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It’s Still All About Jesus November 26, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

 

Focus:  God raises the dead!

Function:  That the hearers turn to Christ as the author of life.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

It’s Still All About Jesus

 

This year we have had the honor of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  And while I may not have been here with you for that celebration, I know you all marked the occasion.  I bring it up this morning, though, to quiz you.  Do any of you remember the LCMS’ motto for the 500thIt’s Still All About Jesus.

October 31, 1517 wasn’t really the Reformation itself.  Luther still wasn’t the theologian that he would later become.  And we can celebrate that, the 500th birthday of the Lutheran Church together come June 25, 2030.  But, the 95 Theses at least got the ball rolling.  And the Reformation itself would be founded upon Christ.  That you are saved not by your own works, but by the works of Christ.

And so, as I serve you in your midst as your new pastor, this theme is my own.  It’s still all about Jesus.  John the Baptist once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).  And that is so true.  In my time with you, whether that’s fifteen minutes or forty years, it’s not about me.  It’s about what Christ does for you.  I must decrease, I must not allow myself, my crazy ideas to get in the way of you seeing Christ and Him crucified.

And that was the Apostle Paul’s remark.  As he began his letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

 

If I preach anything other than Christ, I do you no good.  If I preach an hour up here about worldly wisdom, things to help you improve your daily life and routine, I’ve not helped you.  I’ve harmed you.  I’ve pointed you away from Christ, to rely instead upon yourself.  You would literally be better served if I had preached nothing at all.  “No sermon today, Pastor couldn’t figure out how to connect it to Jesus,” would be much less harmful to you.

Our epistle text today is from that same letter of Paul.  And it is one of the most comforting, assuring, confident chapters in all of Scripture.  1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection, whether or not it happened, and what that means for us.

“For as by a man came death.”  The sin of Adam condemned all of creation.  They didn’t know death.  As Adam and Eve lived together in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, caring for God’s creation, they didn’t know death.  But, as they turned from God, rebelled against Him to follow their own path, this rebellion, this sin against God brought death not only to them, but to everything God had entrusted to them.  By one man death came upon us all.

This is our common lot.  You and I may not have all the same sins.  The things that thorn my flesh may not be same for you.  And you will find other sins tempting that don’t cause me any trouble.  And yet, the outcome is the same.  You and I, as consequence, punishment of our sins, we die.

“By a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  That word “man” really should be capitalized, because it’s Jesus.  It’s God.  And Paul loved this wordplay of God.  When God created man in the Garden, He named the first man, “man.”  That’s what “Adam” means in Hebrew.  And so now, in his writings, Paul will talk about Jesus as the second Adam, the second Man.  In the first Adam, we all die.  But, in the second Adam, we will all be made alive.

And we know this is true.  That Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Himself, sacrificed Himself for us.  Out of His great love for us, He willingly surrendered His own life, allowing sinful man to nail Him to the cross.  And so we did.  But in that crucifixion, as the blood of Christ poured out, all of our sins were forgiven.  All of them.  Gone.

“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.”  Paul shows us the three things that happen from Christ’s resurrection.  First, obviously, is that Christ is made alive again.  The tomb is empty, our Lord lives!

Second, when Christ returns, as He’s promised He will, all those who had faith in Christ will be made alive again!  I love to mention this at the graveside after a funeral.  Imagine what this place will look like when Christ returns and your loved ones are raised to life again.  What a wonderful, glorious day that will be!

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”  The third and final thing that comes of Christ’s resurrection is the destruction of evil.  Satan and his minions, sinful rulers, disease, decay, you name it.  Defeated by the empty tomb of Christ.

“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”  I’m not sure we think about this verse very often, but it is a verse of tremendous comfort.  Christ reigns.  Even now, even in the midst of our brokenness, as we watch the world around us come unraveled, as our lives feel like their falling into despair, even in this Christ reigns!  He is Lord of heaven and earth!  And we’re His dear precious family.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  I don’t have a perfect answer for you.  I’m not sure I could rightly explain why sin is defeated before death.  But we see it.  We see it every day.  We know this is true.  But Christ has promised, that in His death and in His resurrection, He has overcome the grave even for us!  He has defeated death, and we get to enjoy the benefits of that gift for the rest of forever.

And so, this is where I must always point you, where every sermon must go.  Word and Sacrament.  A sermon is only good if it points you to Jesus.

Now, in a world of constant entertainment, constant bombardment of different images and flashes of light on a screen, hearing the same thing over and over again may sound boring, or like it would get old, but let’s try this.

A woman once approached her husband after many years of marriage, and she said, “John, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?”  And John replied, “Well, I told you once on the day we got married.  I just figured if anything ever changed, I’d let you know.”  For those of you ladies here today who are married, do those words, “I love you,” spoken to you by your husband, do those words ever get old?

This is where we go.  This is our hope, our life.  In baptism, God claims you as His own child.  In Confession and Absolution, all your sins are forgiven, you are free.  In the Lord’s Supper, you come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and receive His very own body and blood, giving you forgiveness and life.

It may not be the right church season, but I believe you know the words.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!  This is our hope.  This is our confidence.  Because Christ lives, we live.  And may that good news always flow from this pulpit.

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Witnesses of the Resurrection April 23, 2017

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Acts 5:29-42

Second Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives the sins of all people.

Function:  That the hearers obey God by witnessing His resurrection.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection

 

Throughout the Easter season, we will be randomly jumping around through the book of Acts.  So, before we start that today, just a quick refresher on what the book of Acts is.  It’s written by Luke and serves as a sequel book to the Gospel according to Luke.  If we were to say his first book was all about the life and work of Jesus Christ, then this second book would be about the work of the Holy Spirit in building up the bride of Christ, His Church.

Acts begins with the account of the Ascension.  Forty days after His resurrection, Christ was taken up into heaven.  It then covers the day of Pentecost, another ten days later.  And that was a great day indeed in our church’s history.  Three thousand people heard the good news of Christ crucified and their sins forgiven.  And they joined the church and Peter baptized them!  But, that’s our text next weekend.

After Pentecost we see Peter and John heal a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus Christ.  This outraged many of the leaders, and the Sanhedrin had them arrested and brought to trial.  And it’s before this council that Peter can proclaim

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter and John’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ left the members of the Sanhedrin baffled.  Luke records a little of their confusion, but ultimately doesn’t tell us whether they believed in what they heard.

After giving them a sound beating and a warning to stop preaching about Jesus, they sent Peter and John away.  But they didn’t listen.  They didn’t stop proclaiming Christ.  And so we come to Acts 5.  But to get the full context, we need to start a few verses earlier.

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

 

That’s the context of our reading today.  Peter and John performing miracles in the name of Christ.  Preaching and teaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Christ alone.  And once again, arrested.  But this time, rather than being released, God sends an angel to set them free and to encourage them to go and preach some more.

And so when the chief priests and the officers finally find them, that’s precisely what they’re doing.  And those last words of the high priest are incredible.  If only he had realized it himself.  “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  Yes!  Exactly!  Because it’s this Man’s blood that forgives you of your sins, even the sin of crucifying Him.

Our text today began with Peter’s response.  And it’s a verse you know well.  “We must obey God rather than men.”  As we talk about our government, the laws that they pass, the things they tell us to do or not do, this verse is a helpful guide.  God has given our government the authority they have, and we are to honor them.  But, if their directives go against the will of God, we must obey God.

It’s sort of like the Venn Diagram, those two overlapping circles you learned about in your school days.  In the one circle we have the things of God, in the other, the things of man, and so long as the things of men overlap the things of God, they’re okay.  But they certainly don’t always.  In fact, we could argue they usually don’t.

Even Christians fall for this trap, though.  How much were the two presidential candidates this past fall painted as saviors?  The promise of Trump’s campaign to Christians was that he would protect their religious freedom and stave off persecution of the church.  Go home and Google Barronelle Stutzman, and you’ll quickly find out that’s not true.  The President can’t save anyone.  It’s not his job.

Another source of men that we often obey rather than God is our peers.  You may have thought peer pressure ended when you graduated from high school.  But peer pressure is alive and well among us adults, perhaps even more powerful than it was when we were growing up.  Think about it for just a moment.  One of the things that God has given you to do is to be a witness of the resurrection, to tell others of the forgiveness of Christ given for them on the cross.  What stops you?

What stops you?  Do you not tell them because you don’t like them?  That’s not usually the case, is it?  It’s usually because we like them that we don’t tell them.  We fear losing a friend, or making the relationship more awkward.  We fear the reprimand of our boss if we actually said “I forgive you” when they’ve done something wrong.  Or we fear the persecution of strangers if our faith becomes known.

And so we don’t.  We don’t witness.  But, we are forgiven.  Even for this.  Even of all those times when we could have shared Christ with another, we’re forgiven.  The very message that we’ve been given to carry and proclaim is the message that’s been proclaimed to us.  And its efficacy, its ability to work, doesn’t depend on you.

Let me say that again a different way.  Your forgiveness isn’t dependent on what you do.  Christ doesn’t withhold forgiveness from you because you failed to tell someone else about Him.  That’s not how any of this works!

In the body and blood of Christ, broken on the cross, your sins are forgiven!  Done, gone.  It’s finished.  In His resurrection from the tomb, your death is conquered.  It has no power over you.  The grave is defeated.  Sin and death are removed.  Even yours. Even mine!

We’re forgiven and alive in Christ.  The very message we are to deliver to others is the very message that delivers us: Christ, and Him crucified and risen again.  This is the message of the Apostles.  Even when speaking to the authorities, this is what they preach: the forgiveness of sins.

pause

Often times the word “evangelism” causes us to pause.  That’s Pastor’s job, not mine.  I don’t have time for that.  I wouldn’t know what to say.  All of these things are false.  A brother pastor, Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, wrote up a really nice piece on what evangelism actually is.  And listen to just one paragraph from his article:

The Word of God, being the means of the Holy Spirit in creating faith in the heart of sinful man, is effective. It is a false and dangerous tendency to treat the Word of God as mere information that only has benefit when accepted and acted upon (as is the case with American Evangelicalism). The Gospel is the authoritative declaration of sins forgiven (Absolution). In fact, the central act of Evangelism is not asking the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but rather, in the name of Jesus, forgiving their sins. Evangelism is the Church speaking the Absolution to the World.

 

Read the book of Acts, and this is what you’ll see.  When Peter and the others are preaching on Pentecost, the people are crushed in the guilt of their sins.  And how does Peter respond?  Does he chastise them further for crucifying Christ?  Not at all!  He forgives them.  And 3,000 are baptized.  That’s what we pastors call, a good day.  Forgiveness proclaimed to a broken sinner.  That’s a good day, regardless of numbers.

When, in Acts 7, Stephen is being stoned to death, his very last words mirror the last words of Christ.  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Even in his dying breath, he’s praying for their forgiveness.

This you can do.  You can announce the forgiveness of sins to a despairing neighbor or coworker.  You can tell them that their failure is not their end.  That their life doesn’t depend on them, but it’s been won for them in Christ.  You can tell this to your beloved spouse or children, as you live together, loving one another as Christ loved His church.

But really, again, the beauty is, it’s not your work.  The Word of God is efficacious, it does stuff.  The Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on you.  This is why the Apostles could readily die for their faith.  It didn’t depend on them.  The church wouldn’t fail the next day because Peter was crucified.  The church is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The forgiveness of sins is the work of Jesus Christ done to you and for you; not by you.

This is how you live.  You are the despairing neighbor.  You are the crushed and accused.  You are the spouse or the child in need of the love of another.  And you have it.  It’s yours.  It’s been given to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Forgiveness and life are yours.  He bought them with His own blood, and He gives them to you.

This led to the wise words of Rabban Gamaliel in verses 38-39, where he said,

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

 

Don’t misunderstand that.  Gamaliel isn’t taking the side of Peter and John.  He taught Saul everything he knew about Judaism, and Saul became the greatest persecutor of the church, well, until Christ forgave him.

“If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”  The church is the work of God.  We didn’t die on the cross.  Christ did.  He gives to us the forgiveness of sins.  We didn’t rise from the tomb by our own power.  But on the Last Day, we will rise from our graves by the power of Christ Himself.  These things aren’t our doing, but they’ve been done for us.

And so Peter responded that we must obey God rather than men.  The focus of Peter is on obeying God.  And obeying according to this text is to witness to the resurrection.  And that’s a both/and.  We witness the resurrection not just by telling our neighbors, but because Christ rose.  To witness something is to see it.  And while we may not be witnesses directly, by the power of God, our sins are forgiven, and the gift of life is ours.  And it is in Christ and it is in the work of the Spirit alone that we can be witnesses of this truly awesome thing: Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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.

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!

 

 

Fear Not, for Christ is Risen! April 20, 2014

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Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2014

 

Focus: God’s glorious earthquake has destroyed death.

Function: That the hearers do not fear the Lord’s appearance.

Structure: Controlling Metaphor.

 

Fear Not, for Christ is Risen!

 

Two years ago, I made a mistake, and I learned my lesson.  Two years ago on Easter morning, I was responsible for helping with Easter breakfast.  As the vicar, the intern of Immanuel Lutheran Church, I had volunteered our young adults to step up and fill a void.  Somebody had to cook Easter breakfast, and I figured it was a good way to get these people involved and connected with the rest of the congregation.

And then the night before, the men’s group showed us the pancake griddle in the basement kitchen.  Maybe you’ve seen one or used one like it yourself.  This thing stood a foot tall, about four feet wide and a couple feet deep.  Made of steel.  I mean, you can make a lot of pancakes on a griddle this size!  And then they brought over the propane tank, two of them, and hooked them up for us.  One large gas griddle with four burners underneath.

Easter morning came, and the young adults looked at that thing that was easily older than any of us and said in unison, “I’m not lighting that.”  So I stepped up and did what had to be done.  I turned on the burners and then started the propane.  And BOOOOOM!  I stood there a little dazed for a moment and when I finally collected myself again, I remember being thankful that I had short hair.  Having lit it incorrectly, I had created my own small explosion that singed off most of my hair.

As I wandered around greeting church members that morning, complete of course with my new hair color, more than one asked me what that loud noise had been.  One poor lady even asked me if I had felt the earthquake, too. Lesson learned: don’t do anything dangerous when you’re the guy preaching the Easter morning.

Have you ever felt an earthquake?  I asked our Wee Care kids that this week, and they all looked at me like I was making it up.  “What’s an earthquake?” they asked.  That’s understandable, as Minnesotans just aren’t used to the earth rumbling beneath their feet.  The most recent was a minor 2.9 magnitude quake in 2013, which doesn’t feel much different than if a semi-truck drove past your home.  And we’d have to go all the way back to 1975 to find an earthquake that actually caused any damage at all.

But that’s not the case worldwide.  In 2010, an earthquake ravaged Haiti, killing 316,000 people.  In 1964, a 9.2 magnitude quake hit Alaska and caused a tsunami in its aftermath.  It claimed the lives of 131 people and destroyed $2.3 billion worth of property.  Earthquakes are violent and they bring destruction.  It’s no surprise that people fear them.

We like our science today.  We like to explain away all the things that nature does.  Earthquakes?  Sure, no problem.  Earthquakes are nothing more than a couple of tectonic plates shifting under the earth’s surface and causing some friction. We like to take God out of it whenever we can.  But that’s not the way of the Scriptures.

In the Scriptures, earthquakes mean something.  Often times, they were a sign that the Lord Yahweh Himself was speaking.  We see this with Moses on Mount Sinai, with a rebellious Israelite named Korah, with David in the Psalms, with the prophet Haggai, and with the Apostle John and the sixth and seventh seals in the book of Revelation.  And earlier in Matthew, Jesus tells us that earthquakes are also one of many signs of the end times, of His return.

Sure, earthquakes can simply be our broken world showing its brokenness.  But often, they can also be God working among us.  This is certainly true of the two earthquakes in Holy Week, as God reveals to us His power and His authority over all of creation.

You see, Holy Week gives us another way to look at earthquakes: do not be afraid.  Those are the words that ring out in our text this morning.  In the wake of an earthquake, in the midst of the appearance of an angel, we hear those words: “Do not be afraid.”

Matthew reports for us two different earthquakes during Holy Week.  The first he reported happened on Good Friday, just as Jesus breathed His last on the cross.  He tells us:

 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with fear and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

 

Just imagine the scene.  Darkness covered the land for hours.  The earth shook, rocks splitting, the dead rising to life.  These men would have known fear, they were terrified.  And who can blame them? They just realized that the Man they helped kill was the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

And then Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a tomb.  A large stone is then rolled into the opening, and together with a little wax and Pilate’s own insignia from his ring they sealed the tomb.  And when some reported to him that Jesus had once said that He would rise again on the third day, Pilate ordered soldiers to be placed at the tomb, to make sure no one stole the body and claimed that Jesus had come back from the dead.

And now, here we are on the third day.  The Sabbath is over and the time has come.  And again, Matthew reports an earthquake:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

 

Just imagine the scene.  It’s early in the morning, the sun has not yet broken the horizon.  You’re standing there with the other guards watching over the tomb.  Today’s the day, you say to yourselves, today’s the day when His disciples will make their move.  Today, they will try to steal the body.

And then suddenly the earth beneath your feet begins to shake violently, causing you to lose your balance and fall to the ground.  And then you see something descending from the sky.  At first, it looks like a lightning bolt coming directly at you, for a moment you fear a painful death.  But quickly you watch as this lightning moves the stone from the opening of the tomb, and then sits on top of it.  You had no idea lightning could do that.  And how on earth are we ever going to explain this to Pilate?!  Fear, those guards were filled with fear.  And who could blame them?  Who could blame them for passing out?

And yet, it’s in the midst of these two quakes that we hear God say: “Do not be afraid!”  A holy angel that looks like lightning, a resurrected Christ?  For those who hate Him, yes, there is reason to fear.  Fear of what a holy God might do to them in revenge.  But for those who believe in Him, there’s nothing to fear.

For the earthquake that is the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a glorious one.  It’s a glorious earthquake that has been felt around the world for centuries.  The aftershocks have been changing lives, altering the course of human history for the better.  The earthquake that is Christ’s resurrection has caused destruction…it’s destroyed death.

Do not be afraid.  Those are the words spoken on Easter morning.  Those are the words that Mary and Mary heard that day.  That’s where the resurrection of Christ begins, but it hasn’t stopped.  It’s spread, the quake has spread.  From the women at the tomb, it hit the disciples, it impacted Samaria and Galilee, and then shook the Mediterranean and the world beyond.

Even today, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection still rumbles on.  Have you felt it in your life?  Have you felt it shake the foundations of your life, changing your values and the things that mean something to you?  Because, as Paul loves to tell us, in Christ we are a new creation.  When the Holy Spirit creates faith in you, your life is changed, changed for the better.

The people around us look to us with fear.  Fear of sickness and pain, fear of misery and suffering, fear of death and the grave.  And often, Satan tricks us into falling into that fear, too.  He makes us like the guards at the tomb, “like dead men,” paralyzed with fear in our lives.  Fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of illness, fear of failure, and the fear of death.  Because to the world around us, death is the end.  Death is nothing but grief without hope.  But for us, because of the earthquake, we know that’s not true.

We have certainly felt the quake here at St. John’s in the last month.  Like the earthquake at the crucifixion, the same quake that opened the tombs and brought the dead back to life, so is the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection.  Death cannot defeat us.  The grave cannot hold us.  That’s why we turn funerals into celebrations, because we know that they will rise again.  We know that in the Last Day, Christ will open their tombs and raise them to new life once again.

Through faith, through your Christian life, through your baptism that has united you with Christ in His death and in His resurrection, and through the life of the church here and around the world, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection rumbles on.  It continues to spread.

And this is where we join with the angel and with Christ in saying, “Do not be afraid.”  The earthquake will not harm you nor destroy you.  It’s target is death, and it has destroyed it.  That’s the Easter message.  That’s the power of Christ’s resurrection.  Death and the grave have been defeated.  And the earthquake will rumble on, the message of hope and life through the resurrection of Christ will spread, until the trumpet sounds and Christ returns.  But until then, we heed the angel’s words, “do not be afraid.”  CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed, halleluia!