In Sunday morning Bible study, our class is reading 1st Peter. This week was chapter 3 and I’ve always had a challenge with the imagery there. I’m talking about the way Peter brings Noah into the picture and connects it to Christian suffering.
Up until this point in the letter, it’s been about being a different, winsome kind of people and Christian suffering in the world for the sake of Christ. Then, in 1 Peter 3 he brings up Noah and the flood in what appears to be a weird way.
The first part of chapter three is dealing with being representatives of the body of Christ in the context of marriage (1 Peter 3:1-7). 1 Peter 3:8 is a summation of the strategic advice for Christians on how we can get more people to see Jesus in our lives and relations so that they might have an ear to hear the Gospel. Peter then quotes a Psalm to reinforce the message and give it more weight (as if it were not coming from the Apostle Peter!).
Christian Suffering Is Good?
Then in 1 Peter 3:13, he starts defending Christian suffering as a good. It is easy to see how the Jewish Christians (Peter was an apostle to the Jews) might wonder about that. In the promises to Moses, good followed those who were in God’s favor and bad things happened to those who broke the covenant.
I’m reminded of the Apostles asking Jesus in the Gospel of John (John 9:2) about the blind man: "Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" not considering the possibility of Jesus answer, "this was so the Glory of God might be revealed" in Jesus healing him.
As Christians, we would certainly allow that good can come out of suffering. We immediately think of Christ on the Cross. But even our own suffering? Maybe our Christian suffering get beatified and connected to Jesus suffering in some way. And of course, Peter says this later (1 Peter 4:13).
But there seems to be a challenge of some sort that Peter is answering. Perhaps the saints are saying on the receiving end of this passage some version of "how long, O Lord", or just a plain old "WHY?"
In 1 Peter 3:15, there's the wonderful, "always be ready with an answer (a defense) for the hope that is in you" with gentleness and respect.
The connection between Christian suffering, Noah and Baptism
In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter compares that good action mentioned before (waiting, gently answering, practicing patience) with the patient suffering of Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, who took our place and suffered to bring us to God.
I’m following so far: we’re to follow our Lord in suffering to bring in those who have not yet had the blood of the sacrifice applied to them (the righteous in Christ suffering for the unrighteous).
Jesus was killed ‘in the Flesh,’ but comes back in the Spirit or by the power of the Holy Spirit (too much to go into here... another post, perhaps?). And by the Spirit or in the Spirit, he goes to the spirits in prison (another post all by itself) because, "formerly, they did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few" were saved (1 Peter 3:19).
And, in this way, Baptism and the Noah’s Ark and Christian suffering are connected. God saved Noah and his family through water and he saves us in the same way.
And the part I did not get was this:
Why does Peter break off on the patience in Christian suffering theme to go into the Noah story and then to baptism?
And I think it’s this--we’re like Noah in this analogy. Can you imagine what it was like for Noah and family to go into an ancient Costco to get some bread and Milk (or whatever they shopped for)? How hard it must have been, for 120 years, to be building a monstrous boat/zoo, probably nowhere near water, because "God told me to do it"? Can you imagine the family issues that might come up?
They just made a movie where they attempted to explore some of these things (EESH!). Noah was there, doing his job, suffering and building the ark. Getting his family and anything else to be saved IN the ark was a good chunk of that calling.
Noah’s Ark is the same as the Baptismal font
We are like Noah; we are kind of weird. We have baptism and we say you can be saved if you get into this big boat called the church, which, by the way, often looks like a menagerie and "God told us to build it." People can be saved, like they were in the Ark, only through water. Baptism is the way into our Ark.
And Noah and his family were spared God’s wrath by passing through water in the Ark. The scary part is that Noah was also saved from those outside the Ark.
This is another aspect of how the analogy fits. Somewhere along the line, we also will be spared from our Christian suffering like Noah… after our Ark is complete and the Lord shuts the door. (Genesis 7:16) And Peter says it won’t be a deluge this time (2 Peter 3:7). But until it is complete and filled with passengers and the manifest is read, we have to work and wait and suffer like Noah, giving good news to people who sometimes mock and even hate us for it...
...with the hope that some of them, indeed all of them, might be brought onboard through baptism.