Trinity Six, Sunday July 28, 2019 — 1 Peter 3:18-20 — He Descended into Hell
Sermon for Trinity Six (4/20/2008) - Sunday July 28, 2019
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.
1 Peter 3:18-20 (NKJV)
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
In the Name of Jesus Christ,
Who descended into Hell,
To proclaim His victory,
Dear Fellow Redeemed –
I was shaking hands after a Nursing Home Service some years ago when one of the ladies pointed to her service folder and asked me:
“Why do we say this?”
The words at the end of her finger were in the Apostle’s Creed: “…He descended into Hell.” I’m glad that she asked, rather than return to her room with a question. I directed her to her Bible, encouraging her to return to her room and read what it says in 1 Peter 3:18-19. I told her that she would read how Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison.
I didn’t shy away from her question, because what we believe and confess in the Apostle’s Creed, is taken from the Holy Scriptures.
We take our teaching from the Bible and believe it based upon that Word. We show that we respect God and His Word when we treat His Word with respect and humbly let it speak. This is our goal every time that we take up a study of God’s Word, to understand what is being said to us. We ask that God the Holy Spirit guide us that we may understand that word correctly. Therefore we also ask that God the Holy Spirit guide us and we pray: “Sanctify us by the Truth, O Lord, your Word is Truth.” Amen.
Have you ever visited someone in Prison or in Jail?
In my years of service as a Pastor, I have had opportunity to visit people both in Jail and in minimum, medium and maximum-security prison. I have to tell you that I have always found it uncomfortable to enter into prison and have multiple, heavy steel doors lock behind me. I always felt relief when those doors also opened and I was locked out – not in!
My purpose in visiting people in prison was to minister, to bring the Word of God to people and even members in need of Law and Gospel. My purpose was to speak the Truth, as the Apostle Peter does here:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…
It isn’t only those in prison who need to hear that ‘Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.’ We are no less sinners than those who have been incarcerated.
For this reason, it’s important that we remember that we are included among those who are here called: ‘the unjust’. Sometimes we have difficulty seeing the truth about ourselves because we want to ‘grade on a curve’ to ‘give ourselves a break.’
God has given us His Law – even written it into our hearts and has given us a conscience – so that we see that we have sinned. We are ‘unjust’ before God. God’s Law shows us that we have NOT put God and His Word first in our lives. God’s Law shows us that we have been disobedient to His Representatives – both parents in the home and the others that He has placed over us. It shows us that when we gossip, we break God’s Law by tearing down the reputation of others.
Once we’ve heard the Law, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. The Law shows plainly and we must confess that we are guilty sinners.
It’s then that sinners need to hear the Good News, that Christ was sent once to suffer for and atone for our sins. Jesus Himself is here called ‘THE JUST’ for good reason, He is the only example of a human being without sin. He earned favor with God by His sinless life.
BUT…in a twist that only God’s amazing love could devise…He was the one who suffered. It says that He suffered instead of us, to bring us to God. It is by faith in Christ, whether in jail, prison or free citizens, we are on right terms with God.
Guilty sinners need to be directed to Christ, who has made things right…not to themselves or their deeds.
Jesus didn’t only suffer and die for sins. The words that follow offer a ‘timeline’ of sorts, relating to us in a simple way what happened on Good Friday thru Easter Sunday, even revealing an event not recorded in the Gospels.
First of all, Christ suffered for our sins, the Just for the Unjust. After He suffered, He died, He was…
… put to death in the flesh but made alive by the spirit,
So, what happens to human beings at death…happened to Christ. Jesus’ soul and body were separated. The Gospel writers Matthew and John bear witness to the event, telling us (Matthew 27:50; John 19:30):
“Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”
“..bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
Jesus’ body hung on the cross until it was taken down by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, but His soul was received into the Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). Then the body was removed from the cross, and laid in the tomb on Good Friday afternoon before 6pm. The partially embalmed body of Christ remained in the grave until the first day of the week, the day we know as Sunday, Easter Sunday.
But the next event related in this divine timeline is not the Resurrection of Jesus. It says that Jesus was revived, made alive…His soul and body were rejoined. While every other sacrifice given for sin stayed dead, Christ, the One Sacrifice they all pictured, returned to life, and then….
…He went and preached to the spirits in prison,
Let’s take a close look at what is said here. It happened sometime Easter morning, after Jesus was revived from the dead that we are told: He went and preached to the spirits in prison.
There is only one prison for spirits mentioned in the Bible. It’s referred to in the Old Testament as Gehenna, and we know it as Hell.
What about Purgatory? Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about a place called purgatory, believed by some to be a holding tank for souls. Purgatory is a fable, but Hell is a very real place created by God for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Unfortunately, the Bible also tells us that those who die without faith in Jesus, the Christ will also find their souls in Hell until the Resurrection…and thereafter, both soul and body will reside in Hell.
What does it say that Jesus did after proceeding to the prison for spirits? Did He suffer? NO, His suffering was concluded at His death. Did He rescue Old Testament Believers? NO. Did He give them one last chance to repent? NO. He did one thing; preach to the spirits in prison. He brought news of His Victory.
Today news comes to us almost immediately from around the globe by means of satellite and the internet. Years ago, the news came by wire, newspaper, or public proclamation. In the middle ages, the town crier would stand at the city center and invite the city to listen and then announce with loud voice the news from around the country and the world.
What did Jesus do in Hell? He brought news…he proclaimed news. The word used means simply to proclaim aloud, to herald. It isn’t the word that means to proclaim good news, to preach the Gospel. The word refers to making a public announcement.
Jesus descended into Hell to proclaim, to announce His victory.
I visited prison to proclaim Christ…but I had no authority or power there. Jesus descended into Hell as Satan and hell’s conqueror, to proclaim His victory. Jesus descended into hell as the one who has the keys to the grave and of death.
Think of it like this...after great victories the Roman Army would return to Rome bearing the spoils. The victorious solders would march into Rome in full array prodding along conquered king and dignitaries. The victorious general would place his foot on the king’s neck, symbolic of his utter defeat.
We should picture Jesus’ descent into Hell the same way. He came to hell to announce His victory and to parade before his enemies. It was the first step of His glorious exaltation.
To whom did He announce His victory? He spoke to the condemned, including Satan and his host. We are also told that some of the crowd included those unbelievers from the days of Noah:
…who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
They had sneered at God’s warnings and promises made by Noah…now they were imprisoned in the prison of souls awaiting the final judgment. When Jesus descended into hell, they met their judge, our victorious Lord Jesus.
While they were judged, Noah and his family were saved by the mercy of God. They were saved by the ark, through water.
We have earned the right, we deserve to be imprisoned with them, but have been rescued by God through Jesus Christ. We were saved by means of water – not the water of the flood – but the water of God’s mercy in baptism, which derives its power from the Word of God.
So, there it is - the timeline of our redemption, Easter morning edition. Jesus was put to death in the flesh, then made alive by the spirit and went and proclaimed His victory to the condemned in Hell.
While that announcement must have caused their hearts to shudder with fear, it causes us to sing for joy with the hymn writer:
For the joy Thine advent gave me, For Thy Holy precious Word;
For Thy baptism, which doth save me,
For Thy blest Communion board;
For Thy death, the bitter scorn, For Thy Resurrection morn,
Lord, I thank Thee and extol Thee, And in heaven I shall behold Thee.