Summary: There is no corner of teh universe where God’s grace has not been preached.
“What Is To Happen To Those Who Lived Before Jesus Christ?”
By: Kenneth Emerson Sauer
Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church, Newport News, VA
In the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice hangs a painting that got the artist in trouble with the Inquisition.
The painting depicts Jesus at a banquet with His disciples…
…complete with Roman soldiers playing in one corner, a man with a bloody nose on the other side, stray dogs roaming around, a few drunks, and several other people of low repute.
Called before the Inquisition to explain these irreverences, the artist defended his painting by showing from the Gospels that these were the very kinds of people Jesus mingled with.
Scandalized, the Inquisitors made him change the title of the painting and make the scene secular rather than religious.
In doing so, of course, the Inquistitors were replicating the attitude of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
They too were scandalized by the tax collectors, the half-breeds, the foreigners, and the women of ill repute who hung out with Jesus.
They too had trouble swallowing the notion that these are people who God loves.
Let’s face it.
The gospel is not at all what we would come up with on our own.
I would expect to have to clean up my act before even thinking about entering into a personal relationship with a Holy God.
But Jesus about God ignoring a fancy religious teacher and turning instead to an ordinary sinner who pleads, “God, have mercy.”
In one of His last acts before His death, Jesus forgave a thief dangling on a cross.
He simply said, “Jesus remember me,” and Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was another shocking reminder that God’s grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us.
Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most people will reply, “Be good.”
Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry: “Help!”
God welcomes anyone who will have Him.
Theologian Karl Barth, after writing thousands of pages in his Church Dogmatics, arrived at this simple definition of God: “the One Who loves.”
There are many notions about God.
Some think of God as a God Who forgives, yes, but reluctantly, after making the penitent squirm.
Others think of God as a distant thundering figure Who prefers fear and respect over love.
Author Philip Yancey writes this: “Jesus says in effect, ‘Do you want to know what it feels like to be God? When one of those two-legged creatures pays attention to me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.’”
In our Epistle Lesson for this morning, Peter writes this: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago.”
Within this passage is the solution to one of the most haunting questions raised by the Christian faith: “What is to happen to those who lived before Jesus Christ, and to those to whom the gospel never came?”
There is no salvation without repentance, and how can people repent who have never been confronted with the love and the holiness of God?
And if there is no other name by which people can be saved—other than Jesus—what happens to those who never heard that name?
This is the point that Justin Martyr fastened onto a long time ago: “The Lord, the Holy God of Israel, remembered His dead, those sleeping in the earth, and came down to them to tell them the good news of salvation.”
Have you ever heard someone say: “I’ve been to hell and back in order to do such and such…”?
…Well, this is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us!
I mean, where was Christ’s spirit during the interval of time between His death and resurrection?
In 1st Peter chapter 4, Peter says, “the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.”
Christ went down “in the spirit,” says Peter, to Hades, between His death and resurrection, in order to offer salvation to sinners who had died without hearing the gospel and getting a chance to repent.
If Jesus Christ descended into Hades, then Jesus Christ really and truly died.
His death was no sham.
It wasn’t some kind of play-acting.
Jesus Christ really and truly experienced death, and then rose again!!!
And He did this all in the name of Love…the love that God has for His poor lost two-legged creatures!
We have a God Who went through the entire human experience of birth and life and death—in order to save those who are lost!