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He Descended Into Hell

May 16, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: 1 Peter 3:18–3:20

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
May 17, 2020
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Easter 6
He Descended Into Hell

18 For Christ also suffered, once, for sin
     the righteous for the unrighteous that he
     might bring us to God.
He was put to death in the flesh;
     but made alive again by the Spirit
19 by which he went and preached to those in prison;
     20 those who in past times did not obey
     when God, patiently waited [for them],
            in the days of Noah,
when he was preparing the ark in which a
     few that is eight persons
           were brought safely through the
           water.

 

 

Among the many mysteries of Christian doctrine is the line from the Apostle’s Creed, “he descended into hell.”

Though oft repeated, it is rarely explained, and there may be a reason for that. Namely that these verses are most likely a part of 1st century baptismal liturgy: and liturgy resists explanation.

Have you ever noticed that? That we don’t analyze the holy liturgy we pray each week or even think about it much. We just sing the words: but don’t worry.

Worship is worship, it is not meant to be analyzed, but rather to be prayed by God’s people so that it may form us. And, being that it is composed of God’s Word its always accomplishes its intended goal.

But while it is hard to penetrate there are a few things we can say about St. Peter’s words today.

The first part is well known and makes every Christian heart sing:

“For Christ also suffered, once, for sin the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God.”

This is the thrilling gospel of Christian faith: that sinners are redeemed by Christ; we are those sinners so redeemed. The Christian faith is not, as so many suppose about me and my sentiments and my preferences. No! It is about you, but about Christ.

It is about the One who bore our sins, who took our penalty and who suffered our punishment, capital punishment, for that is the wage of every sin due to every sinner.

And so hold on tight to your pew in the Ark of holy church today, so that you might be saved for: today is the Day of Salvation.

It’s not enough to just think about the church; and recall the last time you were here. Just like it wasn’t enough for the people of Noah’s day to think about the Ark which they may have even have helped to build. But in the end they would not enter it. In the end, they perished.

Yes, Jesus bore our sins. He accepted our fate. He felt it; suffered it; and paid the ultimate price; “the righteous” (that’s him) for the unrighteous (that’s us.) This is what Jesus did, and says as much in St. John (15:13) “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, I have called you my friends.”

Yes, Jesus died once, died for all, the just for the unjust to bring us to God; and with that truth richly taught the Christian religion will thrive even “if devils all the world should fill.” Even if people should conspire to close down every church in the world the promise of Jesus stands that: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Yes. He died once. Died for all. The One for the Many. The death of This One Man, this God/Man is of such surpassing greatness that it atones for all sins; all faults and to wipe away all guilt.

Jesus is that good; that strong; that holy, that big; and now no more payment for sin is due. The bill is paid in full by Jesus so stop feeling sorry for yourself and rejoice in his salvation.

What was the purpose of the Lord’s death on the cross?

To bring us to God. To reconcile us to our true Father. To restore us to the family name, the family home, the family table, the family fortune, the family’s glorious eternity.

Why, like the prodigal son, should we live like pigs and imbibe their swill each day?

Why, like dogs, should we return to our vomit when the prophet Isaiah proclaims (25:6) that:

“The LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” That is the feast on the altar before you today!

O Baptized! Be what you are! Live as sons of God for you are his offspring. Don’t worship idols, for you are not descended from them. They are not your ancestor, God or Father. But you are an icon of the Living God. Of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If God were to come to earth and become a man, he would look like you. Indeed, he did come to earth and become a man and was like us in every respect – except without sin.

And so be reconciled to God for God “made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

In this baptismal liturgy St. Peter also teaches us that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh” and that is all important theological fact.

His death was no sham or charade. He did not only seem to be a man, or seem to be real, or seem to be dead. But he is the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14). The Good Shepherd who lay down his life for us and took it up again. (John 10:11)

But the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and that drove him into the wilderness to do battle with Satan immediately following his baptism, the same Spirit also led him into hell!

Not to suffer!

That is all important!

When Jesus felt the whip and the thorns and the nails and the spit and he humiliation … When he breathed his last and committed himself into the hands of God sin was finished.

Jesus did not go to hell to suffer. But like Samson to bring down the house on top of Satan’s own head, and to bring out from the grave all who awaited his coming in hope.

And so St. Matthew reports this mysterious event upon the Lord’s death that never seems to receive a shred of attention: but today let us hear it, believe it, ponder it, and find our own hope in it. St. Matthew writes:

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53 )

What happened then as a foretaste of what will happen again on the last day just as Jesus says:

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment …” John 5:28-29)

These two events are connected, the one being a foretaste of the other, connected by the Lord’s death, burial, descent into hell, and resurrection.

May God fill us with holy awe. Amen.