It’s almost December, and we live in Wisconsin1. I think everyone here knows what that means: it’s cold outside. It’s either snowing or it will be snowing soon. It’s the time of year when we get used to warming up the car for a few minutes before actually riding in it. We’re so used to this cold at this time of year that yesterday’s 40 degrees felt like a heat wave. There was actually that split second of time outside where I had the thought: Do I even need a coat?
As warm as it was yesterday, though, there’s something I definitely would not have done: go swimming in an outdoor pool. It was too cold. But just a little over a week ago, I did get to swim in an outdoor pool. I was thankful then to be able to spend a few days in Florida with my family, so it was warm enough for the pool to be an option.
But even though it was warmer in Florida, even though I got to swim in a pool there, there were still times even there when I felt cold. Walking outside to the swimming pool? No problem. Getting into the water of a heated pool? Felt great. But when I would come out of the water, even just a little bit, suddenly it was freezing. I had to go back into the water for that coldness to go away. It was just cold enough outside, with just enough of a breeze, to make wet skin feel freezing.
So as I spent time at the pool with my family, I went back and forth between two extremes. Every inch of me shuddered when I had to be out of the water, but I got a warm comforting blanket of water when I went back in. So when I was out of that water and cold, one thought kept going off like an alarm in my head: Get back in the water! And when I did, all was well.
When you think about it, the water was really responsible for both extremes. It was the water on my skin that made me feel cold in the breeze, but it was the water all around me that warmed me up afterward.
Today in our text from 1 Peter, we also see water doing double duty. In fact, we see the connection of water and the coming of Jesus in Advent. Water reminds us how Jesus is coming to do two opposite things. He’s coming to save, and he’s coming to destroy. Which one do we want to be a part of? To save us, right? We eagerly wait for Jesus to come and save us at the end of the world. But actually, for right now, we need a little of both. In this sinful world, we need Jesus every day to both save and destroy us. For that to happen, we need to get back in the water. That might sound confusing now, but let me explain.
Our text from 1 Peter packs a lot into a just a few sentences. Take the first one: Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Pet. 3:18) In that one short sentence, you’ve got a pretty good summary of the Gospel — you’ve got the Good News that we celebrate week after week.
Christ died for sins once for all. Jesus died on the cross. He didn’t have to die multiple times; he did it once. He died to pay for sins. But were they his sins? Oh no, this was the righteous for the unrighteous. Jesus was righteous; he was holy, perfect, and without sin. His life was perfect; ours, not so much. We are the unrighteous; we are the sinners. But here in our text, it’s good news! The righteous died for the unrighteous. Perfect Jesus died for sinful you-and-me. Why did he do this? It’s at the end of the sentence: to bring you to God. Jesus has taken away what separated us from God. He’s taken our sins and imperfections away. Because of that, we have God’s love, we have God’s forgiveness, we have God’s salvation in heaven forever!
All of that is there in the first sentence alone of our text. But there’s more to come. The Apostle Peter now walks us through what happened to Jesus after he was crucified. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. (1 Pet. 3:18) Jesus was on the cross, and he died. He was put to death. But he didn’t stay dead. Our text tells us he was made alive.
But then we get a glimpse of something that we don’t see talked about in the Bible very often. There’s something that comes in between Jesus’ being made alive and his coming out of the tomb risen on Easter morning. Do you know what it was? What major even happened after Jesus was made alive again but before he came out of the tomb?
We said it just before this sermon today, when we confessed the Apostles’ Creed together. We talked about believing in Jesus Christ, who “was crucified, died and was buried.” What came next? He descended into hell. After Jesus was made alive but before he came out of the tomb, he descended into hell. Why did he do this? Our text explains.
He went and preached to the spirits in prison. (1 Pet. 3:19) Jesus didn’t go to hell to suffer for us. He’d already done all the suffering he needed to do on the cross. He’d already paid for our sins. He did it to “preach” to every spirit there in the prison of hell. This preaching was to proclaim his victory, to proclaim to the devil and all those with him that Jesus had won, that he had conquered, that even though his death might have looked like a defeat, it actually proved his victory over sin, death, and the devil forever.
When a sports team wins a world championship, they usually have a parade. You probably remember the Packers having a parade in Green Bay after they won the Super Bowl. I remember parades by the Twins after they won the World Series. Same deal. They were proclaiming their victories; they were saying, “We won!” Well, Jesus did that, too. But instead of having a parade in his hometown, he had a parade down mainstreet hell. But it was all to proclaim his victory. He won! And because he won, we win, too!
Well, among those people in hell were people who had lived during the days of Noah. That’s what Peter talks about next. These were people who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. (1 Pet. 3:20)
The story of Noah’s ark was our first Scripture lesson today, but here in 1 Peter we see an aspect to that story we probably don’t think about much: the time while the ark was being built. Think about it; the ark was huge. This would’ve been a massive project for Noah. It wouldn’t have been a quick project, either. In fact, as we look at Genesis, it might’ve taken Noah as long as 120 years to build the ark.
Think about that! He wouldn’t have been able to keep it hidden under a tarp in his backyard. People would have seen this gigantic boat he was building for years. What kind of reaction did that ark get? Hey, Noah! Whatcha’ workin’ on there? Oh, an ark, huh? Interesting. Noah had 120 years of awkward conversations about this ark.
Remember, the people of the world at the time were wicked unbelievers. Our lesson from Genesis said, The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. (Gen. 6:5) But God didn’t destroy them instantly. He waited patiently. For 120 years while Noah built the ark, God gave the people a chance to repent. But then, 120 years later, after they didn’t repent, God stopped waiting. He sent the flood, and like that, everyone was gone.
Everyone except Noah and his family, that is. Because in the ark that Noah had made only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. (1 Pet. 3:20) You see, the water did double-duty at the flood. The water destroyed the unbelieving world, but it saved Noah and his family because they were in the ark. The water lifted them in the ark up to safety on the top while the unbelieving world drowned underneath.
The Bible tells us that Jesus coming again at the end of the world will be a lot like that flood. Jesus will come back to save and to destroy. All believers will get eternal life, and all unbelievers will face eternal death.
So, on this first day of Advent, we have to ask what our chances are of being the ones who get saved on that day. Compare our world today with Noah’s world at the time of the flood. The world then was wicked and sinful and rebelled against God in every possible way, whereas the world today, uh oh. Yes, we live in a sinful world today, too. And that sin lurks in my heart and it lurks in yours. And that sin is just as poisonous and destructive deserving of eternal punishment as it ever was when the flood came.
So where do turn? Well, thankfully, God gave us something else like the flood. God gave us some water that both saves and destroys. And he gives this water to us as a gift. It’s baptism.
That’s the point Peter makes in our text. He says that the water of the flood 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. (1 Pet. 3:21)
In baptism water does double-duty. It destroys the sin in us while it saves us for all eternity. It gives us a good conscience towards God because it gives us his forgiveness. It connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism gives us the strength to repent of our sins and turn to trust in Jesus alone to be saved.
And even though we are only baptized once, it’s power is something that we want to keep going back to. That’s really what we do at every worship service. Often our services start in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That’s meant to take us back to our baptism. Then here in our service we confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and go to God’s Word for the strength to keep living our faith. That’s really going back to the water of our baptism.
So that’s my encouragement for you today and every day. Get back in the water! Go back to the power of your baptism! Remember that you were baptized, and because of that, you’re forgiven! Because of that, you don’t have to be a slave to sin anymore. God has given you faith to believe that you’re forgiven, that eternal life is yours!
When you get back in the water of your baptism, remember it will do two things: it will destroy and save. It’s there to destroy your sinful nature. We say it in the baptismal service at the front of the hymnal. Here’s what we say in that part of the liturgy:
Baptism means that the sinful nature in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Every week at church, and really every day of your life, get back in the water! Go back to your baptism and be drowned again — your sinful nature that is. Remember that it’s power has been taken away by Jesus’ power. Live for him! Don’t fall into that life of sin anymore; live for your Savior who died for you.
Because that’s when you remember the other part of the waters of baptism. It doesn’t just destroy, it saves. You are saved because at your baptism you were connected to Jesus by faith.
Where is Jesus now? Our text tells us. Jesus Christ…has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Pet. 3:21-22) And he will come back. He’ll come back to end all our troubles and bring us to our heavenly home forever. So get ready for him! Get back in the water! Remember your baptism! And wait for your Savior with joy.