Pastor Peter Walther
November 28, 2014
1 Peter 3:18-22
We have the Victory
Noah was an idiot, well, at least according to the locals. He could have at least put his boat next to water! That just makes sense. I wouldn’t try to compete with the ship building companies I see in Sturgeon Bay by starting a company in Greenville. Greenville isn’t even close to any major body of water. But, Sturgeon Bay companies can put their boat right in the water as soon as it needs to. Noah looked stupid. I like to think that when Noah asked the people if they were preparing for a flood and if they were taking God’s word seriously, he was confused at their response, as if a teenager was responding, “No-ah!” “Wait. Are you saying my name or just saying no?”
Either way, the people of Noah’s day despised Noah and despised God. They openly made fun of Noah and his family because they trusted in God and because they were building this boat no where even close to any water. Even those who claimed to be believers, but were believers in name only, saw judgment because their hearts were not prepared and geared for the Lord.
Have things changed? Are we so different? After all, who wants to be told what they are doing is wrong? Does that sound familiar? Do we tend to avoid the religion talk when we get together with our non Christian families and friends for Thanksgiving or Christmas? No-ah! You don’t want to be “that” guy! Oh, there’s Uncle Jesse on his Christianity rant again. Cut it out! Sometimes, we group religion with politics as if there are certain topics to avoid with family get-togethers. Is that really preparing our hearts for Christ’s return and hoping to help others? If anything, we are often like the people scoffing Noah, thinking he’s crazy for trusting in God, crazy for preparing for something that seemingly will never happen.
We are now in the season of Advent. A time to prepare our hearts for our Savior who comes us in a human body, the season of Christmas. But, the season of Advent is also a time to prepare our hearts for the day when our Lord Jesus comes to judge all things. The season of Advent and End Times really have some very similar themes. Much like the flood was a time of judgment for the people of Noah’s day, THE Judgement Day is coming soon.
But we see the whole purpose of everything that Jesus did for us right in a few of the apostle Peter’s words. His incarnation, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, even his descent into hell was so “that he might bring us to God.” Christ’s descent into hell is a little known article of the Christian faith, though we confess it regularly. Yet, this passage that we read today is really one of the only passages in which the Scriptures mention Christ’s descent into hell. Yet, Peter gives us the facts. On Easter Sunday morning, Christ’s spirit was suddenly united with His body and Christ was made alive again. Jesus Christ, who was our sacrifice, was unlike any Old Testament sacrifice. All other sacrificial victims remain dead. But not so with Jesus. All the Old Testament sacrifices could only point to Christ’s sacrifice and become effective because of his sacrifice. They all depended for their value on him as one put to death and was brought to life.
In that instant, with body and spirit united, Christ left the closed tomb. In that instant Christ descended to hell. This couldn’t be any other prison because the Holy Scriptures only know of one prison that confines spirits, and that is hell. I can already sense the questions that are brewing in your mind as you hear those words. When exactly did Christ descend into hell? How did he do it before he made his first appearances? Peter and the rest of Scripture don’t really answer that question. However, we must realize that our minds are constantly restrained by time and space. Our minds don’t work outside the confines of those ideas. Just like we cannot understand the idea of eternity. In the spiritual world, an act doesn’t require time, which doesn’t make sense to us. Yet, we know that this really did happen at some point after his body was made alive and before his appearances to the disciples.
Jesus really descended into hell. He didn’t go to hell to suffer any more. We know that because of Jesus’ words on the cross: “It is finished.” He didn’t go to get some people who maybe were good people, who seemed nice and bring them back to heaven. He didn’t go to give the condemned souls a second chance to repent. First of all, those ideas would contradict everything that God stood for and everything that Jesus proclaimed. The context makes it clear that Christ was speaking to all those in Hell, who can only be unbelievers, those who rejected the patient mercy of a loving God. The spirits in prison, the unbelieving souls, the apathetic believers who fell away, the devils and demons, all in torture, are there to stay. There is no second chance for them.
There is no limbo after death. There is no stage in between heaven and hell where you temporarily stay until you’ve earned enough time to get into heaven. There is only heaven and hell. We don’t deserve heaven. Because of our sin and lack of trust in God, we don’t deserve to even go to the pearly white gates of heaven and peer in. We are drowning in our sin, like the people of Noah’s day. We are sinking below the surface, far from life, as our sin drags us down in the cold deep clammy hands of death. We are beyond saving ourselves. We are as good as dead.
The sermon that Jesus delivered would have offered no comfort to those suffering in Hell. It offered no words of pity. However, this sermon, this descent into hell means so much more to us. Christ destroyed the work and power of Satan. And like any good winner, he shoved it in his face! Obviously, I say that somewhat excessively. But at the same time, the purpose was exactly that. He descended into hell to proclaim his complete and utter victory right to the powerless face of Satan. Christ had a message: victory. Christ’s work was completed. He had smashed the power of Satan and hell and he restored us to God. Neither Hell nor Satan nor any of his evil minions can harm us. Christ saved us from the sin that we drown in. Christ is literally our lifeline.
The people of Noah’s time, obviously had no physical lifelines. Because of their sin and their rejection of God and his mercy, all but 8 people in the whole wide world drowned as water rained down, came up from the earth, tossed and turned the people like rag dolls and filled their eyes, noses, mouths, and lungs with water. Not a pleasant way of dying, then only to be punished forever in hell. The apostle Peter could have used any other example of judgment. He could have referred to Sodom and Gomorrah, as even Jesus and Paul did. But this wouldn’t be fitting for the direction Peter is taking us. Abraham’s nephew Lot was not saved “by means of” the fire which destroyed both Sodom and Gomorrah. He was only saved “from” the fire. But Noah, was saved “by means of water.” You could get all technical and say well, technically the ark saved Noah. But I’m not one to argue with the logic of God and Peter here. Nevertheless, the same water that drowned millions of screaming unbelievers at Noah’s time carried the ark and its precious cargo high above the debris and destruction and death to safety. And with that, Peter brings us to Baptism.
Peter explains what baptism is and what it isn’t. Baptism is a means of grace, that which saves. It isn’t a bodily cleansing, like we do when we take a bath or a shower when we are dirty. Neither is it an outward rite of passage, or a symbol, or even a mark of obedience. To say that baptism is something that you do for God contradicts the very statement of Peter that baptism saves. It is completely outside of us. Baptism washes away the guilt of sins. It isn’t magic, as if the water itself is miracle working. Nor is it magic in the respect that once you’re baptized, you’re set to go for life and church is irrelevant. No, Peter emphasizes God’s grace in action, the resurrection of Christ. In other words, we can’t disconnect the sacraments from the gospel. Baptism is always connected to the words and promises of God in Christ. What an amazing gift that God has given to us, something that connects us to the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior.
In the same way, our baptism is an appeal to God. It isn’t so much a pledge. In the HCSB version of this text, it says “pledge.” Some translate, “response,” as in: a promise I make to God coming from a good conscience to live a holy life, to keep my side of the baptismal covenant. But that clashes with the idea of baptism saving us. It isn’t a person’s response. Instead, the better translation is more of an appeal or a legal claim. The point is that a person can always come back to God, armed with the blessing of baptism, and claim God’s promise of forgiveness. It’s a wonderful thing to remember our baptisms! When we remember our baptisms, we remember that we must continue to drown our sinful nature with daily repentance. But we also remember the love God has shown to us as we walk in that baptismal grace. Continue to stay connected to those promises by staying in God’s Word. You see, Baptism isn’t just a ceremony that happened a long time ago for many of us. But we live in that grace everyday.
When Satan attacks you, criticizes you, and tries to drag you down with him, you can proclaim that same victory that Christ proclaimed. When Satan tries to convince you that you are worthless, that life isn’t worth living, that no one cares or even understands you, we look to Christ. Or when he lies to you making you think that using others for your own gratification is better than your spiritual health, or when you are simply overwhelmed with problems and worries of this life, we remember our baptism. When our own conscience oppresses us, trying to convince us that we could never be forgiven for our sins, we can hold up these words of God. We can appeal to God that we are connected to Christ through our baptism. We can say with Peter that we are saved and that death and Satan and hell have no power over me.
This passage is short. But a lot of meat in these words and sometimes, we may not fully understand. However, I am baptized and I have the promise that I will have eternal life, both in body and soul. I know that I am connected to Christ. Christ is my lifeline. He saved me. He proclaimed that news not only to our world, but the world below. He is my rock and nothing can separate me from him. He is life. He is victory. Amen.
And the peace and love of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.