The Second Sunday of Easter April 7, 2013
Matthew 12:38-40; Romans 4:25; Philippians 1:21-24
2 Samuel 12:1-15
35, 200, 201, 657
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:38-40
[Christ] was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4:25
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. ForI am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. Philippians 1:21-24
The election of a new pope three weeks ago brought many comments from the news media. One man said, “No one does religious ritual better than the Catholic church.” Some spoke of how the pope entered the “room of tears” after his election because of the burden of his office. Many spoke of how the new pope must function as the “moral compass,” not only for Catholics, but for the rest of the world. One priest stated that the pope would “preach the gospel.” But we find ourselves asking, “What gospel? What good news”?
What do great ritual, tears, and teaching morality have to do with preaching the Good News about Jesus Christ? Where is the Good News to be found in a church that emphasizes that the sinner must do penance for his sins, make pilgrimages to sacred shrines, confess to the priest, and abstain from certain foods. Does the crucifix on the altars of Catholic churches, in the homes of the people, and on the rosary speak the Good News?
It is indeed good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. The day of Christ’s death is called “Good Friday.”But the cross on our altars is empty. Why is that? Paul says in our text that “Christ was delivered for our transgressions.” But then immediately he adds the Good News: Christ “was raised again because of our having been declared righteous!” [Romans 4:25—literal translation by V.F.]
The word“crucifix” literally means “the body of Christ fixed to the cross.” To be encouraged to gaze continually upon a crucifix produces a burden of guilt which the troubled conscience cannot escape without the repeated assurance that by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead God has declared the whole world completely righteous in His sight. “If Christ is not risen…you are still in your sins,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:17).
When the empty cross and the empty tomb do not receive the emphasis, then guilt and doubt give way to a burdened and even despairing conscience! Then we may more easily become prey to the religious schemes of men who tell us that we must somehow make up for our own sins. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
We like to plant flowers and vegetable seeds in the spring. But when we look at the smallness of those seeds we may wonder where the life is. Only what rises up from the ground—only the fruit—will prove the life of those seeds.
The eternal Son of God came into this world as the “Seed” of the woman. He came in weakness and humility, but He also promised great things to all who believe His Word. To those who trust in Him Jesus promises to be “the Bread of Life” and “Living Water” that bubbles up to everlasting life! He claimed to have life in Himself!
His people knew that He spoke with great authority and not as the Scribes and Pharisees. But the great majority of the people were heavily invested in do-it-yourself religion and would not believe His Gospel of forgiveness and life. They wanted a sign so powerful that they would be forced to accept the truth of Jesus’ words. To these “sign-seekers” Jesus gave the answer of our text in Matthew 12:39 ff.
The only sign Jesus would give them of the Life He would bring was the sign of the resurrection. He could have given another sign instead, like a single angel to wipe out the Roman armies in Judea. But Jesus promised His disciples, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). Only the sign of His resurrection from the dead would show that the Father had sent Him, that His teachings were true, and that He had conquered sin, Satan, and Death.
The Jews understood what a difference the news of Jesus’ resurrection would make. That’s why they bribed the Roman soldiers who had guarded the tomb. But the “Stone” which the Jewish builders rejected became the “Chief Cornerstone” of the Christian Church (cf. 1 Peter 2:7) because Jesus’ resurrection proved the truth of His Word. Jesus is the Son of God with life in Himself and because He lives, we live also—not only forever in Heaven, but now in this earthly body!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ makes a difference to us also today, because it is the basis of the Christian’s way of life and his hope in death. (Read the Philippians text again.)
The first verse of this text reminds us how very close life and death really are. Those who suffer long and sense that their earthly end is near may actually weigh the “gain” of life against the “gain” of death that lies ahead.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the troubled hero weighed the evils of life against the evils of death, and the sorrows of life against the terrors of death. He chose to endure the sufferings of life over suicide only because he decided that the terrors of death would be worse. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, weighs the riches of life and the riches of death! He says that he is “hard-pressed to make a choice between the two”—life and death! [v.23] The clear difference between these two ways of thinking is that the power of Christ’s resurrection moves one person through faith, while the other has either denied the resurrection, or is not aware of its meaning for himself.
If the resurrection of our Savior makes a difference in our lives, then by God’s grace we will say with Paul:“For me to live is Christ” [v.21] This means that the very essence of our life is all wrapped up and secure in Christ our risen Savior! If Christ is our life—not wealth, honor, knowledge, or anything else—then He can be the aim of all our living in this world. Nothing can be lost in His service as we strive by His grace to know and do His will and share His saving word with others.
If for us to live is Christ, then in the midst of our sufferings, sorrow, and sin, we will find our refuge and reviving in our living Redeemer! If for us to live is Christ, then He Himself will be the chief and most satisfying goal of our earthly pilgrimage. We will seek to know Him better from His Word, and our prayers will find Him always nearer than before.
But to die is gain too, Paul says. The same Christ who is our life here on earth is also our life in death. For as Paul wrote to the Roman Christians “To this end Christ both died, and rose and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (Roman 14:9). To die is gain because death is not the end, but only a glorious new beginning for the Christian. Paul speaks of death as a “loosing.” The Greek word pictures the loosing of a ship from the dock.
For the Christian death is the moment when he is loosed and freed from his sinful nature and the limits of his earthly life to be clothed with his new, incorruptible, and glorious body in the resurrection. “Who shall deliver me from this body of death,” Paul asks in Romans 7 (v.24). “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,”he answers (1 Corinthians 15:57). Christ’s resurrection proves to us that He has made death our servant and the door to our everlasting freedom from sin, sorrow, pain and suffering.
Finally, to die is gain because “to be with Christ is far better.” [v.23] When we die in Christ we don’t pass into some kind of middle existence or “soul sleep.” Paul says, to die is to be with Christ—to see Him immediately! And not with Him only, but also with all those who have trusted in His resurrection. We shall join their happy heavenly company in death!
We can become so tired of the wickedness we see all around us and in us. We may sound negative when we speak about such things. Some people can’t understand how we can be so negative about the way things are going in the world and yet enjoy ourselves, have a sense of humor and peace about us.
Recently, a long-time Christian friend told me how he responds to those who wonder how he can maintain a sense of humor and enjoy life in this fallen and falling world. His answer: “The ship is sinking, but I’ll be getting off!”
The Christian’s confession and faith are under constant fire. It’s an exciting and wonderful privilege to be able to share and defend the truth of Christ and His Word in a perishing world.
Once when Martin Luther was experiencing fear and danger because of the Good News he preached, some of his friends found him tracing two Latin words on a table top with his finger. Those words were Vivit! Vivit!—“He lives! He lives!”
May our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, also make a difference in our lives, today, everyday, and forever! 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.