SERMONS - MARCH 2008
2 March 2008 - Lent 4 - John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39
Our Lord’s earthly ministry took place during an age before the electric light bulb. So, in any given 24-hour period, the time for work was, essentially, the time when the sun was in the sky, illuminating the earth.
When night fell, workers would no longer be able to see what they were doing. So, the plows in the fields, and the tools in the craftsmen’s shops, were stilled, until the dawn of another day.
Because of the limited time a typical workman would have to accomplish his daily tasks, most people back them would no doubt have seen the value of planning out the activities of the workday in such a way as to optimize its productivity.
We would expect a farmer or a tradesman to have a well-thought-through strategy, or plan of action, for what he would seek to accomplish on any give day, since he knew that before long night would come, when no one can work.
Jesus picks up on this common first-century experience in some of the comments he makes in today’s Gospel. He and his disciples came across a man who had been born blind, begging near the Temple in Jerusalem.
The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When we hear our Lord’s remarks, we are reminded of the feeling of urgency that comes when a laborer or craftsman has much important work to do in a particular day, but not very much time to do it before the sun goes down. The work that the Father has given Jesus to do is also work that must be accomplished before the night comes.
We would therefore expect Jesus to follow a specific plan for his public ministry, so that he could accomplish as much as possible during the limited time he had. We would expect him to be a very driven man, working hard for the fulfillment of his Messianic labors, and not allowing himself to be distracted by unimportant side-bar issues that would tend to get him off track.
But here, he comes across this poor, benighted beggar, blind from birth. And he stops what he’s doing for the sake of this man.
He seems to have bumped into him by happenstance. There is no indication that Jesus was out looking for a blind person to heal, as a part of his overall ministry strategy.
We would probably think that Jesus would be thinking about all the preaching he needed to do, and also about the additional debates he needed to have with the Jewish leaders, so as to get his word out to as many people in Jerusalem as possible. But when he came across this humble, suffering, and almost unnoticeable man, any such plans - if they did exist - were put on hold.
Most people in Jerusalem - the Lord’s disciples included - thought of this beggar as a cursed man. They wondered what specific sin he or his parents may have committed to bring such a punishment down upon him. But there was little doubt that his fate was somehow deserved.
Therefore, the disciples couldn’t imagine that Jesus would have any reason to depart from his busy schedule and spend time with this man. After all, he had a lot of work to do, and not much time in which to do it.
But as Jesus explained, the work that his Father in heaven had given him to do did indeed include paying attention to this one man’s problem. As the disciples watched with puzzled curiosity, Jesus made a couple mud poultices, using his own saliva as the congealing agent, and placed the mud on the man’s eyes.
He then directed him to go and wash in a specific pool of water to be found nearby. And much to everyone’s amazement, this strange treatment did result in the bestowing of sight on this poor man.
After much back and forth between the Pharisees and the crowds, the man’s parents, and others, Jesus finally found a moment to speak to the man privately - to resume the work of God in his life that he had begun with the physical healing.
Having found him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
This exchange, which seems to have taken place away from the crowds, brought the man’s healing to its deepest level. The physical healing that Jesus had performed had allowed the man to see Jesus in the way everyone else could see him.
But now, by the power of his Word and Spirit, Jesus is opening the eyes of the man’s soul, and bestowing on him the spiritual eyesight of faith. He is now able to see that the Savior of all men is standing before him and speaking to him - the eternal Son of God in human flesh. And, accordingly, he worships him.
This man has now been saved from his sins. He has been justified by faith. He has been made an heir of eternal life.
But again, nobody else really noticed. And Jesus used quite a bit of his valuable time to minister to this one poor man, in spite of the fact that he was a man without influence or respect in the city.
Why would Jesus do this? Why didn’t he optimize the limited time he had to preach and teach to larger crowds, so that he could accomplish more, and have more of an impact?
Well, precisely for this reason: As Jesus fulfills the work that his Father had given him to do while it is day, before the night comes, he doesn’t adhere to the kind of timetable we would expect him to have. He doesn’t try to follow the kind of strategy we would expect him to have planned out for how he would conduct his ministry.
The mystery of his Father’s will for his work in this world is the mystery of compassion for one poor, insignificant, and suffering man, whom everyone else considered to be under a special divine curse. The mystery of our Lord’s fulfillment of the tasks that were entrusted to him is the mystery of how important this one man’s salvation was.
Jesus didn’t have a lot of time. The daylight would soon be over, and the night would come when no one can work. But Jesus still had enough time to heal this man, physically and spiritually.
He was willing to take as much time as was necessary to bring earthly light to his darkened eyes, and heavenly light to his darkened soul. He didn’t mind in the least departing from his busy schedule of public preaching and debates, in order to comfort this man in his fears, and in his poverty to enrich him beyond measure with divine grace.
And Jesus has this kind of time for you too.
Notice that he told his disciples, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” The night has, in fact, not yet come. The end of the world, and the final judgment, have not yet arrived.
And the disciples of Christ, with whom the Lord shares the responsibility for the carrying out of his work, are still carrying it out. In the name of Jesus, at his command, and by his authority, the church and its ministers are still doing what God the Father wants to be done in the earth.
Through his church and its ministers, Jesus is still fulfilling the tasks he has been given to do by his Father, while it is day, until the night comes, when no one can work.
So, when a pastor publicly proclaims the word of Christ, Christ is proclaiming his word through him. When a pastor has an opportunity to preach to hundreds and even thousands of people, Christ is indeed doing his appointed work through that ministry.
But when a pastor counsels with just one frightened soul, assuring him that his sins are forgiven, and absolving him in the Lord’s name, this, too, is the Lord’s work. “He who hears you, hears me,” Jesus once said.
Likewise, when a pastor spends an entire day with a grieving family at the funeral home, or with a fearful and worried family at the hospital, this is not a waste of valuable time. It is exactly the way God wants this time to be used.
And pastors are not the only ones to whom God’s Word has been given. Pastors are therefore not the only ones who have a share in the work that God the Father has given Jesus to do in the world, and that Jesus is still doing, while it is day.
When a Christian makes the effort to comfort a fellow Christian, who may be experiencing some sort of trial, with the promises of God’s Word, God’s important work is being accomplished. When a Christian takes the time to invite a friend to church, to answer his friend’s questions, and to help his friend understand the blessings of the Christian faith, this is not a departure from the Lord’s schedule.
It is exactly the kind of thing Jesus wants to do. It is, in fact, something that Jesus is doing, through his servant.
Jesus didn’t follow the kind of strategy we might have expected him to follow during his earthly ministry, when he had so much to do in so little time. And he still does not follow such a strategy.
He always has time for something unscheduled, that may come up unexpectedly. He always has time for you.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus did not keep himself so busy with the implementation of big plans, and carefully-executed strategies, that he failed to notice the poor beggar at the side of the road, blind from birth, who needed his touch.
And the church today, functioning as the body and voice of Christ in our world, follows the example of its Lord.
The work that God has given it to do does not take shape primarily in the fulfilment of busy schedules and fine-tuned programs. Rather, this work takes shape chiefly in the spiritual care that is offered to individual hurting souls, battered by the world, unnoticed by the larger society, but beloved by God.
Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” An important part of that work was the healing of the man born blind, with the use of an unusual concoction of earthly elements: Jesus’ own saliva, dirt from the ground, and water in a pool.
Jesus stills says, to us, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”
To those who are not familiar with the Biblical teaching on the sacraments, the idea of washing away sin and bestowing faith through the water of Baptism, seems no less strange than the idea of healing congenital blindness through mud poultices.
But each of these examples was and is a part of the work that the Father has given Christ, and his disciples, to do.
The idea of nurturing Christians with the actual body and blood of their Savior, and bringing God’s forgiveness to them, through simple bread and ordinary wine, likewise seems no less strange than the idea of bringing sight to a man who had spent a lifetime in darkness, through the washing away of mud in a pool of water.
But again, each of these examples was and is a part of the work that the Father has given Christ, and his disciples, to do.
These works of love and grace are performed by Christ for individual Christians in ways that the world hardly notices. And when the world does notice them, it doesn’t understand them. It may even mock and ridicule them.
But don’t think that for this reason these works are unimportant, and that the church should really be about grander and more noticeable activities. Don’t think that the humble and almost unnoticeable individuals who take up so much of the Lord’s time in these ways should rather be cast to the side and bypassed, so that Jesus can get on to bigger and better things.
That’s not the way he operates. That has never been the way he operates. And that’s not the way his heavenly Father wants him to operate.
Whenever you reflect on the meaning of your baptism, and whenever you prepare to partake of the Sacrament of the Altar, never let it enter your mind that maybe Jesus will be too busy to notice you, or to pay personal attention to you. Never think that you are a bother to him, or that you are distracting him from what he would rather be doing.
When Jesus was dealing with the poor blind beggar, in that moment he didn’t have anything more important to do. When Jesus is dealing with you, calling you to repentance, and renewing in you his enlightening gift of faith, he likewise, in that moment, doesn’t have anything more important to do.
As Jesus carries out this work for you, what he accomplishes is very much like what he accomplished, ultimately, for the man in today’s story.
Having found him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Having found you in your baptism, and coming to you again through the words of his Mystical Supper, Jesus says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” You say, “Lord, I believe,” and you worship him.
Jesus declares: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Amen.
9 March 2008 - Lent 5 - John 11:17-27, 38-53
One of the greatest mysteries of human existence is the question of what happens to a person after he dies. People have always had an intuitive understanding that physical death cannot really be the end.
Even those who train themselves mentally to believe in a philosophy of materialism and atheism, when it gets right down to it, are not so sure that there is nothing on the other side of death.
There’s something at a level of their existence that is deeper than their mind and reason, that gnaws away at them, and that prompts them to ponder the possibility that something of themselves will indeed continue on and live again, even after their mortal bodies crumble to dust.
The human religious imagination, throughout the history of our race, has come up with various ideas to explain, and flesh out, this inner, inborn knowledge that there is an afterlife. The adherents of Eastern religions, and some of the Greek philosophers, developed the idea of reincarnation.
They believed that the non-physical part of a person comes back in another body, in order to lead another life on this earth. They believed furthermore that this reincarnation process would be repeated many times over.
This way of explaining the immortality of man is reflected today in the interest that many people have in getting hypnotized, and being led through “past life regressions,” to find out who they were in previous incarnations.
Other Greek philosophers, and later the so-called Spiritualists, held to the idea that the soul is an immortal spiritual entity. After the end of someone’s physical life, the soul was understood to be set free from its captivity to the flesh, so that it could ascend to a higher spiritual plane, and perhaps continue to progress to ever higher levels of spiritual existence.
This belief is reflected today in the interest that many people have in seances, and in consulting mediums, in an attempt to contact the spirits of deceased friends and relatives.
The Judeo-Christian tradition, of course, rejects both of these options. Without going into details, the Bible does teach that after bodily death, the soul lives on in a conscious existence of some kind. The book of Ecclesiastes states that at death “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
In regard to the continuation of his own earthly life and ministry, as compared to the possibility of death, St. Paul wrote: “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
And, of course, Jesus himself spoke these profoundly comforting words to the penitent thief, dying beside him at Calvary: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
But the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures do not present the continuing existence of a disembodied soul as the ultimate hope of a Christian.
The Old Testament believer Job confessed this faith: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
And we join Job in this confession when we say in the Creeds: “And I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” “I believe in...the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
Angels were created as spiritual beings, to live in the supernatural realm. Animals were created as physical beings, to live in the natural realm. But humans were created as beings who were both spiritual and physical in their make-up.
Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, and he and his progeny were to experience and enjoy the fellowship of God forever. But they were also placed on the earth, with an immortal earthly life, to take care of the earth and to enjoy it.
Our first parents sinned, however. In their sin they brought death into themselves, and into us, their descendants. Spiritual death and physical death.
They separated themselves from God and his goodness, and they set in motion the inherited corruption and degradation that has characterized human existence ever since.
“The wages of sin is death,” St. Paul soberly declares in his epistle to the Romans. And we must soberly admit that our inevitable death is the result of our undeniable sin. Humanity’s death is the result of humanity’s sin.
But through his prophets, God showed his chosen nation, and the human race as a whole, that their destiny could still be a destiny of life, and not of death.
God made it known to his people that he was and is a loving and forgiving God. He will pardon those who repent of their sins, and who seek the Lord with their whole heart.
Those who know the forgiveness of the Lord can therefore praise him in the words of the Psalmist:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
Ah, yes. He certainly remembers this. But even this problem will be solved in the Lord’s mercy. Because of human sin we are indeed dust, and to dust we shall all return.
But an inevitable blessing of God’s reconciliation with us will be a resurrection on the last day. The body, resting in the bowels of the earth, will be called forth in glory, and be reunited forever with the soul.
As the Lord declared through the prophet Isaiah: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create...”
This Biblical faith is the faith that animated Martha of Bethany, as she met Jesus, and talked to him about the recent death of her brother Lazarus, in today’s Gospel. Martha knew that there would be a resurrection at the end of the world.
But until Jesus talked to her on this occasion, there was one important fact regarding the resurrection that she seems not to have fully grasped. Let’s listen in again to their conversation:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Martha had been thinking of the resurrection as an event in the future. It is that, to be sure. But it is not only that.
The resurrection is a person. Jesus is, in his person, the resurrection and the life.
Let’s explore what that means. Remember that “the wages of sin is death.” Those whose lives are filled with sin are therefore the walking dead.
But Jesus is not filled with sin. He is not tainted by sin in the least. The epistle to the Hebrews tells us that Christ is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, “yet without sin.”
In the case of Christ, therefore, the lack of sin means the lack of death. In his person he is life itself.
And notice the “code word” he uses in instructing Martha in this respect. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
“I am” is the unique Testamental name of God: rendered in Hebrew as Yahweh, and sometimes in English as Jehovah. So, in telling Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, and that he has no death inside of himself, he also, somewhat obliquely, tells her why.
It is because he is the Author of Life himself - the creator of all things, now appearing in human flesh. The divinity of Christ and the humanity of Christ were perfect and pure.
And they were filled with life - eternal, unending, unlimited life. As Martha herself later acknowledged, Jesus was and is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” This is also why the bonds of death could not keep Jesus in the tomb.
In his passion he had received onto himself the imputation of our sin, and he carried that imputed sin to the cross. There, under the curse of the divine law, he sacrificed himself in our place.
He suffered what we should have suffered because of our rebellion against the love of God. He endured what we should have endured because of our wickedness and hostility against the goodness of God. And he died.
But death could not hold him. When his sacrifice was accepted by the Father, so that an amnesty for the human race was declared for the sake of that sacrifice, the sins of the world were lifted from him.
And then the unbounded life of Christ began to “work,” as it were, like yeast in a sealed-up jar of dough, until the lid of the jar blew off. And Christ burst forth from death, never to die again.
He said to Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. And then he gave her and her sister Mary a small demonstration of what he was talking about. By the power of his Word, he called their brother Lazarus from the tomb.
The raising of Lazarus was not a resurrection, in the sense that all flesh will be resurrected on the last day. Lazarus did die again, in old age.
And his dust now rests in the earth once again, awaiting the final trumpet. But the miracle that is recorded in today’s Gospel pointed forward to the ultimate resurrection that Lazarus, and all of us, will one day experience.
This miraculous event is also a good illustration of the way God’s Word works in the lives of those who are spiritually dead. There was no life left in Lazarus’s body, to which the Word of Jesus could appeal for a willful response to the call, “Lazarus, come out.”
Rather, the Word of Jesus created the response that it required. It implanted the life that it then called forth.
And that’s what happens when Jesus calls to us in our baptism. Through Baptism he creates the faith that baptism requires, so that the blessings of Baptism can be received to our benefit.
Through the Gospel in general, the Spirit of Christ instills in us the trust and confidence in God that the Gospel requires.
Remember what Jesus said to Martha about faith: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
To believe in Christ is to be united to Christ, to be covered with Christ, to be filled with Christ.
And to be united to Christ, covered with Christ, and filled with Christ, is to be united to his life, covered with his life, and filled with his life.
Insofar as the resurrection is a temporal event that will occur on the last day, we are looking forward to it. It is not yet a part of our experience.
But insofar as Christ in his person is the resurrection and the life, we already know the power of the resurrection, and we are already experiencing the life of God, by faith.
By faith we know Christ. His life has come to us in the Gospel. That life is now already is in us, since Christ our Savior is in us and with us.
Therefore, when we die, we die in life, and we continue to live. Our death will be temporary. Death will have to be temporary, because those who die in Christ - who is the resurrection and the life - cannot remain dead.
That’s the point concerning the resurrection that Martha had not previously understood very well. She had not understood that Jesus, in his sinless perfection, embodies the resurrection, that he causes the resurrection, and that he is the resurrection.
Jesus is the great “I Am” - the eternal Godhead in human flesh. Only he can say, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
And he does say this, as a message of invitation to Martha, and as a message of invitation to you. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
The way to experience the resurrection - in this life, and in the next - is to have Christ. To believe in him. To cling to him. To be filled with him, and to be fully embraced by him.
That’s what happens when we repent of our sins, and believe the word of pardon and reconciliation that Jesus speaks to us. And in the profoundest of ways, that’s what happens especially in the Lord’s Supper.
The body and blood that Christ speaks into the bread and wine of that sacrament are not dead. Jesus is not dead, and therefore his body and blood, by which he nourishes our faith in this Supper, are not dead either.
But it’s also important to note that the resurrection of Christ did not undo the crucifixion. Rather, the resurrection glorified the crucifixion, and made the blessings of the crucifixion available to the whole world.
Remember that the hands which Jesus showed to Thomas after his resurrection still bore the marks of the nails. And those living, nail-scarred hands are held out to us, when the living, resurrected body and blood of Christ are held out to us at the Lord’s altar, to be received for the forgiveness of sins.
The second-century church Father Irenaeus had an interesting way of explaining the connection between our sacramental participation, in repentance and faith, and our resurrection hope. The Gnostic heretics of his day denied that the physical world was originally a good creation of God, and they also denied that our bodies will someday rise from the grave.
In response to these false teachings, St. Irenaeus wrote: “Just as that which is bread from the earth, when it receives the call of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two parts, the earthly and the heavenly, so also our bodies, when they share in the Eucharist..., are no longer subject to corruption, but possess the hope of the resurrection.”
He went on to explain: “Therefore when the...chalice and the bread receive the Word of God, there is a Eucharist of the blood and body of Christ, from which the substance of our flesh draws strength, and whereby it exists. How can they deny that the flesh is capable of receiving this gift of God, which is life eternal, since it is nourished by the blood and body of Christ and made his member, as the apostle says, “Since we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bone?”
One way to look at the Lord’s Supper, then, is to see it as a pledge, or down payment, on our own future resurrection.
Those whose sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb in this sacrament are able to face death without fear, because they know that Christ, their ever-living Savior, is waiting for them on the other side of death.
And those whose souls have been fed with the glorified body of the Lord in this sacrament are able to know, with confidence, that their own bodies will someday rise.
You, too, can know this. You can know what will happen to you after you die.
When you know Christ and his forgiveness, you also know what your eternal destiny will be in Christ. When you know Christ, and the love that he sheds abroad in your heart, you participate in the gift of eternal life even now, in the midst of mortal weakness and death.
When you know Christ by faith, you know the one who is, in himself, the resurrection and the life.
Jesus says to you, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” He then asks, “Do you believe this?”
“Do you believe this?” With Martha, and with all the saints of God who have ever lived, and died in hope, you are able to answer, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Amen.
23 March 2008 - Easter - Acts 10:34-43
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
As recorded in today’s lesson from the book of Acts, St. Peter said: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
People are impressed by miracles. In a time of trial or special need, we often hope for a miracle for ourselves. TV preachers who perform miracles, or who claim to do so, have the largest audiences.
We might wonder, then, why Jesus didn’t appear in his miraculous, resurrected glory to everyone. Wouldn’t that have made the greatest impression? Wouldn’t that have gotten everyone’s attention?
We can imagine what would have happened if the resurrected Lord had appeared to the high priest and the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin - who had condemned Jesus. Their first reaction would have been to quake in fear. But then, in humility, they would have been forced to recognize the divine power of Jesus, and would have submitted to his authority.
We can also imagine what would have happened if Jesus, in his resurrected glory, had appeared to Pontius Pilate and the other Roman authorities. At first they would have been shocked. And then they no doubt would have apologized for what they had done, and tried to make it up to Jesus.
Wouldn’t it have been great to see these evil men put in their place? Wouldn’t it have been great to see Jesus vindicated as the righteous and good man that he was, and to see those who had persecuted him, and lied about him, discredited and disgraced?
But by keeping the resurrection a “private event,” as it were, rather than making it a public demonstration, the high priest, the Roman governor, and everyone else who had been involved in these injustices, continued on as before. They remained just as arrogant and vicious as they had always been.
That wasn’t a good thing, was it? Why did Jesus, after his resurrection, appear only to the disciples, and those who were already within the circle of his followers?
Well, the answer is really quite simple. The purpose of the resurrection was not to show anything about the power and authority of Christ to unbelievers. Rather, the purpose of the resurrection was to show something about the mercy and forgiveness of Christ.
The resurrection was intended to show that the death of Christ on the cross had been accepted by God the Father, as a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. It was intended to assure penitent sinners - like Peter and the other apostles, who in fear had forsaken Jesus - that their sins will not be held against them.
The resurrection was intended to instill in all those who trust in Christ, and yearn for his salvation, the firm confidence that they will live forever through him.
In his resurrection, Jesus showed forth to the church his victory over sin and death, so that we would no longer fear the power of the devil. For us, the devil has been vanquished. He no longer has a claim on our souls.
The blood which Christ shed on the cross was the purchase price of our redemption. Now, in the resurrection, Jesus is taking possession of that which he has purchased. We belong to him, and in the resurrection he claims us and embraces us.
He is now going to live among his people as their risen Lord, to justify us, to protect us, to sanctify us, and to bring us forward to the day of our own resurrection, when we will share fully in his glory and life.
Christ’s pathway to the resurrection was by means of the crucifixion. Before he could be glorified and exalted on Easter, he needed to be degraded and humiliated on Good Friday. Before he could bestow on us his life and victory, he needed to take upon himself our transgressions and wickedness.
For us, then, our pathway to enjoying the benefits of the resurrection is by means of a penitent embracing of the cross. The true power and purpose of the resurrection is completely lost on those who do not first know their need for forgiveness.
The angel said to the women on that first Easter morn: “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” We, too, must seek Jesus who was crucified, before we can hear and understand the angel’s announcement about his victory over the grave.
The message of the resurrection is a message of God’s power to restore the penitent to fellowship with God. The message of the resurrection is a message of God’s power to raise those who are sorry for their sins to a new life in Christ.
The message of the resurrection is not a message of God’s power to show skeptics and idolaters “who’s the boss,” or to prove that he is right, and that his enemies are wrong.
If Christ had appeared to his enemies after the resurrection, it may very well have “put them in their place,” or caused them to grovel before him in their desire for self-preservation. But as men who had rejected the Lord’s call to repentance, and who had mocked his suffering, such an appearance would have accomplished nothing for their eternal good.
If Jesus had done something like this, he would just have been “showing off.” It would have been far beneath his dignity as God’s Son, to put himself on display before such blasphemers.
On one occasion Jesus had said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.” An appearance of the resurrected Christ before the Sanhedrin, in their hardness of heart and unbelief, would have been giving dogs what is holy. An appearance of the resurrected Christ before the Romans, in their pagan arrogance, would have been throwing pearls before pigs.
Today, as the Easter Gospel is proclaimed, are you ready to hear it? Is this proclamation able to serve its intended purpose in your life?
If you consider the idea of Christ’s resurrection in an opportunistic way - thinking of it as a source of supernatural energy that God is now ready to dispense, and on which you can draw to solve your earthly problems - then you do not grasp what the resurrection is really about.
If you consider the idea of Christ’s resurrection in a self-righteous way - thinking of it as a demonstration of God’s approval of Jesus’ ethical teaching, and as a demonstration of God’s approval of your success in following that teaching - then you do not understand the reason why Jesus appeared to some, and not to others.
The resurrected Savior did not appear to his disciples simply to make himself available as a resource for problem-solving. He appeared to them to demonstrate that on the cross he had already solved for them their deepest and greatest problem: that is, their sinful alienation from God. He appeared to them to demonstrate that God is now at peace with them.
The resurrected Savior did not appear to his disciples to vindicate their faithfulness, or to congratulate them for their moral successes. He appeared to them to assure them that they are forgiven for their unfaithfulness. He appeared to them to reveal to them his divine mercy, even in the face of all their human failures.
If you want to be sure that you are hearing the Easter Gospel in the way that it is intended to be heard by a true follower of Christ, and if you want to be sure that you are experiencing the power of the resurrection in the way that it is supposed to be experienced by a true disciple of Christ, then heed these words of St. Peter:
“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The resurrected Christ comes to you today as the forgiver of your sins. Whenever the inspired testimony of the apostles is proclaimed, the living Lord of the Church mystically appears to you, to renew in you the faith by which you do indeed “see” him, and cling to him.
Notice, too, this wonderful little phrase in St. Peter’s statement: Those to whom Jesus appeared, and whom God had chosen to be witnesses of the resurrection, are also those “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
What a wonderful experience this was! And one of the reasons why we know how wonderful it was for the apostles to eat and drink with the risen Christ, is because we, too, have had this experience.
The church’s table fellowship with Christ did not come to an end when he ascended to the right hand of the Father.
Our intimate enjoyment of Christ’s companionship and forgiving love continues on, in the sacred Supper that he has instituted for us. In this sacrament, he makes himself present among us in his body and blood.
As our church confesses in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: “in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. Moreover, we are talking about the presence of the living Christ, for we know that death no longer has dominion over him.”
In keeping with the high importance, and great blessing, of this Supper, the Apology also describes the sacramental practice of the Confessional Lutheran Church in this way: “Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved.”
That’s why the Lord’s Supper is available to communicants today, and on every Lord’s Day and festival in one form or another. Those who desire the blessing of the sacrament, and who are prepared to receive it in a worthy manner, are regularly given the opportunity to fulfill this godly desire.
As often as our conscience and sacramental piety would prompt us, we, too, like the apostles, are able to experience once again what it is like to eat and drink with him after he has risen from the dead.
We are able to experience once again the true meaning of the resurrection, as the risen Christ “appears” to us in this sacrament. We are able once again to “see” Jesus, in the assurance that our sins are forgiven.
His body was given into death for us on the cross, and his blood was shed for our redemption. In the resurrection, the living Christ brings this gift to us.
And he does so again, and again, and again. He never stops forgiving and saving his people, because he is alive forevermore.
He will never die again. In him, we, too, will never die.
Jesus did not appear to everyone after he rose from the grave. The appearances of the risen Christ were not for the high priest and the Sanhedrin, who rejected his word. They were not for Pontius Pilate and the Romans, whose hearts had been hardened against his Spirit.
But the appearances of the risen Christ were for his apostles and disciples, who repented of their sins and sought the Lord’s pardon. The appearances of the risen Christ were, and are, for you.
Christ still comes to you, and he still appears to you in his Word and Sacrament, to renew in you your faith in him. Your living Savior speaks to you and unites himself to you in his Gospel, and in this way he reveals to you the true power and purpose of his resurrection.
We close with these words from Luther’s well-known Easter hymn:
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands, For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands And brings us life from heaven;
Therefore let us joyful be And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of hallelujah!
So let us keep the festival Whereto the Lord invites us;
Christ is himself the Joy of all, The Sun that warms and lights us.
By His grace He doth impart Eternal sunshine to the heart;
The night of sin is ended.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.