The descent of Jesus (part 4)

This post continues a series exploring Raising Adam, Why Jesus Descended into Hell by Gerrit Dawson. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 5678.

Last time, we began exploring the steps in what Dawson refers to as Jesus' great transit of mercy -- the passage our Lord undertook for our salvation. This post looks at additional steps -- ones by which Jesus encountered, then defeated, three formidable enemies of humankind: sin, death, and the devil.

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Poussin (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Battling sin: descending to the circle of shame

John 8:1-11 tells of Jesus' encounter with the woman taken in adultery, and with the Jewish religious authorities who arrested her -- placing her in what Dawson calls "the circle of shame." That circle quickly became "the circle of condemnation" as the authorities, in a misuse of the Law of Moses, took up stones to execute her. Jesus, the righteous one, responded to her quite differently, standing "with the sinful woman in the circle of shame" (p. 50). In doing so, Jesus was "working out his baptism." We recall that "Jesus had received a sinner's baptism, not because of his sin, but because he came to stand with us in ours. So now he lived it out, identifying with the sinner. He stood on her (and therefore our!) side of the line" (p. 50). Dawson comments:
Jesus the sinless one was uniquely in a position justly to punish sin. But instead, he stayed with her.... [Jesus] stands in the circle of shame with [all of] us, willing to take the stones we have earned. "Neither do I condemn you. Not because you didn't sin. You did. But I am the only judge. And I forgive. For I paid, in full, for your sin. Go and sin no more." (p. 51)

Battling death: descending to all our dying

Luke 7:11-17 tells how Jesus raised back to life the dead son of a widow. Encountering the son's funeral procession, the Lord of life "encountered the reality of all our dying" (p. 52). He stopped the procession and touched the funeral bier -- an act that would not only have been seen as rude, but would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. Undaunted by convention, Jesus raised the boy back to life and in doing so "turned death back into life." According to Dawson, "this moment was a foretaste of the resurrection" -- the resurrection from the dead that Jesus "will bring to all who look to him.... Jesus who would pass through death to resurrection will call a halt to all this death. He will create glorious reunions. He gives us hope in the midst of sorrow" (pp. 52-3).  

Battling the devil: descending to the chaos of our madness

Mark 5:1-20 tells of Jesus going to a forsaken, pagan place on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee called Gerasene. Doing so was "a sign that the kingdom of God was breaking beyond national boundaries to spread to the whole world... a sign that there was no place Jesus would refuse to go in order to save the lost," including "the regions of madness" like Gerasene (p. 53). There Jesus encountered Legion, a man "so afflicted by evil spirits that he could not live in normal human company" (p. 53). Instead of being repulsed by Legion or despising him, Jesus restored him -- bringing order out of chaos, hope out of despair, turning ashes into beauty. As Dawson notes, Legion in his demon-possessed state was a terribly lonely, isolated man. But in healing Legion, Jesus "recreated him for relationship," sending him back home to tell others what Jesus had done for him. 

Conclusion: reiterating Jesus' journey

Mark 9:14-29 tells of an episode in the ministry of Jesus that Dawson says is "paradigmatic of Christ's whole transit of mercy toward us" (p. 54). Jesus had just descended from his transfiguration where the Father's voice from heaven confirmed what the Father had said to Jesus at his baptism: "This is my beloved Son (Mark 9:7). Dawson comments: 
On the mountain of transfiguration, the whole journey [of descent and ascent was] reiterated in concentrated form. The beloved Son for a moment partook of his origin in heaven, even as he prepared to descend back to the world and sojourn through the final battle. (p. 54) 
Descending from the mountain, Jesus encountered a crowd gathered round some of his disciples and a demonically-afflicted boy they had been unable to heal. The boy's father asked Jesus for help: "If you can do anything, have compassion on us." Almost sarcastically, Jesus replied, "If you can!" Then added, "All things are possible for one who believes." With great passion, the father replied, "I believe; help my unbelief!" Jesus' response was to heal the boy. Dawson comments:
Jesus descended fully into our death. He came down from the mountain of glory into the chaos of demonic oppression in a faithless world. Jesus did not turn away from the ugly scene.... He did not hesitate to risk the mockery of the cynical crowd as he took a dead child by the hand and raised him.... [He did so] by the power of his own indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16). (p. 55)
In these events in Jesus' ministry we find sources for the image of Jesus on Holy Saturday raising Adam from out of the realm of the dead (see one artist's depiction below). Dawson comments:
Adam, whose faithlessness plunged the world into darkness, languished in the realm of the dead, the epitome of human failure. The accuser [satan] would chatter ever after that this is the fate of men, which could never be undone. But all things were possible to Christ who lived perfect faith in his Father. In his ministry, he went down among us, in all our lost and forsaken circumstances in order to lift us up. In many circumstances over these three years [of his ministry], Jesus took the limp wrist of dead humanity and raised us back into life. (p. 55)
Descent into Hell (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)