6th Sunday of Easter – A LSB #332:1-2, 4-6
Text – 1 Peter 3:18-19
For Christ also suffered once for sins… being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went & proclaimed to the spirits in prison.
THE DESCENT INTO HELL
“Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died & was buried. He descended into hell.” It probably doesn’t sound like a sermon you’d hear during the season of Easter. Where’s the glory? Where’s the resurrection? Where is the joy? Where is the alleluia?
And yet, if you follow Jesus in any of the Christian denominations you should have spoken those words on every occasion that you recited the Apostles’ Creed. That creed is a summary of all the major teachings of Jesus Christ. Still, quite a few people think the Apostles’ Creed is so basic that it’s hardly worth bothering with. “I know all that,” they say.
It’s for that reason that we are looking, today, at the descent into hell. Though we recite that phrase frequently, few Christians can explain what’s going on there, or how relevant it is to the struggles of their daily lives. However, St. Peter was writing to Christians that were being persecuted for their faith & he includes the sermon text in his letter.
Peter wrote to new Gentile congregations that were enduring significant suffering due to persecution & alienation from the corrupt culture in which they lived. I can’t speak for you, but I have definitely been feeling some alienation from the culture in which I live.
The corruption seems to grow by leaps & bounds with all the revelations of arrogance & self-importance in recent leaders of our nation’s FBI. There’ve been numerous allegations of sexual harassment & sexual assault against congressmen & women, senators & candidates for president. Those allegations involve Democrats, Republicans & even fringe party candidates.
And the ‘free press’ that is supposed to be a cornerstone of our democracy has become a
joke with all the lies & extreme bias that have been exposed. Anymore, they function as not much more than the propaganda arms of the political parties. They have sunk to the level of tabloid news & could hardly investigate the county dog catcher with any level of competence. Many of the headlines they print one day are proven misleading at best within the week.
The 6th commandment has been completely erased from our culture, & the 3rd commandment has become irrelevant. If you aren’t even sure which those are, “Yes, I am preaching to you!” And none of those thoughts & examples include the corona virus, which is only the biggest thing to affect the entire world since the last world war.
There’s a reason why anti-depressants are such a popular medication in our nation. The reason is sin, & the corruption it brings. Jesus is needed more than ever, not because our people are anymore sinful then they were 50 or 100 years ago. Jesus is needed now, more than ever, because the majority of our nation no longer follow Jesus with any commitment.
Can you instantly recite the 3rd or the 6th commandments? Do you know 90% of the members of your congregation? We aren’t that large! If you were following Jesus with commitment you could answer both questions with a resounding, “Yes!” When it comes to holiness & godly love – you & I are a car wreck. Our spiritual lives have crashed & burned!
And that is why Jesus descended into hell. Just three days before, He’d been hanging dead on a Roman cross. Betrayed by one of His own disciples, & crucified at the request of His own people – the Lamb of God was slaughtered for Passover by the pagan Gentiles. If you were a Jewish believer of Yahweh’s promises, things could not have looked any worse.
Completely lacking wisdom, due to their rejection of God’s Holy Spirit, the spirits in hell may well have been celebrating their victory. Then Jesus arrived! His 1st appearance on Easter morning was not to declare forgiveness, but judgment. Christ descended to hell in order to let evil know that its rebellion against the Creator had failed, & miserably! Jesus shows up right in their own little corner of creation to give convincing proof of His victory, & to show them, in His person, what true life is. Jesus is the Way & the Truth & the Life. Death had been defeated for the children of God, but any who rejected Him would die for eternity.
That message is for you & me as well. Christ’s descent into hell was a preview of Judgment Day, for the demons of hell & for us, to let us know that Yahweh cannot be trifled with. Yes, He is patient & long-suffering beyond what we can bear. So our heavenly Father simply calls us to trust in Him. Jesus was sent to bear the load of sin on behalf of all creation.
In chapters 3 & 4 of 1 Peter, Christians are admonished to bear patiently in this life the suffering & slander heaped upon them by the unbelieving world. Jesus traveled the same road of suffering & contempt. We’re to do this in expectation of God’s righteous judgment, which shall come upon all unbelievers & blasphemers of His Church on Judgment Day.
Hostile, aggressive self-defense instinctively seems the best reaction to the world’s harassment of Christians, but Jesus teaches & models a different way. He goes to hell Himself & declares not just His, but our victory in Him! In His glorified state as the exalted Savior & Lord, Christ descended to hell & declared victory over the spirits in prison.
Just as Christ’s suffering & death in this life were NOT defeat, neither is our suffering & death. Yeah, it’s not easy to look at our lives that way. Even if we don’t get hostile & aggressive in attempting to defend ourselves, grumbling & complaining certainly are far too often our response. We are already the victors. We have nothing to grumble or complain about.
Even as God’s children, we have plenty of room for repentance. By way of the example Jesus makes of the spirits in hell, we too are being called, once again, to repent of our sins before it is too late. Thank God there is forgiveness for grumbling & complaining, as well as all other sins. Our sin is real, & it is not becoming of children of the Heavenly Father. Battling against our sinful nature is suffering in itself, sort of like a civil war going on within each of God’s children. So whether the persecution is from without, or within, St. Peter is writing to encourage us to remain in Christ.
Peter wants us to know that feeling alienated from our culture is not something to fear as we remain in Christ. If we look at Jesus’ descent into hell, His resurrection appearances, & His ascension to the right hand of God, we find they all belong together as a unified proclamation of Christ’s victory in the three different but related realms of hell, earth, & heaven.
The only begotten Son of God is the victor in all three realms. There is nowhere that we need to be afraid, not in our joys & not in our sufferings. Yahweh is working through each of them, & through all of them, to bring about the glory of His will. And His will is that we join Him in His eternal kingdom. Not even Covid 19 is able to prevent that.
Christ has liberated mankind from the obvious contradictions between the way things are & the way things ought to be. We ought to live together in harmony – yet we are divided from one another. Humanity was created for life – but everywhere there is death & destruction. In heaven that harmony & that life will be restored perfectly.
Because of Jesus’ descent into hell we know that Satan is no longer in control. By the death & resurrection of Jesus God overcame the powers of death & destruction that tyrannize people’s lives. By His descent into hell, Jesus exposed the forces of division & alienation to public view as objects of defeat.
Satan’s rebellion has failed & all who followed him are powerless. Their suffering & persecution will last forever. Peter wants us to know that our suffering is not harm but gain, however it really helps us to understand that by knowing Jesus descended to hell in order to declare His victory. Remember the words from the 1st reading in Acts, “…Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being…’” (17:27-28 ESV) Amen.
Savior of the nations, come, Virgin’s Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heaven & earth, that the Lord chose such a birth. Then stepped forth the Lord of all from His pure & kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began. God the Father was His source, back to God He ran His course, into hell His road went down, back then to His throne & crown. For you are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the victory won. By Your mighty power make whole all our ills of flesh & soul. Amen. LSB 332:1, 4-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet