Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a 10-part series of messages called ‘Confident Theology’. Week by week he takes listeners on a journey through the famous statement of Christian faith known as the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. This week, Part 4 – “Suffered and Died”.
Part 4: “Suffered and Died” – 1 Peter 2:21-25
Well as we have heard this morning we are in The Apostles Creed for a few mornings.
This is the fourth chunk of the Creed and it’s a little series called “Confident Theology” because I thought it would be good for us to look at the very essentials of the faith, not just to say them as we say them in the Creed but to understand them and in many ways to defend them and hold on to them. This is something that God calls us to do.
You have no idea, no idea probably how much attack the doctrines of the Creed are under around the world. People who just change things, who subtract things, divide things, water things down and we must be careful to hang on to the great truths. The way in which we defend the faith is we give it away. We don’t just lock it up in a box and say well we are going to look after this. We pass it on to the children and the youth so that’s the way we defend the faith.
Why We Should Care About Jesus’ Suffering
So we have been looking at belief in God, belief in Jesus, belief in His birth and today we come to belief in His death. And as we have heard thirteen words from the Creed ‘suffered’ “Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried, he descended into hell.” Now why should we think about this?
Let me give you two good reasons. Firstly everybody is a theologian of some kind. We are either good or not so good. We have either got the truth or we’ve not got the truth. Everybody is a theologian. You may have a clear theology or you may have a foggy theology. That is your view of God may be clear or foggy but you have a theology.
One of the guys who has written a book on The Apostles Creed, his name is Albert Mohler and he is the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in America. And he said in his book that he was once involved in a debate in Washington and at the end of the debate they had a Q and A. And a man stood up in the Q and A and announced himself to be an astrophysicist. He said I have two PhD’s and I work with NASA. He said I am a Christian and could we please stop with the theology, I just want Jesus Christ.
You know what A. Mohler said to him? “You’ve just made a theological statement. You’ve announced that Jesus is the Christ.” A. Mohler said to him “there was no letter box in Nazareth with ‘Jesus Christ’ written on it. That’s a theological statement. So as soon as this man stood up and spoke two words he was saying something theological. And we need to be the sort of people who say things that are theologically clear and faithful.
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The second reason we need to look at this together is because truth affects us. It affects us on the good days and it affects us on the bad days. If we see God clearly, it affects us. If we see Him poorly it affects us. When life is difficult, when life is great truth matters. And we need to understand the truth of Christ so that we can help other people. And if you understand the words “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried and descended into hell” you will never be the same. Once you get it you will never be the same.
“And the giving of his life on the cross is the way he is able to give life to believers.”
I want you to notice that the Creed jumps across a lot of things that could be said about Jesus. So there is no information in the Creed on the perfect life of Jesus. How much could be said? There is no information in his powerful teaching. Many people are aware of his powerful teaching but the Creed says nothing. There is nothing in the Creed about his loving miracles, famous miracles, nothing in the Creed.
We go straight to his death and the reason we go straight to his death in the Creed is because we go straight to his mission. Remember Jesus said in Mark chapter 10 “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom”. And the giving of his life on the cross is the way he is able to give life to believers. A life which is eternal which will never break and it’s highly significant. John’s Gospel chapter 12 Jesus said “It was for this very reason to die that I was born.” Or in the great assembly of God’s people in heaven we are told in Revelation chapter 5 “They sing worthy is the Lamb, the Lamb who was slain.” So the Creed goes straight to his mission.
The Death of Christ is Fundamental to Our Faith
Let me put this more strongly to you this morning. If the cross is not central to your faith, if you don’t find yourself thinking about the cross as the key to your salvation, you’ve probably not got it. One writer very provocatively said “Christ is to us what his cross is to us.” It maybe stretching it a bit but it’s pretty good and I once had the privilege of asking John Stott if all his fifty books were to be destroyed one, which of his books would he hope would survive? And he immediately said “The Cross of Christ”.
So the words of the Creed “suffered, crucified, dead and buried” they summarise what the New Testament teaches for example
1 Peter chapter 2 which we just had read for us “Christ suffered on the cross” or
1 Corinthians chapter 15 “He was buried” or
Acts chapter 2 “He was not abandoned to the realm of the dead”
So there you are you see biblical truths being summarised as best is possible in the words of The Apostles Creed. Now I want this morning to look at the phrases quite briefly and I want to especially look at the fact of the phrase and also the importance of the phrase. This is not an easy series. It’s not easy to preach, it’s not easy for you to stay with because it’s doctrinal but I know you are a thinking bunch and you will do your best and we have asked the Lord to help us.
First of all “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified”. Now when the Creed says “suffered” the Creed could have talked about a lot of suffering.
Suffered as a child, when Jesus was born he was chased by Herod.
Suffered as a grown up:
- The devil tempted him.
- The demons yelled at him
- The Pharisees plotted against him
- The disciples failed him.
There is a lot of suffering that Jesus is familiar with to say nothing of normal pains and aches and tiredness and sadness and grief and all the things which would upset his compassion. But he especially suffered under Pontius Pilate sentenced him to be crucified.
The Agony of Crucifixion
To be crucified of course is an extreme experience of suffering great pain and great shame and great cruelty. It’s also the place of course where He suffered sin’s penalty. That’s why he sweated beforehand in a way that most people didn’t because he knew that the crucifixion was going to be more than a crucifixion. He knew the crucifixion was where he was going to drink what he called “the cup of judgement”.
We have no idea what that is like. People who write in the newspaper and say this person has gone to hell and this person has gone to hell because their life is so difficult, they have no idea what they are talking about. The cup of God’s judgement, that’s what suffering was for Christ apart from the crucifixion. The judicial sword of God fell on Jesus and he went to this cross voluntarily. Don’t fall for those people who tell you that this was some kind of child abuse on behalf of the Father. No the Son voluntarily, willingly, gladly but also dreadfully went to the cross. So he suffered under Pontius Pilate.
“The fact of the crucifixion is undeniable and is very clear. There wouldn’t be anybody sensible today who would deny that Jesus lived and died.”
No why does Pontius Pilate get a mention in the Creed? I mean of all the people to put in the Creed and all the people to be mentioned, week after week, year after year, century after century, why keep mentioning Pontius Pilate? I mean he was a very unworthy man and he was a very small pawn in the Roman Government but the reason the Creed puts his name in is because it’s history. There was a specific time and a specific place where Jesus was crucified. And there are many historians who mention Pontius Pilate like Tacitus and Josephus and Philo and Pilate is mentioned sixty times or more in the New Testament. So the fact of the crucifixion is undeniable and is very clear. There wouldn’t be anybody sensible today who would deny that Jesus lived and died.
The question is when you think about the crucifixion do you get the significance? I mean when you see a crucifix hanging around somebody’s neck (I am not talking about an empty cross) when you see a cross with a body on it how are you meant to respond to that? Is it meant to evoke sadness or sympathy or devotion or discipline? Is it meant to wind you up so that you are more committed in some way? Getting the cross right, you see, is extremely important. And because we wouldn’t get the cross correct, God interprets it for us.
John 3:16 “God so loved the world that he gave his only
Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but
have eternal life”.
1 Corinthians 15 – “Christ died for our sins”
Christianity is Not About Trying to Behave Better
That’s why he died. And what this means is, and this is the most important thing I could say to you today if you are a visitor and you don’t know much about Christianity, if you look back in your mind to the cross, Good Friday, and you say to yourself which is true – “He died on the cross not for His sins but for my sins and he paid” and you then call up to Him “O Lord Jesus risen – forgive me and have mercy on me, give me new life” you will receive it, you will receive it immediately. You will find yourself forgiven and clothed in the righteousness of Christ and you will walk forward every day right with God. In all the ups and downs and in all the failures and all the sadness, you will walk forward right with God until you meet Him as the Bible says “without fault and with great joy.”
So those of you who think something like this “I must do better, I must do better, it’s all up to me, it’s all up to me”. That’s not Christianity at all. Christianity is grasping the cross followed by a call, receiving a gift, getting ready to meet Him as Paul says in Colossians “Without blemish and free from accusation”.
Some people think the Creed of course is just a recording the historical fact and it’s not getting into the subject of whether the death of Jesus was meaningful. It’s just saying ‘he was crucified’. But I want you to know that crucifixion is a loaded word in the Creed.
First of all it was predicted in the Old Testament. We are told in Psalm chapter 22 “they pierced my hands and feet”. And we are told in Isaiah chapter 53 “He was pierced for our sins”. Now this is hundreds and hundreds of years before the Romans came to power and brought this execution method into being. Crucifixion was predicted back in the Old Testament. And not only that, crucifixion is a loaded theological word because the Bible says in Deuteronomy chapter 21 that if you hang a person on a tree or even a pole and certainly on a cross, it’s a sign that they are under the curse of God. So Jesus’ crucifixion you see predicted and theologically loaded is more than just an execution it’s also a place of damnation where He willingly took the curse that our sins deserve in order to willingly give the mercy and forgiveness that his life deserved. It says in Galatians chapter 3 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us”.
Now do you see that it’s possible to hear about the cross, think about the cross and even see a movie on the cross but not get the cross.
Again A. Mohler says in his book that he went to a pre-screening of The Passion many years ago, the movie by Mel Gibson and he sat with reviewers and journalists and they just handed out popcorn and ate popcorn while they watched the movie. And he said he really wondered whether people were understanding the significance of what Jesus was experiencing which is more than a death. It’s taking judgement in order that we might be spared the judgement.
So here is the infinite Son of God takes the form of a man, he has a normal quantity of blood in his body but his blood is sufficient to forgive the sins of billions of sinners who have committed millions of sins each and bring to them mercy and fellowship and hope at incredible cost as a gift, that’s the crucifixion. The fact and the significance.
A Real Death, a Real Burial
A very brief word now on “dead and buried”. Again it’s a fact that he was dead and a fact that he was buried. There is no question that he died. Nobody survived crucifixion. The Romans made sure of that and we know from the New Testament that if they wanted to speed up the process they would brake the legs. When they got up to Jesus they didn’t brake the legs as they recognised that he was dead, but stuck a spear in his side and what seems to have been heart fluid poured out.
And then of course devoted friends, Joseph and Nicodemus took the dead corpse of Jesus and buried it in Joseph’s tomb because he was dead. There is no certainly as to where the original tomb of Jesus is. There are good possibilities but because he was there for such a short time and there is no shrine, there is no dead body waiting to be honoured there, people are not really sure exactly where he was buried.
“Jesus took the ‘sting’ out, in his death. And he did that in order to provide a safe passage for people like us.”
The significance of course being dead is very great. We don’t mean that God died at the cross but what we do mean is that Jesus in his humanity died. He was buried as a corpse as people and he felt the full force of death as people do and death of course is always more significant in the Scriptures than just stopping breathing or having your heart stop, it’s got to do with separation.
And so this burial of Jesus is very real proof that his work of dying was done. The friend lent the tomb, the soldiers guarded the tomb, the women visited the tomb and he was dead in the tomb. And he took the “sting” as we say out in his death. And he did that in order to provide a safe passage for people like us. And therefore when we fear the grave (and we do fear the grave) and it’s fair to fear the grave, the process of dying, the way in which we will die, the experience of death is a fearful thing, it’s an enemy.
But we have to distinguish between what John Bunyan in “Pilgrims Progress” called the river. The need to cross the river. And the fact that there might be danger which has been lifted away. There is a river but there is not a danger. There is a river but there will be no evil, fear no evil. The sting has been taken and so it’s right for us to be apprehensive about the whole process of dying. But we need to remember that the one who did die for us is going to draw along side us and help us in the appropriate way, the appropriate time, the appropriate resources. I have seen this again and again and again because he not only went through and is therefore able to be compassionate and powerful in our circumstances but he has also taken the danger away.
“Descended Into Hell” – What Does it Really Mean?
Now finally this little phrase “he descended into hell”. This is perhaps the most puzzling phrase in the Creed and you what do we make of this? Do we imagine that Jesus was sort of lowered as if on a rope down, down, down, down into the pit of some kind of fire. You know he suddenly found himself down in this weird cartoon world of fire and people wandering around looking terrible.
No, the word “hell” in the Creed or the word “hades” is the place of the dead. In other words Jesus was somewhere between Friday and Sunday. He went where dead people go. The Greek word is “hades” and the Hebrew word is “Sheol”. He went to the cemetery. This is a Biblical fact because Jesus said in Matthew chapter 12 “The Son of Man will be three days and nights in the heart of the earth”, using three days as Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Or in Acts chapter 2 “he went to the realm of the dead” or in 1 Peter chapter 3 “he visited the spiritual world”.
So we need to explain that when he descended into hell, we are not again talking about punishment, we are talking about him going to where dead people go. And I think I can prove this to you because the place of the phrase in the Creed is not with the cross but it’s after the burial. It’s at the cross he experiences the hell of punishment but when he is dead and buried, he goes to the hell or the Hades of the cemetery, the burial.
Between Friday and Sunday
And it seems clear from the rest of the New Testament, if you are still with me, that when a person stops breathing and their heart stops pumping, they go consciously to a place of great security. Think of how Jesus said to the man beside him at the cross “today you will be with me in Paradise” or to a place of great grief. Think of how Jesus described the rich man in the Parable as being in that place of great torment.
And so I suspect that what happens after a person stops breathing or their heart stops beating is they find themselves in some kind of waiting (not purgatory, purgatory is an idea that you work off your sins, not purgatory) we are talking about a person still being conscious and in a place of great security or great grief waiting until there is a final, complete return and resurrection where everybody will be together. I think that’s how we bring all this together.
So what is the significance of the phrase “he descended into hell”? It doesn’t literary mean that he went down, down, down because we know that people on the other side of the world for them, that would be up, up, up. This idea of up and down is just convenient language for the next stage of the process of moving from womb to tomb.
“God raised him, and the disciples were privileged to see him and hear him and to feast with him and to touch him.”
What did Jesus do in the time between Friday and Sunday? Well obviously he went as a man to the grave to complete his work of salvation. And he also went as a messenger. We are told in 1 Peter chapter 3 that he went and announced victory. He didn’t evangelise people, just announced “I have done it!” Job is done. It is finished. I’ve paid. The victory is won.
And of course the grave couldn’t hold him as we will see next time. That’s why Peter preached at Pentecost that “he was not abandoned to the grave”. His body didn’t even see decay. He was there so briefly. But God raised him and the disciples were privileged to see him and hear him and to feast with him and to touch him.
So the experience of Jesus in going through the grave is what he promises to the believer of going safely through the grave. When he gives you eternal life today, that eternal life never stops. As Paul says “there is no separation”. As Jesus said in John chapter 11 “the one who believes will live, even though they physically die and the one who lives by believing will never really die”. One puritan has said “I shall change my place but not my company”. It’s a beautiful sentence. To move from one sphere, this world, to another but to be in the company of Christ the whole time. That lovely phrase in the 23rd Psalm where Jesus has been leading his people out the front and then “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me”, near me and next to me.
So I hope those three phrases which we have just really skimmed across you will see something of the significance. They are very weighty and very wonderful. They carry a huge amount of significance for people to hear and believe and receive and live. They are not just the facts of history “that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, he was crucified, dead, buried and descended into hell” they are not just facts they are massively significant and they bring a huge amount of comfort to us as we trust him and they bring a huge amount of urgency as we think of people who just don’t understand them and don’t really appreciate what has been done for them. And the Lord has put us in this world not only to testify to his goodness to us but also to share something of that by the way we pray, live and pass on.
Let’s bow our heads together.
Our Heavenly Father, we pray that as the Apostle Paul prayed that you would give us your gracious help to see more clearly, more joyfully, more wonderfully the depth and the height and the breadth and the length of the love of Christ. Not that just we ourselves would be comforted but that we ourselves would be your ambassadors.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
- See the whole series, ‘Confident Theology — A Christian Growth Series.
- See more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages