was crucified, died, and was buried, and He descended to the dead.”  Jesus went down as the Victor of Life to see all the just who had awaited in death, in Abraham’s bosom, Sheol, so as to free them to paradise. This would include the newly-converted Dismas of Calvary, and back to (as 1 Peter 3 says) to the eight faithful ones of “the days of Noah” who were saved on the ark. God knows who the just are—the good ones—the ones who honestly try to believe God and love him and others.  He rescues them. So—all the people before the Cross payment of Jesus now had Jesus life to bring them alive to God in Heaven.  God sees everything and has a just response for us.  We can wait and depend on it.

And we can love while in the Glory waiting.  We can love in this Lent while awaiting Easter, too, right??

Let me finish with the text of 1st Peter 3.  Jesus’ life and love and sacrifice brings us a Paschal Renewal. Dying to Rising, a cleansing to a readiness for life in the Spirit forever.  Jesus’ offering, as the epistle says, gives not “a removal of dirt from the body” –(it’s not that kind of cleansing, but one of your whole self, interior and exterior,
into the Blood of the Lamb,  that God gives to you a new reality as Christian, that you might) ”…appeal to God for a clear conscience (into Christ’ suffering and Cross, that you might then live onto ) ”…the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  This is the Dying-Rising Paschal Mystery. It’s part of the Kerygma that I preached a past Lent to you about.

Jesus gives the Victory. It is celebrated in 40 days. Jesus Cross on Good Friday, and then that “Jesus Christ has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God,  with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.”  As Peter’s epistle proclaims to us today.

God Word’s gives us the commission for a new life. We need not live under the dominion of sin and its offensive, selfish patterns. We need not live for self-centeredness, as the world regularly does in ungodliness. Like my one example today, in Mark, a true believer can live Christ out in some wondrous love in a transformed, grateful heart.

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