Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon on Luke 24:36-49, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter. "Jesus Speaks Peace to Our Fears!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. When Jesus reentered the world of the disciples for the first time after Easter, He was entering a world of fear. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed by Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and it appeared as though mankind’s greatest enemy had stolen their greatest hope. In the Gospel for today, we’ll look at how Jesus enters our world of fears and speaks peace to our fears. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples were gathered to talk about these things, after several of them and the women had seen the resurrected Lord. Even with these eyewitness reports, there was still an uneasy fear and apprehension that gripped them. They weren’t quite ready to fully believe this, or even understand what it all meant. We’re often in their company. Even with the knowledge of the resurrection, both for Christ and for our eternal hope, we’re gripped by fear and apprehension when death approaches. There’s no doubt that we want to believe in the resurrection, just like them. But like the disciples, death seems just a cold, hard fact, and to have witnessed Jesus’ brutal death…it seemed impossible that this could be reversed. We have difficulty fitting the resurrection into our frame of thinking. They saw a human body reduced to shambles; a body “from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3b). Marred, beaten, bloody, and speared. Death seemed inescapably destructive. Jesus’ body was in shambles, then dead. Like a vise crushing out any hope. Who hasn’t thought the same after seeing someone suffering great illness or pain? A body in shambles?

Yet into our world of fear and doubt, Jesus enters in and speaks peace to our fears. He knows that our finite minds have difficulty grasping that something so ugly and complete as death can be reversed. That the very body that died can be gloriously raised and restored, in even greater life than before. So He walks in among the disciples and speaks peace: “Peace to you!” The jolt of seeing Him alive at first startles and frightens—is He a spirit?!? But so they may know for certain that He isn’t a disembodied spirit, He shows them Him His hands and feet and extends them to the disciples to touch and see. Flesh and bones! Restored! Healthy and whole! But with the nail prints of His love still engraved on His palms (Is. 49:16). Even then they were disbelieving for joy. Their small world of fear and their little frame of thinking that couldn’t accommodate this radical truth, was being transformed and burst open. Life was proving stronger than death. Jesus’ Life.

When our bodies decline and age, do we begin to hate the body that God has given? But this is the body He’ll restore! Do we begin to idolize having a different one?? What is the message that advertising and movie stars and magazines subtly sell us? The message that average or ordinary bodies aren’t good enough! That we need to chase after an impossible ideal to feel satisfied. But the body we’ll have resurrected from our graves isn’t going to be sick or diseased, or broken in any way. It won’t be flawed as we see it. But it’ll be our body, restored and glorified like Jesus’ was—all the death and brutality that had been inflicted on His body, undone. And when we rise, all the death and disease, the crippling handicaps and the mental ailments, will be undone. The curse of sin will have been lifted, and all its debilitating effects will be erased. We’ll have our bodies as they should’ve been.

Disbelieving for joy would’ve been the response we’d have, seeing a dying grandparent, with their body and mind nearly gone, and wracked in pain, then die, and to see them three days later, alive and vigorous and healthy. But so glowing with life and vitality that you couldn’t even believe it was them you were seeing. They would look even better and more alive than you ever remembered them being. An ageless look, but radiant. This is what they’ll be someday. This is what you’ll be someday if you trust in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. It would be like the difference of seeing some faded, grainy, black and white photograph, compared to seeing the real living person face to face in 3-D, in glorious health. The difference would seem so great, that you could hardly recognize them, hardly believe your eyes. But it still would be them, really them.

Jesus’ resurrection appearances spoke peace to their confusion and failure to understand the Old Testament scriptures. His appearance put the puzzle pieces into place, so they could clearly see the picture that all their fragmented teachings and beliefs and worship practices pointed toward. Jesus opened their minds to all the Scripture written concerning Him, so that they could see this was all in God’s plan, and that these events brought into fulfillment all the Scriptures. We struggle with the same lack of understanding of the Old Testament that the disciples did, even though they were much more well-versed in the Scriptures than us. We often read the Old Testament as a book of dead history, or of obscure laws. We tend to read it like they did, with a veil over their minds. The Scriptures are still a closed book, so long as we read them without Christ in view. Jesus in these verses shows that He’s the heart of Scripture, the linchpin, the center in which all things hold together, the golden thread that runs through the Scriptures. Because of this, Luther wrote that if you cut a page from Scripture, it bleeds Christ.

Through Christ we understand the sacrificial system that led to His one perfect sacrifice. The principle of the innocent animal dying in place of the guilty, taught them the substitution that was perfected in Christ for our salvation. Through Christ we see the resolution of God’s wrath and His love. We see the resolution of His Word of Law to convict and condemn sin, and His Word of Gospel to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Israel’s whole history was an unfolding picture of what salvation would be in Christ. The Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, led by the hand of Moses, depicted the deliverance that Christ would accomplish by leading us from the captivity of sin, and delivering the Church from the devil’s yoke of slavery through the washing of baptism, like in the Red Sea. Christ Himself fed them with spiritual food and drink in the wilderness, the water from the Rock and the manna from heaven. He’s for us the Living Water and the Bread of Life. All the Old Testament lived and breathed Christ, and created the precise context and place for His arrival in history during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when Jesus was born in the humble manger. And Christ’s resurrection gave them the clarity to understand all the Scriptures in this light.

In the light of the Resurrection, we begin to see how everything Jesus endured and suffered was Divine Necessity. Jesus said it was necessary for Him to suffer and die in this way, then to be raised after three days. So much of Christianity today does NOT treat Jesus death as though it were necessary. Christians that have grown accustomed to being the majority in society, or accustomed to having society generally look favorably on the church begin to get comfortable with this acceptance. Not wanting to lose the favor of society, we start to minimize the death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection. We start to hide it or move it into the background, to take away the offense of the cross. But the offense of the cross is the very heart and center of the Gospel! This is the saving message, and we cannot hide it or make it secondary to whatever part of Christianity personally pleases us the most. This is the message that Christ brings to speak peace to our fear, and to our guilt from sin.

Jesus’ blood shed on the cross and His resurrection speak peace to repentant sinners. He speaks peace to us, so that we may know our sins are forgiven in Him.

So this message of the cross and resurrection must stand at the forefront of the Christian proclamation, so that we carry out Jesus’ command to the disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem.” There can be no replacements or substitutes, the cross and resurrection cannot fade into the background. For on these are founded the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. This is no philosophical teaching to be relegated to the ivory towers and the philosophical debate halls. This was a message for every man and every woman, a message that HAD to get out and had to be heard. It was not a lifeless, inert message. It was life-changing and life-giving. This news couldn’t stay with the disciples.

So there was one more fear that had to be cast out—one more fear to which Jesus spoke peace. That was the fear of going out and proclaiming this message to all. Knowing that the same doubts and apprehensions, the same fear and disbelieving joy would be felt by those who heard this incredible Easter news. Fear that some would reject this message and persecute them for their beliefs. Some would die for what they saw and believed. Others faced the scorn of the people. Many of us feel that same fear in trying to speak up and tell others about God. A fear that rarely is present in the faith of a child, who can boldly tell what Jesus has done. But Jesus speaks peace to this fear as well.

For the disciples, this would require boldness and courage that they lacked on the night on which He was betrayed. It would require a stamina and determination that would weather brutal opposition to their message. They would face the very people who had put Jesus to death and had the power to do the same to them, and proclaim to them that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and brings them forgiveness. Don’t be surprised that you too will face opposition to what you share if you tell people the good news about Jesus. But everything required was supplied in full by the eyewitness of the resurrection and the power from on high—the Holy Spirit. The courage and boldness they lacked before, was now confirmed by having seen and touched Jesus with their own eyes and hands. They received the power from on High when the Holy Spirit filled them on Pentecost. The same Holy Spirit that transformed the men hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, is the Holy Spirit that dwells in you and gives you faith. The Spirit send by Jesus, who speaks peace to our fears, and who gives us the courage to speak.

The Spirit creates in us an attitude that looks at every person, and knows that “This is a person for whom Christ died, and they need to know that.” That we eagerly desire to tell this message to everyone, not under compulsion or fear, but out of a desire for them to share the peace that we know in Christ. He has spoken peace to us, so that our fear of death has been answered by the Word of His Resurrection. He has spoken peace to us so that our doubts and misunderstandings are answered by His Word of Certainty and Truth. He has spoken peace to us so that our guilt and sin are answered for in His precious blood that speaks a better Word than the blood of Abel. He has spoken peace to our fear of sharing His good news, so that His Spirit of boldness may fill our hearts and lives with the readiness to speak the Gospel of Peace. For there is no room for fear, when Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. What are some ways we express our fears about death, and how does that leave us without peace? How do we try to hide ourselves from death, rather than facing it?

2. How does Jesus speak peace to the disciples’ (and our) fear about death? What doubts about the resurrection did He allay?

3. How is our understanding of the Old Testament, and Scripture as a whole, incomplete without the knowledge and centrality of Christ? How does Scripture seem without Christ? With Christ?

4. What made Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection an act of Divine Necessity? Why did these things have to be so?

5. What was the consequence for the disciples of hearing and seeing this resurrection for themselves? What message must now go out? (re-read Luke 24:45-49).

6. How did the disciples, and how do we, gain the courage and confidence to share this message with others? How does Christ’s resurrection awaken us to the need of others to hear this message?

7. What makes this message essential to all who live in a world of fear?

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