Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 27, 2014)

                        JOHN 20:19-31 / EZEKIEL 37:1-14

In the name + of Jesus.

Pastor:                        Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Congregation:            He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     In Ezekiel’s vision which we had heard earlier, the Lord demonstrated the curse of sin and the reality of death in all their ugliness.  The Lord had put Ezekiel in the middle of a valley of bones.  What had once been a population of vibrant and energetic people was now reduced to skeletons upon skeletons.  And the Lord asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3)  Ezekiel deferred to the Lord and answered, “O Lord God, you know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)
     The Lord assured Ezekiel: These bones will live!  The Lord himself would impart life back to them.  The Lord would raise up their bodies from their graves fully intact—revived, rejuvenated, and renewed with sinews and flesh and skin.  The Lord would restore them to living, breathing, vibrant, and energetic beings again.  The Lord would restore them to their own homeland.  Three times, the Lord followed up these promises by saying, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:6,13,14)  This is how the Lord reveals himself.  He is the God who delivers from exile and despair, from death and the grave.  He is the one who gives life, and who gives life back and restores all good things to you.  This is how you know he is the LORD: These bones will live. 
     This is your hope at the funeral of everyone who dies in the faith, and it is your hope has you face your own impending death as well.  You know that your body has a future like the dry bones Ezekiel saw.  Ezekiel himself has joined those dry bones he had seen in the valley.  For, everyone will die.  That is the price of your sins. 
     That is not what God had made man for, however.  God had not made man to die.  Man was not designed to have the soul separate from the body.  Man was not designed to have his flesh fail and his skin decay.  Man was not created to be dry bones.  But then again, neither was man created to look at a girl and scheme how he might have his way with her.  Neither was man created for lying to his employer so that he can get paid for work that he did not do.  God did not create man to abuse the gifts he has given so that he is a glutton, gets drunk, or becomes an addict.  God did not create people to cheat, to use, or to curse each other.  And God certainly did not create us to pit our wisdom and our desires against his.  But we have surely done these things.  Sin is rebellion against the Lord of Life.  Sin, therefore, can only lead to death.  Since we have sinned, we certainly deserve the death we have coming. 
     Ezekiel wrote: The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. (Ezekiel 37:1)  Though the scene was horrible, it is no horror movie.  The Lord does not tell us anything for the sake of shock value.  He tells us plainly the way things are.  And if we would be cast off and cursed for our sins, it is because that is what sins deserve.  The wages of sin is death.  There is no sugar coating that.
     The Lord tells us the way things are, plain and simple.  The Lord had told the disciples the way things would be when he made that journey into Jerusalem.  He was going to suffer and die and be raised on the third day.  Jesus’ sufferings and death were to redeem those who had been cut off because of their sins.  Jesus went into death for you.  He bore the curse in your place.  Your flesh and blood and bone Savior went to the grave for you, and he conquered the grave for you.  Jesus rose before his body saw any decay—still as your flesh and blood and bone Savior.  His resurrection is not to some mystical, spiritual realm.  Jesus arose as God intends man to be.  He is body and soul.  He is righteous, innocent, and blessed.  And he lives and reigns forever.
     The disciple Thomas doubted it.  Thomas knew what death was.  He knew what laying someone to rest in a grave meant.  People don’t come back from death, and certainly not from a brutal and bloody crucifixion.  One week after he had risen and appeared to the other apostles, Jesus appeared also to Thomas.  He invited Thomas to inspect his body and his wounds.  It was not the spirit of Jesus which lives.  It is not the teaching of Jesus which lives.  It is Jesus who lives.  God, who had become man and had taken his place with us, took our place in death.  This man has conquered death, and he assures you that you, who are man, shall arise too.  All who believe in him and are baptized into his name are united with Jesus and will have this victory with him.  These bones will live!
     The Lord told Ezekiel that death is not the end for those who are the true Israel, the Church of God.  Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14) 
     These bones shall live!  Jesus not only tells you that you will live, but he tells you how.  Life was given and restored to these dead by the Lord’s prophet preaching the word of the Lord.  As Ezekiel prophesied, the Holy Spirit went forth with the word of God.  In this way, the Lord and Giver of life gave life to those who were dead.  The blessings of Jesus were given as the words of Jesus were preached.  And this is no mere spiritual condition.  God has not created you to be mere spirits.  He has created you to be body and soul people who live in peace and joy before him forever.  He has created you to be joyful in serving one another and seeking each other’s good.  He has made you to partake in the blessing of the family of God’s household, and he tells you to go out and confess his name before others so that others may partake with you in this peace and joy and victory.  Though you may complain of hurting bones and bodies and hearts, you have a Savior who grants complete healing.  These hearts are soothed.  These bodies shall be raised.  These bones shall live.
     Jesus even has enjoy this blessing already.  The Holy Spirit that gave life to the dry bones when Ezekiel preached is the same Holy Spirit that comes to save and to heal you.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them… (John 20:21-23)  When you are absolved of your sins by the Lord’s ministers, the Lord forgives your sins and bestows his salvation on you.  He takes away your guilt and soothes your conscience.  He tells you that you are no rebel, but his redeemed.  This is the first resurrection in which the Lord grants you new life.  “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in this first resurrection!  Over such the second death has no power….” (Revelation 20:6) 
     Eternal death and hell cannot touch you.  Though you shall sleep for a while in the dust of death, you shall be awakened by Jesus.  He shall summon you from your graves, and these bones shall live.  You shall be raised to everlasting life.  You shall be exactly what God had always intended you to be—a glorious body and soul person and a permanent resident in the house of God.  All this [Jesus] did that you should be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.  This is most certainly true. (Luther’s Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed: 2nd Article)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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