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Did Jesus go to hell?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topical Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-22

Today’s message can be the shortest you’ve ever heard, or the longest. Here’s the short version: “Did Jesus go to hell? No.” We’re done, and we can all beat the Methodists to lunch.

If you’d like to know a little more about this incredible text, understand first that living out the truths of what you’ll hear today will require the rest of your life, making this the longest sermon you’ve ever heard. And one of the most important.

Let me explain.

Are you involved or committed?

Perhaps you heard about the Kamikaze pilot who flew 50 missions. It’s been said that he was involved, but not committed. Can this happen to Christians? To us?

The great preacher Arthur John Gossip described Christianity of 1924 this way: “We have all been inoculated with Christianity, and are never likely to take it seriously now! You put some of the virus of some dreadful illness into a man’s arm, and there is a little itchiness, some scratchiness, a slight discomfort—disagreeable, no doubt, but not the fever of the real disease, the turning and the tossing, and the ebbing strength. And we have all been inoculated with Christianity, more or less. We are on Christ’s side, and we wish him well, we hope that he will win, and we are even prepared to do something for him, provided, of course, that he is reasonable, and does not make too much of an upset among our cozy comforts and our customary ways. But there is not the passion of zeal, and the burning enthusiasm, and the eagerness of self-sacrifice, of the real faith that changes character and wins the world.”

What would Dr. Gossip say of north Dallas Christianity in 2001?

For much of my Christian life, I tried to live in two worlds. Perhaps you know what I mean. Church on Sunday, school or work on Monday. Sunday friends and Monday friends. Sunday priorities and Monday priorities. Sunday success and Monday success. Sunday spirituality and Monday secularity. Involved but not committed.

It’s a common lifestyle. Recent research indicates that self-described “born again” Christians are just as likely as non-Christians to buy a lottery ticket, to believe in horoscopes, to go to R-rated movies, or to experience a divorce. The same number of Christians as non-Christians believe that money is the main symbol of success in life, and that you can tell how successful a person is by examining what they own.

Apparently many of us know how to be involved while avoiding commitment. We know how to live in two worlds, and look like each of those worlds when we’re there.

But God wants Monday Christians. People who will live as fully for him tomorrow as we do today. God is calling for people who will make Jesus their Master, Boss, and Lord, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. How do we do this? And why should we? These are the two questions our text answers for us today.

Are you standing for God? (13-17)

First let’s learn how to move from involvement to commitment, then we’ll learn why we should. Measure yourself by four questions our text asks of us today.

First, are you passionate about your faith? (v. 13). Peter speaks of being “eager to do good.” His Greek is stronger than our English: “become zealots of the good.”

Are you that passionate about your faith? When was the last time you were truly excited about prayer and Bible study? The last time you were overjoyed to worship God? When did you last sacrifice your time or money for God with emotional enthusiasm for such privilege? How passionate is your faith today?

Second, are you willing to suffer for your Lord?

Verse 14 says, “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” Verse 17 adds, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (v. 17).

Are you willing to do this? To stand for Jesus if your commitment costs you friends, or respect, or money? To give to Jesus of your time or abilities or finances at personal cost? When did you last suffer for your Lord? Will you?

Third, can you defend your faith?

The command of v. 15 is clear: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” “Always,” all the time, on Monday as well as Sunday. “Be prepared” is a present tense imperative, a command to be obeyed now. To “everyone,” regardless of the cost. A “reason” for your faith, meaning a reasonable explanation for what you believe and why.

Can you explain your faith to someone else? Can you tell them how you became a Christian, and why? Are you telling people? Who was the last person to hear about Jesus because of you?

Fourth, does your lifestyle glorify Jesus?

Words without lifestyle hurt more than they help. So Peter hastens to add, “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (vs. 15-16).

“Gentleness” means to be controlled by the Holy Spirit; “respect” means to be gracious to the person who questions or challenges your faith. In all things, keep a “clear conscience,” living for God in every part of your life. Character is what you are when no one is looking.

And the result is that those who gossip or slander you for your faith will be ashamed of themselves, and Jesus will be glorified. So, does your lifestyle glorify Jesus? In the words of the old question, If you were put on trial for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Will you be rewarded by God? (18-22)

Why should you be? Why not live in two worlds, getting along with your God on Sunday and your society on Monday? Why do whatever it takes to be passionate about your commitment, sacrificial for your Father, prepared to explain your faith, and godly with your life?

Peter has one simple answer: because God rewards sacrificial obedience beyond anything it can cost us. Our Father gives joy, purpose, and eternal reward the world cannot offer. Peter gives us two examples of that fact.

He cites first the example of the Lord Jesus, who was “put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (v. 18). As a result, he “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (v. 22). The Father rewarded his Son’s crucified obedience beyond all it cost him.

Now Peter cites the example of Noah. There is simply not time to discuss the five major interpretations scholars suggest for these verses, so I’ll summarize the approach many have taken since Augustine, the interpretation which seems the most biblical to me.

Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit (v. 18; cf. Romans 8:11). By that same Spirit he preached to those “who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (v. 20).

How? Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) by the work of “the Spirit of Christ” (1 Peter 1:11). And so Jesus by the Spirit preached through Noah.

When? Peter’s Greek grammar is clear: he did this while Noah was building his Ark, calling the people to repentance and salvation. Those people are now, in Peter’s time, “spirits in prison,” awaiting their final judgment for their rejection of God’s grace.

Jesus didn’t go to them, or to hell, between his death and resurrection. In fact, he assured the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Here’s the point Peter is making: as God rewarded Noah’s sacrificial faithfulness, so he will reward ours. They passed through flood waters to salvation; we have passed through baptism waters, symbolizing our salvation in Christ (v. 21). He was passionate about his commitment, sacrificial for his God, prepared to explain his faith, godly with his life. He is now in his eternal, permanent reward. So can we be. The choice is ours.

Conclusion

Full-time Christianity is God’s basic expectation of every believer. No other religion in the world separates its faith from life as some of us do. Muslims are Muslim about their families, work, and week; so are Buddhists, and Hindus, and followers of other world religions. So were early Christians, living together, serving God together, dying for their faith together.

But along the way we split the spiritual from the secular, and Sunday from Monday. Now God wants us to put them back together. He wants Monday Christians. He’s ready to reward and bless and use Monday Christians.

Will you be a Monday Christian with your time, your money, your friendships, your ambitions? Would you ask God to show you your next step to Monday faith?

Eric Liddell was the Michael Jordan of his nation, the most famous runner and athlete in Scotland. I’ve known his story, but learned more of it this week. It seems that he shocked his countrymen on April 6, 1923 when he first made public his commitment to Jesus Christ. He shocked the world on July 6, 1924 when he lived by that commitment.

His best event was the 100 meters. But when he got to the Paris Olympics and discovered that this race would be run on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, he refused. He preached in a Paris church as his race was run. “Complete surrender” was his life’s theme. A few days later he ran the 400 meters, his worst distance. He won the gold medal and set a new world record.

Worldwide fame was his. But the next year he returned to China, where he had been born to missionary parents. There he was ordained to ministry and married. There he shared Christ in isolated communities, leaving his family behind for extended and grueling times. But “complete surrender” was his commitment.

In March of 1943 he was placed in a Japanese interment camp. He led the camp in daily Bible study until a brain tumor ended his life at age 43. His last words, spoken to a camp nurse, were, “It’s complete surrender.”

All of Scotland mourned. All of heaven rejoiced.

Eric Liddell was a Monday Christian. God needs more like him. Will you be one?

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