Posts tagged Easter
The proximity of Earth Day (4/22) and Easter Sunday (4/20) on this year’s calendar is interesting.
Several years after it was invented, our family went out to see a local observance of Earth Day on a patch of South Dakota prairie outside our community. We found a group of ill-kempt people in primitive circumstances, determined to save the earth with their tin foil solar ovens and crude makeshift looms. It was quite the vivid picture of the paucity of human efforts to address what they believed to be a truly big issue.
We know, of course, that this world suffers from something far more serious than carbon emissions. God’s creation suffers right along with humankind since the fall into sin, which resulted in the first “earth day” recorded in Genesis 3. It wasn’t pretty: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake….In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (vv. 17, 19). Paul adds, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). Of course, the earth is still the Lord’s (Ps. 24:1) and we are its stewards, and we are to be concerned about proper care and treatment of God’s creation. But well-intentioned human efforts to save it will always be too little.
And the same is even more true where mankind’s far more serious problem is concerned, i.e., the Eden emissions that pollute our every day on this earth. Because of our sinfulness, the earth day announced to Adam in Genesis 3 awaits us all: “…till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v. 19). Meager human efforts to make amends are easily brushed aside by death’s power.
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). Thanks to His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection and the power of His Spirit working faith in our lives, when our own earth day comes (and it will come soon), what safety and comfort we will find in knowing “…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (vv. 21, 38-39). What’s more, this earth also will “be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
The resurrection of Christ puts everything, including Earth Day, into proper perspective.
[Note: This sermon was preached in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. + Herbert Mueller]
31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34).
People loved by God in Jesus!
After telling the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, blessing the children, and dealing with the man who asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus takes the 12 aside and starts the final journey: “See,” He says, “we are going up to Jerusalem, where I’ll be delivered up and killed.”
There are several issues we could engage in this, Jesus’ 3rd prediction of His passion:
- We could emphasize the fact that His suffering will accomplish everything written in the prophets, from the stone the builders rejected becoming the head of the corner to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Something Luke does himself in chapter 24 of his Gospel.
- We could explain how the cross and resurrection of Jesus is central to God’s plan of salvation, and how it was easy for Jesus to SAY, but quite another thing to go and do it – to die and to rise – which Jesus actually went and did!
- We could focus on Jesus’ passive obedience as He laid down His life for us – note the passives – He WILL BE delivered over, He WILL BE mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon. After flogging Him, they will Kill Him, as He is obedient to the will of the Father, obedient even unto death, even the death of the cross.
But hearing the story again this time, though, I was quite taken by the fact that the disciples who first heard this understood NONE of these things. This word, this matter, was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Perhaps this adds to the believeability of the Gospel. After all, if it were a made up story, you would think those who concocted it would make themselves look better than they did, for this is now the second time Luke tells us the 12 didn’t understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask.
That’s what caught my eye this time… They understood NONE of these things – it was hidden from them and they did not grasp what was said.
What about you?
What about me?
Do we grasp it? Do we live as though we understand none of this?
Well, of course not! We know the story! We’ve memorized the details. Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He was betrayed. He carried ALL our sins, took them all. He spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them…” He is God in our flesh dying for us. And by His resurrection He promises to raise us as well.
We get that!
But do we? More than superficially?
Do we see that God in Jesus has only this one way of operating? That the way to the Kingdom, the way to life is ONLY by death and by resurrection? That this is God’s only game? That God is not in the business of just fixing you up a bit, putting some little finishing touches on the good stuff you are already doing to make it a bit more acceptable? No, God’s aim in His Law is to KILL you, to drown your flesh, to lead you to see YOUR death, so that in His Gospel in Jesus He can raise you to life. “I kill and I make alive,” He says.
- It happened when we were baptized, buried with Christ in His death and raised up by His resurrection.
- It happens now when we are led to repent and to confess our sin, so that we can be raised to life by the forgiveness of sins.
- It will happen, when we die, and our bodies are laid to rest with the promise that He will come back to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body even by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.
I’ve occasionally enjoyed a little game with people in Bible Class. I’ll ask – what do you have that is uniquely yours to give to Jesus? People bring all kinds of answers. I bring Him my worship. I give Jesus my trust. He wants my heart. I’ll give Him my love, my whole life. It’s all admirable. But all that is stuff He gave you or by His Spirit has worked in you.
Then finally someone gets it. The only thing we have that is uniquely ours that Jesus didn’t give us is our death which comes from our brokenness, our sin.
But THAT is exactly what Jesus has come to take! Our death and our brokenness. That’s why He was going up to Jerusalem to be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, to be mocked and flogged and killed – to take YOUR death, my death, into Himself.
You see, death is the great equalizer. We each get one. Just one. But that is the ONE thing we have that Jesus can truly use, because His game, ultimately His ONLY game, is to raise the dead.
Of course, if you don’t think you’re dying, you don’t need Jesus. But when you see your brokenness, when you see death coming, ONLY Jesus can help. Because only Jesus rose from the dead. And His Church today is His sign of the resurrection, confessing, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
The disciples didn’t get it till Jesus, in the upper room on Easter evening, opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His name to all nations, because Jesus is alive, and He has come to raise the dead – even YOU.
Only with that confidence in Jesus’ death and resurrection will you be able to stand by the grave-side to speak the promises of God. Oh, it will be relatively easy sometimes, like when it’s the 85-year-old grandma who loved Jesus. It’ll be quite another when it’s the 2 day old baby the parents desperately wanted, or worse yet, a 31-year-old father of two little kids who died in a senseless accident.
Only the real resurrection of Jesus will do – when they won’t care what you think, but will be desperate to hear what God has to say.
And that’s also the thing that enables you and me to deal with our own mortality.
Knowing that you, too, are a dying sinner, but forgiven and raised to life in Jesus will be the only strength that will sustain you in the face of unrelenting evil, in the times of profound disappointment, in the midst of often unbearable suffering, and when you walk into the presence of death itself.
May the Spirit of God hold each of you in the confidence that Jesus has taken YOUR death and YOUR brokenness into Himself, and enable you to grasp that, because He rose, He will raise also YOU!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the issue of Newsweek commemorating the September 11 attacks on America, in an article entitled, “How Should We Think About Islam?” (Newsweek, Dec. 31, 2001/Jan. 7, 2002, pp. 102-103), Kenneth L. Woodward wrote the following:
… even the acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient. What theologians from various traditions are beginning to realize is that we cannot truly understand the uniqueness of our own religion unless we also develop a deep understanding and appreciation of at least one other religion. What committed Christians and Jews and Muslims must do is find within their own traditions sound theological reasons for valuing other faiths without compromising the integrity of their own. (pp. 102-103)
He goes on from there to applaud the fact that some Catholic theologians are now asking how “the Holy Spirit might be at work within non-Christian religions” (p. 103). Of course, he also tells us that some Muslim scholars are using the Quran to make the point that Allah blesses religions pluralism, too, and then opines, “Clearly, this will be the most important theological agenda of the new millennium” (p. 103).
I am sorry, Mr. Woodward, I beg to differ. As an American citizen, of course, I am called to tolerate other religions. We have religious freedom – a great blessing because it means I am free to live my faith and so is my Muslim neighbor. As a Christian, one baptized into Jesus Christ, I am called to love my neighbor, no matter what his religion (or lack thereof). Religious differences are never an excuse for hatred. However, tolerance, freedom and love do not mean giving up the uniqueness of Jesus as the one and only Savior of the world.
What Mr. Woodward does not understand (or has rejected) is that if I grant that another faith has value before God or if I accept another religion as a “valid path to God” then I have already compromised the integrity of my faith in Jesus. There is a fundamental, radical difference between Christianity and religion. Every manmade religion claims to be a “path to God.” Christianity, however, is not a path we make to God, but is God coming to us in the One who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Christianity is not at heart a religion (a set of rules to follow), but Christianity is at heart God’s rule, God’s reign, in the person of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, God has come to us. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14). “In him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). His desire is to bring us under His sway, fully and completely. And He brooks no rivals.
This Jesus, God in our flesh, still comes to us in His Word, in the water of Baptism and in His body and blood. Christian faith is receiving Jesus, receiving Him where He has promised to be present for us. “There is no other name…” (Acts 4:12).
So despite the pressure of “the most important theological agenda of the new millennium,” we cannot give up the uniqueness of Jesus. Why not? There is no comfort anywhere else. When you are at the grave side, every other religion (and unfortunately some Christians) will point you to the good things that the dead person has done, to the efforts he made to follow the path to God. In the face of death, we who believe in Jesus know we cannot trust anything we have done, but we cling to everything Jesus has done for us.
Here’s the real difference between our faith in Jesus and every other religion. The initiator of every other religion is still dead and buried. Jesus’ grave is empty. And it’s not because his body was stolen, but because He is alive, bodily raised from the dead. By His resurrection He forgives our sins. Because He lives, we shall live also. “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).
My sisters and brothers in Christ: I know there are many pressures (often subtle but still very real) to “fudge” on the uniqueness of Jesus. Even many of our people have bought the “spirit” of this age that, no matter what the religion, “we are all praying to the same god anyway.” That’s why God is calling you and me to renewed faithfulness and trust in Christ, who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” and “sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
We are in the midst of the season when we examine over and over again the reason for the uniqueness of Jesus – His cross and His resurrection. His victory there over our last enemy, death itself, is what fuels our confidence and joy. It is as the great Easter hymn has it:
They who sorrow here and moan
There in gladness shall be reigning;
Earthly here the seed is sown,
There immortal life attaining.
Here our sinful bodies die,
Glorified to dwell on high.
Then take comfort and rejoice,
For His members Christ will cherish.
Fear not, they will hear His voice;
Dying, they shall never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.
Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet. (TLH #206, st. 7-9)
And that’s what we are doing already this Easter Season, by our preaching and teaching, by our joy and gladness even now: “treading death beneath (our) feet.”
Yours in the living One!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
In the upper room on Easter evening, when Christ told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until God had “clothed them with power from on high,” Jesus also “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…’” (Luke 24:45-47).
In the same vein, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The core of apostolic ministry is the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.
The matter of first importance is the delivery to others of what we have received – Christ’s death and resurrection for us.
In our family, when talking about sermons, I’ll some times ask, “Did the preacher deliver the goods?” Did the sermon deliver what God promises? Or was he just talking about the Gospel? In other words, what was the real goal of the sermon?
You see, I believe that whatever the goal of your sermon or lesson, whether it is a “faith goal” (that the hearers/learners might grow in faith) or a life goal (that the hearers might grow in living the Christian life), nothing good will happen unless you truly “deliver the goods.”
The Gospel is more than happy talk about Jesus and God. The Gospel is preaching and teaching that actually brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in Jesus’ name. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus personally applied to dying sinners.
Where the Law has exposed the cuts and wounds from living in a sinful world, “delivering the goods” means applying the healing medicine of forgiveness in a personal way: “Your sin is forgiven!” Indeed, when the Law has killed us by exposing the fact that sin is not only “out there” but also “in here” – in my heart, my life, my being – “delivering the goods” means bringing to dead ones the living Word of the God who raises the dead. Jesus is alive! In water, in Word, in Body and Blood, He makes you and me alive.
So remember, you are called to speak the Word of Christ, and His Word does what it says. “Peace be with you!” said Jesus (John 20:19), and His Word actually brings peace. “Because I live you will live also” (John 14:19b), Jesus told His disciples. And His promise brings what it says – life! When you have prepared to preach or teach – go back, look it all over and ask, “how do these words bring life, the life of Christ, to my people, my students?”
My fellow colleagues in ministry, think of it! You have the privilege of actually delivering God’s life-giving promises to people when they need it most. You are the delivery person in your pulpit, your classroom, wherever God takes you. Let every word always serve this goal – to bring life, to “deliver the goods!”
What a high privilege! What unending joy! Jesus gives LIFE, and He uses you and me!
Peace be with you!
First Vice President – LCMS
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matthew 28:1 ESV). It was Sunday morning, and they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.” (Mark 16:1 ESV).
What were they looking for when they went to the grave early that morning? A dead body. That was all. All they were thinking of was doing the job they were unable to finish on Friday afternoon.
Indeed, they were so focused on that task that they had even forgotten the stone covering the entrance to the grave. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3 ESV), they were asking each other on the way.
Jesus had told them he would die and rise again, but now he was dead. They had seen him die, were there when they took Him down from the cross. And they could think of nothing else than finishing the job – making sure His body was properly prepared for burial. Remember, they don’t know this is the first Easter. They are not hoping to find the grave empty. They are not talking about what they will say when they see Jesus. They thought it was all over except to finish their sad job.
Of course, you and I know the end of the story – God had already sent an angel to move the stone – not to let Jesus out, but to show them He had risen from the dead. But when these women made their way toward the tomb early that morning, all they were expecting was a dead body.
What are you looking for? Are you looking for something alive or dead? What do you expect is going to happen?
You have a child who doesn’t seem to “get it.” Your heart has been broken by a member of your family and you don’t know how to repair the relationship.
You just can’t seem to get over the death of someone close to you. Your parish is getting more and more restless, and no, it’s not because they are restless to spread the Gospel!
You have preached and taught till you were “blue in the face,” you think, but it’s like no one is listening. Your confidence is long gone and your worries give you no peace.
Everything looks, well, dead. From the body in the casket to your hopes and dreams to the blank look on the faces of some of your people. “Who will roll away the stone for us?”
My brothers and sisters, God still moves stones!
There was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.’” Matthew 28:2-6 ESV)
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
He still moves the stones of unbelief and death. He still turns stony hearts in the living hearts of flesh – even yours and mine! (Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus is alive to be with us always. He is our peace. He is our confidence. He is our life.
He rolled away the stone of our sin and has made our grave the door to eternal life. He is alive to give His Spirit – over and over again, even when we can’t see it – whenever His Word is spoken, the waters of Baptism are poured and His body and blood are given.
Now, what are you looking for? Jesus is alive to enliven our preaching and teaching. He is alive to restore your confidence and take away your worries. He is alive to forgive you and help you restore your relationships. He is alive to reawaken your hopes and dreams – alive to assure us we shall also rise to eternal life.
Yes, God still moves stones. And the grave is still empty, for Jesus lives!
A blessed Easter to all!
First Vice President – LCMS