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The Resurrection of Our Lord April 16, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Easter

April 16, 2017

 

Focus: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the gospel and an essential basis of our salvation.

Function: The hearer values the impact of Christ’s resurrection upon his/her salvation.

Structure:  An Outline from the Rev. Dr. David Peter.

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord

 

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  That’s an exciting proclamation.  It’s a fun way to greet one another, it’s a fun way to celebrate Easter together.  But does it matter?  Does it truly matter if Christ has been raised from the dead?  Does it matter if the tomb where Joseph laid His body is empty?

This is the very question the Corinthian Christians were wrestling with.  They had come to a point where they were doubting the resurrection.  That’s not normal.  People who die, well, they stay dead.  And so, they couldn’t understand how Christ rose from the dead, and so they had started to believe that maybe He didn’t.

And through history, they aren’t alone in that belief.  Although Muslims won’t bother claiming to be Christian or to worship the same god as us, they believe Jesus was a man.  But not God, and certainly not resurrected from the grave.  Many people who count solely on their mind and reasoning, like the Corinthians had fallen into, many of these people deny the resurrection.  If science can’t explain it, it must not exist.

And then there are yet others today who deny the resurrection while still trying to claim to be Christians.  Some of the churches that are more liberal in their theology have begun teaching that it doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the dead.  Even more than that, many say He didn’t rise physically, but only spiritually.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean…  We’ll see shortly what the Apostle Paul says about those ideas.

There are also any number of more subtle ways that we ourselves deny the resurrection.  Sometimes we talk about a heavenly life for our spirit or our soul, but without a physical body.  Sometimes we deny the resurrection by our practice, by how we treat someone’s body after they’ve died, or by how we treat people in their bodily needs here in our own community right now.

But Paul rejects all of this.  He goes so far as to say, “16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Those are strong words, but Paul backs them up.  He proceeds to tell the people of Corinth precisely why the resurrection matters, and more than just mattering, why it is essential to our faith.

Those are his words.  Paul calls the resurrection of Christ “of first importance.”  To him, it’s indispensable.  When Paul starts this response by talking about the gospel, to him, the resurrection is part of the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us life.  And each of these things, then, is essential to our faith.

And he’s not making them up.  “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  David spoke of these things.  Isaiah prophesied it.  Jesus Himself talked about it numerous times.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the way that God the Father purposed salvation for His people from before He even created this world.

God knew it.  He knew that we would have weaknesses.  He knew we would choose to reject Him.  He knew that we would love our sin instead of loving Him.  And so He orchestrated a plan, a plan He announced to Adam and Eve even in the Garden of Eden.  A plan by which God would redeem sinful men and restore all of creation to Himself.  And that plan was the death and resurrection of the Messiah, or, the Christ.

We learn from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and indeed from all of Scripture, that the punishment of sin is death.  We die because we sin.  And yet, in His great love for us, a love we can never fully understand this side of Paradise, in His great love for us, God gave us His only Son.

The death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday is the once and for all time sacrifice.  It covers, it forgives every sin.  Original sin, actual sin, sins of omission.  The sinner you are, the sins you do, the sins you commit by failing to act when you should.  Yours, mine, your neighbors, the random person on the other side of the world you’ve never met.  The centurion at the foot of the cross, the child yet unknown to their parents.  Every sin ever.  All of them forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood He so willingly gave to save us.  You’re forgiven!

But this isn’t everything.  Because it is the resurrection of Christ that proclaims that victory yours.  We like to say that Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil.  And it’s true, it is so gloriously true.  In His resurrection, rising from the dead, Jesus announces victory over death itself.  The sin, the guilt, the shame, the punishment, all of it, forgiven and defeated by Christ our Savior.

This is the beauty of the gospel that Paul is proclaiming to the Corinthians.  He even takes the time and plays along, he plays their game.  What if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead?  And the answers are devastating.  Our preaching is in vain.  Our faith is in vain. We misrepresent God Himself.  We make Him to be a liar. Our faith is futile.  We’re still in our sins.  Those who have already died before us have truly and fully perished.  Indeed, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19)

But it’s not true.  This is truth, that Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  And if you don’t believe, here’s proof.  The risen Christ appeared.  Not a ghost, not a hallucination.  The real, physical body of Christ, scars and all.  You can ask Peter or the others of the Twelve.  You can ask the more than 500 guys Jesus appeared to after His resurrection.  You can ask James or any of the Apostles.  You can even ask Paul.

Eyewitness testimony.  When you’re looking for proof, even in our justice system today, eyewitness testimony is about as good as it gets.  If you doubt the resurrection, go, talk to one of these brothers, it was only a couple decades ago, most of them are still alive.

pause

Paul saved himself for last in that list.  And as is his usual style, he had nothing good to say about himself.  “Least of the apostles,” “one untimely born,” “chief of sinners.”  Paul is quite clear that he isn’t worthy.  That phrase, untimely born, is another way of saying he shouldn’t have been born.  That’s how bad he was, that the world would’ve been better off without him.  And he’s right.  He persecuted the church of Christ.  He arrested many, sentenced others to death, maybe even cast the stones himself.

But then he gives us reason to rejoice.  It isn’t about us.  In spite of all his wretchedness, all the evil things he’d done, God gave Him His grace.  God loved him, God forgave him, God saved him.  God even worked through him for the good of His kingdom.  Even Paul!

This, then, is us, too.  We aren’t worthy, despite what you might hear otherwise.  We don’t deserve God’s favor, or His love, or His forgiveness.  We deserve death.  But it is purely by God’s grace that death isn’t our end.  It is purely by His grace that God overlooks our unworthiness.  Indeed, by His grace, He forgives us and gives us new life.

This is the basis on which we stand.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are our forgiveness and salvation.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that enable us to stand before a holy God on the Last Day, and to hear Him declare us innocent.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that shout loudly over the earth that Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the devil.  This is the gospel.  Christ died on the cross to declare your sins forgiven and He rose from the tomb conquering itself death itself to declare you alive forevermore.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  This is most certainly true.

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A Certain Thing March 27, 2016

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Luke 24:13-35

Easter

March 27, 2016

 

Focus:  God raised His Son from the dead.

Function:  That the hearers are certain of the resurrection of Christ and the Last Day.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…here is the claim of the gospel.

 

A Certain Thing

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Why do you say that?  That’s just some made up story your parents taught you so you’d be a good person.  It never really happened, people don’t just come back from the dead.  And really, Jesus probably never existed, or if he did, was just another teacher and he never said those things.  He certainly didn’t do miracles, and He didn’t mean to start a religion, the disciples just made it all up.  And that’s the problem with you Christians, you go around believing in some dusty old book.  It’s not relevant, it has no bearing on my life.  A bunch of women-hating men just made up some stories and wrote them down.  And none of their stories even line up, there so full of errors and contradictions.

The attacks on your faith come from all around you.  You can’t hide from them.  Satan is working desperately, diligently through the world around us to tear down your faith.  Whether it’s from the media, peer pressure, public schools, or even Christian universities and some pulpits, the attack comes from just about every direction.  How do you know?  How can you be sure?  What makes your truth better than mine?  They attack the Word of God and cast doubt on our faith.

This leads you to a very difficult choice.  Next Sunday we will begin two new Bible studies here at St. John’s.  Pastor Fritsch will begin a class on the book of the Bible everybody wants to talk about, but we never do: Revelation.  And to go with it, we might even do a preaching series.  But then to make your decision difficult for you, I’ll be leading the other class on this topic of whether or not we can trust the Word of God.  Is it true?  How reliable is it?  Can we really be sure who wrote it, and that we even have what they wrote?  When was it actually written? What about all the mistakes?  And didn’t the authors just borrow from other myths?  We’ve got a couple of great topics, and I certainly invite you to join us for either class.

And while we may never be able to use arguments or logic to persuade someone to believe, these things are gifts of God, and they are important.  We have a need to witness to the faith that we have, to trust in God in the midst of all these doubts and attacks on our faith.  And these things are nothing new.  People have been trying to cast doubt on God and on His Word for six thousand years.  It’s the devil’s old trick, to sow a seed of doubt.

We see this in all three of our readings this morning.  Jesus, Peter, and Paul are all talking about certainty, they’re all arguing that witnesses are important.  That what we’ve seen, heard, and shared with others matters.  And while eye witnesses may no longer be around to tell us about the life of Christ and His resurrection, they left it in writing.  Our witness, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is the Word of God.

But before we dig into our texts, I want to give you a snippet of the sorts of things we get to look at over the next two months in Bible class.  One of the helpful tools, one of the things that can strengthen our faith and grant us reassurance, is that history validates God’s Word.

Non-Christians, most of whom are hostile to the faith, actually support the Scriptures with their writings.  Looking at the works of 1st and 2nd century pagans, they acknowledge many of the things the disciples recorded for us in the Bible.  I posted an article on our website this week that pulls in from these different sources, but here’s the summary paragraph of what it says you can find out about Jesus from non-Biblical sources:

Jesus was born and lived in Palestine. He was born, supposedly, to a virgin and had an earthly father who was a carpenter. He was a teacher who taught that by repentance and belief, all followers would become brothers and sisters. He led the Jews away from their beliefs. He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Messiah. He had unusual magical powers and performed miraculous deeds. He healed the lame. He accurately predicted the future. He was persecuted by the Jews for what he said, betrayed by Judah Iskarioto. He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns and crucified on the eve of the Passover. His crucifixion occurred under the direction of Pontius Pilate, during the time of Tiberius. On the day of his crucifixion, the sky grew dark and there was an earthquake. Afterward, he was buried in a tomb and the tomb was later found to be empty. He appeared to his disciples resurrected from the grave and showed them his wounds. These disciples then told others that Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven. Jesus’ disciples and followers upheld a high moral code. One of them was named Matthai. The disciples were also persecuted for their faith but were martyred without changing their claims. They met regularly to worship Jesus, even after his death.

 

Romans, Jews, Greeks talked about these things in their writings.  They acknowledge the existence of Jesus, and that’s exciting for us as Christians.  It’s fun.  Witnesses, things that testify to Christ and to His resurrection.

And that’s what Jesus was doing.  The Road to Emmaus.  Two Jews, followers of Christ, one named Cleopas, are just walking on the road, when Christ comes up to walk alongside them.  And He notices their emotions, how in the dumps they seem to be.  And He listens as they explain themselves.

Are you the only one in all of Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened this week?  A mighty prophet was condemned to death.  We hoped He would redeem us, we hoped He’d be our king.  But instead our leaders killed Him.  But now, now the women are telling us the tomb is empty.  That His body’s gone.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

And so Christ spent their seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus telling these two men how all of the Old Testament had been talking about exactly this.  How all the prophesies of a Savior were not about some earthly king, but rather a Christ, a Messiah who would come, who would die, and who would rise again.  That in the depravity of our sin, we would be lost forever.  But in this Christ, those sins would be forgiven.  Our relationship with God would be restored.

Jesus spent a leisurely walk that likely lasted a couple of hours probably preaching the greatest gospel sermon ever told, and we can’t even put it on YouTube.  On account of sin, your sin and my sin, nothing but death stares us in the face.  That is our end result.  That is our punishment, our just reward for our deeds.  And yet, in the great mercy of God, rather than pouring out His wrath and judgment upon us, the Father poured it out on His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross.  That as He hung there, bleeding out, suffocating, starving, dying, Christ took upon Himself our death, our punishment.  Just as the Old Testament said He would.

But it doesn’t end there.  Praise the Lord it doesn’t end there.  Because Jesus had made a promise.  A promise that was so much more than the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus had made the promise of a life that never ends.  Even as He hung upon the cross, He looked at the thief by His side and declared, “Truly, I say to you, today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43.

There is life in the resurrection!  That as Christ burst open the tomb on Easter morning, the powers of sin, death, the devil, and hell itself were defeated.  They no longer have hold of you.  They no longer lay claim to you.  To your body, to your soul, to your life.  In Christ, in His death, and in His resurrection, you are truly saved.

That’s what He got to tell them for a couple of hours that day.  And then as He entered into their home, He revealed Himself in His covenant.  He broke the bread, and the disguise, the veil, whatever hid His identity from them was removed.  Cleopas and his brother recognized Christ.  And they ate, and they drank.  The Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ, the true hope and power of the resurrection to life everlasting was theirs that day.

Then Luke tells us in our reading from Acts that this is what Peter got to share with Cornelius and his entire household.  That Peter and the other disciples are witnesses, that they witnessed all the miracles Christ did, all the things He taught in His ministry for those last three years.  That they witnessed, they watched with their own eyes, as Christ was nailed to a tree.  But that more than that, that Peter and the other apostles saw, touched, heard, listened to and dined with the risen Christ.  “We are witnesses.”  And then the Spirit granted the gift to baptize an entire family and their servants, to bring them into the kingdom of God.  To give to them Christ’s gift of life.

And then we have the Apostle Paul, as he wrote to the church in Corinth.  He shares the good news, that just as the Old Testament said, Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  And then he pointed to the witnesses.  For certainty, Jesus appeared to Peter, to the twelve, to over 500 brothers, most of whom are still alive.  To James, and to me.  In other words, if you doubt it, if you need to know more about the resurrection, we have hundreds of eye witnesses who can tell you all about it.  There is certainty.  We were there, we have seen Him.  He is alive.

For you and me today, we have a wealth of witnesses.  The words of Peter and Paul, the accounts of the 500 plus men who’d seen the risen Lord have been passed on from generation to generation.  They’ve been shared around the world.  The good news has been a legacy in families.  For roughly 2,000 years, the certainty that is our faith, our brothers and sisters have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, they’ve received the forgiveness of their sins through the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, and they’ve preserved the gospel of Christ in His Word for us.  Baptism, life, and forgiveness are yours this day.  Because of this we can be certain: Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  ALLELUIA!

 

 

He Has Risen; He is Not Here April 5, 2015

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Mark 16:1-8

Easter Sunday

April 5, 2015

 

Focus:  God did as He said…He is Risen.

Function:  That the hearers share the good news…He is Risen indeed, alleluia!

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

He Has Risen; He is Not Here

 

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!  How do you know that?  Were you there that morning?  Did you get to see the risen Lord?  Did you get to speak with Him, or touch the marks in His hands and His feet?  Were you there to witness the tomb burst open and the crucified Christ raised from the dead?  How can we say with any certainty that it happened at all?

In a sense, that’s precisely how Mark decided to end his gospel.  Right where our gospel reading stops.  No resurrection appearance, no visions of the risen Lord, no accounts of anyone seeing Jesus at all.

But it’s style, it’s a technique.  Think about it.  You’re watching your favorite TV show.  They’ve already announced that tonight is the season finale.  You’re interested, you’re hooked.  You like the show and you want more.

And so tonight’s episode begins.  And the plot twists and turns.  The guy you thought was the good guy, suddenly reveals that he’s been evil the whole time.  And then, at 7:58pm, right before the credits, your favorite character on the show gets put into a terrible spot, and that now evil guy pushes him off a cliff.  Cue the credits.

You’re hooked, you’re interested, and by dangling your favorite part of the show off the edge of a cliff, the producers have you ready for the next season of the show.  You have to know what happens!  It’s the cliffhanger ending and it’s been around for a long time.

As Mark was writing his gospel, his audience wasn’t the same as the other three gospel writers.  He’s writing to the Roman population.  He’s creating an action packed account of Jesus’ ministry in Roman territory.  He sets it up with the preaching, the teaching, the authority, the miracles Christ did in His life.

It’s also the shortest of the gospel accounts, because Mark knows that his hearers aren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt.  This isn’t the fourth Transformers movie where you’re simply going to watch it because of how you really liked the first three.  The Spirit is working through Mark to share the gospel, to work faith in the hearts of the Roman people, but it has to be powerful and concise.

And so we’ve reached 7:58pm.  The end of the gospel is coming up.  Christ has been crucified.  And it’s no coincidence the importance placed on the centurion at the foot of the cross.  Who gets to call Jesus the Son of God?  A Roman.  Not the disciples, not one of the many different Mary’s, but one of the Roman soldiers who crucified Him.

And we get the account of Jesus’ burial.  And then we’re told about one last event.  On the morning after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go out to the tomb.  They went with spices in hand, thinking they could put them on Jesus to help mask the smell of decay for a few more days.

As they walked along the road, they remembered just how large the stone was that sealed the entrance to His tomb.  And they started to discuss together how they could possibly move it, or who might be able to move it for them.

And then they arrive and the stone’s already out of the way.  And instead of finding Jesus inside the tomb, they find a young man, dressed in white, and they were alarmed.  Now if you’ve been following along, or know more about the Scriptures, you’ll know this isn’t a man at all.  Because who appears to men, dressed in white, and always has to start by saying something along the lines of “Do not be afraid?”

Interestingly enough, fun little nuggets like that in the entertainment world are called Easter eggs.  A little bonus, something a little extra for someone who really knows the story inside and out.  Or, something you can pick up by reading or watching it again.

So this young man, whom they’ve never met, speaks to them and says, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

Unlike today, non-Christian writings of that day don’t try to deny the empty tomb.  They admit it happened, they have no problem saying that Jesus’ body really was gone.  It was a fact.  So instead, if you were to read the writings of Jews or Greeks in that time, you’d find them going out of their way to come up with other ways it could have happened.  His disciples stole His body and it just ended up buried somewhere else.  It was a political move trying to scare the leaders of the day.  Or even some that said it was a work of sorcery.

But the tomb is empty, and the three women don’t know what to do.  And so trembling from fear of what this could possibly mean, but also astonished because someone just told them that Jesus is alive, they left.  Cue the credits.

That’s how Mark ends his gospel.  No resurrection appearances, no denial of conspiracy theories, it just ends.  Knowing that God always has a plan, and that He works through His people, this was an intentional cliffhanger.  Some Romans were hooked.  They were interested, they wanted to know more.  And so they’re going to find out.  They’re going to go to the empty tomb.  They’re going to speak to the soldiers.  They’re going to seek out Christ’s disciples.  They’re going to ask questions, they’re going to hear testimony.  They’re going to be witnessed to about the resurrected Lord.

In many ways, Mark’s gospel ends the same way we live our lives.  We haven’t seen the resurrected Christ.  We’re in the same boat as the three women, the testimony of one man, or angel.  And then we’re told to go and share this good news with the world.  Go and tell.

And we often find ourselves fearing as well.  Fearing how people will respond to us if we try to say that Jesus is Lord of all the earth.  Fearing what our friends and family might think of us if we live the life we’ve been called to, loving our neighbors and sacrificing, giving of ourselves for them.

And we sometimes tremble, worrying about the future.  Wondering deep down if our faith is really true.  Do we believe in the true God, or is this just another story?  We’re uncertain about what the future holds, about heaven, hell, a new earth.  What will life be like?  And sometimes we wonder if we’ll see our loved ones again, or if there even is something after this life.

This is where I think we benefit from Mark’s gospel and even his cliffhanger ending.  You see, there’s so much more here.  Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus was telling His disciples what would happen.  He told them where they’d find a donkey, and how they’d be asked what they were doing when they were untying it.  He told them, that when they entered the city, they would be greeted by a man with a watering jar.

He told them that that man would already have a room prepared for the Passover.  He told them one of the twelve would betray Him.  He told them He’d be arrested, and ultimately killed.  And with all of these things, Mark says it was “just as He told you.”

And that’s the power of what the angel says to the women at the tomb.  This isn’t my testimony, Jesus Himself told you that on the third day, He would rise again.  And He has, just as said He would.  Go, find Him.

And then we know from the other accounts of Scripture, we know from Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts that many of Jesus’ disciples had the honor of seeing the resurrected Lord.  Paul even tells us in 1 Corinthians that “He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (1 Cor. 15:6).  That matters, for the Romans, and for us.  They could ask, they could hear, they could see the witness of many.

And it has only grown with time.  We shouldn’t discount the great men and women of the faith these past two thousand years.  Men like Paul, Timothy, and John.  Women like Priscilla, Lydia, and Candice.  Early church fathers like Augustine, Origen, and Tertullian.  Others like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchton, and C.F.W Walther.  Even many of the Popes.

We truly have a wealth of witnesses.  Your parents, and their parents, and their parents before them.  Billions of men and women over two millennia who have witnessed and testified to a living Christ.

But it’s more than people, it’s more than the church, it’s the gospels and the Scriptures themselves.  We have the Word, and that alone would be enough.  And that’s why Mark’s gospel ended with a witness simply saying, “He has risen…just as He told you.”

That’s why we don’t need to fear, because the Lord’s Word is certain.  That’s why we don’t need to worry about the future, because He has told us.  Just because Mark used a common technique, this isn’t entertainment.  This isn’t just some story.  This is life.

That one statement, “He has risen,” is filled with so much beauty and certainty.  In those three little words, we receive the hope of salvation, that God would intervene and rescue us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil.  In those three little words, we receive victory over our sins, Christ has forgiven us.  In those three little words, we don’t have to wait for the last day, because we already have these gifts.  This hope of salvation isn’t some far off future thing.  It’s already happened.  It’s already now.  Forgiveness, salvation, and life are ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Christ is risen!  He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!!