Reader: “Christ suffered for our sins”
Response: “once for all time.”
Scripture: I Peter 3:18-22
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.
So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.
Reader: The word of the Lord
Response: Thanks be to God.
In this first epistle of Peter, he gives to us a unique passage in all of the Bible. But let’s start at the beginning. This opening sentence reminds us of a very similar passage in Hebrews (9:26,28). His one-time suffering and death made possible our pathway home to God. Think about it. That “one time” is sufficient for all people forever! Peter goes on to say that in the physical death, Jesus’ body died on Friday but his spirit was raised to life. (On the third day, the physical body was raised to life.) At Jesus’ death, his body went into the grave, his spirit went to the Father (“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands”), and his soul went to paradise ―the bosom of Abraham― (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk. 23:43. Hades is the place of the dead. One part is called paradise, the place of the righteous dead in the presence of Jesus, and the other part of hades is the gloomy place of the unrighteous dead who await final judgment. A chasm separates the two).
When Peter writes that Jesus was raised to life, the word refers to life as God has it. It is the life of God the Father himself which he gave to his Incarnate Son which is the life passed on to us in Christ Jesus. The Greek word is zoe (life), from which we get the word zoology and zoo. This kind of life of God is the very life from which we’ve been alienated as a result of the Fall. It is a life which has moral associations which are inseparable from holiness and righteousness. It is life we are called to live.
The next section is one of the more difficult ones to understand in Scripture. It has been interpreted several ways through the centuries. Without going into a long discussion, I’ll briefly summarize some of the basic views (there are more). 1) Christ goes to those who have been disobedient to God and preaches the Good News to them. The idea that people have a second chance after death to receive the gospel is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. In fact, Hebrews 9:27 makes very clear that “it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this the judgment.” Clearly, there is no second chance. 2) Another interpretation reads that Christ preached through Noah’s voice urging people to repent in Noah’s day. Those people are now in death’s prison. 3) A third view is that the ‘spirits in prison’ are evil spiritual beings (fallen angels) and Christ proclaimed to them his victory over death. (There is an important principle involved here. No doctrine should be based on a singular ambiguous passage. Difficult passages should be interpreted by those that are clear, not the other way around.) Peter then refers to Noah and his response of faith in God. In a way, Noah and his family were resurrected from certain death through the “baptismal” waters of the Flood.
He then concludes this portion stating Christ is now in heaven, seated at God’s right hand with all the spirit world in submission to him. What does all this mean for us this day? It tells us that there was a great master plan from the beginning to bring restoration to a fallen creation and that Christ’s work on earth is completed. He is currently, as you read this, seated at the Father’s right hand in his glorified human body interceding on our behalf according to Scripture. This is not simply a theological idea, but reality. Finally, we are reminded that we are citizens of heaven even while here on earth as we await the Lord’s return. Tune your heart heavenward today.
Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This” St. Olaf Choir
Bless us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen. ―John Donne, A Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.52