2014-05-30 - His Death & Our Life
Part 1 ~ Why did Jesus die?
There's a preacher named S.M. Lockridge that eloquently preached a message entitled, "Sunday's Coming". Many copies of his sermon can be found on the internet in audio or video formats. Use your favorite search engine to find one and watch it now.
Can I get an Amen? As one old preacher I know used to say, If that dont light your fire, your wood's wet. On Friday, Jesus died on the cross and, on Sunday, he came out of the tomb very much alive. But what about Saturday? The Bible seems to have almost nothing to say about that day. If this weekend changed the world, then Saturday is in fact at the very heart of that change. This weekend is like spaghetti and meatballs. Friday and Sunday get the attention but the Saturday sauce is what unites it as one dish and not just meat with a pasta side. Therefore, let us look at scripture for a small glimpse.
Ephesians 4:1-10 (NASB)
I think verse nine holds a key to unraveling the mystery of Saturday. "He also had descended to the lower parts of the earth." So when we ask ourselves what about Saturday, I want us to see that Jesus went to Hell that day. Trust me, I know how radical and crazy that sounds to some of you, but I believe it is scripturally sound and I hope you will hear me out because through this, we see just how great God's sacrifice and love is for us. It is in fact what the church has taught until very modern times, when God's punishment and wrath was perhaps deemed too harsh. A spiritual death trumps a physical death, and eliminates the claims of some cults claim that he merely fainted.
Perhaps that is why the Apostle's Creed includes this very clear teaching as part of it:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He Descended into hell [emphasis added]. On the third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come, to judge the living and the dead.
So now I'd like to spend a little while looking at a few other passages and historical statements, and in doing so, I think we will uncover the answer to our first question: Why did Jesus die?
First, Jesus died to satisfy sin's debt. Hosea 13:14, also quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:55, says "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? Oh death, where are you or thorns? Oh Sheol, where is your strength?" (NASB) Melito (circa 170 AD) says, "Christ rose from the place of the dead and raised up the race of Adam from the grave below." Another leader of the early church, Iraneus (c. 180 AD) says, "For Christ did not come merely for those who believed on him in the time of Tiberius Caesar. Nor did the Father exercise his providence only for the men who are presently alive. Rather, he exercised it for all men altogether, who from the beginning have both feared and loved God." He goes on to say, "He gathered from the ends of the earth into his father's fold the children who were scattered abroad. And he remembered his own dead ones, who had previously fallen asleep. He came down to them so that he might deliver them."
John Calvin was concerned that many Christians "have never earnestly considered what it is or means, that we have been redeemed from God's judgment. Yet this is our wisdom: duly to feel how much our salvation cost the son of God." According to Genesis, sin leads to death, and that is echoed by the payment of sin's wages in Romans 6:23.
Any evangelist worth his salt will tell you that if you die in your sins, then your soul dies that it is separated from God in Hell. Jesus took that whole penalty upon himself. Jesus went to Hell. He died the same kind of spiritual death we would die in sin. Jesus himself said in Matthew 12:40 "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Jesus went to Hell. This was believed by the early church without a doubt. Even early reformers like Luther and Calvin taught this. Michael Bauman, in his book 'The Creed: What You Believe and Why', writes, "As the bearer of all sin, Jesus was condemned to the consequences of that sin - Hell. However, Peter declares in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost, that God did not leave his son to languish in Hades." Acts 2:31 records, "He looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh suffer decay." Jesus died to satisfy sin's debt.
The next reason for Jesus' death is to set the captives free. "The blood of my covenant set prisoners free from the waterless pit." (Zechariah 9:11 NASB) Hell is often referred to as a pit, and it is without water. Isaiah 61:1, in the old King James, tells us, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." At Christ's death, the temple veil was torn, removing the barrier separating the living from God. So, too, does his kicking down the gates of Hell represent the removal of the barrier between God and the Saints of the Old Testament covenant. Out of the depths of death, he has made life spring forth. Jesus descends as Savior, proclaiming the gospel to the imprisoned spirits. From the traditions of the Catholic Church, Catechism 633:482-483 states, "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom who Christ the Lord delivered when he descended in the hell." Jesus did not descend into Hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the Hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him. They had been bound by grace until grace entered in.
In Ephesians 4:1, Paul calls himself a prisoner of the Lord. In verse seven, Jesus takes captives into captivity. Regarding the Ephesians 4 passage, Warren Wiersbe writes, "He ascended to Heaven as Victor forevermore. The picture here is of a military conqueror leading his captives and sharing the spoil with his followers. Only in this case, the 'captives' are not his enemies, but his own. Sinners, who once were held captive by sin and Satan, have now been taken captive by Christ. Even death itself is a defeated foe! When he came to earth, Christ experienced the depths of humiliation, but when he ascended to Heaven, he experienced the very highest exaltation possible." Jesus set the captives free.
In his death, Jesus also seized Satan's power. Hebrews 2:14 (NASB) declares, "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." When Satan deceived Adam and Eve they entered into bondage to him. He had power over their life and death. Satan has power; he is called both the prince of the power of air and the prince of this world in scripture but Jesus seized Satan's power. In John 12:31-32, Jesus talking about his death, says he will drive out the devil. "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all people to myself. He was lifted up in crucifixion.
As I said earlier, Martin Luther taught that Christ descended into hell. The Formula of Concord (a Lutheran confession) states, "We believe that the entire person, God and human being, descend to hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his power." Most people in the early church were illiterate, so they painted images to help illustrate truths. These images were full of detail, to help those who couldn't read even a few words, to still understand deep theological truths. There was a time when I studied the Eastern Church and its history and art. The icon that represents this moment in time was one of my favorites.
"At the centre of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ and His Resurrection from the dead. As such, the Icon of the Resurrection is the most celebrated, the most common, the most cherished, and the most instructive. It is all of these things because the Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection is not content with simply showing us the Risen Christ, or the empty tomb; the Victory shown in the Icon of the Resurrection is complete." (http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/the-resurrection-icon-of-victory/)
Jesus stands victoriously in white and gold, to symbolize his divine majesty. He is the center figure, as everything should be secondary to him. He is standing on the doors of death, the gates of hell; they are often fallen in the form of a cross symbolizing that both death and hell were defeated by the death of Jesus. He is shown pulling Adam and Eve out of the grave by their wrist, because it is his power to hold onto them, and not theirs to hold onto him. The bottom of these pictures many times show darkness, with the locks and chains broken. In this darkness, are also shown some damned souls still in bondage, as Jesus did not free them. Surrounding him are often a shepherd representing Abel, kings like David, patriarchs like Abraham, and prophets symbolic of those who in death had preceded Christs crucifixion and descended to Hades, where they patiently waited the coming of their Messiah. Now they are freed from this underworld, and mingle freely with Christ and His angels.
This event, is known as the Harrowing of Hades, was taught from the very beginning of the Church. Harrow comes from the Old English word used to describe the ploughing of a field, with a cultivator which is dragged roughly over the ground, churning it up. In the icon images, Christ is often shown with the instrument of His death plunged deep into Hades, ploughing up the graves. A blogger named Molly Marshall wrote, "Holy Saturday speaks deep truth to those whose lives around bondage there is no place that the risen Christ cannot harrow," and he desires to meet all who live in hellish despair."
Until next time
All scripture references are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.
Note: This devotional is based on a sermon that I preached for Easter 2014. It was my first time playing in the Super Bowl of all Sundays, so I enjoyed preparing and preaching it, and hope you will enjoy it as it is reincarnated as a devotional now.