I got a speeding ticket. This was actually a few years ago.
I pulled out of a parking lot onto the street and within a block got pulled over for speeding. I was a bit confused about the whole thing but didn’t argue with the cop. It wouldn’t do any good. It was Texas.
When I got home I looked more closely at the citation and it said that the violation occurred a block west of where I actually got onto the road.
So I decided to contest the ticket in court. And in court I argued that the officer, who was traveling west did probably spot a white car driving excessively fast. But when he turned around to pursue it he took his eyes off the car to make the turn.
During the time that he was making the U-turn, I, in a different but similar looking white car turned onto the road. He then pulled me over thinking I was the other car. And in fact I had not been on the road long enough to actually accelerate to the speeds that he asserted. Nor had I even been on the section of the road where he said the violation occurred.
Mounting that defense in court was so totally exhilarating. And the perplexed look on the officer’s face when the judge ruled in my favor made the whole thing totally worthwhile.
And I got to thinking -- ya know, if God had not so clearly called me to spend my life doing this kind of ministry -- I could have become a lawyer. Hey, one of my grandfathers was a lawyer. I like to argue. I like figuring out the defense strategy. That’s a real rush.
In our text this morning, 1 Peter 3:13-22, we find some language that puts us into a courtroom frame of mind.
Now, we spent a lot of time with this passage during Lent -- memorized some of it -- and discussed it during our Wednesday night Bible study. So I don’t really feel the need to totally unpack it all. But I do want to home in on verses 14b-16 and an issue that resurfaces pretty regularly. What does it mean to defend your faith in an occasionally hostile or push-back environment? How do you explain what it is that makes you tick as a follower of Jesus?
Verse 14 -- “So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”
The word there translated as “explain it” is απολογιαν -- apologian -- from which we get our word apologetics. This in the strictest sense is courtroom language.
For example in Acts 22:1, the apostle Paul, who had been arrested in Jerusalem starts his defense: “Brothers and esteemed fathers, listen to me as I offer my defense.” (apologia)
And the assumption may be in 1 Peter 3 that there are going to be a lot more believers in the courts explaining their unorthodox beliefs.
You see, the Jews didn’t appreciate Christians because they followed Jesus who claimed to be God -- and messiah. That created a threat to the established political and social order. So the Jesus followers were forced out of the synagogues and often to the fringes of Jewish society.
And the Romans didn’t appreciate them because the Christians did not acknowledge any of the Roman or Greek gods. So therefore, they were atheists. And atheists were considered a threat to social stability.
I mean, if you have a lot of people running around who do not do the appropriate things to appease the gods, then the gods will become angry and send calamity on everyone. So atheists -- such as the Christians are a social threat.
It was not a popular thing to be a Jesus follower. And Peter could see his flock moving toward a time when many of them were going to be giving a formal courtroom apologia -- defense -- or explanation.
But there is also an informal sense in which this word is used. It can be a simple explanation or witness in a casual conversation. It isn’t necessarily a well formulated courtroom argument -- but a simple answer to inquiring minds who want to know.
And Peter could have been using the word in either or both senses. And I would suggest that for us in 21st century Arizona it is most likely going to be in an informal defense. So much for feeding my forensic aspirations.
In a sense, though, this is quite freeing. Because it means that when you’re called upon to explain your faith it does not necessarily mean that you need to have some big highly developed formal spiel -- and have an advanced degree in biblical theology.
I mean, sure, if you want to write and memorize a short two or three minute testimony, that can be helpful -- and even if you don’t ever use it word for word, it helps you think through what has happened in your life. That’s a good thing. That’s good preparation.
Peter goes on in verse 16, “But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.”
The point is this: Unusually lived lives can generate the questions which lead to opportunities to explain our Christ-rooted hope.
This morning I want to draw out four observations from this passage. Four things which I think we really need to hear here -- because they really get to the heart of what we’re dealing with.
And here is the first one.
1. FOR JESUS PEOPLE DIFFERENT IS NORMAL AND GOOD.
I mentioned this in the BrushStrokes newsletter that I sent out this week. And we’re going to talk about it in the follower forum next Sunday evening -- non-conformity.
If you are the same as everyone else. If you totally conform to the beliefs, practices, and attitudes of everyone around you -- you will never have to explain a thing. It will be a total non-issue. That is the path of least resistance.
But the assumption behind this passage is that Christians by definition are going to be different.
- They are not going to have the same values and focus as everyone else.
- They are not going to spend their money in the same way.
- They aren’t going to accumulate toys in the same way.
- They are not going to spend their time in the same way.
- They are not going to be driven by the same success goals as everyone else.
And they will make their case in a “a gentle and respectful way” (vs. 16) because that is what characterizes their lives -- gentleness and respect.
Everyone else is consumed with demanding their rights, making sure they get everything they deserve, protecting their assets.
And if you are the same as everyone else in all these matters then there is something wrong.
I read this week about a young vivacious Canadian woman named Isobel Selina Miller. She was raised as in a Christian family but then drifted into agnosticism. At some point, though, she turned back to Christ and made up her mind to follow God wholeheartedly.
She heard heard a missionary speak of the satanically oppressed Lisu tribes of Southeast Asia. This was a tribe which didn’t have a single word in their language “for compassion, forgiveness, mercy, or justice -- but hundreds of words to describe the best way to skin someone alive. Isobel pleaded with the Lord to be allowed to serve them as a missionary.” (Christianity.com)
But the idea of her spending her life that way really troubled her mother, who had envisioned a socially respectable life for her daughter. And she reportedly told her daughter, "If you go to China it will be over my dead body."
Isobel couldn’t believe what she hearing from her dear Christian mother, who had been on the missionary support committee. For her mother -- the idea of missions crumbled when it meant that her very own daughter would adopt a mission lifestyle -- a different way of living
To make a long story short Isobel ended up going off to Bible college. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died soon thereafter. She met and married John Kuhn and they went to together and served the Lord among the Lisu people in China and Burma.
73 years ago, yesterday, they opened the highly successful Rainy Season Bible School. They did suffer under the Japanese occupation during WWII and then were forced out of China with the communist take-over. Different.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that different has to mean becoming a missionary in some strange and exotic place. It’s just as likely that you’ll need to make a radical decision to live differently as a lawyer, teacher, or web-designer.
I think that we also need to draw a distinction. There is a difference between being “different” and being goofy or quirky. It’s not like you have to become some eccentric character in an English mystery novel or start grooving to the sounds of space music on Pandora.
Now, my personal sense is that some of the people most worth knowing in life are often the quirkiest -- they’re the most out of the box. But that is not what we’re talking about here. There is another kind of difference -- a difference that isn’t about personality traits or preferences but allegiances and faith.
God is in the business of transforming the world -- and its people. To become a part of that, to make a God-defined difference it means that you’ll have to be different.
This is the difference that comes about because you worship Christ -- not success, not security, not culture -- but Christ as Lord of your life. (vs. 16)
That means that you’re different because you have a different boss and a different agenda.
Secondly, NOT EVERYONE CARES.
Verse 16 says -- “And if someone asks about your Christian hope...”
“And IF...” The fact is that not everyone will.
This has been one of the great disappointments in my life. I have lived with the assumption that if I just live out my faith with genuineness, that people will notice and they’ll find that attractive. They’ll want to know why I’m a good friend -- a good Samaritan -- and that they’ll then be drawn to Christ -- which is the goal.
John 13:35 says, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
I really like the whole friendship evangelism or relational evangelism that we talked so much about in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But so far, I can only name a few people that I’ve befriended who have come to Christ because of that friendship.
I suspect that the problem is that I have had too mechanical of an understanding of how it all should work. Almost karma -- You do good and good comes back to you -- except for the Christian -- the good isn’t coming back to me but to Christ. If you love on people enough they’ll turn to Christ who is the source of love.
But people are messy mixtures of motives and actions and it doesn’t always work that way. Often it does not. It didn’t work for Jesus. Most people didn’t care that he came into the world to lay down his life for them. The crowd cheered him on Palm Sunday but called for his crucifixion on Good Friday.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve just got to love on people -- without expectation -- and in spite of their potential responses. We love not because we think that they will be drawn to Christ but because Jesus loves -- and IF they ask (most are too self-absorbed and will not) but IF they get curious, explain or defend the hope that drives your life.
And this is the third observation. SOME PEOPLE WILL ASK.
Now they may not walk up to you and say in so many words, “I’ve noticed that there is something different about you. Would you please tell me about the hope that you have?”
Most people are more indirect. And they may not even know how to address the topic. But my experience has been that if you hang with people long enough and if you ask kind questions of them -- and if you let them ask questions of you -- eventually you’ll get around talking about what makes you tick.
The temptation, though, is to try to force the issue -- to try to pick the fruit before it is ripe. We’re so impatient. And I’ve done that too many times -- and have found myself in some awkward situations.
I remember the time that I shared the Four Spiritual Laws with some guy I knew from college. I’d somehow convinced myself that I should be good at using that tract so I manipulated the conversation in such a way that I was able to pull it from my pocket and lay it all out.
And then... as I finished the booklet... there was this long uncomfortable silence. And we went on to talk about the price of tea in China. I was too pushy.
You can ask some thoughtful questions -- that’s good -- but it is usually best to create an atmosphere of openness and then let people ask the questions of you.
Otherwise we end up trying to answer questions that people don’t really care about.
One of the common evangelism questions is, “If you were to die tonight are you sure that you would go to heaven?”
That’s a good question. But for most people it is irrelevant. In my conversations they don’t really care what happens to them after they die. They should -- but they don’t. They mostly want to know what Jesus is going to do for them here and now.
Or they want to know what you think about the crazy uncles living in our attics who predict the date of the end of the world -- and then are dumbfounded when the date comes and goes. Are all Christians like that?
People want to know what you think of those kinds of issues -- and then ultimately they’re looking for a ray of hope with a more immediate payout. That’s okay. Through your openness and undefensiveness give them permission to ask the questions that they want answers to. And then trust the Holy Spirit to pull it altogether for them -- even if you have to tell them sometimes that you don’t have a complete answer.
Don’t freak out if they ask you questions about alien space invaders or the inquisition or the Crusades or sex-abuse scandals or tornado deaths. If you get defensive they’ll stop asking questions and you’ll never get around to the core issues.
And the core issue is -- HOPE.
This is the fourth observation. ALL QUESTIONS ULTIMATELY COME BACK TO THE ISSUE OF HOPE.
“And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”
We’ve mentioned this a few times before but it is helpful to hear it again. In English the word hope often has the connotation of wishful thinking. “I hope I can find a new job. I hope I can win the lottery. I hope my ship comes in.”
But that’s not what it means in the Bible. Biblically speaking, hope is faith in the future tense. It is confidence and the kind of certainty that you stake your life on about what is going to happen when we trust God.
And what is the content of that hope?
Vs. 18 -- “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”
Yes, answer their questions. Tell your story. But ultimately you have to explain that it all comes back to Jesus, what he did, what he is doing, and what he is going to do. That is the hope.
It is an overflow of the future that shapes the present life for those who believe.
God sent his Son into the world to die as a sacrifice on our behalf. He paid the price for our sins so that we could be free from that burden. And in his resurrection he was victorious over the forces of death and evil. And we are hopeful that as that victory unfolds and as history wraps up we will be standing side-by-side with our Savior -- victors!
As we read in chapter 1, starting with vs. 3 --
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. 6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead...”This is our courtroom argument -- our defense -- the good news.
And I would invite you to embrace it for yourself -- to be baptized into it if you haven’t already been so -- and to acknowledge that Jesus is your Lord and Savior -- the hope of the world -- the hope of your life.
O God of life, of all life and of each life. We lay our lives before you. We give our lives to you, from whom nothing in us is hidden. We bring the faith and the doubt, the questions and the answers, the joy and the sorrow, the knowledge and the ignorance. We bring our strengths and weaknesses. We bring the despair -- and trust that you will transform it into real and powerful hope -- hope that transforms and realigns -- hope that changes things -- hope that honors and blesses you above all others. Make it so. Amen.