1 Peter 3:18-22
Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.
Getting ready for big events is a critical part of getting the most out of the event. Having just experienced Christmas not so long ago, it is easy to see that the preparation is what makes the greatest blessing when we come to the day. I want you to listen to Mark 14:12-16. This section is the introduction to the Upper Room Passover meal leading up to the cross.
“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
13 He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?”’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished. Prepare for us there.” 16 The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.”
Jesus told his disciples to ‘go and prepare.’ He points the direction they are to go and what to watch for. “Go to the city.” Follow a man with a water jar.” “Prepare for us there.” We are in a season of preparation … we want to be ready to more fully experience the miracle of Easter and the resurrection of our Lord.
This year my Lenten theme is “Clothed with Christ.” Walking the road to the cross, is not an easy task. We cannot bear the load or go the distance without Christ. Think of our recent weather. There have been icy cold temperatures. It has been important to clothe yourself for the weather. Layers. Heavy coats. Warm gloves. Hats. All this serves to both protect us against the cold, and enable us to function … be productive. The right clothing is a must. I just got a new pair of gloves for doing construction at the house. My old gloves were warm enough, but they were so clumsy. I had a hard time picking up a screw driver much less a screw. My new gloves keep my hands warm while allowing me to pick up a nail. They are great! The call is to “Put on Christ”, clothe yourself with Christ in order to be ready for the impact of what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. The phrase comes from Romans 3:14. In the midst of section relating to the sins of the world, Paul says, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ …” (NIV). This was to be an antidote for all the poison of sin that can engulf us.
One of our challenges is to acknowledge ourselves as sinners. We prefer to think of ourselves as doing pretty well in this life. The choir anthem this morning is entitled, “Bring Me to the Cross” by Brad Nix. At about the midpoint of the song the words are, “Bring me to the cross. Let me kneel and pray. Mercy waits with healing touch to wipe my tears away. Thorns of sin I bring Him, nails of grief and pride. I hold the spear that pierces, yet He draws me to His side.” What a graphic statement! It brings us up short. Have you ever pondered that these are the things we so often bring to life? How can we stand? If we truly examine our shortcomings it can be overwhelming.
In Psalm 25:4-7 the Psalmist is pleading with God. ‘Don’t remember my sins and shortcomings … instead, remember me according to your love.’
“Make your ways known to me, Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth—teach it to me--
because you are the God who saves me. I put my hope in you all day long. 6 Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love— they are forever! 7 But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing. Remember me only according to your faithful love for the sake of your goodness, Lord.”
The image I love is that the Lord covers my sins with Jesus’ righteousness. When God looks at a follower of Jesus Christ he sees not the sinner but the redeemed. He sees Jesus righteousness.
In 1 Peter, the passage that we read this morning, the writer refers to baptism, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as a mark of a good conscience toward God. What does that mean? Have you ever said the phrase, ‘I can’t in good conscience ____________ (you fill in the blank), it wouldn’t be right. A good conscience toward God is being right with God. It is walking in step with God. But how?
Back to beginning of our passage today. “Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit.” Notice the phrase “… in order to …” The purpose of the cross was to bring us into the presence of God. The only way we can be in the presence of God is to stand forgiven. Both Psalm 24 and 1 Peter point to our need for forgiveness. That forgiveness is then secured by Jesus Christ.
Consider the book of Romans. From 1:18 through 3:22 Paul is establishing that none of us is good. No one can stand on their own merit. It culminates with 3:23! “All have sinned and fallen short of the gory of God!” He starts with the Gentiles – they have sinned. Then the Jews – they have sinned, and even their heritage in Abraham and Isaac and Jacob cannot save them. In the worldview of that day that’s all there is. ALL have sinned and fallen short. But to stay in a state of guilt, in light of our sinfulness, is not what God wants for us! Finally, in 3:24-26 the promise is expressed. “ … but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. 25 Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness in passing over sins that happened before, 26 during the time of God’s patient tolerance. He also did this to demonstrate that he is righteous in the present time, and to treat the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous.” In Jesus’ faithfulness is where we find mercy and grace. And did you hear the end? “… and to treat the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous.” We are “…made alive by the Spirit …”, as it says at the end of I Peter 3:18.
Only as we clothe ourselves with Christ, allowing him to cover our sins and shortcomings with forgiveness, can we truly come to the cross, and receive the life God wants for us. Only as we ask for and receive forgiveness can we stand with Christ.
So I ask myself, “Where do I need forgiveness right now?” Ask yourself. Try not to be general, rather be specific. Where do I fall short of the glory of God in everyday life? Take this to the cross and be clothed in forgiveness.
I love the power of “Bring Me to the Cross” as it ends with, “Join me at the cross, for all must pass its way. Love’s arms are open wide and reaching still today. Come behold the Savior, the Lamb who sets us free. Join me at the cross, the cross of Calvary.”
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Pastor Paul Grossman