The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord—21 April 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Mark 16:1–8): 1  When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  7 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.”  8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)

Before being led away to be crucified, Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. Pilate [asked Jesus], “What is truth?”, but then did not hang around to receive Jesus’ reply (John 18:37-38).

What is truth?the world answers that question by saying there is no such thing as objective truth. That is the age in which we live—the age of relativity. Relativity says that you have your truth and I have my truth, but your truth is only true for you and my truth is only true for me. This view of truth says that Jesus’ resurrection is true only for those who believe it to be true. And for those who don’t believe, Jesus is still in the tomb. There is no objective truth that is true for all people, for all time—so says Relativity.

But Jesus says otherwise: I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Jesus is objectively and in fact the only way to God the Father; Jesus is the eternal truth through whom is revealed the true nature of God; Jesus is the sole Source of life and salvation. This all is true, whether or not you believe it. Jesus being the eternal Son of the living God and dying and rising again to save sinners—it is not our faith that makes this true. And people’s unbelief cannot make this untrue. Rather, the resurrection of Jesus is a real, historic event that is objectively true for all people, for all time. 

Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!). Yes, Jesus is the Son of God and He truly rose from the dead. But we do not try to prove this to those who are outside the faith. That would be a hopeless venture, if ever there was one! Oh, there is sound evidence for the resurrection. But all the evidence in the world will not convert those who insist on not believing. And so, rather than try to argue people into the faith, we simply invite those who do not believe to come join us as we hear God speak to us from the Scriptures and then see for themselves. Only after they taste firsthand that the Lord is good will they be persuaded that blessed [are those] who takes refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). I would encourage you to consider the evidence for the resurrection. But in the end, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). And the word of Christ here means above all the Word about Christ, the Word in which we meet Jesus, our risen Saviour. And that Word is indeed the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible.

The Bible proclaims that in Jesus we receive God’s grace. Now, some Christians mistakenly think that grace is something within us, a substance which, if we are not careful, we can run out of, like gas in a car. Perhaps that explains why some people justify going so long without attending church. “Well, I still have some grace in my heart, so I’ll wait to go to church until I’ve completely run dry.” 

But that is not grace at all. Grace is not something within us. Rather, grace is something within God, the attitude God has for us sinners now that Jesus has died on the cross in our place and has risen from the dead. Grace is God’s goodness toward sinners for the sake of Jesus. And what’s more, God does not change His attitude from one day to the next; His grace—His goodness toward us undeserving sinners for the sake of Christ—His grace is steadfast and eternal. This grace is the last thing we would have predicted coming from God, seeing how we are sinners who deserve eternal damnation. Grace is God’s unbelievable goodness, the not-to-be-expected goodness of God, that bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus.

Today’s Easter Gospel is the account of people who are not expecting God’s grace, God’s goodness, and who are utterly blown away by it. For the risen Christ comes to them, to forgive them, to restore them, to give them His peace.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had instructed His disciples: You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44). But rather than following the command of Jesus to love their enemies, the disciples had instead gone over to the enemy. In the Garden of Gethsemane, they fled, abandoning Jesus when He was arrested. And then, with the exception of John, rather than standing boldly at the foot of the cross in loyalty to their Lord, they went into hiding, fearful of being arrested. Jesus could have said of His disciples, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”. 

From the night Jesus was arrested to Easter morning, the disciples acted like the enemies of Jesus. But then Jesus rises from the dead with healing for those who have gone astray. And in the risen Christ, the disciples sees Love, Love for the undeserving, Love even for the enemies of God. In the little detail of the angel saying to the women at the tomb—But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee—we see that the resurrected Christ has love even for the disciple who had acted the most like an enemy by denying he even knew Jesus.

Today’s Easter Gospel is the account of people who had lived as the Lord’s enemies and who were not expecting God’s grace, God’s goodness, and who are utterly blown away by the risen Christ loving them, forgiving them, giving them His peace, restoring them to be His true disciples and followers.

And this incredibly forgiving grace is personal, as God’s grace always is. What the disciples tell of Easter is not a witness to a Force, a Power, a tentative hypothesis, or an abstract belief; rather, the disciples bear witness to a Person, to Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had known and followed and who now has risen from the dead as evidence of God’s grace, God’s goodness toward undeserving sinners. Already before Good Friday, the disciples had confessed Jesus as the Son of the living God; now, with Easter, they know that the life of the resurrected Christ is an indestructible and eternal life.

The disciples now know their hope to be fixed on an eternal truth, which is true regardless of how many refuse to believe it. The risen Christ implanted in His disciples the certainty of eternal life in Him. And same is true for Christ’s Church in every age—even in this age of relativity. The risen Christ breathes into His Church the certainty of eternal life in Him. 

And the eternal life of which we are certain is not merely the immortality of the soul. That is not our Christian hope. Rather, when we commit to the ground the remains of our loved ones who have died in the Lord, we do so in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself (taken from the Committal service). For you and me and for all who confess Christ Jesus as Lord, the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day is simply the inevitable consequence of our Lord’s resurrection. The gates of death shall not prevail against the Church simply because they did not prevail against Christ. He has broken through those gates. This is objectively, eternally true! 

In today’s Easter Gospel, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome  receive the angel’s message that the Jesus who was crucified is now risen. And then, the women flee from the tomb, trembling with fear and astonishment. It is the response you might have when you receive such incredibly good news that you fear that it might not be true but at the same time you are astonished by the possibility that it is true. I guess today we would simply say they were utterly blown away. So blown away that it would take time for this Good News to sink in and take hold.

The women had come to the tomb with spices to anoint the lifeless body of Jesus. They were not expecting the stone to be rolled back. They were not expecting to see an angel and hear him proclaim the risen Christ. They were not expecting to hear of the risen Lord wanting to see His deadbeat disciples, even singling out Peter as one of the objects of His love. And when the disciples finally saw their risen Saviour later that same day, they too were utterly blown away by the risen Christ loving them, forgiving them, giving them His peace, restoring them to be His true disciples and followers.

The Gospel theme on which we are focusing this Easter is that no one was expecting God’s grace, God’s goodness, coming through the risen Christ. The women at the tomb and the disciples had all gone over to the enemy, for they had all given up on Jesus. No one expected Jesus to rise from the dead. No one expected God to keep His promise to save sinners through His only-begotten Son.

And the same is true of us all. Each of us in our own way has lived as God’s enemy. We have lived as though there were no God and we have instead worshipped the passing things of this fallen world. Like the disciples, we have abandoned Christ through our unholy living and our unbelief. Whether you never miss a Sunday in church or you haven’t been in church since Christmas, we all have lived lives in opposition to God, lives turned inward upon ourselves. We lives our lives not expecting, perhaps not even wanting God to be good and gracious to us for the sake of Jesus. And what we all deserve is not God’s goodness at all but His fierce and eternal condemnation.

But the Good News of Easter is that Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!). If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we would still be unforgiven sinners, then we would be facing a condemning judgment, then heaven would be closed forever to us. But again, the Good News of Easter is that Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!). Christ died and rose again so that we who were God’s enemies are now reconciled to God our Father and saved by the life of His dear Son (see Romans 5:10).

Two months ago, our dear sister Lorraine was admitted to the hospital. At first, she did not know she was dying. But she knew she needed her Saviour Jesus. In my first visit, she said to me: “Pastor, I am so weak and helpless, and I have no strength”. To confess that you are weak and helpless, with no strength of your own, is actually a good place to be. For in the hardships of life and in our deepest sorrows, the hidden hand of God is at work. He is not making us stronger in ourselves but making us despair of our strength so that we truly live and die in the strength that only He can provide. He is not making us better people who think they do not need a Saviour; rather, He is revealing just how bad we are and how we have live as though God were our enemy, all so that we may find in Christ the riches of our Father’s goodness, His grace toward undeserving sinners.

To you and to me and to all who confess that we are weak and helpless and that we have lived as God’s enemies, Easter is quite the surprise—and not just the shock of Jesus’ resurrection, but also the surprise of receiving such unexpected Good News, the news of God’s grace, God’s goodness for us undeserving sinners. 

This Easter morning, we should all be utterly blown away by the risen Christ loving us, forgiving us, giving us His peace, making and restoring us to be His true disciples and followers. For that is exactly what is happening this morning. The risen Christ comes to us through His Holy Word and His Holy Absolution—which reconnects us to our baptism—and His Holy Supper. We come this morning with broken, contrite hearts, confessing our sins. And Jesus comes in His grace, His goodness, which we do not deserve. He comes, not to turn us away or to turn His back on us or to say we are too sinful and unworthy of His love. Rather, He comes to forgive us and to give us the blessed hope of the resurrection of our bodies to life everlasting. Because He lives, we, too, will live and behold Christ in glory. For our Saviour Jesus has promised: I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25–26). And so, sin, death, and the devil have lost their grip on us, for God’s goodness in Christ is greater than all evil and Christ has won the victory of our salvation. And now, God has placed in us indestructible life by faith in Christ, the living Saviour. Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!). To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!