Some Reflections on 1 Peter Chapter 3:18-22 The Sacrificial Example of Jesus

St. Patrick’s Church, Governor’s Harbour

Bible Study (Tuesday Feb. 17, 2015)

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18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,[a] he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[b] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Our reading speaks about Christ's suffering, making a connection between the Noah story and the baptism of all flesh as the source of salvation. But connecting Noah and baptism is really a striking, surprising, and frankly, a somewhat unlikely move. In the Noah story, the few righteous people are preserved, while those who have sinned are washed away. God is wearied by the wickedness of humankind, with its every inclination "only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Is this really what we believe baptism is all about? Is this what happens in baptism, that the sinner in us is washed away? The inclinations of the average Christian heart seem to discredit this idea. If we are tempted to draw too close a parallel between the Great Flood and the sacrament of baptism, we would do well to take a step back and consider more carefully how 1 Peter 3:21 applies Noah as a metaphor. 1 Peter 3:21 describes baptism not so much as a cleansing ("not as a removal of dirt from the body"), but as an appeal on the behalf of the baptized to God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus baptism is not, for 1 Peter 3, a cleansing or a washing away of sin (or the sinner), but a claiming of the sinner by Christ Jesus…His victory over suffering, sin and death. Noah found favour with God in the face of the world's wickedness (Genesis 6:6-8). Noah's righteousness saved him. Baptism now saves you."Baptism now saves you." This phrase follows closely after the talk of Christ's suffering. In Peter this cleansing is not tied as explicitly to the death and resurrection of Jesus as it is in Paul (cf. Romans 6:4), but the implicit connection is obvious. Christ suffered for all sins, and baptism is how we are joined to His resurrection.
Like the Great Flood, the suffering of Christ is a one-time event. "It is," to coin a phrase, "finished." In baptism we find ourselves connected to the resurrection of Christ. Unlike Noah, the righteous man who is brought safely "through water" while the unrighteous are washed away, we are the unrighteous who are saved in the water. We are joined to Christ Jesus the righteous one who endured the suffering and death that our sins earned him.

Some Questions to Consider

  1. Why would the righteous die for the unrighteous? Does this happen in 2015?
  2. Why would God allow so many persons to die in a flood (cf. Genesis 6:11-13)? Why do people die in floods or tsunamis in modern times?
  3. What is the importance of this reading in our observance of Lent?
  4. What relevance does 1 Peter 3:22 provide for a sinner who is drowning in sinful waters?
  5. What fears today prompt persons to follow the way of Christ?
  6. How does hope change your behaviour and cause people to ask about it? What situation seemed hopeless to you until God brought hope?
Posted on February 16, 2015 .