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Sermon: 1 Peter 3:13-17
Lent Midweek 3 – March 11, 2020 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

This section from Peter’s 1st Letter that we’re considering tonight is entitled, “Suffering for Doing Good.” Jesus frequently warned his followers that they would suffer for doing good, that they would bear a cross for believing in him. Currently in our Sunday adult Bible class we’re studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And in the very beginning of the sermon he reminds his listeners, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

If there’s anyone who ever suffered for doing good it was Jesus himself. He of course often faced verbal opposition and persecution from his enemies during his ministry. And this Lenten season is the perfect reminder of how he physically suffered and died for doing good, for doing good for those in need, for preaching a message of God’s love and forgiveness.

The Apostle Peter wrote this letter to Christians in the very early years of the New Testament Christian Church who were facing persecution for believing in Jesus. Peter, who had been a denier of Jesus and then became a defender of Jesus, knew personally what this persecution was like. And so he encouraged his readers to endure their persecution even for doing what was right and good. And not only were they to endure persecution they were also to be ready tell their persecutors the reason they believed in Jesus and why they endured in their faith.

Tonight we consider Peter’s admonition

Peter begins this section by asking, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” It might be a little confusing to us that Peter would ask this question. After all he knows very well that people are sometimes mistreated even for doing good. Christians especially were persecuted for doing good. Peter was well aware how Jesus suffered and died for preaching the gospel of God’s love and forgiveness. And certainly by this time Peter had experienced his own suffering for doing and preaching good.

But by asking this question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” Peter is simply stating a kind of normal principle. If people do good, generally speaking, they’re not going to be mistreated. That’s a general truth, but Peter’s point is that the direct opposite of that reasonable and general truth was going to happen to those who believe in and follow Jesus. Such harm and mistreatment was unfair, it was unreasonable, but it was most certainly going to happen. And Peter wanted his readers to understand that it was going to happen to them as unfair as it was, and they needed to be able to deal with it.

Have you ever suffered for doing good? Have you ever been mistreated unfairly? I suppose most of us have. Like Peter says such suffering and mistreatment is not logical, but it happens. You simply have to deal sometimes with the unfairness of life.

But we’re living in a time when people are hypersensitive to mistreatment. We’re living in a time of victimization, when people are looking for opportunities to be victims, when they imagine that they’re being mistreated by people’s words and thoughts and beliefs. And instead of dealing with such alleged mistreatment as part of life they’re offended and try to seek some kind of retribution.

People can and will find a thousand reason for considering themselves victims of something. Peter is really telling his readers, and he’s telling us, don’t be victims. Especially don’t consider yourselves poor little victims when people criticize or persecute you for being a Christian. Rather he says, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” Blessed! Peter uses the same word here that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount to describe those who were persecuted on account of following Jesus.

Considering yourself blessed is the opposite of considering yourself a victim. Considering yourself a victim leads you to be passive and bitter, to want retribution, to want to be repaid, to have something done for you. Being blessed urges you to see God’s hand of blessing in everything, even in some kind of mistreatment or persecution. Considering yourself blessed makes you certain all things work together for your good because God loves you. Considering yourself blessed urges you and helps you to be a blessing to others who are in need of love and help.

Therefore Peter encourages his readers with words from Isaiah the prophet, “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” It’s a little difficult to understand exactly what Isaiah is saying in these words, but it seems as if he’s telling God’s people not to be afraid, not to be intimidated by the threats of God’s enemies. And that admonition would fit very well with what Peter was telling his readers. Don’t be afraid of the threats of those who try to intimidate you and mistreat you and even persecute you for believing in Jesus.

Rather he says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” In other words keep a very special place, a very holy and sanctified place, in your heart for Jesus. Remain faithful to Jesus. He is stronger than all the threats of those who might mistreat you. Jesus will bless you. He will bless you finally with eternal life.

And Peter says even more than just to set apart Christ as Lord in your heart. He says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” One of the curious ironies of Christian persecution down through the centuries and that continues today is that those who persecute are often intrigued by the endurance and faithfulness of Christians. They might wonder with a great deal of skepticism and disdain, “Why are these Christians so foolish and stupid to endure such mistreatment for such a ridiculous hope?”

On the other hand there have been those persecutors who have seen the endurance and faithfulness of the persecuted and genuinely wondered, “What is it that they believe that causes them to endure and be faithful? What is the hope that they have?” Peter is saying in these words when there are those who genuinely ask you what you’re hoping in and why you have hope, then be ready to give them an answer. Be ready to tell them about Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life.

When being persecuted or being mistreated for doing good the sinful nature wants to react with anger and retribution. The sinful nature wants to be a victim. Peter is saying just the opposite. Don’t be a victim. Don’t seek retribution. Rather see how blessed you are. Recognize that God is placing before you an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus Christ. And your endurance in spite of mistreatment might very well be the power that convinces your listeners about the truth of Jesus Christ.

That’s why Peter says when you give the reason for the hope that you have, “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Your patient endurance, love, and faithfulness while being mistreated will put to shame those who mistreat you. And then their shame will lead to one of two outcomes. Either they will be so ashamed of their unloving behavior that they will themselves turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, or they will continue in their shame and bad behavior until judgment day when they will experience the ultimate shame and judgment of God.

When Jesus was being nailed to the cross and suffering the ultimate mistreatment for doing good, he prayed for those who were crucifying him: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Some of those Roman soldiers continued to ridicule Jesus as he hung on the cross dying. They even cast lots for his clothing. But there was a centurion, a Roman soldier of some rank, who saw what Jesus endured, heard what he said, and saw the dark sky felt the earthquake. His reaction was different: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Amen.