Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sermon - Easter 6 - 1 Peter 3:15-22

Easter 6 – May 1st, 2005
1 Peter 3:15-22
“Hell, Flood and Baptism”

I. Introduction –
Today’s Epistle reading is from 1 Peter 3:15-22. It’s a little bit of an odd passage- but that’s part of what attracted me to it this week. It’s also a very “busy” reading. There is a lot going on – much for the preacher to choose from. It starts out with some words of encouragement about giving answer for our faith, in gentleness and respect. It speaks of enduring suffering and of doing good, keeping a clear conscience.

But it’s also an Easter passage. Peter tells again and a Christ’s death and resurrection. But there is more here. The shape of the passage takes us on a journey – following the work of the resurrected Christ and all he has done for us. For the sake of time, let’s pick up these three destinations today – Hell, Flood, and Baptism.

II. Christ’s Descent into Hell – The Victory Lap
“he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who disobeyed long ago…”
This passage is forms the basis for that statement of the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into Hell”. Hell – the prison here – holds those who disobeyed God (and were not saved by grace through faith).

Many of them were from the days of Noah, when God wiped so many wicked people from the face of the earth– but not all. There would be others there too – not to mention Satan himself. Wretched, rebellious enemies of God, steeped in sin and hatred for him. These were no friends of Jesus he was dropping in on.
And he had come there for a purpose. Some people think he went to Hell to suffer – after all, Hell is the place of punishment. But there’s two problems with that. For one, Jesus did all his suffering on the cross, and then proclaimed “It is finished”. If the condemnation of Hell is God turning his back on you, then Jesus suffered such abandonment when he cried, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”. No, Jesus didn’t descend to Hell to suffer. Then why?

The reading says he was there to “preach” . But what does this mean? Was he there to give one last sermon to those wicked people? To give them one last chance to believe? That they might somehow escape from eternal damnation? Was this, in fact, a jail-break? No. For scripture makes it quite clear that man dies once and then the judgment. That the fires of Hell are eternal. That once we die, there is no turning back. “A great chasm has been fixed between there and here” So says Abraham in one of Jesus’ parables about Heaven and Hell. Jesus wasn’t there to save those condemned souls. Then why?

A better translation of the word “preach” here is “proclaim”. Because the real purpose of Jesus’ descent into hell is not to suffer or to save those already condemned. He goes there to announce his victory to the forces of evil, and to Satan himself!

Remember, it was just a couple of days before that Christ had died. I can picture the party that must have been thrown in hell. The hymn “He’s Risen, He’s Risen”, written by Walther – the founder of the Missouri Synod – puts it this way:

“The Foe was triumphant when on Calvary,
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan’s domain his hosts shouted and jeered,
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones feared”

And with the hellish celebration perhaps reaching its peak, Jesus crashes the party. Their collective jaws drop as they see him, ALIVE. Glorified and victorious, Jesus takes his victory lap through hell, announcing their defeat, and his triumph – our triumph. For as faithful saints of his, we too share in the victory of Sin, death, and all the forces of Hell. Jesus descended into Hell – for us!

III. God’s Patience with Evil
The text mentions those spirits in prison, who “disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

In scriptural terms, there are few examples of sin getting out of hand as glaring as the wicked people living at the time of Noah. Genesis says, of man’s wickedness at that time, “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time”. Now that’s bad. But God was patient with them. He gave them ample opportunity to repent, for the ark wasn’t built in a day. God is slow to anger, and patient in his judgment. He was then. He is now.

We may look at the evil world around us, and wonder, “How long, oh Lord?” How much worse can things get? How much more evil will you allow in this world? It may seem like things are getting worse and worse and worse and that God has forgotten or is powerless to DO SOMETHING about all this evil. When we see the evil-doer prosper, when we see people lie, cheat, steal, and take advantage of others to get ahead – and NOTHING bad happens to them. We might wonder, “Lord, are you going to let them get away with that???”

But one day God’s patience will run out. Like it did when the raindrops started to fall, and the wickedness of man was washed away in the flood. So too God promises a judgment to come. He is patient, but his patience has its limits. And when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, then all will be set right. Divine justice will finally be served. The flood reminds us that God’s patience with the wicked will not last forever.

IV. Saved in the Flood
And remember, God deals mercifully with us – just as he did with the faithful 8 of the ark. The true story of Noah’s ark, and Noah’s flood – it’s more than just good material for children’s literature. It’s a story of divine judgment for sin, and divine mercy for some – who walked with God in faith.

Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives – the only people to escape the judgment – saved through the waters. The same waters that wiped out their evil foes, floated the ark safely through the flood.

Peter draws the connection here – he says the flood of Noah is a symbol of baptism. We can see the connection. For in Holy Baptism God drowns the evil, sinful man within us – the “old Adam”. And out of the waters rises the new creation – the fresh start – the child of God. Peter says that baptism actually saves us!
But that water is nothing without the word. And that water and word are nothing without the resurrection – the real power for us to be reborn is that Jesus was reborn from the grave. Just as our victory of the forces of evil is only made real in his victory. And our heavenly destination is promised, because he already resides there. You see, all depends on Jesus – and what he does for us. His death for us. His resurrection of us. His descent into hell for us. His ascension and heavenly reign and his promised return – for us!

These are deep mysteries – deeper than the floodwaters themselves. Deeper than the depths of Hell. For in Christ we are lifted up above the flood of judgment. We are lifted out of the jaws of death and hell and Satan. And we are promised the heights of Heaven – by him who lives and reigns there on high, now and forever – Jesus Christ, the VICTORIOUS ONE! In His Name. Amen.

V. Conclusion
Peter tells of Christ’s death, resurrection AND descent into hell for us. Just as the flood washed away the evil doers, so in Baptism our sins are drowned and we are saved!

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