Rejoice in Christ’s Victory
April 8, 2012
Grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Easter is for us the best day of the year! Alleluia! Χριστος ανεστη, Αληθως ανεστη! – “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” That greeting has been exchanged by Christians for generations from all over the world because Easter is our grand and glorious feast of Christ’s victory over “sin, death, God’s wrath, the devil, hell, and eternal damnation” (Luther’s Works 23:404) – as our blessed Martin Luther (1483-1546) rightly puts it [Edgar M. Carlson, The Reinterpretation of Luther (1948) pp. 68-73]. Alleluia!
But if that is the case, then why do we have those upsetting words in Mark 16:8 – that seem to rain on our Easter parade! – saying, in no uncertain terms, that the first disciples to discover the empty tomb of our crucified Savior, Jesus Christ, which was to be proof-perfect that Jesus was alive and well – that they, instead of being merry and jubilant and sharing the good news with everyone they saw, instead “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing…, for they were afraid”? Unbelievable! They were afraid – or timebant, as the Old Latin Bible has it! Timebant! Can you believe it? And so we’re tempted to say, “Shame on you Mark 16:8! Why are you so sheepish?!”
And there’s more. We’re also shocked to discover that we’re not told why they were afraid and didn’t tell anyone about the empty tomb! So what we have here is actually a double conundrum – they not only didn’t  celebrate the first Easter, but we don’t know  why they were afraid to. So what shall we make of that? Are we left to languish in bewilderment? Well, not quite, for there are still a few Biblical pieces we can put together. For even though we don’t have any straight-forward answers to our questions, we do have scattered insights of considerable worth. And the first of those has to do with fearing that the resurrection of Jesus might lead to some sort of indiscriminate resurrection – with dead people popping back to life all over the place, since death now has been defeated (Hebrews 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55). This has happened before, you know, but in small measure (Mark 5:42, 9:4), and the fear now is that resurrections will start cropping up all over. So the resurrection cat is out of the bag and we’re scared!
Threatened. First, we’re afraid because maybe now murderers from the past will come back to hunt us down. Maybe Jezebel of old, who tried to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:2), will come back to life and come after us! And also King Herod, who tried to kill the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:13), maybe he’ll spare nothing in trying to kill us! And what of all those modern day murderers like Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Josef Stalin (1879-1953) and Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)? – who wants them running around again! Now if that’s what Easter is about – even in small measure – no wonder those first disciples fled in fear! Wouldn’t you have done the same?!
Prodded. Or maybe just the good guys from the past will come back to life, like Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea and John the Baptist. But even that wouldn’t be much fun for they pushed and prodded their people to live better lives back then – lambasting them when they felt they needed to! And they would do the same to us! “Everyone is greedy for unjust gain” (Jeremiah 6:13)! “I will punish you for all of your iniquities” (Amos 3:2)! “My people have left their God to play the whore” (Hosea 4:12)! “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come” (Matthew 3:7)! Now who would want to put up with harangues like those?
Embarrassed. Finally, what about Judas (Luke 22:47)? What if he comes back to life and embarrasses us all the more with his faithless thoughts, words and antics? Who wants to put up with his ongoing betrayals of our Lord? And what’s more, wouldn’t his influence finally overtake us, turning us into him? That’s enough to scare any Christian – and make us run in the opposite direction!
One More Reason
But maybe the real answer lies
elsewhere. Those first witnesses of the grand resurrection of Christ,
maybe they were afraid because they were expecting the risen Jesus – to
get even with them! They saw how Jesus blew up at the scribes! – saying
they looked great on the outside, but in their hearts were rotten,
nothing but “dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27)! They knew they broke
their promise to defend Jesus to the end (Mark 14:31) – when they all
fled after he was seized and taken to the cross (Mark 14:50)! And so
they feared his anger against them, if he were to come back to life! For
Christ is judge (John 5:22), as the creeds say! At the end of his life,
that great Lutheran writer from
if a comfortable, pleasurable life is to be achieved by proclaiming and teaching Christianity, then the Christ-picture must be changed somewhat. Adornment, no, there will be no sparing of gold and diamonds and rubies [and the pastor’s mummery will] make people think that this is Christianity. But rigorousness, the rigorousness that is inseparable from the earnestness of eternity, that must go. So Christ becomes a sentimental figure, pure Mr. Goodman …. Above all it is connected with wanting, out of fear of people, to be on good terms with people, whereas the Christianity of the New Testament is: in fear of God to suffer for the doctrine at the hands of people (KW 23:136-137, 132).
You Are Delivered
What then are we to do to get out from under this damning indictment against us? Kierkegaard has nailed us – or, rather Christ has done it through his Danish author’s writings! So what then are we to do? Well, let us cry out to the Lord in our shame – “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). And God will hear us! For we’re told, with bold confidence, that Jesus “was put to death for our sins and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25)! So believe in him (Romans 3:25) – rejoice and be glad! For God has set us free from all of our sins and all the flaming punishments they bring us (Galatians 5:1)!
And in addition to this confession of faith, receive Jesus, your Lord and Savior, today. For he is here in the Lord’s Supper. Come and bow down before him, eat and drink, that you may be confident that your sins truly have been forgiven you (Matthew 26:28).
But there’s even more to our faith than believing in Jesus and receiving the sacrament today! We’re also expected to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Luther explains why this is the case:
God … gives us His Son, who is very God. He gives us the very dearest thing He has and is …. And what are we to give God in return for this love? Nothing. You shall not … perform this or that good work. Only believe in Christ, cast off your old nature, and cleave to Him. Your faith, however, must be of the sort that abounds in good works …. [For] when this Gift enters your heart and you sincerely believe in Christ, you do not remain your former self, as, for instance, a thief, an adulterer, or a murderer; but you become a new man …. Such a faith will no longer permit you to be arrogant and proud; for if the heart is cleansed, then hands, eyes, feet, and all other members are also pure, and their works are also different (LW 22:374)
And so “we receive fire and light, by which we are made new and different,” Luther adds, “and by which a new judgment, new sensations, and new drives arise in us” (LW 26:375).
Let us today agree on showing this newness (Romans 6:4) by comforting “those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Does that mean we’ll say that everything is just fine? No, for in this life we have tribulations (John 16:33) and sufferings (1 Peter 4:13)! And, so as Kierkegaard points out, the help that Christianity gives “looks like torment, the relief like a burden” (KW 20:114)! Nevertheless, we do not consider the sufferings “of this present time” worth “comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” (Romans 8:18). And believers have that glory in Jesus’ words – “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19)! Death, therefore, has no dominion over any believer in Christ! So when we die, we will be raised again to live for eternity in heaven with God. When we die, the eternal Christ will meet us to take us with him into heaven (John 14:3; Romans 8:39; 1 Thessalonians 4:18). Share these great words with all who will listen. But as Kierkegaard warned, this good news, by way of the resurrection from the dead,
is not learned by rote, it is not learned by reading about it, it is acquired slowly, and it is acquired only by the person who worked himself weary in the good work, who walked himself tired on the right road, who bore the concern for a just cause, who was misunderstood in a noble striving, and not until it is well gained in this way is it in the right place and a legitimate discourse in the mouth of the Very Reverend [and any one else who wants to witness to it] (KW 10:101)!
With that caveat in mind, move ahead! – “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also” (2 Corinthians 4:14) – so we can now confidently rejoice forever in Christ’s victory. Amen!
A Field Sermon, 1903 by
A Field Sermon, 1903 by Anna Archer