He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again from the dead.
What does it mean that Christ “died for our sins?” He lived a sinless life; blameless, without spot or blemish. He offered himself up sacrificially to cover over our sins and present us righteous before the Father. In a primal way, that horrifies my modern sensitivities: God required blood to pay the penalty for sin. The more societies and cultures ‘progress’, the more we gloss over the seriousness of sin and how its vulgarity and offensiveness separate us from God. And the more I understand the basics of my hopeless depravity without him, the brighter the hope of the gospel shines.
Death. Jesus died an actual physical death. But He didn’t go to hell. That theory sells short the completion of his work on the cross. Our understanding of the word hell has warped and shifted over the centuries so that now it only denotes the place where unbelievers experience final retribution, not the place of the dead. He paid the ultimate price as the perfect sacrifice and He finished our atonement when he gave up his spirit. After Jesus died on the cross he descended to the departed.
And he had to actually die. Death is a very human thing and again shows the fullness of his humanity and humility. Death marked the final separation from God as a result of our sins. Jesus submitted his body and his spirit to the ultimate will of the Father. He fulfilled his role as the Son. While every sacrificial animal in the old testament suffered death for the temporary reprieve of God’s judgement, Christ’s death gained absolution once for all.
But it doesn’t end in death as all other stories do. Jesus came back from the dead; this the crux of Gospel. Resurrection. Raised back to life. No magic tricks or myths. Without the resurrection, Christianity is a dead and worthless pipe dream. Its putting faith in another hero that couldn’t even save himself.
Even the fairy tales teach us that good should ultimately win out. Death shouldn’t ferry the hero away and leave us stranded here without them. We shouldn’t have to celebrate victory by mourning their deaths. That eternity is written on our hearts. That hope is etched deeply onto our souls.
The redemption story culminates in the resurrection. It vividly indicates that the sacrifice of Jesus’s life has ultimate power over death. Death – separation from God – was a direct result of man’s selfish choice. Death could not hold Jesus because Jesus had not sinned. The resurrection fulfilled prophecy. It revealed Christ’s divinity. It simply made everything come true.
How can such a fact and ending ever bore me!? How can I just skim over it and recite it dully each week as a part of a creed!? As I drove to work this morning the dramatic sunrise overwhelmed me, indescribably beautiful and intense. The eastern sky glowed a fiery coral where the lightning and storm clouds terminated. I kept exclaiming over and over again on its brilliant, breathtaking opulence. And the very one who created each second and hue of that exact sunrise came to earth, died in my place, and then rose from the dead! The dead!!
And the story of his triumphal return from the dead first spread from the unlikeliest of sources – a bunch of grieving, emotional women. Following his precedent in life, Jesus appeared to the lowliest and least respected in that era’s society. The testimony of these women would have never made it to a legal proceeding. Yet, for two thousand years countless documents and writings, both in the church and outside, herald this fact.
His ragtag band of cronies, who went back to their old jobs after he died, abruptly became highly influential social and religious forces once they encountered the resurrected Christ. His own brother, James, overcame a lifetime of doubt after witnessing the resurrection. Saul, who vehemently and viciously chased down followers of The Way with the intent of wiping them out, slammed headfirst into this Christ in the middle of the road, radically transforming him until those he once agreed with murdered him. These men didn’t just vocalize their new convictions. They lived and breathed them and died violently for them.
Only an encounter with the One and Only, the true Messiah and Savior could irrevocably shift and shape the world as such one person at a time. In these moments, I look deeply, critically, and prayerfully at my own life for evidence of such a transformation. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4) May I too, live a resurrected life in Christ.
In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/0