The Day of Resurrection

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on Matthew 28:1-10

Dear victors over death: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The women who went to the tomb hadn’t really thought things through. Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, they headed to the tomb where they had seen Jesus’ lifeless body laid with their own eyes. They went with spices to prepare Jesus’ body for permanent burial.

These women had some impediments to accomplishing their task, however. There was a great stone in front of the entrance of the tomb. That great stone was sealed so that it would not be moved. Further, Pilate had given the Jews a guard of soldiers to keep the tomb as secure as possible. The greatest impediment of all, of course, was the fact that Jesus was not in the tomb and He was no longer dead.

The great stone was guarding an empty tomb. The seal, still secure in its place, gave no evidence of the fact that Jesus was no longer there. The guards were securing nothing more than grave cloths in an otherwise vacant grave.

The great stone, the seal, and the guards were no impediment for Jesus to rise from the dead. The angel makes a show of this, mocking such pathetic attempts to keep Jesus in the grave.

The angel caused a great earthquake. Why? He could have moved the stone without an earthquake. The angel’s appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. Why? Oftentimes, angels would appear looking like regular men. He made the guards become like dead men, like they were nothing. Why? They were no threat to him. He sat on the stone he had rolled away. Why? He wasn’t tired. He didn’t need to sit down to rest. He sat on the stone for the same reason he did all the other spectacular things. He did it to mock these insignificant, pathetic attempts to keep Jesus in the grave. This tiny little rock is going to keep Jesus in the tomb? This joke of a seal is supposed to do something? Those soldiers that are like dead men are supposed to secure something? That’s laughable!

Even more, the angel mocks death. Is that all you got? Is that your best shot? O grave, where is your victory? You swallowed up the Son of God, the one who laid the earth’s foundations. You took the life of the one on whom all the sins of the world were laid. Is that your victory?

No, that is no victory. As the angel shows, the grave is empty. The grave could not hold its prey.

Because Jesus had all of our sins on Him, and because He died for us and in our place, and because He rose from the dead, the grave will have no victory when we die either. Death has lost its strength and power.

Death can threaten all it likes. It can try to intimidate with illness and disease, with accidents and catastrophes, but death is impotent. Death can threaten as our bodies fail, as we grow weak and tired, and as we suffer loneliness and depression.

But the angel mocks you, o death. The angel makes a spectacle of how powerless and pathetic you are.

We join the angel. We mock you, o death. Is that all you got? Is that your best shot? O grave, where is your victory? Where is your sting? You are powerless and pathetic.

We will die, but that is no victory for the grave. No great stones or seals or guards of soldiers will keep us in the grave any more than they kept Jesus in the grave.

Our sins will not keep us in the grave. Our sins were put on Jesus, Jesus died for them, and He rose from the dead. Our sins have been removed from us. They’ve been taken away by the Lamb of God and they are no longer ours.

Our tombs will be empty, like Jesus’ tomb is empty. Then we will have a real spectacle as all who died in Christ are raised to eternal life. We will see all the sights and sounds of heaven in their spectacular glory, and be with our risen Lord for eternity.

Christ has taken away all the impediments that would stand in the way of our eternal life. He has given us His Word of truth which keeps us from following the lies of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He has called us as His own through the waters of Holy Baptism, and thus separated us from the hosts of unbelievers. He gives us His resurrected body and blood to eat and drink so that we will live forever as He lives forever.

So, yes, we mock death. Death is now for us nothing more than a slumber from which Christ will awaken us on the Last Day. When we die, then we will really be alive with Jesus, while our bodies sleep, waiting for the day of resurrection. We go through death only to follow Jesus out of death, victorious because Jesus has given us victory over death. Jesus’ death has swallowed up death. Death has lost its sting forever. So, it doesn’t matter what or who is guarding our tombs on the day of resurrection, because we won’t be there. Our graves will be empty because Jesus grave is empty. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

He is Risen!

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on Luke 24:1-12 (Is. 65:17-25; 1 Cor. 15:19-26)

Dear disciples who have the promise of the resurrection: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples didn’t just lose a close friend on Good Friday. They lost their Master and Teacher. They lost their Lord who was supposed to be ushering in a new kingdom in which they were supposed to sit on thrones. They lost all hope.

They had spent three years with Jesus, learning from Him and witnessing Him perform miracles and powerful signs. They believed that Jesus was their Redeemer, who would rescue them and all mankind from every evil. They believed that nothing could prevent the coming of kingdom of God.

Their hopes had been dashed. Two of the disciples confessed as much on the road to Emmaus. “We had hoped He would be the one to redeem Israel,” they said (Luke 24:21). They had hoped, but hoped so no longer. They had lost all hope.

They thought Jesus was God’s promised Saviour. Jesus had taught them for years, shown His power, and taught like no human could teach. Whenever He had been threatened or attacked before, it came to nothing. Jesus had simply walked away from an angry mob that tried to throw Him off a cliff. The angry rulers had been trying to kill Him for a long time, but unsuccessfully. When they had picked up stones to kill Him in the Temple, Jesus escaped from them with ease.

The disciples didn’t understand why, after all that, Jesus let Himself be arrested. They thought they’d be ushering in a new kingdom with Jesus. Peter pulled out his sword against an army, ready to fight by himself; that’s how much he believed in the kingdom of Jesus.

But then Jesus died. His death was witnessed by many, some watching with great sorrow; others with great delight. His death was confirmed by the centurion, and just for good measure a spear pierced Jesus’ side resulting in the flow of blood and water. Then His corpse was laid in a stone-cold tomb. Jesus was dead. Everything was lost. No kingdom. No teacher. No Jesus. No hope.

The disciples’ faith had been crushed. They ran in fear. They had abandoned their Lord at His arrest and then after His death they went into hiding behind locked doors, cowering in terror. They were afraid that they would be killed next.

Jesus had told them many times that He would die, but the disciples didn’t understand. Even when the women came from the tomb telling them that He had arisen, they thought the women were telling idle tales. The women kept insisting but the disciples would not believe. After all, who has ever seen anyone rise from the dead? When do you ever go to the tomb of a loved one and expect them have risen and be alive? The women also did not go to Jesus’ tomb expecting to find Him alive, but they went with spices to prepare His body for permanent burial. It was the empty tomb and the message of the two angels reminding them of what Jesus had told them that gave them faith again. “Remember how He told you… that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise?” (vv. 6-7)

The resurrection of Jesus was not just a reunion with a friend who had died. It was the return of hope. It was the return of faith.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples had nothing. They had the promises of a dead man. They had more questions than answers in trying to understand what had happened. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples would have been witnesses of the victory of sin, death, and the devil over Jesus.

On Good Friday, the powers of death did their worst. The devil and his angels attacked with all their might. Sin and hell stung with all their strength and the Law of God accused with all its force. If Jesus is still dead, then sin, death, and the devil rule.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, you have nothing. You only have death and hell in your future. If Christ has not been raised, then my preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (I Cor. 15:14). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (I Cor. 15:17); then there is no reunion with your loved ones in heaven; then you’re wasting your time coming to church today because there is no forgiveness of sins to be had here; then Baptism is an empty circus show and the Lord’s Supper is not the medicine of immortality but just a farce.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Cor. 15:20) We have been redeemed and rescued from every evil. Jesus had to die to save us. “[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (SC II.2). His death is the very thing that paid the price and took the punishment of our sins.

Jesus’ resurrection was also necessary to prove that He conquered sin, death, and the devil. His resurrection was necessary to prove that God the Father accepted His death as payment for our sins; as a substitute in our place. His resurrection was necessary to show that the strife is over, the battle done; that the victor’s triumph is won. The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed (LSB 464 st. 1, 2). Sin, death, and the devil have been conquered.

Further, it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that brought about the kingdom of God. Jesus is the promised Saviour, but unlike the expectations of the disciples, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus told as much to Pilate during His trial. Jesus has a new heavens and a new earth waiting for us in His eternal kingdom. We heard about this kingdom in our Old Testament lesson – it will be a joy and a gladness and no weeping will be heard there or the cry of distress; the wolf and the lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw like an ox; no one will hurt or destroy in all by holy mountain, says the Lord (Is. 65:17-25).

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we do not have eternal death or hell in our future. My preaching is not in vain and neither is your faith futile because they are firmly grounded in the promises of Jesus, our risen Saviour. Further, you are no longer in your sins. Jesus has paid for them and removed them from you. You have a promised reunion with your loved ones who have died in the faith. You’re not wasting your time coming to church today and every Sunday because there is forgiveness of sins given freely here. Baptism is being buried with Jesus into His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). The Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality because it gives the forgiveness of sins as Jesus promised (Matt. 26:28).

And because Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, His resurrection is the promise of our resurrection. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) Buried into the death and resurrection of Christ we have the promise that just as He rose from the dead, so we will rise also. Buried into Jesus’ death and resurrection we have the promise of eternal life in His kingdom.

Jesus is risen! Alleluia! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Seeing is Not Believing

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear people who have not seen and yet have believed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Thomas gets a bad rap. He’s even given the title “doubting.” “Doubting Thomas” has even become a label given to others when they express distrust or disbelief.

Now, in a way, Thomas certainly deserves blame since he did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when the other disciples told him. And Thomas didn’t just doubt Jesus’ resurrection. He disbelieved it. He didn’t doubt that it happened. He believed that it did not happen. He didn’t say to the other disciples, “I doubt that you really saw the Lord.” He said, “I will never believe.”

But why point the finger at Thomas alone? He wasn’t alone in his unbelief. Last week we heard how the women at the tomb responded to the words of the angel that Jesus had risen. They didn’t believe the words of the angel, but they fled the tomb with trembling, astonishment, and fear (Mk. 16:8). The women didn’t believe the good news that’s why they were still living in fear. They were too scared to even tell anyone what they had seen and heard. Finally, they did tell the disciples the good news the angel had told them, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Lk. 24:11) The disciples didn’t believe the women. The disciples went into hiding. The disciples were scared. The disciples did not believe.

But when Jesus came into their locked room, giving them His peace, then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus showed them His hands and His side and only then did they believe.

But Thomas wasn’t with them. That’s why he didn’t believe. He didn’t see what the other disciples had seen. The other disciples believed now that they had seen their risen Saviour for themselves. But Thomas didn’t believe their report any more than they had earlier believed the women’s report. They were all in the same situation: they did not believe until they had seen Jesus’ resurrected body for themselves.

Where does this leave us? Where does it leave all of us who have not seen our risen Lord? Where does it leave us who have not seen in Jesus’ hands the mark of the nails and who have not placed our fingers into the mark of the nails or placed our hand into His side? Do we really need to see in order to believe?

The scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus. They heard Him teaching. They saw Him healing, performing miracles, and even raising the dead. Did they believe because of what they had seen? For the most part, no, they did not believe. What they had seen only made them want to kill Jesus! After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they decided that they are going to kill Lazarus as well, in addition to killing Jesus (Jn. 12:10)! Seeing is not believing.

In fact, sometimes what we see contradicts what God’s Word says. God says that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). That’s not what we see in the intensive care unit of the hospital. We see suffering. We don’t see good. God says that whoever believes in Him, even though he die, yet shall he live (Jn. 11:25). When we stand over our loved one’s casket we don’t see life. We see only death. We cannot see what is real, only what is earthly.

St Paul writes, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) What we see is temporary; it is passing; it is not permanent. The things that we do not see are eternal, enduring, and permanent.

Luke gives us a little more information on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. After Jesus showed them His wounds, Luke writes that they still disbelieved (Lk. 24:41). It was not until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they believed (Lk. 24:45). The disciples did not believe because they saw Jesus, but because He opened their minds to believe through His Word. They believed because they were given faith. Jesus gave them faith through His Word.

But notice what happened after Jesus had given the disciples faith in His first appearance to them. They went back into hiding! They went back behind locked doors! Jesus had appeared to them and given them faith. He had absolved them of their abandoning Him, of their fear, and of their unbelief. He had stood among them and given them His peace – His peace of forgiveness; His peace of absolution. Yet the disciples still went back into the locked room even after seeing Jesus alive – they needed Jesus’ absolution again! Jesus again appears to them in their fear and cowardice, behind locked doors. Jesus again gives them His peace; His absolution; His forgiveness.

This is the reality of life for us also. We receive absolution, but the forgiven sins don’t just go away. Our memory of those sins doesn’t just disappear. Our sinful inclination to fall again into the same sin remains in us. The sinful, doubting nature will not leave us until we die. Thus, we need absolution again. We need the Lord’s Supper again. We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again.

We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again and again as we see things that happen to us that appear bad. We need to receive Jesus’ peace when we see suffering and temptation, when we see fear and death. We need to hear God’s Word that tells us what is real; His Word that gives us faith. We need God’s Word that fixes our eyes of faith on what we do not see, not on what we do see.

And Jesus does not leave us in want. He sends His ministers to proclaim His peace as we heard in our text, saying, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

When I speak absolution to you, it is not my absolution, but God’s. That’s why it “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC V). It is Jesus who gives you peace. That’s why I hold His body and blood up for you to see as I speak His word of peace to you just before you receive the Sacrament of the Altar, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” It is through His body and blood that was given for you on Calvary that you receive forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus died for your sins to give you peace. That’s why He appeared to His disciples and the first thing He said was, “Peace be with you.” He showed the disciples His wounds through which He earned us peace.

So, peace be with you. The peace that the world cannot give (Jn 14:27); the peace that we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1); the peace of being reconciled with God; the peace we have through the forgiveness of sins. This peace is yours. We are no longer enemies of God or rebels against Him, but we are at peace with Him because our sins are forgiven.

And the peace of Jesus will carry you through what you see that seems to contradict His Word. His Word is firm and certain. His Word gives faith. His Word absolves you of sin and gives you forgiveness. Jesus’ Word gives you peace despite what you see. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Resurrection Dependency

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on I Corinthians 15:1-11 (14, 17-19)

Dear believers with the promise of the resurrection: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

All of Christianity depends on one single day. Really not even one single day, but rather one single event during that one day: the Resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised [from the dead], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (15:14, 17-19)

In other words, if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we are dead. Then we’ve got nothing. We’ve got no hope. We’ve got no future. The only thing that awaits us is eternal death.

If Jesus claimed to be God and then died and is gone, then he’s nobody. Despite whatever good things He might have said and done, He would be a fraud. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, so if He did not rise, He would be a liar. If He said He was going to die for our sins but then never rose, we would have to conclude that He lost the battle with sin and the devil. We’d have to conclude that God the Father did not accept His death as payment for our sins. That’s why Christianity is dependent on the single event of the Resurrection.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20). Our Epistle lesson says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… he was buried… he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” And Jesus proved His resurrection by showing Himself to Peter. Then to the Twelve (eleven). Then He appeared to more than 500 at one time. He appeared to James. He appeared to Paul. He appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18). He appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus and to those gathered in Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). And Jesus proved Himself not to be some ghost or apparition by telling them to look at His pierced hands and feet and touch Him and see that He is real (Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27). He ate in front of them (Lk 24:42; Jn 21:9-14). He performed miracles in front of them (Jn 20:6). Jesus proved that He had been physically raised from the dead.

And Jesus’ Resurrection changed the disciples. Before the Resurrection, the disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested. They were in hiding behind locked doors after His death. They were exactly at the point we would be if there was no Resurrection. They were thinking that their faith in Jesus had been in vain. They thought they had it all wrong. They had hoped Jesus would save them, but now He was dead (cf. Lk 24:21). Jesus was dead. They had no hope. They had no future. Jesus must have been a fraud. Jesus must have been a liar. And now the disciples were afraid that they would be put to death just like Jesus had been put to death.

Between Jesus death and resurrection, no one believed in Him. No one single person believed in Him. The religious leaders had Him killed. The crowd had shouted, “Crucify Him!” The disciples fled and met in hiding to figure out what to do next. The women bought spices to anoint His corpse. No one believed in Jesus. But that didn’t stop Him from dying for them and rising from the dead. In spite of their unbelief, Jesus died and rose again. Then He showed Himself to them and proved that He had done exactly what He said He would do.

So the resurrection changed the disciples. All of a sudden, they came out of hiding. They openly proclaimed Christ in Jerusalem in the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). They were no longer afraid of death. Even upon arrest and being told to stop talking about Jesus by the same council that found Jesus guilty, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So also the resurrection changes us. We also have no need to hide our faith. We also do not need to fear death. Baptized into Jesus, we have the promise that just as He was raised from the dead, so we will also be raised (Rom. 6:5).

So we ask: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55) Death, you have nothing on us. You think your victory is in the morgue? You think your sting is in the cemetery? Death, do you think your victory is in the cancer ward or in palliative care; in terrorist strikes or on the battlefield? There is no victory for death. There’s no sting in death because the grave cannot hold us. The grave cannot hold us any more than it held Jesus.

The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus. The heavy rock rolled in front of the entrance didn’t stop Jesus from rising. The Roman seal on the stone that threatened execution to whoever broke it could stop nothing. The Roman guard keeping watch couldn’t secure Jesus’ body in the grave. Death did its worst, but Jesus rose triumphantly.

So also the grave will not hold us. Dirt will not keep us from rising. Even a heavy stone and a guard of soldiers cannot keep us in the grave. So we need to fear death as little as our bed. The grave is nothing more than a resting place for our bodies until the day of our resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything for us. It compels us to hold fast to the preached Word of God and His Sacraments. It compels us to regularly receive God’s gifts that He gives here in the Divine Service lest we fall away from the faith and have thus believed in vain. The resurrection compels us not to live in doubt or fear, or live in sin following our sinful desires. It compels us to live in hope – sure and certain hope in the promises of God. We will be raised as Jesus was raised. Our sins will not be charged against us because they were charged against Jesus and He died for them on the cross. Through Baptism, His death is our death and His resurrection is our resurrection.

Jesus claimed to be God and then died and rose, so we know that He is God. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, and He did as He promised so we know that everything that He said is true. Jesus said He was going to die for our sins and rise from the dead, so His resurrection proves that He won the battle with sin and the devil. It proves that God the Father accepted His death as payment for our sins. That’s why the single event of the Resurrection proves that Christianity is true.

Since Jesus was raised from the dead we will be raised from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we’ve got everything. We’ve got hope. We’ve got a future. We’ve got the forgiveness of our sins. The only thing that awaits us is eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.