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First Peter

Christian Witness


{13} Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? {14} But even if  you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they  fear ; do not be frightened." {15} But in your hearts set apart Christ as  Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give  the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and  respect, {16} keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously  against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. {17} It  is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.  {18} For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,  to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the  Spirit, {19} through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison  {20} who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah  while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were  saved through water, {21} and this water 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,  {22} who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand‑‑with angels,  authorities and powers in submission to him.    ‑‑ 1 Peter 3:13‑22 (NIV)


Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective, Sherlock Holmes, once solved a case by noting the character of a witness.  The character was so reliable as to be remarkable.  In fact, the witness had been invited to the scene of the crime solely for the purpose of establishing an alibi.  His character was such that the police accepted without question his version of events.  The clue to Holmes was that the witness was so reliable that it was "elementary" that he had been called there for that purpose.

  We are like Doyle's witness.  We have been called to be the witnesses of Christ, and in this passage Peter tells us how to do it.


The Preparation of the Witness

   "Do not fear; do not be frightened."  Fear is a normal part of the human existence.  Without it, jugglers would try three bottles of nitroglycerine.  I still think the guy who juggles running chain saws is nuts.  We need to understand that courage is not the absence of fear;  it is the overcoming of fear. 

  There is an element of high comedy in the Christian's life.  We go through life with such fear of so many things - and often forget to fear God.  Picture Charlie Chaplin, running beserk through a minefield, bullets whizzing overheadd - as he tries to get away from a bumblebee.  When we let the bumblebees of this world distract us, we forget the minefields that Satan lays.

  The solution is to fear God; or, as Peter puts it here, to set apart our hearts for Christ as Lord.  We must keep our mind on Him, and rely on Him both as Lord and as Saviour.

  This will not be easy;  but as Peter says, "even if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed."  There are many ways in which that is true.  One of them, central to the character of the witness, is that the witness is now prepared to face even greater trials.  Suffering is the basic training of the Christian soldier.

  But - we don't like to suffer.  May I suggest a change of attitude?  Do you remember the movie The Wizard of Oz?  You might not recall, but the scenes before Dorothy lands in Oz are shot in black and white.  Only in Oz do we see color.  Many years ago I had the reverse experience.  Betty and I visited the town of Pendleton, Oregon.  The town was drab; the people in the laundromat suspicious and unfriendly; over everything hung the color of dirty ash and factory town.  We went from color to black and white.

  But we were just passing through.  We left; we never came back.  It makes a lot of difference whether you are "in trouble" or "going through trouble."


Credibility of the Witness

  If a witness is to be credible - "able to be believed" - there are certain requirements.

  •   Preparation:  In a sense, we are expert witnesses.  We must study our subject and be prepared to give a defense of the faith.  The expert must know the subject.

  •   Poise:  Nothing so impresses hearers as a witness who is assured.  We judge a person's honesty by the way they speak.  Most of us are not convincing liars.  The only sure way to have such poise is to have a clear conscience behind it.

  •   Personality:  We are seen and judged by people.  There is no getting around it.  People examine our behavior and make their judgment of us - as witnesses - upon that.  Let your actions show Christ, and your words will be believed.  (Just don't forget to deliver the words, too!)

  •   Delivery:  The most knowledgeable, assured and well behaved person will not be listened to - if the words are an attack.  "Gentleness and respect" assure a hearing;  anger and accusation do not.  Think of it:  how would you break the news to someone of a death in their family?  If you would be gentle and respectful then, how much more so in telling them of the Christ?

  •   Suffering:  In one sense, suffering itself brings credibility to the Christian witness.  As my father assured me, "If a man's principles don't cost him anything, they aren't worth much."  And if they cost him a lot?  Put your life where your mouth is.


  The Testimony of the Witness

  Having prepared the witness, and established his credibility, we are now ready to hear what he has to say.  And what is the testimony you are called on to deliver?

  It is not "what Jesus has done for me."  As important as that may be to you; as telling a point as it may be in establishing your credibility it is not the testimony of the Christian witness. 

  Peter outlines, in example, the testimony of the witness:

  •   Death  We testify that Jesus of Nazareth, born of woman, died on the cross - a death like yours and mine, physical death.

  •   Burial  We testify that He was buried - just like the rest of us.

  •   Resurrection  We testify that God, in His power, raised Jesus from the grave.

  In these three facts we bring forth the essentials of the Gospel, the Good News:  that God became man and lived on this planet.  That He died as we die; was buried as we are buried - but rose again on the third day.  And by these facts we establish one last thing:

  •   Authority  We testify that He has ascended, and that all authority is given to him, and all power - including the power to forgive sin and save from hell.  Heaven is His to reward;  by His sacrifice we can avoid Hell itself.

  You see the difference?  One says, "Here is what Jesus HAS done for ME."  The other says, "Here is what Jesus WILL do for YOU."


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