Sixth Sunday of Easter [a] May 17, 2020
1 PETER 3:13-22
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Hell is not meant for you.
Jesus created you for life. With his own blood Jesus redeemed you. He baptized you for salvation.
Baptism now saves you,
not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.
That’s why Jesus went to the cross for you, that’s why he baptized you—to give you a peaceful conscience. A conscience cleansed of sin, belonging not to death, but life.
Hell is not for you.
St. Peter in his letter to the church, tells us what our Lord has done about Hell. Hell is a spiritual place, literally, the place of the demons and of those people who have died outside of the Gospel.
This place of the unclean spirits, we can hardly conceive of what it’s even like.
We end up needing to picture Hell as a pit under the Earth, or a fiery furnace with people tied to pillars—images like that.
The chief unclean spirit of Hell? That’s Lucifer, of course, Satan.
In his fall, Satan took many angels with him. We are now to know them by titles given them in Scripture: demons, devils, unclean spirits.
Then Hell becomes also the place of the spirits of those people who died apart from the Gospel, those who wanted to justify themselves, do it on their own, without Christ’s word of grace.
The place of the fallen angels and of the spirits of people who died in rejection of the Gospel, that’s Hell. No resurrection of the body, no eternal life with the God the Father.
What will our Lord Jesus do about Hell?
We sometimes talk about “Hell on Earth”—a fire, the Muslim attack on the Twin Towers, some grisly murder: Hell on Earth.
Maybe that’s not too far from true.
It’s not Hell, of course, not the Hell, but it is the work of the devil. The sickness, the malice, the warfare, the lies, none of this belongs to creation as God created it.
He created it, and us, for life, for health and joy, for fellowship with him and one another. The sickness and malice and hatred and lies, this belongs to the realm of death—the kingdom of the demons. We might rightly call it all a bit of Hell on Earth.
We may consider this time we are now in—the virus, the threat to health, the pressure on our doctors and nurses, citizens at the throat of one another, there is a way we can speak of this, certainly as not Hell itself, but as a precursor to Hell, as a harbinger of life apart from God.
So in the Church, while we are still in this sinful world, we suffer.
The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the people God gathers to his Name. We hear his word; we receive his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sin; we encourage and comfort each other.
So all this discomfort of social distancing, of smiles hidden by masks, of no shaking of hands or giving hugs—none of this should be natural to the us. A pandemic like this—we haven’t seen it in our lifetime. We don’t know how to handle it in the way that is best for each other.
Yet, in the midst of it all, in the midst of a society trying to protect itself from pandemic, of neighbors on edge and often handling things poorly, of governing authorities given the office to protect citizens, and sometimes carrying out the office well, and other times incompetently, and in the midst of the Church, a people Jesus gathers to his Name, yet a people often confused about how to go about things, often frustrated, often not as caring as should be, in the midst of the Church, a voice.
The voice of Christ, risen from the dead. The Easter voice—right in the middle of the fear and the confusion, the voice of the resurrection.
It’s the voice of Jesus we hear.
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, says Peter,
He speaks his voice to forgive our sins and make us righteous.
Christ also suffered … that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18),
He speaks his voice to call us out of our fear, out of any sin of not caring for one another, and to bring us to his Father, binding us together as the people of Christ.
He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19).
That is, he who gave himself on the cross to make us righteous, before he was resurrected, went in spirit to the spirits in prison, says Peter. That is, Christ went to Hell.
But not to suffer.
He went to Hell to proclaim to the spirits of Hell that he has forgiven the sin of all people, so they no longer have any accusation against us; to proclaim that he has defeated death and the devil; to proclaim that those who belong to him do not belong to death, Hell is not for them, they belong to him, Christ, and he is their Lord.
This Jesus who went to the cross to make us righteous with his own blood—the righteous for the unrighteous, says Peter; who went to Hell to proclaim the sinner forgiven and victory over death and the demons; this Jesus has now gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:22).
This Jesus, he is your Lord.
Because he is our Lord, we do not belong to Hell, not to death.
Even in the midst of world of sickness and confusion, we belong to life.
You belong to the Lord of life.
Even as we suffer while still on Earth, even suffering in our sinful flesh, we belong to our life of faith, to the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus, to the patience and kindness of the Lord of life, and we belong to life, even as our eyes cannot see it, because, Christ has baptized us into his Name.
Baptism now saves you, says Peter (1 Peter 3:21).
Baptism now saves you not because it removes any dirt from your skin, but because in Baptism, Jesus unites you to his cross, unites you to his proclamation of victory over the demons of Hell, unites you to his walk out of the tomb, so that his resurrection is now your resurrection—Baptism now saves you because your guilt is taken away and Baptism is your appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.