The First Sunday After Easter March 30, 2008
2 Corinthians 2:5-11
189, 205, 403, 196(4-5)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
While the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus—the Light in the eyes of those who know the power of His resurrection:
Two middle-aged sisters were looking at a bundle of photographs they had just received from a niece who had been recently married. They hadn’t been able to attend so the sisters were excited to see the pictures. When they saw their niece in her wedding gown gazing at her groom, one of the sisters commented, “Oh, Shelly is positively radiant, isn’t she?”
There are times in our human experience when people are said to look “positively radiant” as if there were a million-watt light source shining out from within. As we consider the risen Christ in this post-Easter season, we come to realize that there is a source of power and light that can shine from within—a power to transform us in marvelous ways. It is the radiance of the resurrection Gospel I. The Gospel proclaimed is a radiance among us, and II. The Gospel believed is a radiance in us.
Last week, we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus by considering the experience of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of a fish. Jesus Himself stated that Jonah was a sign of His three days in the belly of the earth. Jonah experienced a figurative death and resurrection, Jesus would suffer a true death and become the firstfruits of the resurrection.
Today, Jesus again makes reference to Jonah, but this time He distinguished Himself from Jonah and also from Solomon. Solomon and Jonah were great in God’s order of things, but He, Jesus, was greater. What that means for us is that the resurrection Gospel proclaimed is a great, radiant thing among us.
When Jonah turned back to God in repentance and the Lord caused him to be deposited back on the beach, Jonah knew what he had to do. He went back to preach in Nineveh, that wicked city of the Assyrians, who were known for their godless brutality. It probably didn’t hurt his image or credibility for the people to be aware of what had just happened. Anybody who is cast into an angry sea, swallowed up by a fish, and then lives to tell about it is going to have my attention!
Jonah also knew what he was to preach. Beginning at one end of the city, he walked through it to the other, warning “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be over thrown.” (Jonah 3:4). Jonah’s preaching called upon the wicked and the godless, the proud and the heartless to turn from evil and genuinely humble themselves before God. His preaching was amazingly successful. From greatest to least the entire city turned out in repentance. The king, apparently in utter seriousness, even had the animals dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and God spared the city. The people of Nineveh knew that they had a great prophet of God in their midst, and they didn’t squander the opportunity to respond to God’s messenger.
Now, why did Jesus mention Jonah? If Jonah who came back from a figurative death and preached a message of doom to a foreign people was great, how about Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God and the promised Son of Man who would not bring punishment, but forgiveness, life and salvation to God’s own people. He would lay down His life as the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world. He would take it up again in victory. He was “delivered up for our offenses, and raised again for our justification” (Romans 4.25).
There was a great crowd in front of Jesus and He took the opportunity to expose the false religious spirit of the day. Just because Jesus was popular at that point didn’t mean that He was successful in reaching the hearts of many people. It didn’t mean that there was a spiritual “revival” sweeping through the land that would save them from God’s judgment. Quite the opposite was the case. A “greater than Jonah” [v.32] was here, but would the people respond in the necessary way?
Jesus went on with another example. The Queen of Sheba, from the south of Arabia, had heard of King Solomon’s great breadth of knowledge and depth of wisdom. Intrigued by it she came and “tested him with hard questions.” She listened to his observations and pondered his judgments. Finally, we’re told, “there was no more spirit in her.” She told him, “Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard. Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom!…Because the Lord has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10.1ff). Because the Lord God loved Israel, He made Solomon their king.
If that was the case in Solomon’s day, what about Jesus’ day? “A greater than Solomon is here” [v.31]—Jesus, the king of Glory. This is Jesus through whom God Himself visited His people; Jesus, the Seed of the Woman who crushed the head of the serpent liberating all men from the curse of sin; Jesus, who would rise from the dead as the firstfruits of God’s people in His everlasting Kingdom. If Solomon was great, Jesus was greater still.
The Queen of Sheba’s glory and pride was humbled and broken at the sight of Solomon’s glory, but the generation of Jesus’ day was quite different. They did not humble themselves and embrace Jesus’ message. They did not seek the true wisdom even though One who was greater than Solomon was among them.
Now the message of the Gospel: Jesus, our Lord and Savior, lives, and reigns at the right hand of God. Jesus said, “whoever believes and is baptized into His name and faith, shall be saved. Whoever does not believe, shall be damned” (Mark 16.16). How does the world react to that? Is a savior from sin the main desire of today’s man? Is that the overarching influence on American culture? Is the true, pure, doctrine of Holy Scripture the main concern of modern Christianity? I fear the answer is, “no” on all accounts. Relatively few people are hungry for the Christ of the Gospel, but that doesn’t mean that Christ isn’t among us with His resurrection power—He is! He is among us and here in this world right now through the Gospel. He is here and He is powerful to save and willing to receive all who come to Him in repentance and faith.
But as for those who dismiss the true Gospel of His salvation, He has the same thing to say to this generation that He had for His own: the men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with those of this generation and condemn them! The Queen of Sheba will rise up in the judgment with our era. Will she condemn us because One greater than Sheba was among us? Who listened? Who repented? Who believed?
The Gospel proclaimed is a radiance among us, but the mere proclamation will not save us or anyone else. The Gospel believed—that becomes a radiance within us. That is what we now need to consider.
Part of our text is a little illustration that Jesus makes in connection with what He said before. He first made an obvious point: If you light a lamp it is to give light for those who are around. No one lights a lamp and then covers it up or hides it. It was meant to give light.
Then Jesus goes on to make the point that the lamp of the body is the eye. A person’s eye tends to shine out with whatever is going on inside. A person can make an effort to be different on the outside than on the inside, but the eyes will generally give it away. If you look at a person’s eyes you can often see lying, love, hatred, joy, coldness, or compassion.
In His ministry Jesus turned no one away. He was constantly surrounded by crowds. He freely associated with religious professionals and filth-ridden outcasts and nothing in their hearts came as much of a surprise to Him. If they believed in Him He could see it. If they were plotting against Him He saw that too. He saw it all and could see it in their eyes better than they could see it in themselves. He could see the self-righteous glare of Caiaphas with all the other priests. He could see the crafty conniving in the eyes of the scribes who tried to trap Him in His words. He could also see the jealousy simmering among His twelve disciples. He spotted the great swelling pride of Simon Peter and the lurking covetousness of Judas. He saw the insatiable hunger of the faithless crowds who followed Him for just another loaf of bread, seeking just another spectacle of divine power.
But Jesus also saw the haunted, weary look of thousands who came longing for something true. He knew their yearning for something real that could not be provided by the Pharisees’ and scribes’ tradition and speculation, human reason, and technical solutions. He saw the timid trust of the woman who reached out and touched the hem of His garment and was healed. He saw the light of understanding go on in the eyes of the Samaritan woman who forgot her water jar at the well in her haste to go share the Savior with the townspeople. He saw the sweeping relief in the thief on the cross to whom He promised a place in the eternal kingdom.
Psalm 34 speaks of people who come to know and believe in the salvation of the Lord: “They looked to Him and were radiant” (v.5). What happened to the people who saw Jesus risen from the dead? After that first moment’s shock you know what sort of look they had in their eyes: Radiance, unspeakable joy, profound relief, sincere love. Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the Emmaus disciples at their table, the apostles’ in the closed room, and Thomas a week later after seeing Jesus—the resurrection radiance shone forth from all of these.
Do you know what these people did? They believed in the risen Lord. They saw the radiance of God’s peace shining on their lives, despite their faults and guilt, and they believed that that radiance was meant for them. Then it began to shine outward and they turned the world upside down with the Gospel. They did it by foot, sailing vessel, and oxcart. They told the story by word of mouth, preached it from the rooftops, and wrote it on parchment. They proclaimed it in every language, and spoke of the risen Lord in Philippi’s prison and Athens’ Areopagus. They told it with lives that refused to back down before the world’s hatred and refused to give in to the temptations of the flesh. They loved their Savior and it showed brightly in the eyes of their faith. And it was in their eyes because that was who they were. The resurrection Gospel shone in them from the inside out.
Who are we, and what light is in our eyes? Paul told the Philippians: “Be blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Christ has come among us in the Gospel. For God has given us that Gospel and preserved a commitment to God’s Word among us. So the light is here in our midst. But is it under a basket somewhere? Is it hidden in a cupboard? Is it kept out of view? Or is it shining in our eyes? Does the living Christ truly shine out from our eyes and speak out in our words and become evident in our deeds? May the risen Christ be the radiance that people see in our eyes. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.