Easter, Chief Service 2019
This Easter, I have a challenge for you. Before you eat your Easter dinner, go home and read all four Evangelists’ resurrection accounts. When you read you’ll find something interesting. Only St. Matthew gives us the slightest hint of joy, but even that is combined with fear. The Easter attitude we know, that we look forward to, was nowhere to be found on that first Easter. St. Mark is the most blunt. The angel tells the women that Christ is risen and to go share the good news with the disciples. And what do they do? “They went out quickly and fled from the tomb…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” So, the Christians are terrified, and, as St. Mark goes on to record, Jesus appears to them, not to comfort them, but to rebuke their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
How does Pilate respond? When Jesus is buried he sends guards to the tomb, and tells them to make the door as secure as they can. If you are convinced Jesus is dead and is going to stay that way, why go to such lengths? And what about the chief priests? After the resurrection, the guard reported the earthquake, the angels, and the resurrection of Christ. The chief priests bribe the soldiers to say they fell asleep on the job, and the disciples came and stole the body. If you are convinced this Man was a blasphemer and would by no means rise, why bribe the guards to lie? Why bribe the governor to believe the same thing?
If you’re keeping score, that’s enemies, two; Christians, zero. The enemies’ response to Jesus’ death and resurrection confess that they actually believed it! They believed He would rise from the dead, that all His claims about being the Son of God would be proven true and they couldn’t bear that. So they had to go out of their way to hide the fact that they were wrong. Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, by their actions confess at each turn that He is dead and is staying dead. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for a permanent burial. The women go back on Sunday morning to make sure Joseph and Nicodemus did a good job. Their disbelief at the angels’ message shows that they didn’t believe what Jesus said about Himself.
If we were talking about earthly things, we’d be in trouble. So many things we deal with in this life depend on our efforts, how firmly we believe it, and how great of a cheerleader we can be for our side. If the validity of Jesus’ resurrection depended on the disciples’ belief or actions, or even ours, it would be a lost cause. But His victory over sin and death doesn’t depend on our faithfulness or zeal or strength. It doesn’t depend on our intentions or sincere effort. His victory is efficacious because of who earned it. Jesus is risen, just as He promised.
The comfort of Easter is that Jesus did all of His work—His perfect life, His crucifixion, His rest in the tomb, and His resurrection from the dead—for people who don’t deserve it. He did it for people who weren’t going to believe it, for people who would hide, for people who would continue to sin. Jesus knew what our condition would be, so He died and rose for our forgiveness, for our comfort, for the strengthening of our faith. He is risen, and He is with you. He keeps His promises to you. He will not fail. He will not forget.
What the angel said to frightened, heartbroken, doubting women and disciples, Jesus repeats to you, His frightened, heartbroken, doubting child. See the place where they laid Him? He was dead, and that death destroyed death. That death made atonement for your transgressions. That death took the accusations against you and silenced them. By Jesus’ stripes you are healed, forgiven, and saved. But He who died is not dead anymore. He is alive and that resurrection has brought life and immortality to light. That resurrection has restored everlasting life. That resurrection has broken the power of death and reconciled you to the Father. The devil has lost and has no recourse. The grave is defeated and gives up its dead.
Because this tremendous gift is given to you as a gift, made yours through your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you can face everything with good courage. As scary as the future may be, as troubling as any of your situations may be, Jesus is with you. He forgives you. He strengthens you for whatever you may face. Because Jesus is risen from the dead you know that whatever evil you might endure is temporary. Because Jesus is risen from the dead your death is temporary. Because Jesus is risen from the dead your future with Jesus is permanent.
Even when you face times of doubt just like the disciples and the women, you already know from them how Jesus will deal with you. There will be a rebuke, but there will still be a revelation of Himself, a statement of His love, a demonstration of His power and desire to save you. Easter means that all things will work out for your good, now and forever.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.