Peter’s Letter: “A Song of Hope”
Scripture Reading: I Peter 3:18-22
One of the reasons injustice is so hard to rectify in this world is that we have no unified story around which to rally. In our society the pattern is becoming very predictable. People move from legitimate and perhaps much needed peaceful protest to violence and chaos because there is no center. There is no agreement on what truth and reconciliation really mean or how it should look. You can tear down statues, issue politically motivated apologies, censor the voices of oppression from the past and in the present, and yet, in the end, you are left as hollow and weak as you were at the beginning. We need a center, a gospel around which to understand life. In these times the Church has something to offer. We can be a prophetic voice for an old gospel that is always new when it is received as the living and active Word of God by which the world is made right.
We have an interesting text from Peter’s letter today. In the fall of 2019 we went through the story in Genesis which tells us about Noah and the Ark. As we went through this narrative and actually read the text slowly and carefully, it revealed to us the grace of God in Jesus Christ. God not only desired to bring an end to a wicked world by destroying it with a flood, God also desired to preserve his Creation and make a new start.
How do we see God’s judgment in the story of Noah? How do we see his grace?
What does Peter say about the story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood?
Some biblical scholars see I Peter 3:18-22 as a song – a poem – extolling the life of Christ. In this case it is similar to Philippians 2:5-11 which is regarded as a song. In both Philippians 2 and our text from Peter, the words bring praise to Christ for what he has done. A song is read differently from the regular body of a New Testament letter. It’s poetic and summarizes the work of Christ. Our text begins, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” It finishes with a doxology in verse 22 speaking of Jesus “who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”
Read Philippians 2:5-11. How does the song begin? How does it end?
In a strange statement in I Peter 3:19 we read that Christ, “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.”
What does this mean? St. Augustine wrote, “When Noah was building the ark, Christ “in spirit” was in Noah preaching repentance and righteousness through him to unbelievers who were on earth then but are now “spirits in prison.” This means the same Christ we hear preached today is the same Christ who was being preached in the Old Testament. The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is a story centered in Jesus Christ.
How does Noah’s obedience to the Word of the Lord “proclaim” the gospel?
Where did Jesus go after he died on the cross? Where was his “spirit” during the time he was in the tomb?
The song continues in verses 20-21 by linking the Old Testament story of Noah with baptism. When you belong to Jesus Christ you have new life in him. Remember what Peter said at the beginning of this letter, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The great flood that took place in the days of Noah has become symbolic of the waters of baptism. As Noah, his family, and the animals were saved from the flood by way of the ark, so too we are saved by the grace of God. As the earth was cleansed by the waters of the flood, so the water of baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sin. More than that, baptism is our initiation into the gospel story. In baptism we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.
I Peter 3:18-22 is a song that summarizes the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the story from which we understand our lives in this world. It is the good word offered to the world that brings justice and grace to all that is broken by sin. Reconciliation is found only in Christ.
For further thought:
How do you live out the gospel in your daily living?
How can this gospel bring peace and healing to a world that seems so angry and strained?