This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 21, 2017.
This passage is full of difficulties, allusions to apocryphal literature, and obscure references that make it easy to get lost in the process of interpretation. In fact, if the minister is not very careful, he or she will be found trying to find out who are the spirits in prison, why Jesus preached to them, and how His preaching affected them, among other difficulties. Rather than get lost in these obvious difficulties, it would be better for the minister to focus on what can be readily understood in the passage. By looking at the book as a whole and the context of the passage, the meaning of the passage can be discerned.
In 1 Peter suffering is a very common theme. In the very beginning of the book, believers are encouraged to endure trials and suffering just as the prophets had endured them. Not only does the concept of suffering appear in the opening of the book, but it is also found throughout the text. The word suffering appears twenty times in the book. Further, the author goes out of his way to use the term suffering when it is not necessary. For example, the author uses “suffering” instead of “death” in 4:1 when referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. In 3:18 there is good reason to believe “suffered” is the correct word instead of “died” as some translations use.
Now I Peter’s emphasis on suffering does not necessarily mean that this passage is about suffering, but the context leans heavily in that direction. Verse 13 begins by talking about the harm that could come to the believer and discusses suffering immediately. Not only that, the passage mentions Christ’s suffering repeatedly; and it is followed by another section on suffering beginning in 4:1. If one is to get to the heart of the passage’s meaning one must look at it in the context of suffering.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on January 1st, 2017.
Christ is both transcendent and immanent, perfectly divine and completely human. Jesus was not a demi-god who was part human and part God. In the first chapter, the writer of Hebrews showed us the exalted Savior who created the world and then saved it demonstrating that Jesus Christ is greater than everything and everyone. Most Christians these days seem to intuitively understand the divinity of Christ. We stand ready to defend Christ’s divinity. This is the way it should be. But have we any hope at all in his humanity? We do.
We might focus a sermon on the necessity of Christ’s humanity. Why did Jesus have to be completely human? Only as a human could Jesus suffer and become our perfect Pioneer. So the necessity of Jesus’ humanity rests upon Jesus’ total identity with humanity. God is not out to make his family into one big happy family, but instead to make us one big holy family. Jesus could not make us holy without entering fully into our humanity. Thus, he did not merely pretend to be fully human. No. He actually became our elder brother and unashamedly called his followers brothers and sisters.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on December 25th, 2016.
Hebrews is distinctive in the New Testament literature. In the letters of Paul and Peter, we recognize the familiar formula of a letter. Later the writer of Hebrews will describe this work as “a letter of exhortation” (13:22). As we read Hebrews aloud, we may hear the exhortation, not just from the writer, but from God. God speaks in answer to our heart cry, “We need to hear from you. We need a word from you. If we don’t hear from you, what will we do?” Are we waiting for a word? If God could speak to us, what would God say? The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the very same God who spoke in the past still speaks today.
A sermon might explore the ways that God speaks to people. How did God speak in the past? Not only did God speak through the general revelation of creation. No, God spoke to and through the personalities of the prophets. In the Old Testament, we learn that God spoke to the ancestors of the readers of the Hebrews. Characteristically, the prophets said, “The word of the Lord came . . .” and then they spoke, “Thus says the Lord.” The words came over a span of hundreds of years beginning with Moses and going through Malachi. God spoke differently to and through different prophets. Moses heard God’s voice in a burning bush and also in the thunder of the storm. Elijah heard the “still, small voice.” Isaiah saw God high and lifted up in the Temple and heard him say, “Who will go for us?” Ezekiel heard from God on a field trip to a valley of dry bones. The heavens were not silent as stone. God spoke to his people through the prophets. Now, in Christ, God speaks again, to us.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on November 22, 2015.
Today’s passage offers a glimpse into Pilate’s private investigation of Jesus as described in the Gospel of John. Most of the conversation is comprised of material unique to this Gospel except for the central question from which this Sunday’s festival of “Christ the King” takes its name. Each one of the Gospels records that “Are you the King of the Jews?” was Pilate’s first question during his tête–à–tête with Jesus (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). The fact that all four preserve this same question and place it first speaks to the significance of the charge at Jesus’ trial and to the strength of this memory among the early Church.
Up to this point in the Gospel of John, “King” and “kingdom” language has been noticeably sparse (occurring only in 1:49; 3:5; and 12:13), especially in comparison with the emphasis on the “kingdom of God” in Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptics. In John’s passion narrative, however, Jesus’ kingship takes on a more prominent role (cf. 18:33, 36, 37; 19:19, 21) because of the trial charge.