We don’t typically associate salvation with death. Normally the opposite is true! In the New Testament salvation normally describes forgiveness of sins (Acts 4.12, for example). Escaping spiritual death is how the word is primarily used. The exception to this rule is fascinating and sobering.
Human instinct compels us to avoid unpleasantness, suffering, and death. When faced with danger or difficulty, our default response is avoidance at all cost. This was a great temptation for many in the early church.
Peter wrote to Christians who were about to face some awful hardships. He encouraged them by promising salvation, but it was a hard message to swallow. In the following examples, Peter used “salvation” to mean something different (it would have been understood to mean this because of context):
I Peter 1.5 – Death
I Peter 1.8ff – Death
I Peter 2.2ff – Death
How is death the same thing as salvation? For those who were suffering and stayed faithful, death was the ultimate salvation. For those whose lives were upended because of persecution, being with God forever was salvation. For those who lost their family members, salvation meant reunion. The ultimate result of faith is eternal life with God.
How do we view difficulty? Do we compromise faith to avoid suffering? At worst, suffering leads to death. At best, suffering leads to death. Nothing can slow a faithful Christian down! We have salvation in this life (guilt does not weigh us down), and the end of this life is salvation. We have an awesome God.
There’s a reason why we know who Galileo is. In 1610, with his telescope, the astronomer discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter. The same year, he discovered a strange oval around Saturn eventually known to be its rings. Then, in 1623, he observed an astronomical event, happening once every 20 years, known as the “Great Conjunction.” This is when the two giant planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, travel together across the sky and appear aligned. In fact, they are so close that to the naked eye they almost appear to be one giant star (known popularly as “The Christmas Star”)(Bill Keeter, Nasa.gov). Tonight, 12/21/2020, is the closest our two biggest planets have appeared together since that night 397 years ago when Galileo dubbed this phenomena with its popular name. The last time most of the earth had the view it will have tonight was March 5, 1226. A popular theory for “the star” of Matthew 2:2, which drew the Magi from the east, was the “Great Conjunction” (which happened three times in 7 B.C., in May, September, and December)(Joe Rao, space.com).
Did God, in His providence and the process of holding all things together (Col. 1:17), make the “Great Conjunction” part of His fulness of time (Gal. 4:4) that brought about the events surrounding the wise men and Herod in Matthew two? We cannot know that, but it is a powerful demonstration of the order and design of an omnipotent creator.
This God of order has made known some other “Great Conjunctions” through His eternal word:
Belief and baptism (Mark 16:16)–Together, they bring salvation
Faith and works (James 2:14-26)–Together, they ensure life
Repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38)–Together, they effect remission of sins
Faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13)–Together, they are the “abiding” things
Repentance and belief (Mark 1:15)–Together, they form the gospel of God
Righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17)–Together, they constitute the kingdom of heaven
Life and peace (Rom. 8:6)–Together, they are consequences of the mind set on the Spirit
Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24)–Together, they form the essentials of true worship
Goodness, righteousness, and truth (Eph. 5:9)–Together, they form the fruit of the light)
Deed and truth (1 John 3:18)–Together, they demonstrate true love
There are actually so many more of these “combinations” or conjunctions that God has brought together. As compelling and awe-inspiring as His creative power is, as shown in tonight’s incredibly rare celestial occurrence, it simply builds our faith in His ability to fulfill the many great promises that saturate His Word. I hope skies are clear where you are tonight and that you will take the time to view the southwest sky right after sunset. Why not take a moment, as you gawk, to thank and praise the God who has so thoroughly revealed to you who He is and what He wants for your life?
This week we will do a brief study of I Peter 3.17-22.
In verse 17, the emphasis in the original text is “doing good.” If it is God’s desire (this is emphasized) that we suffer, it is better (stronger, more prominent, more advantageous) that we suffer for doing good works than evil works. How much more powerful a message do we send when we come under fire for doing something that benefits others? If we suffer for doing something bad, we’re just another criminal. But to suffer in the act of doing something good – in context – is a far more powerful evangelistic tool.
In the following verses, Peter gives a powerful example of Christ’s focus on getting rid of sin. He put everything into saving mankind – including giving His own life – so that we could all have the opportunity to come to God. Even before the destruction of the world through the flood He made sure everything had the opportunity to hear about their spiritual state. Whether this was done through Noah and his sons or whether He had a more direct hand in this is immaterial. The point of the text is that the message got out to those who are “now in prison.” His goal was to bring others to God, even when it caused Him suffering.
Only those who did listen and obey – eight people – were rescued from evil by the waters of the flood. Notice that the Spirit does not record Noah’s ark as being what saved them! They were saved in the important sense by the destruction of evil. Our focus is not earthly.
Just as water saved Noah and his family from evil, water saves us from spiritual death. Being immersed in water is how we make a formal appeal to God for a clear conscience! Some translations render this, “A promise to God from a good conscience,” as if baptism is some kind of outward sign of an inward faith. This is not reflected in Greek; it is a conscience cleared by an appeal to God, because of the resurrection of Jesus. He has all power, so He can clear our record when we submit to Him.
Having all of this as a background, we have some motivation to keep our actions pure, suffer for doing good things, and understand that God’s power is what saves us. Peter gives many other phenomenal motivators for living a pure life, which we will look at in detail in the coming weeks.
God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.
God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan.
Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9).
Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)?
Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5).
What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today!
It has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, going to northern Montana to see Glacier National Park. Though I lived only a long day’s drive from it for 13 years, it took moving across the country before we made the trip. Sometimes, the event cannot live up to the hype, but that was not the case with this experience. The beauty is as diverse as it is breathtaking. While there is so much to see, some of the most memorable sights are to be found along a route in the park known as the Going-To-The-Sun Road.
It has to be 50 of the most beautiful miles on the planet, with diverse wonders. You’ll see mountain streams cutting through the landscape.
There are breathtaking views of the northern Rocky Mountains throughout the length of this iconic road.
And, of course, there are the lakes that dot this God-kissed path.
There may be some impressive, enjoyable creations of man, but no one can outdo the Master Creator for displays of beauty. I’m glad I took some pictures, but there is no way I could ever forget what I saw.
I could not help thinking about how such an experience reinforces my faith in the existence of God or how it shows me what kind of God He is. How could anyone see what is on display in places like that park, then come away denying Him or concluding that mere random chance produced it?
But, given the name of this road, I also could not help but think about an analogy Jesus used when He walked the earth. He referred to the path of discipleship, following Him, as the narrow way (Mat. 7:14). It is a one-lane road, a singular path (“the way,” John 14:6). It can be an uphill climb (Acts 14:22; 1 Pet. 2:21). But, not only is there much beauty to be found along the journey (John 10:10), the payoff is without rival (Mat. 10:22; Rev. 21:1ff).
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open only for a season and, though park officials can estimate when it will close each year (mid-to-late October), this cannot be precisely predicted. The road that leads to the Son is likewise open only for a season (Heb. 9:27), but no one knows when that road will forever be closed (Mat. 24:36; 25:10).
It breaks my heart to realize that most people are not on the “Going-to-the Son” road. They have charted a path that may bring them pleasure for a season (Heb. 11:25), but it will end in their eternal destruction (Mat. 25:46). Jesus has His disciples here to show others the way to Him (Mat. 28:19). He is preparing a place far superior to this world (John 14:2-3), a place we should be looking for (2 Pet. 3:13) and longing for (Heb. 11:16).
For all its tears and sorrows, the road of life is full of so much beauty, too. There is never a regret in taking the path of the Savior. But, there are lost and weary travelers who need our help to find it, too. May we find someone today to introduce to the “Going-to-the-Son Road.”
There is one teaching of Buddhism that I have looked upon favorably, that our problems stem from earthly attachment and desire. I cannot argue with principles I also find recorded in the pages of the Bible, after all. Yet, despite the growing popularity of Buddhism in the West, I find Buddhism wholly deficient in addressing the spiritual needs I have. In a nutshell, Buddhism lacks two essential things I believe are needed to save.
First, it does not embrace the only name given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4.12). I recognize this is not an insurmountable obstacle for a nonbeliever. The nonbeliever secularizes the Christ and strips Him of His Divinity. Or he or she might declare Jesus of Nazareth to be a mere fabrication of men. Interestingly enough, though, since I am considering Buddhism, there are those co-opting Jesus as One influenced by the teachings of the Buddha. The theory is that Jesus was in India, learning Buddhism somewhere between the ages of 12 and 30. (That would be a fantastic departure for One Who proved His knowledge of Scripture on par with rabbis many years His senior at the age of 12, wouldn’t it? –Luke 2.46-47. This supposed abandonment of Moses’ Law also ignores His stated purpose of being the living embodiment of the same –Matthew 5.17.)
Second, it foolishly looks within oneself to find salvation. Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man. Thus, Buddha implied anyone could achieve “enlightenment” as he had done. Buddha said that you find salvation looking within yourself. Perhaps it sounds like an oversimplification of a system of faith, but that is a distinct difference. Within Buddhism, one does not need even the existence of gods, let alone the True and Living God, since he or she attains enlightenment all alone. Meanwhile, the great monotheistic religions acknowledge that man is incapable of saving himself. Those traditions maintain that despite being created innocent and pure, we utilized our free moral agency to serve the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2.15-17).
Which of these ideas are more consistent with observation? Outside of the innocence of youth, do people tend to be motivated by selfishness or altruism? There has been a long-standing debate as to whether humans are born inherently good or bad. Few are those attributing good as the default position of the mature heart. Indeed, a child left to his or her own devices, without proper guidance, will become subject to the corrupting influence of those three avenues to sin previously identified above. Thus, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all encourage parents to guide children properly regarding morality, to mold them into the servants of principle.
In contrast, the Holy Bible teaches that there are ways seeming right to us, leading to our destruction (Proverbs 16.25). Jeremiah, the prophet, confesses to God that man cannot even order his steps (Jeremiah 10.23). These two truths ensure as Jesus taught that the vast majority of people are traveling the broad, highway to hell (Matthew 7.13-14).
To allow for such blind groping in the dark, Buddhism has to allow for a continuous system of rebirth. In other words, few, if any, are they who manage to attain enlightenment on their first try through life. He or she will more likely fail only to be reborn and try again and again. And that is the greatest tragedy of the belief that you can look within yourself to find salvation. You get stuck on this Ferris wheel of rebirth. Paul tells the Athenians that even those who are groping can easily discover God since He is not far from us (Acts 17.22-30).
Though I do not wish to be unfair to those embracing the Buddhist belief system, I have to wonder if the attraction of the Western mind to Buddha’s religion has more to do with the mindset implanted by the liberty afforded to citizens of Western democracies. In other words, do Westerners instead prefer the idea of independence from God, telling him or her what to do to be righteous? I am inclined to believe the latter.
I can speak to my own heart. I know its evil. So, I find myself caught up in that same war with my members, as experienced by the apostle Paul (Romans 7.14ff). Like Paul, I ask who can save me from this body of death (Romans 7.24). And like Paul, I find my Savior to be Jesus Christ (Romans 7.25;8.1-2). For that reason, when presented with the choice, I believe in the Son of Man rather than Siddhartha Gautama. My righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). A wretch like me can only be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8-10).
Many Americans have recently been recipients of a stimulus check. Quite a few have taken that and made some big purchases or padded a savings account or used it for much-needed relief. Whether or not this stimulus was an economically sound decision, most have seen it as a well-timed gift that – at least in the short term – has lessened some of the difficulties of this pandemic. It was designed to bring relief, and for many it has.
We often look at salvation as something we received at baptism (which we did, I Pt. 3.21, Acts 2.38, Col. 2.12-14). We are grateful to have grace and a mediator for when we fall short as Christians, and this gift is not something we should ever take for granted.
When we think about how we got salvation, though, we don’t always think about the enormous amount of preparation that went into it. The ability to have our sin problem erased (Colossians describes it as a certificate of debt with legal demands in 2.14) is no small gift.
I Peter 1.10-12 says, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven – things into which angels long to look.”
Briefly, I’d look to look at how this passage brings out the enormous value of salvation. Firstly, ancient prophets were told that this salvation was for future generations. They wrote about this while living under a far more difficult system of godly living, knowing that they would not be beneficiaries of that salvation.
Secondly, the early church benefited from the sacrifices and hardships of those who brought the message of salvation to them. It was valuable enough that those men were willing to assume that risk to give it to others.
Thirdly, angels – who, like the early prophets, are not beneficiaries of this salvation – were extremely interested in salvation.
If two of the groups mentioned here were not even beneficiaries but strongly desired to know more about it or recorded it for all time, what does that tell us about salvation’s value? Peter set up its value this way to encourage the early church to live holy lives.
Knowing just how valuable our salvation is should push us to live like we appreciate it! Not only does it have enormous value as a gift, the One who gave it wants us to have it. With that in mind, let’s cultivate greater appreciation and godliness because of the awesome gift of salvation. And if we know anyone who could use it, let’s pass the good news on to them, too.
Its blood was the difference in life and death (Exodus 12:13,23)
Its sacrifice was to be commemorated (Exodus 12:14-22,24-27)
Its sacrifice drew reverence and worship from the obedient (Exodus 12:27)
Interestingly, Paul says, “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus, as a faithful Jew, had observed the passover throughout His public ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55), but He knew that the one recorded in Matthew 26 would be different. He told His disciples, “You know that after two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion” (2). On that Passover, He would be sacrificed for us. Jesus of Nazareth, an unblemished (1 Peter 1:18) male (Mark 8:31; 9:31), was killed (Acts 2:23). His blood is applied (Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 9:22; 10:19; 12:24; 13:20; Revelation 1:5; 5:9) to the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-9) and is the difference in spiritual life and death (John 6:53-54). As we do every Sunday, this Sunday, which the world recognizes as Easter, we will commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus as part of our weekly worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
Jesus was arrested on Thursday, crucified on Friday, lay buried all day Saturday, and arose on Sunday. Today, New Testament Christians commemorate this sacrifice every Sunday. The unleavened bread represents His body, and the fruit of the vine represents His blood. The God of perfect foreknowledge made these “emblems” part of the Passover feast which Israel celebrated the night they left Egypt, and it predated the first covenant (Exodus 20). The physical passover lamb sacrificed by Israel had significance to them in their generation and it was to be handed down to their descendants. But, God was drawing a picture that night that would be completed the moment His Son said “It is finished,” bowed His head, and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).We celebrate and rejoice because He died, was buried, and rose again! May we never let this sacrifice lose its significance to our past, present, and future.
Some of the wealthiest companies, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, Mattel, Google, Tesla, and The Walt Disney Company, started in the quaint, quiet haven of a garage. Often, they had little more than an idea of a product or service, but they refused to stop until they achieved success. These rags to riches stories intrigue us and fire our imaginations.
Have you thought about the “start up” that began in heaven? It was conceived in the eternity before time. A couple of millennia ago, a poor couple staying in an obscure little village laid a newborn baby boy in an animal trough. This Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him as He kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Nothing more is said about this amazing adolescent until He is thirty years old and began sharing new ideas and promising the thing every person in every place in every generation absolutely cannot afford to be without.
Though He was executed for His radical claims, thoughts, and actions, His followers refused to keep what He had to offer hidden. Many of them gave their lives to advance this cause, they believed so much in it. Most of them were poor, uneducated, and ordinary people, but they relentlessly carried His offer to every creature under heaven. People began to describe their efforts by saying these men have turned the world upside down!
And indeed they have. Those who heard the Man who started it all shared it with those who shared it until this ultimate hope went everywhere. Today, multiplied centuries today, their work lives on. Taking that same, original plan, written down in one Book, people of every race, color, country, and economic strata continue to start from nearly nothing and grow in extraordinary ways.
No wonder! That newborn is God in the flesh. What He came to offer is the eternal salvation of our souls. Where He offers it is in His body He calls the church. Anyone can have it, if they are willing to give Him everything they are and have. At this very hour, there is an untold number of men, women, and young people who desperately want what He has to offer, but they need to know how to get it. That’s where we come in. He is counting on us to share His offer today, while there’s time for them to take advantage of it. If we truly believe in the power of it, nothing will keep us from getting this indescribable gift to the masses!
The Ford automobile named for Henry’s own son made its debut in 1957 after unprecedented hype. They had started planning and developing the Edsel back in 1955 based on consumer research, polls, and interviews. Ford thought it had tapped into the heart of the buying public with a car that would win its heart. It turned out to be a disaster in every way one can measure such–it was too big, too unreliable and poorly-made, too unattractive, too expensive, and, well, too weird. Even the name is strange. When Ford’s marketing department polled people about how they liked the name, many asked, “Did you say ‘pretzel’?” (info from “The Flop Heard Round The World,” Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 9/4/07).While today the Edsel has become a collector’s item, selling for as much as $100,000 or more, it will forever live among the automotive lemons’ Hall-of-Fame lineup that includes such stellar machines as the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Chevette, Yugo GV, and De Lorean DMC-12.
Marketing can be a mean business. Especially is it risky when you take a proven, respected name and attach it to something that dishonors and degrades it–like “Ford” and “Edsel.” So many researchers have sought to identify why the Edsel was such a colossal failure, but the answer often goes back to the problem that “with too many hands working on the Edsel, the project had no direction” (“The Edsel Proved Why You Should Never Design A Car By Committee,” Chris Perkins, Road & Track, 1/23/17).
What does all of this have to do with God and the Bible or Christ and the church? Well, several things.
Jesus is the Perfect Man who offers something unique that cannot be outdone–salvation which is located in His body, the church (Eph. 1). This is what we have to offer this world, and this is what the world needs.
Sometimes, we spend too much time in gimmickry, marketing hype, and mining for felt needs, and at the end of the day we wind up offering a cheap, poor, and disappointing product that dishonors and degrades His perfect name. May we ever respect the warning of Galatians 1:6-9.
It is easy for us to lose sight of our mission and sense of direction, if Jesus is not the heart of our mission, purpose, plans, and activities. As disciples, He leads and we follow (Luke 9:23-26).
We never want, as a church or as an individual, to sully His precious name by our association with it–whether by ungodliness, worldliness, legalism, mean-spirited, hateful behavior, doctrinal compromise, etc. I suppose that David’s name, as king of Israel, defamed God for a long time after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14). We should disdain the very prospect of such.
It’s not too late to correct even infamous blunders. Ford is not defined by the Edsel. It went on to produce some automobiles that more than restored its good name. That can be true for churches and individuals. Jesus would not have gone to the trouble to admonish Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea if they were a lost cause. The same is true of Euodia, Syntyche, the man in 1 Corinthians 5, and others.There cannot “un-be” an Edsel, but there can be a brighter future.
The Ford Edsel became the focus of a great many studies by the likes of John Brooks and Bill Gates. Its failures helped many industries, not just the auto industry, learn from its basic mistakes. I think there’s insight in it for the greatest “business” of all–i.e., soul-winning. May we get the greatest name (Jesus) to the greatest audience (the world) through the greatest message (the gospel)! That’s a guaranteed recipe for the greatest success (salvation)!