A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on May 29, 2011 by Pastor Dale Raether Don’t Be Afraid to Speak the TruthI Peter 3:15-22Children, I have here a figurine of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, with some sheep. As you look at it, you can pretend that the daddy sheep is your dad, the mommy sheep is your mom, this sheep is you, and this one can be a brother or sister or a friend. It’s fun to look at this figurine, because it reminds us that Jesus is always with us. He always loves and forgives us. He is always leading us to do what’s right. But suppose this figurine belonged to your parents, and one day while you’re looking at it, you accidentally drop it and it broke. Worse yet, your parents had warned you not to touch it. So, would you run and tell your parents what you had done? Or, would you carefully set the pieces together and hope your parents didn’t notice? Sometimes children don’t like saying anything when they’re in trouble. Adults are different. Sometimes they don’t like saying anything when someone else is in trouble. That’s kind of silly, isn’t it – to not say anything when someone needs help. God’s Word this morning is for all of us - both children and adults. Listen as Peter encourages us to not be afraid to speak the truth. You can go back to your moms and dads now. Peter was an expert at being afraid to speak the truth. It happened the night Jesus was betrayed. He had followed Jesus into the judgment hall. When a 12 year old girl asked him, “Were you with Jesus?”, Peter crumbled. He said, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Peter did that three times. Now, perhaps Peter was afraid the soldiers there would arrest him or beat him up or whatever. But what’s our excuse? When someone we know doesn’t trust in Jesus, or thinks that half the Bible isn’t true and doesn’t apply to him, why are we so slow to say anything? Maybe sometimes we’re afraid of not having the right words, or sounding dumb, or turning him off completely. Here’s why that person needs us to stop being afraid. We read in our text, “Jesus was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built – I Peter 3:19-20.” Hell is a real place. Here it’s described as a prison. In other places in the Bible it’s described as a place of gloomy darkness and a lake of fire. Peter specifically mentions some of the people, who are in hell – the unbelievers who lived before the Flood. That’s not to say unbelievers who died yesterday aren’t there too. But will any of them ever get out? Well, Jesus descended into hell after his resurrection, not to suffer for sin – He finished that on the cross. Nor did Jesus go there to give unbelievers a second chance. In Hebrews it says, “It is appointed man to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Rather, Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory over Satan and all his follows. Incidentally, the spirits in hell will get out briefly on the last day, just long enough for their souls to be put back into their resurrected bodies, and then body and soul they will be thrown into hell forever.There are a lot of people today who, if we tell them this, will accuse us of being unloving or even simple minded. But what these people aren’t getting is that God is absolutely holy. Man on the other hand has been sinful ever since Adam and Eve, and so, no one is able to lift himself up to God’s standards. As a result everyone deserves hell. Still, how do we convince others of that? A good place to start is to believe it ourselves! And so, let’s keep comparing our thoughts and words and actions with the Commandments, until we realize that WE too have given God no choice. Once we realize this, we’re going to have the right attitude and the right sincerity to speak the truth. Hell is a real place. However, that’s not where God wants to send anyone. We read in our text, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God – I Peter 3:18.” As I said before, no one can lift himself up to God’s standard of holiness. And so, God took on a human nature and kept His standards for us. Then, since His holiness requires that all sin be punished with hell, God the Son suffered that in our place – the righteous for the unrighteous. Then three days later, God proved His Son had restored all people to Himself by raising Him from the dead. Another proof we are restored to God was Christ’s descent into hell, which we just heard about. Still another proof we are holy in God’s sight is Jesus, our flesh and blood brother, has ascended into heaven. There our text says, “He is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him – I Peter 3:22.” Authorities and powers here are two of the ranks of angels, just like we have ranks in the military. Jesus is ruling over all, including angels and demons, believers and unbelievers for the good of His children and for the spread of His Word, which is why we don’t have to be afraid to speak the truth. And so, when we tell others not only that God punishes sin, but that He punished them in Christ, Jesus will use our words use our words with our example to plant and nourish the seed of faith in others. Or, if a person keeps resisting the Word, and then tries to make us suffer for what we believe, Jesus will use that suffering to make our faith shine brighter, so maybe in the future, he will listen. Still, what exactly should we be saying, and how should we say it?Our text reads, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But 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 – I Peter 3:15-16.” The best way to prepare to speak the truth is to keep applying it to ourselves. In other words don’t worry about what to say. The Holy Spirit will guide us when the time comes. Instead let’s keep filling up our own hearts with His truth. Through the Word, let’s continually grow in our understanding of how high, deep and wide is the love of Christ. More specifically let’s thoroughly dig into the Bible and know what it says about the two natures of Christ, His death, His resurrection, His descent into hell, His ascension into heaven, His coming in glory, and what all that these things mean for us. There are no magic bullets in what to say to an unbeliever or to someone who’s doubting. Every person is different. Every situation is different. But as we tremble at God’s Law for ourselves, and as we hold on to the Gospel for ourselves, we will have gentleness and respect for others that can draw them to Jesus. Furthermore the Word will keep our lives in line with how God wants us to live. That’s important too. You see, if a Christian isn’t following God’s will in certain areas of his life, that’s all the excuse unbelievers need to say that Christianity doesn’t work. But how can we speak the truth to our fellow believers in how God wants us to live? How can we do this without coming across as judgmental or being “holier than thou?” That won’t happen, IF each day we keep our own conscience clear. And so, whenever we catch ourselves in a sin of commission or a sin of omission, let’s ask God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake. Let’s also pray for strength and guidance that we truly reflect Christ’s love in everything we do and say. Now, we’re never going to be perfect at this in this life. Yet, if keep walking this path, when we need to talk to someone who’s struggling like we are, we can be like Peter, who wasn’t perfect either. And so we can say for example, “I know how hard this is for you. But here’s what I found; and here’s how God has helped me.”In our text Peter explains one of the ways that God helped him. We read, “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, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him – I Peter 3:20-22.” As dangerous as it was being a Christian under the Romans, it was perhaps even more dangerous for Noah before the Flood. Can you imagine how the people would have treated him as he was building the ark and telling them why he was building it? However, through the Flood, God destroyed that ungodly world and by means of the ark, brought Noah safely to a new, cleansed world. In the same way, through Baptism God drowns our sinful desires and by the Ark of the Holy Christian Church, is bringing us safely to the new earth in a new universe, he will create.And here’s why simple water can do that. Peter calls baptism a pledge of a good conscience. That word pledge is a courtroom term. It actually means a “stipulation”, something both sides agree to. And so, in Baptism God says our sins are washed away; and in Baptism we say my sins are washed away. And so it’s agreed. Our sins are washed away, and we are His dear children. Furthermore just as Christ rose from the dead and is ruling in heaven, so will we! However, even now we can start reigning. WE can choose not to be afraid to tell people the truth. We can say that God is holy, but also that He is love through Christ alone. And we can choose not to live like the rest of the world, but resist every sinful attitude. Also we can choose to be an encouragement to others and not let ourselves get wrapped around the things of this life. We can do all of these things, not because we’re afraid of hell, but because we are looking forward to heaven. And finally one of the best ways we can thank God for all of this is to keep pointing others to Him through our prayers and offerings, and our words and example. And now let’s do that very thing! Please stand and let’s encourage everyone here and everyone who’s listening on the radio by speaking the truth with words Peter would have used to. Please stand and open your service folder to the Apostles’ Creed. Amen.

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