First Sunday in Lent, February 26    “He went and preached to the spirits in prison.”

Scripture:     I Peter 3:18-22

18 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.

19 So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— 20 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. 21 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 froma clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

22 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.

Some thoughts:

This pericope has one of the more curious passages of Scripture. In the Apostles’ Creed we repeat the phrase regarding Jesus, “He was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose from the dead.” Many Christians have wondered about that phrase and also about the verse which states that in the days of Noah, Jesus preached to the spirits in prison. Did Jesus go into hell between his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Sunday? Did Jesus’ preaching to the “spirits in prison” give them a second chance? Is that what it means? Through the centuries, theologians have had many long and various discussions resulting in several viewpoints.

But what do these words of Peter have to do with Lent? One of the central themes of these six weeks is human’s sin problem resulting in eternal death. The depth of Jesus’ love for fallen sinners is displayed in his death on the cross and the events that followed, including this somewhat mysterious phrase the Apostle wrote in his epistle.

You will recall that Noah is noted in this passage as a “preacher of righteousness.” At various times in Scripture, we read that a person spoke God’s words, in other words, God was speaking using that person’s voice to communicate his message (e.g., Isaiah, Nathan, Elijah, Samuel). Of the various explanations and interpretations of this passage, the one that seems to me to be the most consistent with similar passages and phrases in Scripture would lead me to believe that through the person and voice of Noah, Christ was urging the people of Noah’s day to repent of their sin and humble themselves before God and God’s judgment. (This viewpoint is not an interpretation to die for!)

When there is a somewhat isolated idea in Scripture, meaning it is not expanded nor expounded upon elsewhere in the Bible, wisdom would dictate that it not be a main point in doctrine and that we should be careful not to be too dogmatic in its interpretation. Never forget the context. The most significant things are quite clear in Scripture. For example: “27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”  (Heb. 9:27) One must look at the whole context and the main point Peter is making which is: Christ suffered and died, paid the price for your sin, and gloriously won the victory. Be encouraged in your suffering and persecution. The end is glorious!

Music: “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus”       Krista Stolarski

I will arise and go to Jesus

He will embrace me in his arms

In the arms of my dear Savior

O, there are ten thousand charms.

Prayer: Our heavenly and holy Father, the tenacity of your love persists through the most unimaginable suffering and death. As those who have lived in the prison of sin and death, you have overcome our awaiting death and brought redemption. In your faithful love, you have come after your children, calling us to come home. We bow before you with humbled hearts. Receive our love through Christ our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.      – Daniel Sharp