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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
The Small Catechism - part 131

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From the Word: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the body, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison. (1 Peter 3:18–19)

From the Confessions: The Small Catechism

The Second Article

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ — true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary — is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, and has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I might be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns for all eternity. This is most certainly true!

Pulling It Together: It is a mystery to me why people want to get rid of the word “hell” in the Apostles’ Creed. Are they afraid Christ Jesus cannot handle the place of the damned? Do they think the holy God could never be in a place of such acute evil? They must, for they try to change the meaning of the word “hell” in the Creed, insisting it is a misunderstanding of the Greek and Latin. The word Gehenna is a place of eternal torment, associated with “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). The word Hades however, is a place of rest, where the dead sleep, as it were. There has been much overlap and confusion in the use of the terms.

There is no confusion in the word choice of the Creed. Nor is their confusion in our understanding. Jesus descended into hell, the place of eternal torment and damnation. He did not merely descend to the grave, as stated in the words, “and was buried.” He went a large step further; “he descended into hell.” He went where the Creed says: hell. And it could not keep him.

This is good news indeed. Death has no power over those who are baptized into Christ’s death (Rom 6:3). Nor does hell have any hold on them. This is the position of the Lutheran Reformers. Jesus died, was buried, and descended into the devil’s domain, defeating him and death, overwhelming there the full effects of both sin and death. “In this Creed the burial and Christ’s descent into hell are distinguished as two different articles, and we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended to hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his power” (The Formula of Concord, The Solid Declaration, Art. IX).

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for making it so that hell has no hold on those who have faith in you. Amen.

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Live from the First Century is based on the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke. This children's program takes the form of a first century newscast, reporting on events in Bethlehem. The script includes a number of character parts, with each scene featuring a Christmas carol sung by the children. Permission is granted to reproduce the script for local congregational use.

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