Easter Sunday Sermon

March 23, 2008

Christ Is Risen!  You Are Forgiven!


But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”  Mark 16, 6


The tomb was empty.  The angel pointed this out to the women who came to anoint Jesus’ dead body.  The body they came to anoint was no longer dead.  There was no body to anoint.


Fear, amazement, shock all combined to silence the women as they left the tomb.  They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth.  They weren’t looking for the Savior.  They weren’t looking for the Lord.  They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth.  They were looking for the man Jesus who had taught them, healed them, and loved them.  They saw him die.  They witnessed it with their own eyes.  Now they came to do their duty of love.  When Jesus died on the cross there was no time for a proper burial before the sun would set and the Sabbath would begin.  So they waited until the Sabbath was over before returning to the tomb to do it right.


They weren’t looking for the Savior.  Had they been looking for their Savior they would not have looked in the tomb.  They weren’t looking for their Lord.  Had they been looking for their Lord they would not have looked in the tomb.  Their Savior and their Lord had said he would die and rise again.  He said that he would be betrayed into the hands of sinners, that he would be mocked, that he would suffer many things and be crucified and then on the third day he would rise from the dead.  He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” 


The Old Testament also foretold the death and resurrection of the promised Savior.  David wrote of him in the Sixteenth Psalm:


Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.


Isaiah foretold Christ’s resurrection in today’s Old Testament Lesson: “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.”  In fact, the very first prophecy of the Scriptures concerning the promised Savior foretold his resurrection.  When God cursed Satan he said these words recorded for us in Genesis 3, 15


      And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
      And between your seed and her Seed;
      He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”


The suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was foretold from the beginning of the world until it was fulfilled.  There was no reason why the women should have been looking for a dead Jesus of Nazareth.  But they were.


Ironically, they were much like modern theologians who deny the historical and bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  These religious skeptics distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.  They say that Jesus, the man from Nazareth, died on the cross.  But they deny the historicity of the resurrection.  Or they say it doesn’t matter if Jesus of Nazareth remained dead in the tomb.  What they claim is important is that the Christ of faith rose from the dead.  This is not a literal bodily resurrection, you understand.  No, it’s a resurrection in the hearts of the believers.  He rose metaphorically, as those who loved him and followed him and learned from him began to believe that he had risen from the dead.  But the historical Jesus remained dead.  So they say.


But the angel showed the women the empty tomb.  Where did the body go?  Could the disciples – the broken, demoralized, fearful disciples – have overpowered well armed Roman guards to steal the body away?  The very idea is absurd.  And consider the women.  They were frightened into silence when witnessing the empty tomb.  The men who first heard of it didn’t believe it.  The Christ of faith did not arise in the hearts of the disciples of Jesus until they saw with their eyes the risen Jesus of Nazareth.


Faith did not raise Jesus from the dead.  God did.  The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a matter of history.  It is an historical event.  The man Jesus who was crucified and died on Good Friday was raised to life on Easter Sunday.  This stands as the central historical event of all time.  Hundreds of eyewitnesses saw him at the same time.  Thomas, who had vehemently denied Christ’s resurrection, saw Jesus with his own eyes.  He touched the wounds of his crucifixion.  It was not faith that raised Jesus from the dead.


Jesus of Nazareth died.  Jesus of Nazareth rose.  Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord and the Savior of sinners.


They weren’t looking for him.  Few people are.  So he comes to look for them.  And he looks for us.  The angel told the women to tell the disciples and especially Peter that Jesus was risen and that he would go to Galilee to meet them there.  They were too afraid to say anything to anyone.  Their hearts were set on death and they couldn’t grasp life.


This is why the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead must always be followed by the miracle of faith.  The modern critics are not just wrong in what they teach about the resurrection.  They have it exactly backwards.  They are precisely wrong.  They teach that the faith in the hearts of the believers is what led to the preaching of the resurrection.  Not so.  The preaching of the resurrection is what led to the faith. 


The preaching of the resurrection is more than the bare historical fact that the Jesus who died is now risen from the dead.  It is the declaration of God himself concerning the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.


So let us listen to what God says about it.  The angel speaks for God.  He said “fear not” – don’t be afraid.  Why not?  Was it merely the fact that the women were startled?  No, the women felt the fear of death.  They were looking for a corpse.  Their hearts were set on finding it.  We walk softly around death.  We look silently.  We give death a wide berth and show due respect.  We are afraid of death because death is the wages of sin.  This truth can be ignored, denied, and railed against, but it cannot be falsified.  God himself has said so.  The dead body of the innocent man Jesus is a public indictment of the entire human race.  Why?  Because be bore our sins on the cross.  And he died.


He did not just suffer.  He suffered to the very end.  His legs were not broken.  He bore the entire load of guilt and sin.  Looking for a dead Jesus is looking for the evidence of sin.  It was the sin of the world that he bore upon his shoulders.  When he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it was as the sin-bearer who was being punished for the sin of all people.  And he died.  He was buried.  His dead body became cold in the tomb.  He suffered for sins.


And what does God say through his messenger when the women come and find the tomb empty?  He says, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”  But he was dead!  What killed him?  Isaiah writes:


Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.


What killed him?  The Apostle Paul writes, “He was delivered up because of our offenses.”


If it was our sins that killed him then what can it mean that he is risen from the dead?  If he died for our sins and he is now alive from the dead where are our sins?  St. Paul answers the question: “And was raised because of our justification.”  The sins that took his life are gone.  Those for whom he died are justified, that is, they are forgiven of all their sins.  This is God’s interpretation of Easter.  This is what God teaches us about Christ’s resurrection.  What does God declare to us today as we celebrate Easter?  He says: “Your sins are forgiven.”  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s absolution of the whole world.


Before we can receive this absolution through faith, we need to understand death.  We need to understand death in order to understand Christ’s resurrection.  Only sinners die.  The dead body in the casket is dead because it belonged to a sinner.  Forget about all of the foolish and sentimental religious slush that offers any other interpretation.  Death has one and only one cause: your sin.  And that’s why we are afraid of it.  That’s why we don’t call it by its name.  That’s why people don’t like to talk about it, even when it’s approaching and they know it.  Death tells us that we don’t deserve to live.


Look at death and see what it tells you about you.  It tells you that you have worshipped false gods by loving your stuff and your pride and your pleasure more than the God who created you.  Death tells you that you have despised God’s word and have preferred your own notions to God’s teaching.  Death tells you that you have rebelled against legitimate authority.  It exposes your lust, your greed, your malice, and your selfishness.  All this death throws in your face.  It leaves you helpless.  You throw yourself on the mercy of your Father in heaven.


And what does he say to you?  He says: look!  See the empty tomb.  The same Jesus who suffered and died for your sins is risen from the dead.  Your sins are buried in Joseph’s tomb.  They are forgiven.  They are gone.  They cannot accuse you.  They cannot claim you.  They cannot condemn you.  God himself absolves you.  You are free.  Your sin is removed from you as far as the East is from the West.  The grave will not be able to hold you.  Just as surely as Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, so will those who believe in him, who are baptized into his death and resurrection.  This is God’s own declaration to you today.  Whatever fears you have; whatever feeling of guilt you bear; whatever sins bother your conscience; set it all aside and take God’s word to heart.  Jesus is risen!  You are forgiven!


Rolf D. Preus


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