Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Epistle this week, from 1 Peter 3:13-22, is one of the more challenging passages in the New Testament. The first few verses are challenging mentally and spiritually. In verses 13-17 we are encouraged that we should be committed to the good. Normally we won’t receive harm for doing good, but if we do, at least we have a clear conscience. Most of us will go to fairly great lengths to avoid trouble. However, we do need to realize that suffering will come in this life, at least sometimes.
Verses 18-22 are challenging on an entirely different level. The describe Jesus’ work to bring us to God. So far, so good. But what is he doing when he “proclaimed to the spirits in prison?” Most people have taken this to be a commentary on what Jesus was doing between the time he died and was raised from the dead. Many have suggested that this is akin to the work of a victorious general taking a tour through conquered territory, pointing out to all the inhabitants that he is, in fact, victorious. Because Jesus’ work to atone for sin was complete on the cross, he was not descending into the underworld to make futher payment for sin.
The work of Jesus has a parallel in baptism. It is a washing, a cleansing. Peter says it is not a regular washing, with water removing dirt, but that it speaks before God that we are raised from death by faith in Christ. It is the fulfillment of God’s work to save the world through Noah. Baptism, then, rescues from death, carrying the believer through the deadly waters. It is greater than the worldwide flood, for it rescues people forever. As we consider our baptism, then, we recognize and confess that it is God’s work to rescue us from sin and death. It is not our work at all. God is taking the physical element of water and applying it to us, in conjunction with his Word, bringing forgiveness and life.
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