Easter Sunday April 15, 2001
John 2:18-22; Acts 13:29-33, 38-39; 1 Corinthians 15:19-23
199, 193, 203, 200, 206, 189
This morning, we will consider three important things that Easter makes us modern-day Christians sure about. Our first text is from the Gospel of John, chapter two, beginning with the eighteenth verse.
Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
The Jewish leaders had a bone to pick with Jesus. He had just finished kicking all the merchants out of the temple, calling them thieves and tipping over their tables. Who do you think you are? they asked Him. What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Do you want to know who I am? Jesus replied. Alright, I’ll show you! Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. At the moment, they were standing under the arches of the magnificent Jerusalem Temple, a building that had taken 46 years to construct. So the Jews thought this reply was just nonsense. It didn’t prove anything! Not even Jesus’ own disciples could figure out what He was talking about. Not yet, anyway.
But on Easter Sunday, Jesus solved the riddle. It was the temple of His body He’d been talking about. At the hands of the Jews, that body had been destroyed. Three days later, though, Jesus came back from the dead, just as He’d predicted. It was the ultimate miracle. It was the ultimate proof of who Jesus really was—not just a pious rabbi or a learned teacher, but Almighty God Himself! The disciples remembered, and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
It happened two thousand years ago, but it may as well have been two hours ago. Rather than Peter and John, it may as well have you and I who stooped down to look into that tomb in the rock, and found it—empty! Because facts don’t change. After two hours or two thousand years, the facts are the same. The resurrection can leave no doubt at all in our minds about the identity of the Man from Nazareth. Here is our proof that He was who He said He was all along. Easter is the joy of being sure that Jesus is true God!
I don’t have to tell you that life these days holds a lot of uncertainties. But here is one thing, at least, that we know for sure: Jesus is true God. So let the liberal theologians of our day argue about whether or not Jesus was more than just “a good man,” whether or not He really performed any miracles, whether or not He really rose from the dead. What a waste of time! Tell it to the over 500 eyewitnesses who saw Jesus in the flesh after his resurrection! For them, and for us, there can be only one conclusion. Jesus wasn’t just a good Man, and He was far more than just a “fine moral teacher.” Easter gives us the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ was then—and is now—nothing less than our GOD!
Our second text we find it in Acts, chapter 13, beginning with the 29th verse:
And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. …Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
One Sabbath day, the Jews in the city of Antioch came to the synagogue to hear a guest preacher from Tarsus, named Paul. He had Good News for them. Being Jews, they were familiar with the Old Testament promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: promises of a Messiah who would bring them forgiveness of sins and salvation. Well, Paul said, those promises had all come true! Yes! just recently, in the city of Jerusalem, a Man named Jesus Christ had died on a cross for the sins of the world—for their sins. The promise of forgiveness had at last been fulfilled by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The proof? Jesus hadn’t remained dead—He’d come back from the grave! The promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus.
The message was electrifying. Paul’s audience was stunned! The non-Jews of the town immediately asked him to preach the same message to them. As for the Jews, they were divided: some of them believed, and some of them rejected Paul’s message with bitter hatred.
And you know, the message of the empty tomb continues to divide people right down to this day. For some, it’s the worst kind of nonsense, a fairy tale fit only for children and the naive. But for us, it’s the fulfillment of a promise first made in the Garden of Eden, the promise of a way out of sin. Paul said, Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. For each one of us, Easter is the joy of being sure that Jesus has redeemed me!
Being a good person won’t get you to heaven. Doing good deeds won’t work, no matter how hard you try. There’s only one currency with which your sins can be paid for; as we confessed a moment ago, it’s the holy precious blood of Jesus. Yes, you say, but is that payment enough for even my great sins? Have no fear—the resurrection is proof that it is!
Jesus’ redeeming work was sufficient, it was accepted by God. He stamped it with His official approval when He raised Jesus from the dead. “By Him,” Paul says, “all that believe are justified.” Everyone, without exception! And that includes you! As sure as you’re sitting here right now, God has already pronounced your verdict, and the verdict is: “Not guilty! This person is justified by the blood of My Son!” The empty tomb is proof positive that, in God’s eyes, your soul is empty of sin and guilt. No wonder we sing, “He is arisen, glorious word! Now reconciled is God my Lord!”
Our third address is based on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, beginning with the 19th verse:
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
They say that “death and taxes” are two things in this life that you just can’t beat. Well, the fact that last Monday was the annual IRS deadline certainly reminds us that the part about taxes is true! But the fact that today is Easter Sunday reminds us that the part about death is most decidedly not true. You can beat death. Jesus triumphed over death that first Easter morning. And His resurrection grants to each of us the joy of being sure that I, too, will rise to eternal life!
I got a shock one day as I was walking into a nursing home to visit a parishioner. There was an elderly resident of the home walking ahead of me, and I recognized him from his jacket and the kind of hat he was wearing. I can’t describe the jolt I suddenly felt when I realized that the man I was thinking of had passed away several months before! For a moment I just stood there in stunned confusion. Well, it turned out to be somebody else, of course. But it illustrates how really shocking Jesus’ resurrection must have been. Even His own disciples didn’t believe it at first!
Hard as it is to believe, though, it really happened. In fact, Paul says that our Christian faith doesn’t make any sense without the resurrection. No matter what Jesus did during His life, if He’d simply died and been buried, you and I would be out in the cold. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. Jesus isn’t dead—He’s alive, and that fact has far-reaching consequences for us. On Easter morning, Jesus claimed complete victory over death. Not just for Himself, but for us, too! By crushing the power of sin once and for all, Christ cleared a path for you and me straight to eternal paradise. Later on in this beautiful resurrection chapter, Paul asks, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:55-57.
Anyone who’s ever worked on a farm at harvest time knows the satisfaction of bringing in that first bushel of wheat, or putting up that first bale of rich alfalfa. It’s a good feeling, especially when you know that there are many more to come. Paul tells us that Jesus rose from the dead as the firstfruits of them that slept. He was the first—but by no means the last! His resurrection makes us sure that we will follow where He has led. Do you want this promise in an even easier-to-remember form? I give you John 14:19, where Jesus says to each of His disciples, including you: “Because I live, ye shall live also!” May God grant it, for Jesus’ sake, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.