“The Ark Of Our Salvation” (I Peter 3:18-22 sermon)

IMG_7477In 1913 there was a great flood in Brazoria County. The three rivers: the Brazos, the Colorado, and the San Bernard, all virtually became one, and the entire countryside was flooded. The streets of Angleton were covered in 3 to 4 feet of water. After three similar type floods in a 6-year period, citizens decided that something needed to be done, and the levee was built that now surrounds our town. 

That levee was one of the first things we were shown when we came to Angleton, and Cheryl & I quickly determined that we wanted to live INSIDE this levee!  We heard that even in the massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and other torrential rains, that the City of Angleton has been “high and dry” due to the levee. Thus the levee has become something like an “ark of safety” for our town’s inhabitants, against the floods that come against our area.  

Well, I am thankful for the levee we have around our town — but you know, there is nothing certain in this world. One day that levee may fail, and our town may flood. But thank God, we have an “ark of safety” that will NEVER fail us — the “ark” of salvation He has given us in Jesus Christ! God describes that “ark” in our verses for today in I Peter 3:18-22:

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which He also went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through them resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”

This passage has some difficult aspects to it, which people have speculated about for centuries, for example: where did Christ go “in the Spirit” to preach to spirits now in prison? Some think the risen Jesus went to exult over the evil spirits in hell. I tend to agree with Augustine and many others who believe that it means that the Spirit of Christ was preaching through Noah to those who lived in the time while Noah was building the ark. And there are a number of other interpretations as well.  I had to chuckle at what Martin Luther, the great theologian of the 1500’s, wrote of this passage: “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means”!  (When all else fails, punt!) 

But almost regardless of what you believe about that aspect of this passage, I think the main thing we should focus on here today is not speculation about the obscure parts of the passage, but what we KNOW here about the “ark of safety” God gave us in Jesus Christ, which will bring us safely through the “floods” of this life. We saw last week that Christ suffered ONCE for our sins, for the purpose of bringing us to God. Now Peter compares our salvation in Christ to the ark that God gave Noah. 

And Peter is in good company when he compares our times, and our salvation, to the days of Noah and the ark. Jesus Himself did this in Matthew 24:37-39. He said “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”  So Jesus compared His return, and people’s response to Him, to what happened in the days of Noah. Undoubtedly, that is where Peter picked this up. He was standing there listening when Jesus said that. So both Jesus and Peter compare our salvation, and the judgment of this world, to what happened in the days of Noah. Let’s look at what this passage teaches us about our “Ark of Salvation”:


I.  The Disobedience of Man

Verse 20 here talks about the spirits “who once were disobedient when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah.” So the days of Noah were a time of disobedience. We know that, right?!  God had said He would destroy the world because of their disobedience against Him. We see in Genesis 6:5 one of the strongest verses anywhere about the depravity of mankind in our rebellion and disobedience against God:

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” 

This verse is SO strong regarding the total sinfulness and disobedience of all mankind before God. Look at what it says:

— God saw that the wickedness of man was great on earth.

— and see how it describes it: “every INTENT of the THOUGHTS of his HEART was ONLY EVIL CONTINUALLY”!  It’s not “well, we’re really pretty good at heart.” NO! We aren’t!  The thoughts of our hearts are “only evil continually.” 

It is not that as mankind, we are “basically pretty good people,” but we just need a little “tweaking” and straightening out. NO; the Bible says we have to realize that our hearts are evil. There is nothing we are not capable of. We are not “basically good people.”

I am always amazed at mothers of mass murders, and so on, who talk about how their son is “really just a good boy.” It happened again last April, when a young man in New Zealand, Brenton Tarrant, murdered 50 people in two New Zealand mosques. The Australia Daily Mail interviewed his grandmother, and she said she couldn’t understand what happened, that he was really just “a good boy.” 

We’ve got to get past thinking that we are really just “good down deep in our hearts;” we are NOT good deep down; we are EVIL. “Every intent of the thoughts of our heart is only evil continually.” Romans 3 says “there is none good, not even one”! We are not “good at heart;” we are sinners at heart. 

When you get honest about it, you realize that our greatest sins are not even the things we DO — those are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s our hearts that are so bad; our thoughts! People who say they are going to try to get to heaven by keeping the 10 Commandments — you have to wonder if they have even read them! Just take the last commandment only: “You shall not covet” anything that belongs to your neighbor: his house, or wife, or cattle, or anything that is his. That verse shows us, among other things, that the THOUGHTS OF OUR HEART are all  accountable to God!  It condemns us all. It condemned them all in the days of Noah, and it condemns us all today as well. The Bible says “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all condemned by our sin and disobedience against God.  We ALL have hearts that have rebelled against God, and are disobedient to Him, just like in the days of Noah. 

Your first step towards getting in the “ark” of God’s salvation in Christ, is to realize that just like the people in Noah’s day, you too have sinned, both with your actions, and especially in your heart — and because of that, you desperately need a Savior. 


II. The patience of God

Despite our sin and rebellion against God, amazingly, the Bible says, God is very patient with us.  Verse 20 here talks about how “the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah.” With all the sin and rebellion of the world in the days of Noah — they all deserved to be wiped out immediately — God was patient with them. Genesis 6:3 says He gave them 120 years!  I think most of us would agree that’s pretty patient of God: from the time He saw they were utterly evil, He gave them 120 more years before His judgment would come. We think we’re patient if we wait 10 minutes in the fast food line without complaining — but 120 years! THAT is patient!

And God is patient today too. II Peter 3 picks up this same theme, when it talks about how “mockers will come with their mocking” saying, “where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation?” But Peter answers that and says in :9 “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

Again here in II Peter, he is saying, listen: God is being PATIENT. Just like He was in the days of Noah, God is being patient today too. Do you know that since “Roe v. Wade” legalized abortion in America in 1973, over 1 million babies year on average have been killed in our country due to abortion? When Cain murdered his brother Abel, God said in Genesis 4:10 “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground!” If the blood of ONE innocent victim called out to God for His judgment, what of the voices of over 50 MILLION babies which have been slain in our country since 1973? Their voices are calling to God from the ground, for His judgment upon our land! God has been patient with our country. He could have stricken us after a year, or 5 years, or ten — He hasn’t done it yet — but He is being patient.

But listen, this is not just for “all those sinners out there” — this is for US!  Notice what it says there in II Peter: He is not just being “patient;” it says He is being patient “toward YOU”! We need to apply this personally. God is being patient because He wants YOU to come back to Him. There have been things that YOU have done that were (and are) rebellious against God. You know the truth; you know that you should have been judged by God by now, and you haven’t been. Why is that? Is it because God isn’t real, and He isn’t ever going to do anything? Is it because there really isn’t any judgment coming? NO — it is because He is being patient; He is giving you every opportunity; He is waiting on YOU!  God is patient.


III. The judgment that is coming

But listen: God is patient towards us, just like He was in the days of Noah. But just like in the days of Noah His judgment IS coming. It says “the patience of God kept waiting” — but that patience does not last forever.

There IS a judgment that is coming:

— God was very patient in the days of Noah. He gave them 120 years. People thought the flood wasn’t ever going to come — but it finally did. God closed the door of the ark and the time of His patience was over. “And the flood came and took them all away,” Jesus said.

— Similarly God was patient with Lot, when He was going to judge the wicked city of Sodom, and Lot was trying to get his family members out. Genesis 19:14 says Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was crazy. They didn’t believe him, and would not go with him. But God’s judgment fell in fire and brimstone upon Sodom that next morning. God had been extremely patient; He had warned them; but there comes a time when His patience is exhausted, and His judgment does come. 

We need to hear this word today. Billy Graham said a generation ago, that if God doesn’t judge America soon, He is going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. People may say, Yeah, well I’ve heard that all my life.” If you heard that all your life, that ought to send chills down your spine. Because if our nation has been so wicked for long, that the words of the prophet now seem old to you, how much closer are we now to the judgment of God that is coming than we have ever been before? God is patient; He has been patient with our country; He is being patient with many of us right now as individuals and as families — but as Psalm 103:9 says: “He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever.” His judgment is coming. Sure, there are people who don’t believe it. The media will mock you — people will laugh and think you are crazy if you believe it. But like Jesus said, it is just like the days of Noah!  That’s how they treated him too. Don’t let anyone intimidate you. God has been very patient, but His judgment is coming.

Some of us need to take this verse to heart today. Listen: if you know that you have been toying with God’s patience, that is a dangerous game to play. How long has God been speaking to you about a sin in your life you have been playing with — it is like playing with fire?! How long has He been speaking to you about making a decision for Him, and you just keep putting it off? How long do you think God is going to wait? God is amazingly patient; more patient than we deserve for Him to be; but you have to realize that He will not wait on you forever.

Listen: if God gives us ONE DAY to respond to Him it is grace! If He gives us ANY chance we should jump at it immediately.  We don’t deserve it. We need to respond; we are not promised another chance; we are not promised another day. That is why the Bible says “NOW is the acceptable time; TODAY is the day of salvation.” Realize that God is patient, but His judgment is coming — and you need to do what God is calling you to do, TODAY!


IV. The “ark” of salvation:

The Bible speaks here of “the ark, in which eight persons were brought safely through the water” — this ark is a picture of our salvation in Jesus. God’s judgment came upon that ancient world; but 8 people were saved through that judgment, because they listened to God’s word, and got on the ark He provided for their salvation. 

Peter says in :21, this like your salvation in Christ. Just like in the days of Noah, God is promising again that judgment is coming on the whole world: look at what all Revelation says is coming. But just as in the days of Noah, God has provided us a means of escape — and that means of escape is in Jesus Christ.  

Now the language Peter uses here throws some people off. Peter says just like the ark saved the 8 in Noah’s day, so “baptism saves you.” Some people think that this verse teaches that the rite of baptism saves a person — but if you look at this verse carefully, it actually teaches the OPPOSITE!  It says “corresponding to this (the ark coming through the water) baptism now saves you” — but then it adds: “NOT the removal of dirt from the flesh” — in other words, NOT the physical act of baptism, which all that does is just take dirt off your body; he says that doesn’t save you — remember, your problem is in your heart; your heart of disobedience; that is what has to be changed. So he says, the physical act of baptism doesn’t save you, but what DOES, he says, is: “An appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  He is making it very clear here: it is NOT they physical act of baptism that saves you, but asking God to clean your heart — to give you a good conscience “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ — THAT is what saves you.  

So, far from instructing us that the act of baptism saves, this verse teaches what the rest of the Bible teaches about salvation: that “calling on the name of the Lord” from your heart is what saves you. Baptism is a PICTURE of that — it is an IMPORTANT picture — but we need to remember it is ONLY a picture. No physical act saves you; not circumcision, not baptism, not taking the Lord’s Supper, not going to church, not giving money … because these things can’t change your heart, which as we have seen is our real problem. Jesus said “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit” — salvation is a SPIRITUAL thing, which is done in your HEART when you ask God to save you. 

So the question is: Have you ever done that? Have you ever made an “Appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”, like Peter says here?  If you haven’t, you need to do it today. Admit that you have rebelled against God and sinned against Him in your heart. Ask Him to save you and clean your heart because of what Jesus did for you on the cross.  THEN you should be baptized — NOT because baptism saves you, because it doesn’t — but because it is in baptism that you confess the faith in Jesus that you have in your heart, and it is there that you picture to the world the salvation He gave you when you “appealed to Him for a good conscience.”

So “appealing to Him for a good conscience” — asking Him to save you — is how you “get in the ark.” Jesus is the “ark” that saves us from God’s judgment today. And He is the ONLY ark. He said in John 14:6 “I am THE way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He says there is no other way. Just as there was only one ark that could save you in the days of Noah, so there is only one way of salvation today: “appealing to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

— So you’ve got to make sure that YOU are “in the ark” today.

— And make sure that your loved ones are “in the ark” as well. I saw an article last week where a child was troubled and asked his mother about the children in the flood. The mom said that all she could tell her son was, “I guess their parents didn’t make sure they were on the ark.” Listen mom & dad: your greatest responsibility as a parent, is to make sure your kids are “on the ark.” Make sure they know the gospel, and that they give their lives to Christ. 

— Your biggest responsibility as a dad is not to make sure your son can fish or hit a fastball; THE single biggest responsibility you have as a man is to make sure your son is on the ark! 

— Your biggest job as a mother is not to teach your daughter how to cook, or to put her makeup on just right: your biggest job is to make sure she is on the ark. 

And it is the same for your grandchildren, and for everyone else you know.

Make sure that you, and your family, and everyone you love, is “in the ark” of salvation in Jesus. It is THE single most important responsibility you have in life. Make sure that YOU and those you love are in the “ark” God has given us in Jesus Christ.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me about how we need to be ready for when the hurricanes come down here — and I’ve seen people who are really prepared: they’ve got their stash of food and water, and sandbags, and plywood, and a generator — all this stuff; they are ready!  And that’s good. I’ve got a little “stash” of things myself just in case.  I know more than likely, one of these years we ARE going to have another big storm. We need to be ready. 

But God says listen: there is coming another storm; another flood, unlike anything we’ve ever seen: it’s the “storm” of His judgment; and the flood of His wrath against sin, which no man will withstand. And the Bible says there is only one way of escape from it: to get in the “ark” of salvation which God has provided. In the days of Noah, only 8 got into it. Today, it will take whoever will come.  Jesus said “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So call on His name today. Ask Him to give you a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Get in the ark. And do everything you possibly can, to make sure that those you love are in that ark of salvation with you!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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