To Beat Down Satan under Our Feet

Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Sunrise
1 Peter 3:18-22
March 27, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

V   Alleluia! Christ is risen!
R   He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christ died once for our sins, the Righteous One for the guilty, to bring us to God. He was killed in His body but made alive in His spirit. In this spirit He also went and preached to the spirits kept in prison, who disobeyed long ago in the days of Noah when God waited patiently while the ark was being built, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved by water. In the same way also, baptism now saves us, not by washing dirt from the body, but by guaranteeing us a good conscience before God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who has gone to heaven and is at the right of God, where angels, rulers, and powers have been put under Him (1 Peter 3:18-22).

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

Every time you say the creed, you confess, He descended into hell. It’s almost the exact center of the article on the person and work of Jesus Christ. But there can very easily be some misunderstanding about the nature of Christ’s descent into hell. The Gospel narratives completely omit it. We only have a couple of obscure passages, such as this teaching from St. Peter, and another from St. Paul, who comments on Jesus ascension: Now what can “He went up” mean but that He had gone down to the lower parts of the earth? (Eph 4:9).

With such a scarcity of biblical details surrounding the event of Christ’s descent into hell, our natural human inquisitiveness wants to fill in the spaces with imagined details. In the church’s history, as people discussed this article of faith, some even debated whether the gates of hell were made of iron or wood, and if they were made of wood, how they would withstand the fires of hell.

But these details don’t matter. It’s only revealed to us that Jesus descended into hell and the purpose for which He descended. This is the simplicity of faith in the article of Christ’s descent into hell. The rest is concealed in God’s hidden will, and it is neither good nor wise for us to go digging around in God’s hidden will. Our blessing, our hope, and our life is found in what God has revealed.

He reveals, simply, that Christ descended into hell for a purpose. And that purpose was not to suffer for our sins.

Christ died once for our sins, the Righteous One for the guilty, to bring us to God. He was killed in His body but made alive in His spirit. The death of Jesus Christ was the punishment for our sins. The Righteous One takes the place of the guilty and receives their just sentence. Everything we deserved, Christ willingly accepted. He died to bring us to God, to reconcile us.

His suffering was in the body. These weren’t imaginary sufferings, or a pretend death. There is an old heresy in the Church called Docetism, which says that Jesus only appeared to be human, that He only seemed to be suffering on the cross, but all the while He was laughing in derision at these poor men who thought they could make God suffer. But this would not be the death of the Righteous One for the guilty. He was killed in His body.

But He was made alive in His spirit. That’s why we’re still here today, why we don’t end with Good Friday. He was killed in His body, but made alive in His spirit. Now, don’t take this to mean that Jesus shed His body at His death, and now only exists as a spirit. After His resurrection, He took a number of steps to show His disciples that He was truly risen in His body. He invited them to touch Him, as He had before when they thought He was a ghost, and to see that He has flesh and blood. They put their fingers into the impressions of the nail in His hand. In addition, He also prepares their breakfast and eats with them. Spirits don’t eat. The same body that hung on the cross, the same body that was laid in the grave, also now walks and talks and breathes and eats.

So, understand this phrase: He was…made alive in His spirit in the way that the Hebrews understood the term. His spirit means His whole person, body and soul. So St. Peter is teaching us that Christ died according to His human nature, though His human nature was never separated from His entire person. And Christ was raised, not just a divine spirit, but a whole person. He rose from the dead, body and soul, and so He remains from that first Easter morning until today: divine and human, body and soul, one whole, complete person.

1.

It was in this same spirit—that is, the whole person—that Jesus descended into hell. This was not to suffer; He had already suffered the pains of hell on the cross when He was forsaken by God. He descended into hell in victory. There was no more need of suffering, no more death.

Because he could no longer suffer or die.

And this is the reason why Jesus descends into hell. He descends in victory as a mighty conqueror. The best way to understand this article of faith is to picture it as the Lutheran artist Lucas Cranach did in his great Weimar Altarpiece. In the bottom left corner is a picture of the risen Christ, draped in a red cape. He’s holding a standard in His hands, on the flag is a cross. Follow the pole down and it’s stuck into the devil’s head. Christ stands on his neck, holding him down. His tongue lolls out of his mouth as if he’s lost all his strength. Under the other foot of our Lord is a skeleton. Behind them is an open tomb.

Chances are good that the descent into hell did not look like what Lucas Cranach painted. But the image tells you all you need to know. Christ descended into hell to put His enemies—death and the devil—under his feet. This is what you say every time you confess, He descended into hell.

Furthermore, he descends to preach. In this spirit He also went and preached to the spirits kept in prison, who disobeyed long ago in the days of Noah when God waited patiently while the ark was being built, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved by water. Jesus’ descent into hell is the first Easter sermon. The devil and all his demons, as well as the rebellious and the wicked, hear the glorious Easter Gospel. But for them it’s a curse because even though they know it, they refuse to believe it.

Now, don’t mistake this for a kind of purgatory, where the dead get a second chance. The disobedient from Noah’s day are the archetype of the unbeliever. Back in the days before the flood, the promise was still fresh. Adam had only recently been deceased. They disobeyed because they rejected the preaching of the promise. Their wickedness flowed from unbelief. Not much has changed, other than that the world has grown older. Many still reject the preaching; few believe that Christ suffered, died, was buried, descended to hell, and rose again on the third day.

But just as in the days of Noah, God waits patiently and continues to send out this preaching to the corners of the earth. And He still saves with water. Because Noah becomes a picture also of your salvation. In the same way also, baptism now saves us, not by washing dirt from the body, but by guaranteeing us a good conscience before God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who has gone to heaven and is at the right of God, where angels, rulers, and powers have been put under Him.

Today baptism has saved Nolan; today he shares in Christ’s victory by water. Not that it washed the dirt from his body, but as a saving flood that guarantees a good conscience. Because Christ died for his sins. And His resurrection is also a guarantee of Nolan’s own resurrection.

You also are baptized into Christ, and made a part of His body, and where His feet stand, you also stand. Death and Satan have no power over you. Because

Christ Is Risen from the Dead and Has Become a Mighty Lord over Death and Everything that Lay in Death’s Power

In the name of + Jesus.

V   Alleluia! Christ is risen!
R   He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA