Summary: Sermon 12 in a study in 1 & 2 Peter
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”
“The mystery of divine providence is that God is absolutely sovereign, but His rule and predetermination is never apart from human responsibility. And the evil of man never reduces Him to a secondary cause. God is primary in providentially accomplishing every feature of His eternal will and plan. Christ’s perfect example of suffering unjustly and through that accomplishing the glorious saving purpose of God should give believers hope and confidence for the triumph of God’s purpose in the midst of their own suffering.” John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – 1 Peter, Moody, Chicago, 2004
In these few verses of 1 Peter 3 are some of the most befuddling words in the Bible. He makes reference to Jesus going to a place that he calls ‘prison’, where ‘spirits’ are kept, and not just spirits in general but spirits who were specifically disobedient in the days of Noah.
Then he talks about Jesus making a proclamation of some kind to them, and I have to tell you that the commentators I checked had varying approaches to the meaning of these things.
Frankly, this is one of those passages that I think a lot of preachers would be tempted to pass over and leave alone.
But I do think there are some interesting things for us to learn in them, so we will attempt to handle them properly today.
First though, we need to start at the beginning of our text and pay close attention to the news of verse 18 and the unchangeable and glorious doctrine it contains.
THE TRUTH THAT SETS US APART
Something that has always been vital for the Christian to understand, but becomes increasingly important to have a handle on in these days in which we live, is that the Christian faith is unique to all other religions of the world and there is absolutely no room for compromise on that issue.
In February of 1988 the Baha’i International Community issued a statement to the forty-fourth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, calling for the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.
In the midst of their statement, which called for cessation of oppression and torture which, in itself, is good, they made this claim:
“…we believe that all the world’s major religions have proceeded from the same Source, worshipped alike by Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew and Moslem, as well as members of other religions. The core teachings of every religion – for example, the teaching to love one’s neighbor – are essentially the same, and we submit that they reflect one universal truth.” BIC Document #88-0217 – Eliminating Religious Intolerance, Geneva, Switzerland, 17 February 1988
I think that even those of the Jewish and Islamic religions would disagree with those sentiments simply because they are based on an ideal rather than a person.
If every religion of the world was simply a set of philosophical reasonings with no basis in relationship to a living God then their statements would make sense. Different groups and cultures of people would only have to agree to disagree on the finer points on which they find no common ground and live in peace.
But as soon as you come to deal with a Person, a Deity to be worshiped, then someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong.
In philosophy man can debate man all day long over the hairsplitting finer points of opinion. But in theology the more those same two men know the One who reveals Himself, the less there will be to argue about because their knowledge will be founded on what He has revealed, not what they have cooked up in their heads.
My daughters might sit in their room and speculate from sun up to sun down about what I might like for my birthday. But as soon as they come to me and ask what I would like and I tell them there no longer remains a reason to debate.
Taking this to the next step then, we ask, ‘Is it enough to worship a personal God, even if much of our doctrine differs, and call for equal acceptance of other religions based on that alone?’
I found an article by Umar F. Abd-Allah, who is chairman of the Nawawi Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization based in Chicago.