In the second reading from 1 Peter 3:19-20 it says that after the crucifixion Jesus went and preached to “the spirits in prison, who in former times did obey.” “He descended into hell” is how the Apostles’ Creed puts it. We can picture Jesus “on earth”, preaching, teaching, and healing. We can picture Jesuit “in heaven,” sitting on the right hand of God. But it strains the imagination to picture Jesus “in hell.” It almost seems blasphemous. Jesus, of all people. In hell, of all places. Maybe that’s why the contemporary translations of the Creed substitute “he descended to the dead” for “he descended into hell.” I prefer the old version because it tells us something essential about the mission of God.
Flight manifest of airline bound for hell
1 Timothy 3:4 says that God “desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” But most of us carry around in the back of our minds a list of people we believe will not or should not be saved. For some the list is short, maybe even only a single name (Adolf Hitler). For others the list is longer. It includes everyone who has not accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. For still others the list Includes whole religions — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and, in letters writ large, atheists. And so those lists become like the flight manifest of an airline bound for hell. Because, we believe, that’s the eternal destination of those who are not saved.
But it’s God’s will that everyone be saved. So just how far will God go to save everybody? Not only did God come to earth to save us all, not only did Jesus go the cross for the salvation of the world, he descended into hell and preached to those “who in former times did not obey.”
How far will God go to save everyone?
All the way to hell and back. How far does the love of God extend? From heaven to earth to the cross to hell. Will everyone be saved? It’s God’s will. It’s God’s desire. We can only hope.
Jesus descends into hell whatever side of the grave our hell happens to be on. What do you suppose it was like for the students and staff at Marjore Steadman Davidson High School? It was pure hell. And Jesus descends into hell. What do you suppose it’s like for young people to go to school everyday knowing they could be killed and the best our leaders have to offer is “thoughts and prayers”? It’s pure hell. And Jesus descends into hell. And so the first heart break on Valentine’s Day break was the heart of God. The first tears of rage to be shed are in the eyes of God.
Jesus is always descending into hell whatever side of the grave our hell happens to be on. Jesus, of all people. In hell, of all places. That’s the good news today.
~ Pastor Steven Wohlfeil, guest pastor