Faith in Things Unseen

April 11th, 2010 Apostle’s Creed Series 08 (1st Sunday after Easter) John 20:24-31

John 20:24-31  English Standard Version

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”                                                  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.[1]

When you chose to love you chose to become vulnerable. Jesus loved us so much, that he lowered His defenses. Jesus set aside His instincts of self preservation and He descended out of the heavenly glory that He might be close enough to embrace us.  Jesus came as a baby. He was unarmed in the fight to conquer the slave master of our souls: sin, death and Hell itself.

God Himself uttered a black and dark curse of death upon the whole universe, and especially humanity, when sin entered through Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, we all suffer loneliness, heart break, disappointment and hopelessness. But our sin would cost Jesus much more than that. For if Jesus would bind the strong man of sin and death then He himself had to enter the battle, crush the serpent’s head, and suffer scars that appear to this day on the resurrected, ascended, glorified physical body of our Lord.

Amazing love! How can it be, that Jesus should suffer for me?

If the wages of our sin were to be paid, then there had to be a unique suffering, beyond the common human experience, within the body and soul of our Lord. By the incarnation the infinite eternal Word had taken on finite temporal flesh and awaited the poison of Death’s stinger to sink deep into His soul, to release all its venom, and to turn the once Glorified One into the most Cursed One. We call this Good Friday. It wasn’t good for Jesus.

Jesus descended into the full experience of our Hell while hanging on the cross.

Surprisingly, many Christians don’t understand this.

Many Christians don’t understand what it means that Jesus lived and died for us. He lived perfectly every day and every moment so He could give His perfect life to us as a gift.

Even father Abraham understood that the just live by faith. Abraham couldn’t get to heaven by sacrificing an animal and we can’t get to heaven by trying to be good. Jesus was good for us. Jesus lived for us, but He also died for us. He went through our Hell for us.

When did Jesus suffer the full misery of our sin, the full measure of the pains of death, and the full cup of the wrath of God? Thomas couldn’t believe what he couldn’t see. Will you believe Jesus descended into Hell if you never get to see it?

All the disciples saw Jesus get arrested, crucified, dead and buried. But Thomas was struggling with what he hadn’t seen yet. He hadn’t seen the resurrected Lord. But he would. We all will. One day soon our faith will become sight.

My sermon this morning is not about what has been seen by some believers, or will be eventually seen by all believers. My sermon is about what will never be seen by any believer.

Mel Gibson made a movie called The Passion of Christ. In that movie He portrayed Jesus getting beaten, whipped, scourged, crucified and then dying. But what we will never see, and what Mel Gibson left out of his movie, is the unique suffering of Jesus at the hands of God.

No one will ever see the suffering our sin cost Jesus on the cross. It isn’t blasphemy to say that Jesus went through Hell. People joke that they went through Hell. Jesus is the only person who can use that expression without exaggeration.

Jesus went through Hell while on the cross so that we won’t have too. That can’t be screen played, scripted, reenacted, described or sketched. Artists can’t paint it, poets can’t speak of it and mathematicians can’t calculate the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

In love Jesus made himself vulnerable to us, and we beat Him. On the cross Jesus became vulnerable before the Father as a sinner. He suffered in ways we will never understand. Jesus made Himself sin for us and then stood before the Holy Father to settle our sin debt. The Father didn’t tread softly. The Father unleashed all the Divine wrath against sin upon Jesus while He hung on the cross. Jesus settled our account by what He suffered.

This is a terrifying thought. Search your scriptures for people who manifest fear. There is no terror like standing unprepared in the presence of a holy God. People pray for the rocks and the hills to cover them up. People pray to sink into the depths of the sea. People even desire that they should escape the holy wrath of God by hiding in the depths of Hell. Jesus was never afforded those luxuries.

We nailed Jesus to a cross between heaven and earth so He had nowhere to hide and no way to run. Jesus hung in our place. He took our punishment, our curse, and our Hell while hanging in the darkness. God dealt out the curse upon a living son of Adam. Adam brought us death. Jesus brings us life by His death.

Jesus was on the cross six hours. For the first three hours people saw Jesus suffer at the hands of sinful men. Then for the last three hours God blotted out the sun so no one could see Jesus suffering for us at the hands of a just and Holy God. Jesus descended into our Hell.

Thomas will never see the suffering of Jesus at the hands of the Father. When we go to heaven it will not be explained to us. It is a transaction that was between the Father and the Son.

Jesus suffered our Hell for us while on the cross and not in the next three days to follow. Jesus kept His promise to a thief hanging next to Him saying, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Let me tell you what didn’t happen.

  1. Jesus didn’t suffer for three days in the grave.
    1. He bowed His head, dismissed His spirit, died, and went to heaven unglorified.
    2. Our catechism rightly informs us that Jesus continued in a state of humiliation until His body was raised. That means that there was no proof He didn’t die for His own sins until the resurrection, but the suffering was done.
    3. From the moment Jesus proclaimed, “It is Finished!” His suffering ceased.
  2. Satan wasn’t holding Jesus in his devilish playhouse and inflicting torture on Jesus until resurrection morning. Jesus never suffered at the hands of the Devil. Hell is a place of suffering for the Devil and his angels. God will use Hell to eternally torment the Devil. Satan NEVER got control of Jesus to torment Jesus in Hell.
    1. Jesus never got off the cross so that He might descend into Hell. Jesus was nailed to a tree. He wasn’t going anywhere. He experienced our Hell while on the cross.
    2. Jesus didn’t go to Hell to pay a ransom owed to the Devil to buy back saints.
    3. Jesus didn’t go to Hell to preach the Gospel so Old Testament saints could be saved.

We believe a truth that is simple and yet beyond our comprehension. We professed it in the Apostle’s Creed. Look at it in your bulletin. I underlined it for us.

We believe that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. Comma. Jesus was crucified. Comma. He was dead. Comma. Jesus was buried. Semicolon. Why the change in syntax? Because the list of what was seen is finished. All that could be seen with the human eye are these things.

But what is forever unseen is that Jesus intentionally hit rock bottom while on the cross. Jesus finished His descent from the heights of heaven into the pit of Hell while on the cross.

On the cross the sting of death was fully absorbed. The Father stopped bruising His Son. The Father stopped crushing His Son. The Passover Lamb was now sacrificed. Atonement was made. The blood which speaks better than that of Able was sprinkled on the mercy seat not made with hands and the wrath of God was satisfied.

Jesus paid it all. All to Him we owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.

Let me try and wrap this up with an illustration. When I was in Chaplain Officer Basic Training at Fort Monmouth I bought a 1970 Lemans convertible.  It was red, black interior, with a white top.  I replaced the engine with a twice bored over 400 out of a 1977 Trans Am with a 1970 HO crank and roller rocker arms.  For weeks it sat in a friends garage all torn apart.  Now it was a car, but the collection of parts did not hold the same impact as the finished car.  A pile of parts doesn’t move me down the road with my adrenaline pumping and the wind blowing through my hair.

We all learned this principle in school. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Like a beautiful puzzle, simply having all the pieces doesn’t give us something to admire.

Our confession gives us the historical record like pieces to a puzzle. Jesus suffered under Pilate, He was crucified, dead, and buried. But what does all that mean? Lots of people suffered under Pilate and many were crucified.

Well, stand back from the trees and see the forest. Look at the whole truth that these individual events describe.

What was happening on the cross? If you come to believe in things unseen then your adrenaline will pump and your eyes will open wide. Like the finished car, it will take your breath away.

The visible events are separated by a comma in the Apostle’s Creed. He suffered, comma, was crucified, comma, dead, comma and was buried SemicolonNow look at the whole and let it take your breath away.

Jesus descended into Hell. That’s the forest. The theological truth. The Gospel itself.

Jesus left all His brilliant glory and majesty in heaven. He was made lower than the angels in the incarnation. He further humbled Himself in obedience to the Father until that obedience led to His ultimate descent. He ended up on the cross going through Hell.

The Bible says that Jesus was smitten by God, and afflicted. he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

Jesus cried out “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” And in those three hours of total darkness on the cross Jesus went through what we would have suffered if we had gone to Hell.

He is the only person to ever go through Hell on earth. We must believe this or we miss the message of the Gospel. If Jesus didn’t go through Hell for us then our Hell remains unpaid.

The Gospel says that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – for Jesus took it all. There is no wrath remaining – for Jesus drank it all.

The Apostle’s Creed includes this theological statement to explain what really happened just before Jesus dismissed His spirit. If it speaks to nothing more than His death and burial then it is redundant. This is the position of John Calvin and the church since the Reformation.

Confessing that Jesus descended into Hell tells us what really happened in the darkness. It is the real story told from God’s perspective. We will never be allowed to peer into this mystery of our salvation because Hell is not for us if we are in Christ.

In Jesus the darkness has lifted. The curse is gone. Death’s stinger broke off inside the flesh of Jesus. The grave holds no victory dance over the dead body of a saint. Hell is not for us.

For on the cross Jesus descended into Hell. Praise His name forever.                          Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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