I heard recently of a TV movie called “The Winning Season.” It tells the story of a boy whose family is going bankrupt. The boy, eleven-year-old Joe, has been working for an elderly lady to earn money for his family. He’s been cleaning out Mrs. Young’s basement and throwing away old junk. In the process, Joe uncovers an old baseball card. He takes it to a card shop where he learns that the card is worth $4000. Joe hurries home and tells his parents. Their financial problems could be solved by that card. No more riding around in the broken down truck. No more working for his mother. But his Mom asks, “You got this from Mrs. Young’s garage?” “Yes,” Joe explains. His mother asks, “Joe, does Mrs. Young know? You told her, didn’t you?” “I tried, Mom, but she was asleep.” “We better call her.” “What for?” Joe asks. “You found that in her garage. It belongs to her, Joe.” Joe protests and says he found it as part of the work he was doing for Mrs. Young. It’s his. It’s theirs. It fixes their problems. But Mom stands firm. “Joe, Mrs. Young has barely two cents to her name. She needs the money, Joe.” Joe begins to realize what the right thing to do is. The right thing is to give the card back. But he and his family are going to lose a great deal by doing the right thing. Sometimes to do a good thing we have to suffer bad things.
The good thing is to remain faithful to a difficult spouse. But the bad thing is that it may lead to months or years of challenging relationship work. The good thing is to discipline a child for a severe problem. But the bad thing is that it may lead to the child hating you. The good thing is to tell the truth on your IRS tax form. The bad thing is that could lead to you having to pay thousands in taxes. The good thing is to refuse to bribe or manipulate supervisors at work. The bad thing is that you may end up watching those who do bribe or manipulate getting the promotions. The good thing is making your Christian faith more than just “fire insurance” or about church attendance—making it something that impacts every facet of your life. But the bad thing is that this kind of Christian faith can get a little uncomfortable. Sometimes to do a good thing we have to suffer bad things.
There is a letter in the New Testament devoted to this very issue: 1 Peter. Our preaching apprentice Josh Ray is preaching out of 1 Peter on Sunday nights and will be preaching out of 1 Peter next Sunday morning. And one of the things you’ll hear this morning and next Sunday morning is this notion of suffering for doing good. Josh will be challenging us in this area next Sunday morning. I want to explore specifically what Peter writes about this in connection with baptism. Our text this morning begins in 1 Pet. 3:17: 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:17 TNIV). First, Peter states the obvious: if you are suffering bad things, it had better not be due to the fact that you’ve been doing bad things. If you’ve been busy hurting others, or lying, or stealing, or gossiping and are now suffering as a result, you’re just getting what’s coming to you. Peter says if you are suffering bad things, it better not be due to the fact that you are doing bad things. But second, Peter states there may be times when God wills that you suffer for doing good things. In other words, sometimes in order to do what is right there’s going to be risk, there’s going to be cost, there’s going to be a price to pay.
And it’s for this very reason that we don’t always do the good thing—because we don’t want to suffer bad things. I’m sure you remember the horrible pictures that flowed out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. One of those prosecuted for abusing prisoners was Lynndie England. There were scandalous photos showing England smiling next to abused prisoners. A judge asked her about the photos. How could she have done such a thing? And England explained that when her fellow soldiers first asked her to pose for the photos she said “No way.” She knew it was wrong. “But,” she told the judge, “they were being very persistent, bugging me, so I said, ‘OK, whatever.” She gave in to the peer pressure and agreed to the photos. The good thing would have been to at least refuse to be in the photo if not blow the whistle on the entire scheme. But the bad thing was that she would have had to endure rejection from her fellow soldiers who were bugging her to be in the photo. And in the end, she just wasn’t willing to suffer the bad thing in order to do the right thing.
Some parents don’t want to face the rejection of their child for punishing the child, so they don’t punish, they don’t do the right thing. Some spouses don’t want to endure the difficulties of keeping a marriage together, so they bail, they don’t do the right thing. Some employees don’t want to suffer the lack of opportunities that only come to those who bribe and manipulate, so they start bribing and manipulating. Sometimes we don’t do the good thing because we don’t want to suffer the bad things that happen for doing the good thing.
The Barna Group conducts research into the Christian faith of Americans. Earlier this year they published a piece in which they described the largest group of Christians in America. According to their research, two of every three adults in America are what they call “Casual Christians.” The defining quality of Casual Christians is “faith in moderation.” Casual Christians are happy to practice Christianity, but only to a point. Their faith is one that is undemanding and one in which they never have to take difficult stands. It is the best of both worlds: it encourages them to be a better person than if they had not become a Christian, yet it does not demand any price. In other words the largest group of Christians in this country are those who fail to do the good thing because they don’t want to face any bad things. It’s those unwilling to risk anything for the sake of faith, integrity, godliness, and compassion.
Perhaps with this very thing in mind, Peter tells us a story: 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body… (1 Pet. 3:17-18b TNIV) Peter tells us the story of a man named Jesus. And what he highlights is this: Jesus was willing to endure bad things in order to do the good thing. Jesus did the very best thing: he brought us to God. But in order to do that, Jesus had to endure very bad things: he was put to death in the body. He is the ultimate example of someone willing to pay the price to do what’s right.
And Peter could stop there. He could end the story right there, hoping that Jesus’ inspiring example will inspire us. But Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on: 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built…22 [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Pet. 3:17-20, 22 TNIV). This is a very difficult passage. Let’s walk through it slowly. First, Peter’s words that Jesus “was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In Jesus’ crucifixion Jesus was put to death in the body—that was the price he paid to do the good thing. But, in Jesus’ resurrection he was made to live again under the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, in vs. 18 Peter tells us about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
In vv. 19-22 Peter then tells us what happened after Jesus was resurrected. These verses are often misunderstood. First, some view these verses as a reference to Jesus, after his crucifixion but before his resurrection, going to Hades and preaching to the souls or spirits of people who had been disobedient during Noah’s day. But the reference is not to “spirits of humans” who disobeyed but to “spirits” who disobeyed. Peter’s not describing people in the days of Noah but spirits in the day of Noah. And, as I’ve stated, vv. 19-22 refer to events that happened after the resurrection. Others view vv. 19-22 as a reference to Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, inspiring Noah so that Noah could preach to disobedient people. Again, this fails to recognize that Peter writes of “spirits” not “spirits of humans.” It also fails to recognize that these “spirits” were “imprisoned.” Whatever spirits Peter is describing, they were imprisoned. None of the people in the Genesis account of Noah were imprisoned.
Here’s probably what Peter meant: Jesus, after the resurrection, preached to supernatural beings—spirits—who had been disobedient during the time of Noah. This agrees with texts like Jude 6 and 2 Pet. 2:4 which refer to fallen angels in Noah’s time. We don’t really know much more about these spirits than this. But here’s what we do know: Jesus died in the body—he paid the ultimate price to do the ultimate good. God then raised Jesus from the dead—Jesus was made alive in the Spirit. Then Jesus preached. The word “proclamation” can mean simply “to proclaim victory.” The resurrected Jesus proclaimed his victory. And his audience included supernatural spirits who were part of the chaos that led to the flood. And as he proclaimed his victory over these spirits and all powers, he ascended to heaven, to God’s right hand. And now all angels, authorities, and powers are in submission to Jesus. In short, Peter says this: God saved Jesus from bad things. This is Peter’s complicated way of simply saying that after Jesus suffered the bad things for doing the good thing, God saved Jesus. God vindicated Jesus.
Here is a man who’s willing to do the right thing no matter the cost. So he does the good thing and winds up dead. But, that death was not the end. Those bad things he suffered weren’t the last chapter—because God raised this man from the dead. And then he placed this man so high that all bad things are now in submission to him.
What this means for Peter’s readers and us is this: Jesus suffered in order to do the right thing. If you want to do the right thing, you may also have to suffer. But, just as Jesus was vindicated over that suffering, so will you. God will grant you victory over whatever you suffer to do the right thing. Just as Jesus was vindicated after his suffering, Christians who suffer for doing the right thing will also be vindicated. In other words, God will save us from bad things. Just as God saved Jesus from the bad things he endured for doing right, God will save us from any bad things we endure for doing right.
What exactly does this mean? First, this means that God will bring those bad things to an end. Jesus suffered horribly for doing the right thing. But God brought that suffering to an end. He only allowed Jesus to remain dead for three days. After that, God said, “Enough!” He wasn’t going to allow the bad consequences of doing good to endure forever. In the same way, you can be sure that God will bring bad things you suffer for doing good to an end. He will not permit those bad things to afflict you unendingly.
The “Long Walk Home” is a movie starring Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg.  It tells of the relationship between a white housewife, Miriam, and her black housekeeper, Odessa. The movie takes place during the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. Odessa, the black housekeeper, has to walk 9 miles to and from work because of the boycott. Miriam, the white housewife, begins giving Odessa rides. She defies her racist husband and the White Citizen’s Council in order to drive Odessa twice a week to work. Then, she asks Odessa if she can participate in an underground carpool where people like Miriam provide other black women rides to work. Odessa warns Miriam that if she starts giving more blacks rides, the police are going to pull her over and ticket her. Odessa also tries to help Miriam see where all of this is heading. She asks Miriam, “And what about when it isn’t just the buses? When it’s the parks and the restaurants? When it’s colored teachers in white schools? How about when we start voting, Mrs. Thompson, because we are? And when we do, we’re going to put Negroes in office. What about when the first colored family moves into your neighborhood? You know, Mrs. Thompson, ain’t nobody going to think any less of you if we just turn around and go back to the house.“ The camera focuses on Miriam’s face. She looks worried as she contemplates all that Odessa has said. What’s going to lead a person to do the right thing in a situation like this, in a situation where many bad things might happen as a result? Peter hopes it’s this: God will save you from those bad things. He’s going to bring them to an end. They aren’t going to last forever. Whatever price you have to pay to do the right thing, you can be sure that price won’t be permanent. Just as God did with Jesus, God will bring those consequences to an end.
And perhaps even more inspiring is the second implication: Good will win out in the end. Jesus took a stand for what was right. And even though evil seemed to win the day, good won the war. When the dust settled and the war was over, good won. God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus preached his victory sermon, and he was placed as head over every angel, authority, and power. Good won out in the end.
Every time you stand for what is right, regardless of the cost, you can be sure of this: good will win out in the end. Every battle you engage in for truth, justice, righteousness, holiness, integrity, and love is part of a much larger conflict. And you can be sure that in the end good will win out. Peter wants you to know that every time you stand for what’s right, you stand on the winning side. No matter what the score looks like right now, at the end of the game, you’ll be on the winning team.
Bill is a former member of the Highland church. I’ve met him and been in his new home in Dallas. I visited his first wife in the hospital days before her death. When Bill was still in Memphis and at Highland he was the Chief Financial Officer of a major hotel chain. He was very talented. And he strived to do his job with the integrity that flowed from his faith in Jesus. I’m sure Bill encountered many moral dilemmas as a CFO. One of the worst, however, was when the leadership of the hotel chain proposed to bring in gambling. Bill was deeply convicted that this would be immoral. He knew the kinds of activities that grow up around gambling. He believed the right thing, the good thing, was to oppose the decision. And he did just that. In the end, however, his opposition cost him his job. And he couldn’t find another job in Memphis. In the end he had to leave his church and his friends and his city. He moved to Atlanta. He paid a high price to do what he believed was the right thing. But that’s not the end of the story. Years later I met Bill. Can you guess what he was doing? Over the years he had found a lot of work. He had become very wealthy. And now he was using his experience and wealth to help a ministry that was leading hundreds of people to faith in Jesus every year. God had completely vindicated Bill. The consequences Bill paid to take a stand were ultimately short-term. And, in end, Bill was on the winning side.
But here’s the thing: we tend to forget this truth. To help us regain our memory, Peter points us back to our baptism: 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient 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 clear 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 Pet. 3:17-22 TNIV) The mention of Noah and the ark now gives Peter the opportunity to write about baptism. Just as Noah and his family were saved “through water” so these Christians have been saved through baptism. This saving did not happen merely because of the external properties of baptismal water—not the removal of dirt from the body. It happened because the baptism was accompanied by a particular attitude—the pledge of a good conscience toward God. The word “pledge” may best be translated “answer” or “response.” Baptism is our response to God in which we pledge ourselves to him. And this pledge or response is to be full-hearted—from a good conscience.
Peter’s point is this: through baptism these Christians have been joined to the resurrected and reigning Christ. Through baptism we become participants in the saving story of Jesus. Baptism is our gateway, our entryway, into the story of this Jesus who died for doing the right thing but then was vindicated. Baptism is how his story becomes our story.
Baptism reminds us who we’ve become. And who have we become? Through baptism we’ve become members of God’s winning movement. The story of Jesus is the story of God once and for all beginning the end of the suffering that righteous people endure and ensuring that good wins out in the end. And when we were baptized, we became part of that movement. When Peter says baptism saves us by the resurrection of Jesus, he’s drawing attention to the way in which baptism incorporates us into the victory of Jesus’ resurrection. What Jesus experienced we will now experience. Through baptism we become members of God’s winning movement.
June 6, 1994, was the 50th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. T he major TV networks ran programs that included interviews with aging veterans. One program paired two contrasting interviews. The first interview was with a marine who had landed on Omaha Beach. The veteran recalled looking around at the bloody casualties surrounding him and concluding, “We’re going to lose!” The next interview was with a U.S. Army Air Corps reconnaissance pilot who had flown over the battle area. He viewed the carnage on the beaches, but he also witnessed the successes of the marines, the penetration by the paratroopers, and the effectiveness of the aerial bombardment. He concluded, “We’re going to win!” When we do the good thing and end up suffering, it’s easy to conclude “I’m going to lose. I’m going to lose.” But Peter points us to the resurrection of Jesus and our baptism which connects us to that resurrection. Peter wants us to remember the victory that resurrection represents. He wants us to remember that our baptism ensures our own victory. Rather than thinking, “I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose,” Peter wants us to think, “We’re going to win. We’re going to win.” Through baptism we all become part of God’s winning movement. And that makes it possible for us to pay any price it takes to do what’s right in any situation.
Each week in this series, I want us to make a confession and a pledge together.
Let’s say it together: I struggle with amnesia, but this week I will remember who I’ve become through my baptism. Remember that you’ve become part of God’s winning movement. Any bad thing you suffer for doing what’s right, he’ll bring to an end. Any good you do in spite of suffering is part of God’s movement that’s going to win out in the end. Remember who you are this week. Go and live out that identity.
And for those of you who may have never been baptized, I invite you to take that step today or this week. Enter into the victory over evil made possible by the resurrection of Jesus.
 The Winning Season (TV, 2004), directed by John Kent Harrison, based on the book by Dan Gutman.
 T. A. Badger, “Reservist Says Peer Pressure Led to Abuse at Abu Ghraib,” The Louisville Courier Journal (5-03-05).
 “Casual Christians and the Future of America,” The Barna Group (May 22, 2009): http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/13-culture/268-casual-christians-and-the-future-of-america.
 Allen Black & Mark Black, 1 & 2 Peter (College Press, 1998), 101; Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1990), 136-137; J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter Word Biblical Commentary (Word, 1988), 204.
 Black & Black, 102-105.
 Black & Black, 102-105; Davids, 139-141.
 Black & Black, 104-105.
 J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter Word Biblical Commentary (Word, 1988), 197; Mark Black, “1 Peter” in The Transforming Word (ACU Press, 2009), 1037.
 The Long Walk Home (Mirimax, 1990), directed by Richard Pearce.
 Davids, 144-145.
 Davids, 145.
 Leith Anderson, Leadership That Works, (Bethany House, 1999), 164-165