“Hey, chaplain, did Jesus really descend into hell?”
“Hey, chaplain, how old was Jesus?”
I was offering a devotional/message of encouragement/biblical word to soldiers. Some in the audience professed to be Christians. Other soldiers, when we shared with them up front I’d be speaking from a biblical worldview, left, wanting no part of the offer. Other soldiers were curious, and so remained. I taught from Psalm 143.
I walked them through how David–a soldier, a believer, a sinner, a redeemed man, often cried out to God for many things. First in Psalm 143, David called out to God just to be heard. Another way of saying it is that David wanted to know he was not alone, that the heavens were not silent. David prayed often to be reminded that God was there and that God heard him. This is crucial. Why? Because so many people, at least in my experience in ministry, feel abandoned and unheard. They feel discounted. But David cried out to God: “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 143:1). But the good news (at least part of it) is this: God hears.
Second, David recognized that God is not far away from His people. God is near. David called God his refuge (v. 9b). He called Him, “my God” (v. 10b). David did not view God as a theological abstraction. David communed with God because he knew God was near and that God cared.
Third, David recognized that God is a deliverer by nature. “Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!” David cried out (v. 9a). David prayed that God would “bring [his] soul out of trouble” (v. 11b). God is not a force “out there” or a deistic god who is incapable of governing the world. No; He is sovereign and knows all things and controls all things and knows right where you and I are, and what we are enduring. And He delights to deliver.
Fourth, God is for His people. What does that mean? It means He delights to give good things to His children (Matthew 7:11). It means that when we seek Him with all our hearts, He won’t turn us away (Jeremiah 29:13). It means He rewards earnest inquiry into truth (John 18:37-38).
Because I’m a questioner by nature, I asked for questions at the end. Some of them are above. One was about a phrase in the Apostles’ Creed about Jesus “descending into hell.” 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Ephesians 4:9 are parts of the New Testament that arguably inform this view. I did my best to address the soldier’s question about it and explain the main views through church history about the issue and some of the difficulties of each view.
Another soldier was curious about the age of Jesus at His crucifixion. Here again, I tried to explain dating paradigms and how Jewish and Roman calendars differed, and how we can miss the forest for the trees.
I asked the guys if I’d answered their questions. They were gracious and said, “Yes, chaplain.” Then I shared my testimony. I told them of how God broke me, how He used people in my life to break me of intellectual pride, and of how Jesus is the proof of what David prayed in Psalm 143. Jesus proves that God hears, that God is not far away, that God is a deliverer by nature, and that God is for His people.
I passed out business cards for them to contact me with questions. I offered the Lord’s Supper. I prayed with and for them. And I thank God that He may use flawed attempts like mine, and countless others’ faithful but flawed attempts, to bring many sons and daughters to glory. Why? Because that is God’s nature. He delights to do just that. He hears. He is near. He delivers. And He is for His people. Let us press on and fight the good fight of the faith that has been delivered to the saints.