Easter April 5, 2015
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
200(1-5), 199, 191, 200(6-8)
Awake my heart with gladness, see what today is done;
Now after gloom and sadness, comes forth the glorious Sun.
My Savior there was laid, where our bed must be made
When to the realms of light our spirit wings its flight.
The Foe in triumph shouted, when Christ lay in the tomb
But, lo, he now is routed, his boast is turned to gloom,
For Christ again is free; in glorious victory
He who is strong to save has triumphed o’er the grave!
Dear Christians, this is the day that the Lord has made! We will rejoice and be glad in it! Amen!
Our text for this most hallowed day is found recorded in the epistle to the Romans, the sixth chapter:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are the perfect, holy words of our Savior God. Acknowledging the power of these words both to bring the spiritually dead to life and also to sustain each of us in that saving faith, we trust that our God will provide these same blessings among us today. To this end we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
It seems that nothing on earth is ever really done, never really finished. I’m sure you see evidence of that fact at home and at work pretty much every single day. Get out there and wash your windows and you can pretty much bank on a dusty wind or a dirty rain by week’s end. Rake your lawn and the leaves will eventually come back; mow it and the grass starts growing back almost immediately. Cook a meal and there are dishes to wash. Finish that and the process starts all over in a couple of hours.
That’s partly why Easter is just the best—the greatest of all Church holidays. It is the holiday of completion. Nothing is left, nothing remains to be done. The battle for the eternal souls of all mankind has been fought and in Christ you and I have won! There is nothing left to do. Satan and his minions have lost forever. Our side shouts for joy on this day because our Champion, our Divine Substitute, defeated our soul’s great enemies in a most unique way: by allowing Himself to be killed. Who could have imagined such a plan—to allow His enemies to capture and kill Him and in so doing they themselves would seal their own doom and our eternal victory?
No one really understood God’s plan until Jesus had carried it out. Even those who believed in Jesus tried to alter His course, believing that anything was better than death. In death they saw defeat. Yet in this case, Jesus’ death gained for every sinner an eternal victory. What is more, this battle, having been won, will never have to be fought again.
The empty tomb of Easter is God’s declaration of the final outcome, which is our victory and Satan’s defeat. Nothing can ever undo or nullify that perfect result. For all time and eternity Jesus has removed the penalty of sin by paying the price in full. God has declared it to be so by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day. You and I therefore celebrate on this day, not only because our Lord was raised to life, but because what we owed God on account of our sins has been declared to have been paid in full. Through faith in Jesus Christ, salvation is ours. Thanks be to God who has given us this victory in Jesus Christ, our Lord!
On this day we celebrate our victory which is exactly the beauty and the majesty of Easter Sunday. Jesus did not fail. The tomb was empty. Jesus died on Good Friday a sinless man. Having offered then the perfect sacrifice for sin, God the Father declared His Son’s mission a perfect success when he raised Jesus from the dead. That’s also why Paul, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our text, said what he did: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all.” [vv.8ff]
The resurrection is the key. It is the heart and soul of the Christian faith. Absolutely everything is predicated upon—depends utterly on—the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the very event we celebrate today. Without it, nothing is the same. Yet, by the same token, with it nothing is the same either. Easter Sunday changes absolutely everything in this life and in the next. That’s exactly why the verbally inspired words of our text say what they do: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” [vv.3f]
What a profound and utterly uplifting truth the Holy Spirit here shares with us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ not only signaled His victory, it assures us of our own. You and I were tied to Christ by our baptism. Our text tells us that each of us died there—at our baptism—with Christ. What that means is that Satan’s hold on us was there broken and we thereby become children of God: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” [v. 6 ESV] The result, according to our text, was that since we thereby shared in His death, we also now get to share in His resurrection: “For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” [v. 5 ESV]
That’s the personal stake every single Christian has in the event we celebrate on this day. The empty tomb means that death’s grip on you has also been broken. Though the earthly body may die —as did Christ’s—it cannot stay dead any more than Christ’s body could remain in the tomb. This is God’s gift to you on Easter Sunday. You are an immortal child of God and heir of eternal life.
You know that, I know that, but the unbelieving world does not. But they will. John spoke of a hidden relationship with our God and how that hidden relationship will one day be revealed to all creation. He wrote: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God. Therefore the world does not know us,because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:1-2).
Not only then does Jesus’ resurrection change everything, when He returns everything will be changed again. That’s also part of the promise of Easter Sunday. This same Apostle Paul wrote: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
All of this works together as a demonstration not only of why this day is so special, but why Christianity is so very different. Our relationship with our Savior—though hidden from the world—brings about a profound change in God’s children. It shifts our focus from the seedy, paltry things of this world and elevates our desires, our goals, our vision, our attitude. Paul set the stage for this change when he referred in our text to the resurrection. He then went on to describe the natural result of our death and rebirth in Christ: “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [v.11]
But didn’t Paul just undo everything we have been saying up until this point? Didn’t he just tell us that this isn’t over after all, and that there is still more that we have to do—Jesus did His part, now we have to do ours? Not even close. Paul isn’t trying to guilt us into behavior modification. He isn’t trying to shame us into cleaning up our act. He’s simply pointing out a fact of life for the child of God: Christ’s resurrection from the dead changed everything, including you and me.
Our text talks about “walking in newness of life.” Through faith in Jesus Christ you already have “newness of life” and because you do, your life going forward has already been permanently, irrevocably changed. Paul is not, therefore, telling us to change. He is reminding us of the change that has already taken place within us.
Each one of you, individually, knows that change. Already within you is the desire to live your life in harmony with God’s Word and will. This is, undoubtedly, a part of what Jeremiah was talking about when he said, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). So no one needs to try to coerce you into avoiding sin—according to that new man within you, you already want that. No one needs to try to compel you to be filled with joy and comfort at the empty tomb. Again, you already have those things. You are in possession of those gifts through faith in Jesus Christ.
Do we forget from time to time? I can’t speak for you, but I know I do which is exactly why God in His Word provides reminders as He has done in the words we are considering today.
So it is that we do not celebrate Easter as a one day event. We live it, day-by-day and moment-by-moment. At times we lose sight of our high calling and we allow ourselves to be dragged back down to a preoccupation with the mundane and shallow. We do what we don’t want to do and fail to do what we want. These are the things that cause us anxiety and stress—these passing things.
Our hidden, privileged walk with God never has that effect. In fact, our hearts are filled with joy whenever we do, however imperfectly, walk in that newness of life that is now ours.
This then is not just the message of Easter, it is the sum and substance of the entire Christian faith. Our sins had indeed separated us from our God. Without Christ, nothing mattered and nothing could matter, for our view of eternity would hold only terror and foreboding. The great Christian joy of this day is hearing God’s promise that because of what Jesus did for us, one day we will join Him there and we will exist with him there in the unimaginable perfection and glory of Heaven. How we now long for that great day, with now no terror of conscience, and thrill to the promise and assurance of the empty tomb.
Celebrate, therefore, on this day. Celebrate the day and the message of the day. Nothing has been left undone by our Savior. When Jesus cried “It is finished!” from the cross (John 19:30), He meant exactly that. There is no goodness that you and I have yet to provide. There is no work that we must add to Christ’s perfection. He did it all and now credits that goodness to each of us.
The empty tomb of Easter Sunday is God’s eternal declaration that the only wall that could bar our entrance to Heaven—our sin—has forever been removed. As Christ has been raised, so now also you and I, by grace through faith alone in our Savior Jesus, will also share in that same resurrection. Where Jesus is now, there we will one day be.
God keep us all until that glorious day. 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 New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.