1 Peter 03:13-22 / 6 Easter A / 29 May 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:13-22
The word St. Peter uses is apologia, from which we get the word “apology.” But not in the sense that we commonly use it to mean I’m sorry for something and want to ask your forgiveness. Not that kind of apology. Apology here means explanation or defense, as in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, one of our Lutheran confessional writings in the Book of Concord. It wasn’t that the Reformers were sorry for what they said in our confession at Augsburg; they wanted to explain more fully and defend what they confessed. Hence the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.
You often hear about Christian “witnessing,” telling everyone about Jesus, and how every Christian is a witness. That isn’t true, Scripturally speaking. The word for witness is martus, from which we get the word martyr. Witness testify, as they do in court. They tell what they personally have seen and heard. It’s noteworthy that nowhere in Scripture are Christians in general called “witnesses.” Perhaps one reason is that we don’t see anything and what we don’t hear directly from the Lord but through intermediaries – the prophets, the apostles, the evangelists. And so we don’t have much to witness to, except some “personal testimony” which doesn’t mean anything to anyone else because that’s your own personal experience.
It’s odd really. In the Bible, Christians are not “witnesses” or “evangelists” and they don’t go witnessing or evangelizing. You wonder where all that comes from. Christians are “priests” in the Scripture, baptized into Christ’s royal priesthood in which they declare the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into HIs marvelous light. And they are apologists. Peter is writing to newly baptized Christians when he says “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Always be a ready apologist, ready to defend the faith, ready to give a clear answer to anyone who asks you why you believe what you believe.
Take Paul at the Areopagus in Athens as an example. Paul was a “witness,” in the sense that he actually saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He had something to which to testify. And he was an apostle, authorized and commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to bring the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the Gentiles, which is what brought him to Athens in the first place. But in Athens, Paul is the “apologist.”
The Areopagus was a kind of clearing house of new ideas. Paul was busy debating with the Jews in the synagogue and conversing in the marketplace with whomever happened to be hanging around. You get the impression that Athens was full of people with a lot of free time on their hands. Luke notes that all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. I suppose the modern equivalent of that would be the local Starbucks, Peets coffee, or Panera Breads. I recall fondly my days in Berkeley when we would walk to the local (and original) Peets Coffee around the corner from my apartment. On a Saturday or Sunday morning, the sidewalks were full of people sipping coffee, eating croissants, and debating philosophy, theology, or politics.
The Athenians got wind that Paul was preaching some new deities, gods they hadn’t heard about before. One was called Jesus, the other Anastasis (the Resurrection). It kind of made sense, since deities usually came in pairs. Jesus and Anastasis. And so Paul gets an invitation to the Areopagus where they judged whether a teaching was worthy of Athenian standards. That’s where Paul makes his apologia, his defense.
He begins by noting how religious the people of Athens were, more in a superstitious sense than any good way. Religious the way gamblers and athletes are religious. He had taken the Athenian temple tour earlier in the day and had noticed all the idols, which would have pushed every one of his Jewish buttons to the maximally offended point. As provoked as he was, he bit his tongue and didn’t spout of about their idolatry. Instead, he picks up on an empty altar with no statue inscribed to the “Agnostos Theos” the unknown god, the “agnostic god.” It was there just in case, to make sure they’d covered all their bases, in case they missed a god or two. The unknown and unknowable god.
And Paul senses a little nugget of truth. If you approach God from the perspective of idolatry where it all depends on you to figure out who God is and conjure Him up with your images and rituals, then you can never be completely sure you have Him. And so this altar to the agnostic god is just enough of a crack in the door for Paul to say, “What you worship as unknown, I will proclaim to you.” Sounds pretty brash, but then there is more wisdom in Jesus than in all the skeptical Athenian philosophers put together.
Paul points to the God the Creator, who made and ordered everything. He reminds them that we are made for God because God is our maker. He even quotes a couple of verses from pagan poets “In Him we live, move and have our being,” and “We are his offspring,” originally referring to Zeus, no less. That provides a bit of a challenge for us as apologists to look at the movies and music and poetry of our day to see where they get it right and to use it. We’re accustomed to demonizing Hollywood and rightly so, but there are times when they “get it,” and when they do we need to jump on it and use it.
Paul moves from idolatrous images to man in God’s image to Christ, the man who perfectly images God, who will judge the world in righteousness on a coming day fixed in the mind of God. And the clincher, the lynchpin, the basis for all of this is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is the piece of evidence God sets before the world – crucified and risen Jesus. You see, it wasn’t Jesus and the Resurrection, but Jesus and HIs resurrection. That’s what Paul was preaching and what they misunderstood. And who could blame them? You didn’t have to be a smart Athenian full of new ideas to know that dead men don’t rise from the dead. At least, ordinarily.
When the Athenians heard what Paul meant by “Anastasis” that it wasn’t some new female deity by the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the reaction was mixed. Some sneered, others wanted to hear more. A few believed including a member of the Areopagus, a man named Dionysius. And that’s how it is with this business of being an apologist. Some will laugh at you; some will engage you until you literally get tired of talking, a few will believe.
You and I live in a time and culture that in many ways is similar to what Paul encountered in Athens. We live in a skeptical age, an age where ideas both old and new fly freely around the internet and you can tap into them whenever you like. You don’t have to go to the marketplace or to the Areopagus, you just have to go online. It’s all there. Religion in all its various flavors. Angry atheists. Skeptical skeptics. You name it. And we, as the baptized priesthood of Christ are given to be His apologists, to give a defense for what we believe and why.
And yet we don’t. We don’t because of ignorance, at least in part. We don’t know why we believe what we believe, and if surveys are even remotely accurate, we don’t know what we believe. And for that there is no excuse. We all have Bibles, we have Bible classes, we have the Confessions. Ignorance is no excuse.
We don’t speak in part because we think in terms of success and failure. We’ve bought into the world’s notion of performance, as though we were salesmen selling salvation out of our garages, notching souls for Jesus. Paul didn’t worry how many believed or not in Athens. That was God’s business. Paul’s business was to make a defense for what he believed. You can’t fail except not to open your mouth, when called upon, to speak. And that doesn’t mean making a big religious nuisance of yourself. If you live as a Christian, if you live as one who has hope because Christ has risen, people will want to know what makes you different, what makes you tick.
We don’t speak because we are afraid. Afraid of the ridicule and scorn of others. Maybe they won’t respect me anymore. Maybe they’ll laugh. It didn’t bother Paul. Some sneered at him. He didn’t care. Some treated his message like a piece of entertainment. He didn’t care about that either. The truth is still the truth even when people laugh at it or won’t give it the time of day. And you know the truth: That the ungodly stand justified before God because of what Jesus did – His perfect life, His death, His resurrection. Sinners stand forgiven. Children of Adam are declared to be children of God. Death is not the end of life but in Christ is the beginning of eternal life. You know where to find Christ to save you and for you to worship Him: in the preached Word, in the Sacrament, joined to His Body the church. You know these things.
People are going to ask you, “why?” Why do you go to church? Why do you believe in God? Why do you worship Jesus? Why do you call yourself a Christian and what does this mean? People want to know; you get to tell them.
You have failed; I have too. I’m supposed to be a pro. I ought to do this better than anyone, and yet I’m no better. The old Adam in us doesn’t like this business of apologetics one bit. Better to talk about sports or the weather or anything but the most important thing. I always find it amazing how couples can prepare to get married and never talk about their faith and how they practice it. Or people can live next to each other for years, decades, and spend hours eating and drinking together and never talk about the one needful thing, the one thing that means eternal life and salvation from Sin and Death. The old Adam hates it when Jesus is the topic.
Our silence is our sin. We have failed to give a reason for our hope. We have failed to do it with gentleness and respect. We have failed to do it with a good conscience, which is the very gift of Baptism according to Peter. Baptism is the appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are free, forgiven people. We have nothing to lose because we have everything in Christ. We have nothing to fear, because faith in Christ trumps all fear. We have no reason not to speak, because it’s not we who are speaking but Christ who works in and through us and the Spirit of truth He sends to us and the Father too. The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are with us.
Forgiveness means freedom. Freedom to fail, freedom to risk, freedom to worship, freedom to speak. Freedom to stand before the scoffers and the skeptics as well as the genuinely curious and tell them the reason for the hope you have in this life, that because of the sacrificial blood of Jesus your sins are forgiven, you are justified before God, you are covered with a righteousness not your own but that of Christ’s, that because He lives, you will live, and that not even death can separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ, that in Baptism you have been joined to Christ in His death and buried with Him, that in the Supper you personally receive the tokens of His sacrifice, His own Body and Blood, that Christ speaks the words of forgiveness into your ears through the pastor He sent to you. And you believe this all because Jesus is risen from the dead and live and reigns to all eternity.
And what Jesus has done for you, He has done for all without exception.
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
In the name of Jesus,