Easter Sunday

April 16, 2017

“The Factual Foundation of Faith”

Romans 4:25


“Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:25



Faith is often nothing but folly.  We are told that we mustn’t ever criticize anyone’s faith, but some pretty bizarre things are taught and believed as if they were Christian teaching.  For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teaches that their god used to be a man and worked his way up to being god so that they, too, can become gods and goddesses by obeying the rules that their god tells them to obey. Just think!  Millions of people all over the world buy into a religion that is based on the very temptation with which the devil tempted Adam and Eve when he said, “You will be like God.”  Still, most people would think it impolite to say that Joseph Smith, the man who invented this religion, was a con man.  No wonder so many people discard all religious claims as myths.  They don’t know that the Christian faith we confess is actually grounded in real, historical events.  The popular opinion today is that there is no such thing as absolute truth in religious matters.  People are absolutely sure that there is no absolute truth.  Only God can know the truth, people insist.


Millions of Americans have decided that God either will not or cannot speak words that are absolutely, positively, factually, without any ifs ands or buts, true.  The obviously fake Gnostic Gospels are sold to the public as being as valid as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 


They say we live in the “post-Christian era.”  Christianity belongs to the past.  You can’t be sure of anything religious.  One religion is just as good as another.  All religious truth is mythical, not literal.  No religion can lay exclusive claim to being the true religion.


Is our faith based on truth or myth?  How can we know that we really do know God?  That what he says is right is right and that what he says is wrong is wrong?  How can we know that Christian doctrine is true, that Jesus Christ really did take away our sins on the cross and that he is preparing a place for us in heaven?  How do we know that when we die, it is not the end?  How do we know that Jesus will return to this world, raise up all the dead, and give to all those who trusted in him everlasting life?  How do we know that what we confess to be true is true? 


We see death and decay.  We can’t deny it.  Jesus came into this world to rescue us from both the curse of sin and the death that sin brings.  We see, feel, and experience precisely those things that Jesus came to destroy: sin and death.  So is our faith just wishful thinking?  Or is it based on fact, absolutely true and reliable facts?


Here are the facts of Easter.  Christ’s disciples were destroyed, scattered, and demoralized.  They were huddled together in fear.  Then Jesus showed himself alive from the dead.  He proved who he was.  They saw him, heard him, and touched him.  He ate and drank with them.  He was no illusion or ghost.  The disciples manufactured no myth.  Those who wrote the Gospel accounts recorded in the New Testament were either eyewitnesses or spoke with witnesses who were there.  The resurrection of Jesus occurred in space-time history.   He died on the cross.  John records how water and blood flowed from his side where the spear pierced him.  His dead body was carried to the tomb.  After his crucifixion, Jesus was seen alive by as many as 500 people at one time.  He died and rose.  Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  They did.  He did.  The man who was crucified raised himself from the dead.


It takes no faith to believe this.  It’s a matter of documented historical record.  Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t take faith to recognize a miracle.  It may take eyes, ears, and a brain, but it doesn’t take faith.  It’s not as if only those who had faith could see Jesus after he rose from the dead.  Thomas did not believe.  It was only after he saw the physical, visible proof of the resurrection of Jesus that he believed in him.  This is an important fact.  Other religions invite you to look inside of yourself for a feeling, for some spiritual indication within you, that their religion is true.  Even Christians fall for this line.  A popular gospel song asks and answers the question of Christ’s resurrection with the words:  “You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.”


But the proof of our faith doesn’t lie within us.  Christ doesn’t call on us to look inside of ourselves to find him there.  When the risen Lord Jesus appeared to his disciples on the road to Emmaus, he didn’t tell them to consult their hearts to understand his death and resurrection.  He showed them the Holy Scriptures.  He taught them what the written Word of God said about it.  That’s how he persuaded them.  We don’t base our faith on how we feel.  Our faith is based on facts.  Jesus promised he would rise from the dead, and he did.


The miracle of the resurrection was plain enough to anyone who had his senses and his reason.  But believing in the resurrection is not yet faith.  Faith adds two words to the undeniable, historically verifiable fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  The words:  For me.  What he did, he did for me.  That is what faith is all about.


Listen to the inspired words of the Apostle Paul recorded in Romans 4:25: “Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”  It was our sins he bore and he bore them all the way to death as he was forsaken by God in our place.  The innocent takes the place of the guilty.  It is finished.  He suffered the full penalty of our guilt.  He pacified God’s wrath.  He reconciled us to the Father.  He removed our sin.


Here’s the proof: He rose from the dead.  He was raised to life because we were justified.  We were forgiven.  All the sins that he bore were gone.  By God’s own decree they were gone forever, never to haunt us, or drive us to despair.  He was raised to life free from the sins that he bore.


The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s absolution of the whole world.  All sinners and every sinner, all sin and every single sin were forgiven by the death of Jesus on the cross.  It was as the substitute for all sinners that he died, so when he rose from the dead, all sinners rose with him.  All the guilty were absolved and set free.  St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16 that Jesus was justified in the Spirit.  When Jesus was justified, so were those whose sins he bore.


This is objectively true before anyone believes it.  But nobody gains any benefit from this universal, objective forgiveness except through believing it.  I heard that after the civil war, the governor of the State of Missouri issued a pardon for every man who had served as an officer in the army of the Confederate States of America.  Accepting the pardon was an admission that one had indeed rebelled against the lawful government.  One man refused the pardon.  He was unwilling to admit that he had done anything that needed a pardon.  The penalty was death.  He insisted on the penalty, rather than admit that he had betrayed his country.  Could a man refuse a pardon?  The Supreme Court of Missouri ruled that he could.  He was hanged for a crime that was pardoned.


So it is with every sinner that God pardoned when he raised Jesus from the dead.  Faith receives the pardon.  Without faith the pardon is rejected and is of no benefit.  Without faith in the gospel the sinner pays the debt that Christ already paid.  What is it that faith is to believe?  That he did it for me.  That he gives this pardon to me in my baptism.  That I am the one to whom he is speaking when I hear the words of the Gospel.  That it is my sins for which his blood was shed, my sin that he bore in his body, my life he purchased with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.  For me!  My baptism is for me a washing of rebirth to everlasting life.  For me!  My life has meaning that no one but Christ could give, for no one but he has died for me and risen again.  This is the life of faith.  All that Jesus did, he did for me.


I believe . . . in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day he rose again from the dead . . . I believe . . .  in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.


The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus mean that my sins are forgiven and I will live forever with God – not as a disembodied spirit floating around in the clouds – but risen from the dead in a glorified and sinless body to enjoy intimate communion with God in the new heavens and the new earth.  My future is secure.  Everything Jesus did he did for me.


I can face sickness, disappointment, failure, and death.  I am a saint!  I am a child of God!  No sin can claim me, no lie can enslave me, no power of evil can rip me away from him in whose name I am baptized, for my baptism has the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Death cannot hurt me.  Christ’s resurrection guarantees my own.


Look at the image of Jesus on the cross and consider the burdens you bear today.  Consider your sins.  You failed a friend.  You broke a promise.  You cheated.  You lied.  You did not pay what you owed.  You took what was not yours to take.  You neglected your duty.  Your sins hover in your memory like a bad smell penetrating your nose.  You are sorry, but that doesn’t take away the feeling of sin inside of you. 


He was delivered over for that, for all of it, even for the sins you cannot remember and can’t confess.  He was delivered up to be crucified because of those sins.  And he was crucified for them.  He bore them.  By bearing them he removed them.  The proof that he took them away is that he rose from the dead.  He couldn’t have risen from the dead if the sins for which he died remained.  His resurrection is your absolution.


That’s why you come to church today, next Sunday, and the Sunday after that!  Sunday’s the day Jesus rose from the dead.  It’s the day God absolved you of all your sins and set you free.  It’s the day that the Lord has made for you.  To believe in Jesus is to believe in the forgiveness of sins.  When Jesus rose from the dead, God justified you.  He forgave you.  He gives you a new life to live.  Set your affections on him and he will give you the desires of your heart.  You don’t need any other miracle in your life than the one that occurred two thousand years ago outside of Jerusalem when Jesus died and rose again.  For by your baptism you are joined forever to that central miracle of all human history.  You can take refuge in the wounds of Jesus and find your life in his life. 


Words cannot express how precious we are to God.  Not because of our service, offering, or praise, but because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us.  What hymn can we sing?  What service can we offer?  Nothing is adequate, yet God graciously accepts all that we do for him because he graciously accepts us for Jesus’ sake.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  This is the foundation for our faith.  Our faith will never be put to shame.


Rolf D. Preus


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