Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sermon -- Easter Day (April 5, 2015)


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     “Unless you have believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:2)   Those are haunting words.  They are words that have plagued Christians over time and for various reasons.  We confess our faith.  We repent of our sins.  We strive to turn away from those things which our Lord has decreed to be wicked.  We pray.  We come to church.  We kneel at the Lord’s altar to receive Holy Communion.  We hear the readings and the sermon.  We add our, “Thanks be to God,” and our “Amen.” 
     Still, there’s this nagging voice that haunts us: Have I been duped?  Am I a fool?  Can this really be true?  Even St. Paul once wrote, “If only for this life we have hope, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  If we are penitent, and if we strive to live according to God’s commands, if we are on the receiving end of sneers because we are clearly set apart from and stay away from a world of depravity and debauchery, and if we have been confessing our faith in fairy tales and legends this whole time, then we are the most pitiful laughing stocks the world has ever known.  So yes, the words are haunting—“Unless you have believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:2) 
     St. Paul does not leave you haunted for long.  He assures you that your faith is not founded on fairy tales.  Your confession is not wishing upon a star.  St. Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus is historical fact and is well-attested by numerous witnesses—in fact, hundreds. 
     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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.   Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
     This is of utmost importance: Jesus is risen from the grave.  Everything in your life depends upon this.  The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is not just so that you can go through life thinking, “Okay, I am not a fool.  I am right.”  Your faith in the resurrection is not about winning arguments or being smarter than the agnostic.  Jesus’ resurrection means that you have a peace that is unshaken, a comfort that is unbreakable, and a hope that is undeniable.
     This is of utmost importance: Jesus is risen from the grave.  Most people go through life without believing this is true.  Many may even mock your faith in Jesus’ resurrection, or in any resurrection from the dead.  And you know what?  Most of them get through life just fine.  They have jobs and pay their bills.  Their kids are in little league and get their homework done.  They have well-manicured lawns, season tickets, and weekend getaways.  They know how to behave, they show up for work, and they are nice.  And if this is true for so many people, you may wonder why it even matters if you believe in the resurrection.
     St. Paul not only says it matters, he says it is of utmost importance.  No matter how nice and well-mannered a person is, he is going to die.  Everyone dies, because everyone is a sinner.  Everyone has to answer to God for every selfish act, every careless word, and every bitter, lustful, greedy, or vicious thought.  You do not get to set the standard for what is good or evil.  Nor does anyone else.  You will not accept it when someone tells you that he had a right to slander you.  You know that is not good, even if someone else says that it is.  That is why God sets the standards. 
     God’s standard is not merely that you be nice.  I’m sure you can be nice to anyone for one minute—though sometimes you will not even give people that long.  God’s standard is this: Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)   Holiness means that you will always be patient with people who are difficult.  You will always be supportive of the one who is promoted ahead of you.  You will always be content with your blessings and not bemoan those of another.  You will even pray for and bless those who insult you.  You haven’t made the cut, have you?  No one does.
     Still, God’s standards are firm: Be holy.  Now, how will you get the holiness God demands of you?  Fairy tales will not get it for you.  Being nice will not be enough.  The grave awaits sinners, and no one escapes it.
     Dear Christians, fear not.  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)  You have a real, historical flesh and blood Savior who has come to bring you a true and real forgiveness.  Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh.  He has paid for all of your sins by his holy, precious blood and by his innocent sufferings and death.  Jesus was truly holy and perfectly obedient.  He did not die for his own sins; for, he had none.  Still, Jesus’ death was necessary because it is the price that must be paid for sins.  His innocent life was the perfect sacrifice for you.  God the Father emptied out all of his anger upon Jesus.  Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus will not suffer God’s wrath or go to hell because Jesus has already endured that for you.
      This is of utmost importance: Jesus is risen from the grave.  Jesus’ resurrection proclaims that your forgiveness is not wishful thinking.  Jesus, who paid for your sins by his death, is risen!  That means God the Father has accepted the payment for your sins.  He has conquered the grave and therefore has authority to tell you that your sins are pardoned.  He has the authority to tell you that your grave is powerless.  He will raise you up from your grave on the Last Day.  His resurrection means that you will have your own resurrection from the dead. 
     Therefore, when we come here for a funeral and bury our dead, we are not conceding defeat.  Rather, we are acting in faith.  Just as the death of our fellow Christians is real and is really saddening, we also bury them in defiance of death.  For we know that we are only loaning our loved ones to the grave for a while.  The Lord Jesus, who conquered the grave about 2,000 years ago, will come again to summon from the grave all people.  He will raise us up with bodies that will never again be subject to death or sickness or pain or sadness.  This is not based on wishes or fairy tales, but on the risen Jesus whose own resurrection was witnessed by Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred, then James, then all the apostles, and finally to St. Paul.  You will see him too, when he comes at the Last Day to raise you.
     Until that day, your real, historical Savior comes to you in real, tangible ways.  His resurrection is not a fairy tale, and so the way he bestows his salvation to you is not by wishing on a star, either.  Jesus delivers his forgiveness where his word is rightly preached.  He attaches that word to water, and by it he washes away sins and bestows the very righteousness you need.  He prepares a sacred meal for you in which the body and blood which given for you into death are here given for you for your life.  This is where you find forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  And if his word and sacrament are where Jesus bestows his salvation, then receiving these will be of utmost importance to you too.
     This is of the utmost importance: Jesus is risen from the grave.  Others may not believe this.  Others may even mock it.  But their mockery does not mean they find any comfort or peace.  Their best hope is that there is no God to answer to.  For, their guilt is real.  Their death is real.  And their conscience is really bothering them about it.  But for you, you have a real Savior from all of this.  This is of the utmost importance: Jesus is risen from the grave.  Therefore, your guilt is really pardoned.  Your grave is really powerless.  Your death is really overcome.  Your eternal salvation is really certain.  For these reasons, your peace, your hope, and your comfort are real and really unbreakable. Your real, historical Jesus will deliver you to your real, heavenly future. 

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

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