Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 6

Today we come to two very controversial lines in the Apostles' Creed: "he descended into hell; the third day he rose from the dead." What are we to make of "he descended into hell"? The Latin version of the Creed reads "he descended into the inferno" and the Greek version "into Tartarus". In all likelihood this line is based on 1 Peter 3: 19, where Peter says Jesus went and "made proclamation" to spirits in prison. If Jesus bore all the punishment for our sins on the cross, then what was he doing in Hell? It seems to me that he went there to proclaim his victory over sin and Satan, and to show that God was indeed just in punishing those who were already there. Here is something you and I can stand for--Jesus' triumphant victory over sin and Satan, for his victory is our victory, too.

In stating that Jesus "rose from the dead" the Creed affirms something that was equally incredible in its day as it is in ours. To take a stand for the resurrection of one who died means taking a stand against the observed reality of all of human history. Outside of a few accounts of resuscitations in the Bible, no one as far as I know before modern medicine records dead people coming back to life. Even today doctors don't call someone dead until there has been no heart beat for several minutes, which results in permanent brain damage. But what the Bible affirms here is that a man, crucified, embalmed, and buried, got up and walked out of the tomb. People in the first century found that just as hard to believe as people today do. Even some of Jesus' own disciples doubted what they were seeing (Matt 28: 17).

True faith calls us to stand for the victory of life over death in the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His bodily resurrection is the promise of our future bodily resurrection as well. In fact, without his bodily resurrection there is no Gospel--no good news. Paul says that the faith that saves is the faith that believes God raised Christ from the dead (Rom 10: 9), and that if Christ is not raised from the dead believers are still lost in sin and above all men most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15: 12--19). Paul even considered the death and resurrection to be the first order doctrine of the faith: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15: 3--4, NASB).

Science says the resurrection can't happen. Human experience says that resurrections don't happen. The Gospel says that the resurrection of Christ has happened and the resurrection of his people will happen. Death doesn't get the last say. God is pro-life. We were not born to die. We were born to know him and in knowing him to live forever. In proclaiming the Gospel take a stand for Christ's resurrection. Without it we're all lost. With it comes a living hope of eternal salvation.

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