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Sanctify Christ as Lord (3:13-16)

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Peter writes his first inspired letter to followers of Christ who are suffering persecution. In the face of suffering or persecution it is always a good idea to try to understand why it is occurring. Peter addresses this question in chapter 3, verse 13 where he writes, “Now who is he who will harm you, if you become imitators of that which is good?” This raises the possibility that at least some of the people to whom Peter is writing were not being persecuted merely because they were Christians, but also because they might have been involved in doing wrong, or because they were deliberately provoking the authorities. This becomes even more clear when we realize that this translation uses the phrase ‘ imitators of’ for the Greek word ‘Zealots.’ A more literal translation of Peter’s words would be, “And who will harm you if you are Zealots in doing good?” But who were the Zealots? They were a group of radical extremists who were dedicated to obtaining the independence of the Jewish people from Roman rule. In A.D. 66 they began the revolt against Rome which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is worth noting that one of Jesus’ Apostles, that is Simon the Zealot, was a member of this sect before becoming a follower of Jesus. Jesus transformed him from a man of violence who was willing to die for his political convictions into a man of peace who was later martyred while spreading Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Every person who claims to be a follower of Jesus should ask himself whether he has allowed Christ to transform him in this way or not. What is most important to us? Are we fanatical about our political convictions, or are we fanatical about doing good? In chapter 2, verses 13 through 17 Peter had already told his readers that they must respectfully submit to governmental authority and honor the king. Here in chapter 3, verse 13 he urges the followers of Christ to make sure that their suffering does not result from their own inappropriate actions.

But not all suffering results from wrongdoing. Many are persecuted in spite of doing good. Does this mean that God has forgotten them, or is angry with them? No, not at all! Peter points out that the follower of Christ is blessed even under unjust suffering. In verse 14 he writes, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed...” This recalls the words that Jesus spoke in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

When people have suffered persecution it is easy for them to listen to rumors and to believe that everyone is conspiring against them. But Peter writes, “Don’t fear what they fear, neither be troubled.” This is a quotation of part of verse 12 from Isaiah chapter 8. If we are to take the whole of verse 12 it reads: “Don’t say, ‘A conspiracy!’ concerning all about which this people say, ‘A conspiracy!’ neither fear their threats, nor be terrorized.” From this we learn that our fears are often baseless. Events which bring harm are not always part of an overall plan or conspiracy to destroy the followers of Christ.

But it is one thing to say that we should not fear and another to actually cease fearing. What is the secret of overcoming fear of suffering for our faith? Both Isaiah and Peter provide the answer: In verse 13 Isaiah writes, “Yahweh [that is, Lord] of Armies is who you must respect as holy. He is the one you must fear. He is the one you must dread.” Peter writes in verse 15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord...” (NIV) From these verses we can learn at least two things. The first lesson is that the more we fill our hearts with Christ, the less we will fear the future or what people will try to do to us. The second lesson is that when we compare these two passages together we see that another name for Christ is the Lord of Armies. Christ himself will fight against those who seek to harm His followers.

There is another reason for the follower of Jesus to “set apart Christ as Lord” in their hearts. In the second part of verse 15 Peter writes “...and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear...” It is only when the Christian’s heart is fully given to his Lord that he will be able to answer the questions that are put to him about his faith. The word that Peter uses that is translated “give an answer” means to give a verbal defense. This word is used several times in the New Testament. In several cases it refers to not merely answering the questions of an individual but to defending oneself in a court trial. For example Jesus told his disciples, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, don’t be anxious how or what you will answer, or what you will say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that same hour what you must say.” (Luke 12:11-12) In chapter 1, verses 10 through 12 Peter calls the Holy Spirit the ‘Spirit of Christ.’ Jesus Himself is the defender of those who have “set apart Christ as Lord” in their hearts.

This translation says that the followers of Jesus are to answer their critics with fear. But how can this be since Peter has already quoted from the prophet Isaiah to establish the fact that Christians should not fear? If Peter is referring to the attitude we should have toward God, then fear in the sense of reverence is an appropriate translation. On the other hand, it is more likely that Peter is referring to the attitude a follower of Christ should have toward his questioners. In that case it would be more appropriate to translate Peter’s words “with humility and respect”. For Peter goes on to say in verse 16, “having a good conscience; that, while you are spoken against as evildoers, they may be disappointed who curse your good way of life in Christ.” The follower of Christ is not to answer his accusers with insolence, but is to allow his good behavior to refute the accusations made against him. The object is not to defeat the accusers, but if possible to win them over so that they too may experience Christ’s love and forgiveness. As the Apostle Paul said when he was on trial before King Agrippa, “...I pray to God, that... not only you, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these bonds.” (Acts 26:29)