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God is with you - Part 27

1 Peter 3v19-22

Baptism

3rd November 2017

Last time, we looked at this words:

1 Peter 3v18
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit...

Peter continues the thought like this:

1 Peter 3v19-20
...through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water

This is a difficult passage and there are various theories about what it means, and I don't intend to set them all out, but I will talk about what I think it means.

Firstly, who are the spirits in prison that Peter is talking about? Some people think that when Peter says "spirits" he means "people", others think he means "spirits". I'm in the latter camp. This is partly because I think that, if Peter had meant "people", he'd have said "people", and it's also because Peter wrote:

2 Peter 2v4-5
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others

I think that when Peter talks about spirits in prison, he's talking about spirits - fallen angels. I think that, just before Noah completed the ark and the rains came, the evil spirits were seeking to destroy humanity by leading us into greater and greater sin and corruption, and if you read the early chapters of Genesis, you can find a lot of support for that idea. I think that's why God destroyed humanity apart from eight people. He decided that mankind was so corrupt that He was going to start again with Noah and his family, and those who had been so profoundly depraved by the influence of the evil spirits, perished in the flood.

And I think that when Jesus died, He went to the evil spirits that had been in prison ever since the days of Noah, and He told them, "Your plan didn't work then, and it's not working now. You thought you could destroy humanity, but I rebuilt humanity. You thought you could destroy me, but I'm going to rise from the dead, and my people will cover the earth. My gospel will win millions for righteousness, truth, justice, peace and love."

In the story of Noah, the whole earth was covered in water, and eight people in a huge boat were saved through water. Genesis doesn't say they were saved from water; they were saved through water. They escaped the corruption of the world by being on the ark when the rest of the world was destroyed. They were separated from corruption and death by water.

And you, my brother of sister in Christ, escape the corruption of the world because you have been saved by the precious blood of Jesus into God's holy family, and given the Holy Spirit to help you to live right, and to think right - to be kind, gentle and godly. And baptism is part of this process of separation:

1 Peter 3v21
and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Since this water symbolises baptism, it symbolises a symbol, which is a bit confusing. But baptism isn't only a symbol; it's a sacrament, it's a divine act, it's a means of grace. Baptism changes things.

Noah and his family were described as righteous before the ark was built and the rains came, but they still had to be saved through water.

Baptism saves you also. This also confuses some people because we evangelicals focus so much on the moment of conversion. We know we passed from death to life in an instant (even though some of us don't know when that moment was). Once we lived in the domain of darkness and now we live in the kingdom of light. Once we were at enmity with God, but now we are at peace with God. Once we were not children of God, but now we are children of God. As we read in 1 Peter 2v10, Once you were not a people but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy now you have received mercy. In an instant, the moment you repented and believed, the moment you accepted that God knows how to live your life better than you do, and you'd better get in line with His word, and you believed that Christ died to pay for your sins, you were instantly, utterly, irreversibly, eternally saved. But that work of salvation continues.

The Bible says that, if you're a Christian, you have been saved, and you are being saved, and one day when you go to glory you will be saved. You were definitively saved the moment you repented and believed. But God's still saving you today, and He'll be saving you every day of your life. He'll continue to make you more and more Christ-like, set you more free from the power of sin and negativity, and fill you with more hope and faith and love.

When Peter says that baptism saves you, he means that baptism is part of the process of making you completely you, the man or woman you were designed to be in the first place, absolutely Christ-like.

Baptism is firstly a commemoration of that fact that you have passed from death to life, you are now Jesus's slave, Jesus's property, bought with a price - His precious blood shed on the cross. And that commemoration, that declaration in the presence of witnesses that we're 100% God's, is an important moment - a rite of passage if you will.

And something happens in our hearts when we proclaim with our lips and through the act of baptism that we are 100% God's. Something happens that makes it easier to believe, easier to resist sin, easier to turn away from the old thought patterns we had before we were baptised.

Baptism isn't the moment we're definitively saved; but our salvation is more complete when we are baptised. It's a bit like a funeral. A dead body is dead the moment it dies, but our attitude towards it changes the moment it's buried. Our attitude to the life that we used to have without Christ changes when we bury it in baptism.

And the Holy Spirit comes to us when we're baptised, and makes the truth more real to us, makes our awareness of God more complete. It's not just the removal of dirt from the body; baptism saves you through what Peter calls the pledge of a good conscience towards God.

When a person is baptised, he usually make certain promises. These promises vary from church to church, and perhaps from person to person, but they include something to the effect that "I promise to serve God for the rest of my life". "I promise to put Jesus first". "I promise to turn my back on all the sinful attitudes I used to have, and live for righteousness." We pledge to live according to good conscience for the rest of our lives.

Occasionally we fail to keep that pledge, but we live holier lives than we would have lived if we'd never made it, and we should never forget that pledge. Please never forget the day when you stood before God and the congregation of His people and said, "I promise to live for Jesus".

But it also means something else, something more wonderful. God pledges to all who repent and believe that we can have a clear conscience. And what a wonderful gift is a clear conscience!

When we find once again that we've got it wrong, we've done what we shouldn't have done, or said what we shouldn't have said, or we didn't do what we should have done, or say what we should have said, we can go back to God and say we're genuinely sorry. We repent, again. God doesn't say, "Well that's the 4,726th time". He just says, "I forgive you" because Christ died for sins once for all, including the sin we just committed. Have your clear conscience back. It's the most precious thing.

And God grants that, gradually, we need to pray that sort of prayer less often. The Holy Spirit is changing us, and making us more Christ like. Our conscience is more clear more often.

Dear brother or sister, if your conscience is not clear, go back to God today, confess your sin, accept 100% forgiveness, and move on.

The water symbolises baptism that... saves you. Baptism promises you a good conscience. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus. Had Christ not risen from the dead, none of us would be saved, but He did! Gloriously, amazingly, bafflingly for the Jewish authorities, and embarrassingly for the Roman authorities, Jesus rose from the dead, and pushed the stone away, and He greeted His disciples, saying "peace be with you".

Jesus died to bring you peace with God, peace with yourself, and peace with all of God's people (although, tragically, you may sometimes find that some of God's people will choose not to be at peace with you).

1 Peter 3v22
who [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Christ has gone into heaven. He's seated at God's right hand, and angels, authorities and powers [are] in submission to him. Evil spirits remain evil. They remain real. But they are in submission to Him who died to save you, the One who rose from the grave to conquer death for you. He ascended into heaven so that one day you will ascend into heaven. He has all authority over heaven and earth, including the demons. Jesus truly is Lord.

And in Baptism, we proclaim that He is our Lord.