Peter's purpose inthis letter is to repeatedly lift up the eyes of his readers to the hope that we have in Christ, and, as we have noted, this was critically important to his first readers because suffering was a common thread in their lives. It may be that for some sojourners in Peter's day, looking down would also help them look up.
Carved into the pavement of several ancient cities where there were churches who first read Peter's letter were these circles with four intersecting lines. They were ancient versions of (ICHTHUS), the Greek letters for the confession "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior." Looking down, such followers of Christ would be encouraged to look up and keep their hope in the Savior.
It makes me think of how important it is on this path of following Jesus as sojourners and exiles in the world to be constantly reminded of the Gospel, and ultimately of the triumph of Jesus. The passage we will meditate on today is intended to do just that.
For the first time in this letter to the early Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor, Peter directly addresses the subject of persecution. "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?" (3:13). The word "harm" is used in other contexts to reference persecution. We will see more of this as we proceed through I Peter.
The passage we are about to consider is by far the most difficult in I Peter. In fact one commentator went so far as to say that verse 19 is not only the most problematic verse in this letter, but may well be the most problematic in the whole New Testament! We have a challenge before us! But we have a great teacher in the Holy Spirit and, while we may not understand everything, He is able to help us know what He wants us to know. Let's rely on the Spirit of Jesus to help us and teach us.
Last week's devotion included 3:13-17, but we did not get that far in the sermon, so let's begin there. So read carefully I Peter 3:13-22.
- Review verses 13-17. How should we respond to persecution? What advice does Peter give us?
- Many believe that Peter has in the back of his mind Isaiah 8:12-13. Take a moment, look up that text and compare it to I Peter 3:14-15.
2. Why do you think Peter includes "being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" with his exhortations about facing persecution?
3. What do you think is the connection between verses 13-17 and verse 18?
4. What is the good news of verse 18? What has Jesus done for us?
5. Now the rest of this passage gets really dicey! Put on your sanctified imagination and list the possibilities for verses 19-20. Who might these imprisoned spirits be? Where are they imprisoned? Why are they imprisoned? When does Jesus go to them and what does He preach to them?
- As you think about all the possibilities, consider Genesis 6:1-8; II Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 6.
6. There is a comparison between Noah's ark and baptism. What is it?
7. Peter says that "baptism... now saves you." What do you think he means by that? (you might give some thought to Romans 6:1-4)
8. What does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with all of this? How does it save us?
9. How does Peter end this section in verse 22? What is the truth about Jesus here?
10. Now, step back. What is the big picture? What does Peter want his persecuted readers to know about Jesus and their salvation?
11. What did the Lord impress on your meditation on this passage today?
God be with you, and God willing I'll see you on Sunday!