Monday, March 28, 2016

Sermon on Luke 24:1-12, for Easter, The Resurrection of our Lord, "More than Seeing"

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
When we see the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, what do we see? Someone could be a smart aleck, and say “None of us ‘saw’ the resurrection of Jesus.” But neither did you see the birth or death of George Washington, or Caesar crossing Rubicon River to provoke revolution in the Roman Empire. But of course none of us can “see” anything that happened outside our natural lifetime, except to believe the reports of reliable historians and eyewitnesses. And so today you hear the reliable report of the historian and Gospel writer Luke, who along with hundreds of eyewitnesses, records for us the unmistakable miracle of Jesus rising from death, and walking out of His now empty tomb, in a living, physical body. So what do you “see” or “perceive” about this historical event, that changed world history for the past 2,000 years?
Some of what we can see, the first eyewitnesses were unable to perceive on that first Sunday morning. They did not perceive at first that it was even possible. True, they had seen Jesus raise others from the dead—sometimes within hours of a person’s death—and in the case of Lazarus, even 4 days after he had died. But certainly that was not the same as Jesus dying Himself, and then raising Himself from the grave! At first, they couldn’t even conceive this as a possibility. They came to the tomb to find Jesus’ corpse, to honor Him with their burial customs. They did not come to the tomb to find it empty! But that’s just what they found!
How would you react if you went to a wake or a funeral, for someone whom you loved, and upon arriving, were greeted by angels, saying, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen!” You would be beside yourself with amazement and disbelief, just like the women and disciples. Nature moves us inevitably toward aging and ultimately death, and not even advances in health or cosmetic treatments can halt or reverse that universal pattern. Physical death seems universal, absolute, and final. But in contradiction to that, stands the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He leaves His tomb, not as a ghost or phantom, but as the Living Lord Jesus, in the flesh and blood body, still marked with the scars from the nails, and the spear in His side. In contradiction to the seeming finality of death, is the risen Jesus.
No scientific analysis can explain that—but any human with eyes to see can tell when a person is alive, walking, eating, talking, and well. And every Roman soldier on guard at a crucifixion was required by the threat of his very life, to be dead certain that the criminals under their charge were completely and utterly dead before removing them from the cross. The Romans dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s, by breaking the legs of criminals still alive, and in Jesus’ case, spearing His already breathless, lifeless body, to bring forth the flow of blood and water. There could be no uncertainty about either of the two facts: 1) Jesus was confirmed dead, and 2) He was confirmed alive again, three days later. Paul numbers the eyewitness of this as over 500, beyond the women and 11 apostles.
 So what do you see or perceive, when you are confronted by these two facts? One modern theologian has said, “If you want to make the absoluteness of bodily death the cornerstone of your entire worldview, I can’t stop you. If you choose to say here I stand, death is the end and nobody ever comes back from it and that’s just the way it is…well that’s where a lot of people were in the ancient world and that’s where a lot of people are in the modern world. I think that view is radically challenged by the strong evidence that points to the Resurrection of Jesus, but it’s up to somebody what they do with that challenge.” (–N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham).
For the person who is still in that place, that death is the end and nobody comes back from it, you have to either wrestle with or ignore the evidence. Assuming that most or all of you here today, believe instead that Jesus is really alive from His grave, and has defeated death—then there is much more that simply seeing the fact that He is alive, but what do you perceive Jesus’ resurrection means for us? Does it change your life? How you see what’s around you?
The women at the tomb needed a reminder—a reminder of the words of Jesus. The angels said, “Remember how He told you…” Through their grief, confusion, and perplexity, they needed a reminder of Jesus’ words, to realize that He had already told them He was going to die and rise! We need a reminder—whether we’ve heard that Jesus is risen only one time, or if we’ve heard it a thousand times—we need a reminder that Jesus said these things would be so, and He did it! The repetition of life, or the fears and worries of our world, can all dull and cloud our memory. They can lull us into a restless sleep, where we live an act as though Jesus were not really alive. All sorts of distractions and busyness can keep us from living with the alertness and clarity of a faith that lives and acts on the grounds that Jesus Christ really is risen from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
So hearing the reminder of the angels, hearing again the words of Jesus, believe those words, that death does not have the final say, but Jesus Christ is the firstborn from the dead. He is alive! And yes, your life changes because that is true! First of all, see and perceive this—sin is the recipe for death. Or to put it in the words of Scripture, the wages, or payment of sin, is death. Death traces back to our sin problem. But Jesus’ death on the cross fills in our sin solution! Hung on the tree for our offenses, nailed to the cross with all the legal demands and accusations of our guilt, Jesus ended the record of debt that God’s law held toward us. Hang up your sin problem on the cross of Jesus, and take your sins there, in sorrow, and repentance, asking for your Lord’s mercy, to take them away. And as surely as Christ is risen from the dead, so surely does He want repentance and the forgiveness of sins, to be proclaimed in His name to every nation.
You can live life choking and buried under the burden of your sin and guilt, or you can come to Jesus and hang it up on the cross, because Jesus has already bore your sin for you. Jesus alive from His grave, means that your sin really does have a solution, and that believing in Jesus Christ really is the way to be free—free indeed!
Life changes now that Christ is risen from the dead, because you also live in Christ Jesus. Jesus sent His disciples to baptize—and 2,000 years later, baptized in those same waters, we are buried with Christ, and raised up to newness of life. See that Jesus risen from the dead, means you walk with Him in newness of life. The old has gone, the new has come. Day by day, we put that old sinful nature to death, repenting of our sin, dying to ourselves, so that day by day a new person might daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Far from being “cut loose” from Jesus to face the enemies of sin and death on your own—you are baptismally “joined in” to Christ Jesus, for Him to defeat those enemies on your behalf. Simply receive. What must I do to be saved? Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Believe the Holy Gospel! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
See, perceive, and believe the resurrection victory of Jesus Christ for you. Know that by constantly being immersed and flooded with the Word of Jesus Christ—by bringing the Word of God constantly to your remembrance—God works to drive away sin and fear and doubt from your heart. Only the work of the Holy Spirit can transform our hearts from a state of doubt, perplexity, and uncertainty, like the disciples on that first Easter morning, to a state of faith, clarity, and confidence.
When this earthly life confronts us with the specter of death—whether a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one, the threat of terror, or whatever—then we have the Word of Jesus Christ, and the Risen Lord Jesus Himself, to drive back that fear, and to create in us a new confidence. The confidence that says, “If the Lord Jesus is mine, then not even death can separate me from His love.” The confidence that entrusts our dying loved ones to the care and mercy of Almighty God, and that we proclaim to them the same victory over death, that Jesus promises to all who believe in His name. The confidence that says, “I would forsake all things, even my own life, rather than deny Jesus Christ my Lord.” As I said two weeks ago, we can count everything in this life as loss, for the sake of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. He is worth more than anything, and if I am His, the loss of everything is insignificant by comparison.
So I ask you again—what do you “see” when you see the resurrection of our Lord Jesus? You have seen that death is not the invincible absolute—but that Jesus has conquered it. You see that sin is deadly, and death is beyond our repair—but that Jesus Christ has died for sins and become our sin solution, and the Way to Everlasting Life. You see that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature will use all possible means to cause us to fall into spiritual sleep, doubt, fear, confusion or despair, if by any means possible, to make us forget that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord. You see that newness of life is possible, because you live and walk in Jesus, in the baptismal grace and calling that He has given to you. What can we do but give thanks and praise Him, and sing our loud Alleluias and fall down in worship before Him? What can we do but glorify and honor Him, and tell the great deeds that our God has done! Today is the day to praise our Lord and our King, and to celebrate His victory! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

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