Monday, April 09, 2007

Sermon on Luke 24:33-49, Easter Sunrise

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The sermon text for this Easter Sunrise is Luke 24:33-49. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“If Christ is not raised, then I am a liar!” This is essentially what St. Paul says in today’s Epistle. Listen again to his words, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ.” Worse than just being a liar, if Christ has not been raised, both he and I and all preachers of the Gospel are guilty of the greater sin of misrepresenting God!! What does all this mean? Paul explains that everything, EVERYTHING about Christianity depends on the historical, factual truth of this claim, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That Christianity really does hinge on the claim that Jesus walked out of the tomb this Easter morning some 2,000 years ago. Because without the resurrection of Christ, we are still in our sins, and our faith is futile he says. Without a real, living body of Christ, with heart newly beating and blood newly coursing through those veins that had bled dry on the cross, we have no hope.

But the sin of the church today, is that so many think that Christianity can get along just fine without Christ’s Resurrection or even His crucifixion. That the teachings of Jesus alone without His death and resurrection for us, is enough to make Christianity worthwhile. NO! Paul says that without Christ’s resurrection, our religion is worthless, and that I am a liar and misrepresenting God! Or some Christians have tried to “protect” the resurrection from the assaults of the unbelieving world, by saying that it was only a “spiritual resurrection.” That it doesn’t really matter whether His body rose, it was really just His spirit. Or we say that “He lives,” only really means that “He lives within my heart.” Not that He actually still lives and reigns to all eternity at the right hand of the Father. Away with all of these lies! These are the ones who have misrepresented God; who have misrepresented Jesus. Thanks be to God that none of that “spin” is true.

You see, the fact that Christianity really does rest on factual claims, on historical reality—is not our Achilles’ heel, or weak spot. It is in fact the very thing that makes Christianity so unique and so compelling. It’s what makes it objectively true. That is what is so startling about Easter, and that is what has made unbelievers from that very first Easter onward, scramble to find ways to disprove Christianity. Witness the recent attack of the so-called “Jesus Tomb” discovery. Have you noticed, by the way, that these TV specials trying to undermine the faith always come around the season of Lent/Easter time? Not surprisingly, the “Jesus Tomb” documentary doesn’t have a leg to stand on, as scholars, even non-Christian ones (!), have blown all kinds of holes through their claims. From the start, it’s highly doubtful that the inscription on the bone box even says “Jesus”! Look up a picture online; its less legible than chicken scratch, and that’s no exaggeration. But more importantly, these attacks show how determined the world is to demote Christianity from the realm of “objective truth” to the realm of personal feeling or sentimentality, a faith that isn’t rooted in anything real, but just wishful thinking. Do not cave into such attacks, do not retreat into the subjectivism that hides the real resurrection of Christ.

You and I have the privilege, the responsibility to go out to a world and even to many Christians, who are skeptics concerning the resurrection, and tell the truth! Rather than retreating, let us go forth boldly proclaiming the truth of the Resurrection. Just like the Emmaus’ disciples came back to the eleven and those with them, who were hiding from fear and uncertainty, some doubting, some believing that Christ had risen. Just like them, we can go out and proclaim the joy of the Resurrection. And Christ Himself appeared among them again, proving His resurrection. It’s actually rather unremarkable how He proves His resurrection if you look at it. After all, how do you prove someone is alive, and not dead? Simple really, if He is walking and talking in your midst, eating broiled fish, giving you His hands and His side to touch and feel. It’s pretty unmistakable! It doesn’t take anything extraordinary to prove someone is alive again. Common proofs for an uncommon Savior. Not like proving you’re the Son of God. That takes some miracles! Like feeding the 5,000; healing the sick and the lame; and physically rising from death to life again! And He did prove both that He was alive, and that He was the Son of God. This was no delusion of the disciples, no phantom in their midst, no hallucination or wild story cooked up to start a new religion.

There were literally hundreds of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, as Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15. The disciples and many early Christians died martyr’s deaths defending and affirming what they saw with their own two eyes. Hardly something you would do to defend a lie. Certainly not a passive retreat from attacks on the resurrection.

But it hardly does us any good to just defend the truth of the resurrection, without realizing the significance of it. What did the Risen Christ reveal to His disciples from Emmaus, and then again here in today’s Gospel? He opened their eyes to see that He, the Risen Christ, was the key to understanding all the Scriptures and God’s plan of salvation. As He spoke to them, He reminded them of the words He had spoken before, that it was necessary (that is Divinely Necessary) that all the things written of Him in the Old Testament be fulfilled. It was written for Him to suffer and to die and be raised again on the third day. Why? For what reason? So that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed in His name to all nations. And He said what of the disciples? That they were witnesses of these things. Eyewitnesses!

Jesus opened their eyes to see and understand the Scriptures as they had not fully understood before. He showed them how His death and resurrection was the Key to all the Scriptures, from Moses’ writing of the Law, to the Prophets and Psalms. All parts of the Scripture pointed toward Him, and without this central key of understanding, the Scriptures were a veiled book. What His death and resurrection unveiled, was the full understanding of how God was working out our salvation, from the very beginning of the world. Not only from the beginning of the world, but as we are told elsewhere, that we were chosen in Him (!) before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4). What a truly joyful discovery! To realize that we have been caught up into God’s mysterious and miraculous plan of salvation, long before we even existed. That in a way that defied all human expectations and methods, God descended into our midst as a true human being, to live under the same law He had created for us. That He was willing to be humiliated, shamed, and rejected by His own chosen people, by the very humans He had created. Humiliated, shamed, and rejected to death on a cross.

How can such a thing be? How could there be any sense to God acting in this way? Would we not deserve death for treating Him this way? Certainly we would. But Jesus Christ showed us the true meaning of love, a self-sacrificing love that He gave Himself up both for His friends and His enemies. That before the foundation of the world, He was so intent on redeeming us, to have us back as His own, that He would suffer all, even death, to bring us back to Him. To cross the great divorce between God and man because of our sin. To make us holy and clean so that we can stand in the presence of our Holy God and Creator, and not face death, but life eternal! This is why the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential to our faith, and must be defended by all believers, even to our own death! There was no fear in death for the disciples who died for their confession of Jesus Christ. There was no fear because Christ had removed the sting of death by taking away all our sin. This is the hope that can’t be removed from the Christian faith: the hope of the Resurrection from the dead. That just as we confess in the Creed: that I believe in the…“resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

So also, when we believe in the Risen Christ, our minds are opened to understand the Scriptures rightly. The veil is lifted and we can see that Christ is the Key and center to all God has revealed in the Scripture. We begin to read the Scriptures in a new light, the Light of Christ. We see how all the Old Testament points forward to Him, as the fulfillment of God’s promises. And we see how all the New Testament points us back to Him as the source and center of our faith and life. Like the disciples, we come to realize that the cross was not the tragic failure of God’s plan, but rather it was where Christ accomplished His victory over sin and death. We therefore proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the center of our message to all the world. Because His death was not in vain, but He has risen, risen to give us life, to give us a share in His Resurrection from the dead. So we can say with all boldness, together with St. Paul, “Christ in fact has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

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