Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me. It’s not hard to understand why the disciples were gripped with confusion at hearing the Lord speak those words. John tells us that this evening, the evening we call Maundy Thursday, was filled with all manner of conversation between Jesus and His disciples. How this compared with other evenings in the presence of the Teacher, we don’t know. But this night certainly had its unique aspects. First of all, it was the celebration of the Passover. It would have been different, obviously, sort of like the night before Easter for us, or Christmas Eve, maybe. It’s a holy day in the proper sense. It’s a big celebration, and they’re all geared for that occasion. So that makes it unusual. Then Jesus tells them that He’s giving them this command to love, and as He does this, He washes their feet. That’s unusual too. Then, He’s going on all of these different talking points. Talking, like they point out, about going to the Father, about being the Way, the Truth, and the Life, talking about going away and the Comforter coming to them because He’s going. It would have been strange. And that doesn’t even take into account whether or not they had already observed the Passover meal and Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper. But nonetheless, you get my point. This would have been unusual already. And then to have Jesus say that, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Again, you can appreciate the confusion.
So, what was He trying to tell them? I think you can gather it if you consider the context. The next day, that night really, He would be taken from them. He would be taken from their sight. Then He would be crucified and buried. No one would be seeing Him while He was in the tomb. And they would be saddened by this. As He goes on from that statement, He explains it. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. He will be taken in this way, they will be saddened. The world will be glad. They’ll be glad because this troublemaker, this “imposter” as the Pharisees call Him, He’ll be gone. But the disciples will mourn.
However, their sorrow will be turned to joy. He will be raised, and they will rejoice. They will then see Him again. They will be locked in the room for fear, but He will stand in their midst, He will speak peace to them, He will bless them, and they will rejoice.
Of course, we know that story. We know the joy and the effect this had on those disciples. If you know the tradition of the Church, it says that all of those disciples turned from their sorrow into a life of dedication to the Lord and His Word, to a life serving the Church and the proclamation of that resurrection to the world. In fact, they were so converted that nearly all of them even died for the cause. We know that this happened. But that was then. What’s that have to do with us?
Well, as Jesus has ascended to the Father, where is He? To be clear, where is His body that we could see it with our human, earthly eyes? It’s in heaven, right? And because of that, we see Him no longer. And there’s sorrow, there’s sadness, there’s suffering and trial. We all know it. We’ve known it in particularly challenging ways in the last year. But it’s the reality, isn’t it?
But even so, how much are we deluded about the sorrow now? How much do we try to pretend like that sorrow isn’t that bad? How much do we delude ourselves about it? Think about how we have tried to create a world that imagines this sorrow doesn’t exist, or that we can control it.
I was listening to a podcast and the speaker was talking about how much this has had an effect on children. He was saying how children have been raised in environments that are so mitigating of risk that many are having a severely challenged time in entering into adulthood. There isn’t a confidence to do bold and challenging things. And it makes sense, after all, they’ve been padded and protected at every corner their entire life. And to be clear, we still have our kids wear helmets when they ride their bikes, we still put seatbelts on them in the car. I’m not saying we need to put our kids at undue risk, but the point is to demonstrate how we think that we can create a world that is free from sorrow by mitigating risk, but we can’t. In that case, it ends up exchanging one sorrow for another, and that’s so often what happens.
And yet look at how we deal with sorrow. We do things like create the mentality you can see in what’s called the Word Faith Movement. I’ve mentioned that before, but the Word Faith movement is a movement within America Christianity which says if you believe God enough and speak aloud your trust that He will provide something, then He’ll do it. To connect this to sorrow, then it can be assumed that if you just claim the right things and trust God enough, then there won’t be sorrows anymore.
Or look at what else we do. We blame the sorrows on God. Adam and Eve did this at the fall—Adam in particular: “it was the woman YOU gave me.” As we suffer, we look at God and say, “This is all your fault!” But whose fault is this sorrow and suffering? It’s ours. It’s here because of our sin. But that’s a way that we deal with this sorrow, a way that’s unhelpful.
Or, we put our head in the sand and pretend it’s not there. We pretend that, sure bad stuff happens, but it’s not as though there is something that has corrupted the core of existence for the world, so it’s not that bad. In view of that, then, we create the mentality that we can make it go away. If we just exercise enough, we can keep away the diseases and early deaths connected to things like cardiac issues—except of course for those who are in perfect shape and still end up with them, or even die. Or we can avoid the sorrows of death if we eat the right foods and avoid the wrong ones—again except for those who eat all the right things, but still get cancer. Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t exercise or eat a healthy diet. But, the reality is that while we can’t see our Lord face to face, there will be these sorrows.
But what does He say? You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Those of you who have kids and have been through labor, or have been through your wives going through labor, I’m sure, can relate to this. There is all of this struggle and sorrow. I remember with one of our kids, my wife getting the point where it was so painful that she was saying she wasn’t sure she could do it. But she did, and when she did there was the child, and there was the joy of that birth. This is the joy of the return of Jesus.
As I say that, though, that joy was the disciples at the resurrection because they saw Jesus. We can’t see Jesus face to face in the same way, but where do we see Him? He’s here, in the waters of baptism. He’s here in the preaching of His Word. We meet Him as He comes to us in His body and blood in a unique way in His Holy Supper. You want joy now? It’s there. It’s here. It’s in that forgiveness of the cross, in the victory of the resurrection of Jesus brought to your hearing, brought to your tasting, brought to you. There, Christians is your joy. And think about what joy this is.
Think about that for a second. There is this sorrowful world, and why, again, is it sorrowful? Because of sin. But what did Jesus do? He dealt with sin. As much as we don’t want to deal with the depth of the sorrow of this world, when we do, there is the death of our sin. When we do, we deal with just what we really, really deserve. And in Christ, we see that what we deserve also has been dealt with, been buried, been crushed under His feet. And think about what that means for this sorrow. It means it’s never as sad again for us.
Now, it’s not to say that we don’t still know that sorrow, we don’t still experience it. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, it’s not like Christians never wrestle with depression. Likewise, it’s like I’ve said before, I don’t like the kids songs that give us the idea that Christianity is all about being happy. This joy isn’t happiness. It’s more than that.
In fact, listen to what one of the commentators I read about this this week said about it. He said that when John speaks of this joy, “What John has in view is that the ancient time has run its course and the time of joy is present with Jesus. The statement that joy is fulfilled gives us the specific Johannine sense. Fulfilled does not mean that joy has reached a climax but that its object has appeared. Throughout John’s Gospel fulfilment and joy are related to the person of Jesus.” To put that another way, he’s saying that when John speaks of joy, he’s saying that joy has come, it’s been fulfilled. That doesn’t mean that it’s topped out and done. No, it means that joy is in Jesus. Joy is the knowledge that the sorrows of this world have been buried in the tomb of the Man of Sorrow. It means that joy is in this One who overcame all sorrow on the first Easter, overcame your sorrow on that first Easter. How? Because He forgave your sin which brings death and suffering to you. Because in that forgiveness death no longer has a claim on you. Because the devil can’t hold you captive to it anymore. These things that bring you sorrow do so you because you feel like you can’t escape from them, but He is your escape from them.
If I could bring one more connection to this really quickly, I was reading from the Church Father, St. Augustine this week. Augustine lived when there had been widespread persecution of the Church. And he tells about a friend of his who had been wealthy, but sold all that He had to in view of knowing that in Christ there was a wealth that would never perish. In view of that, when persecution came, there was not this attachment. If he lost everything he, the consequence was not dire. Did he want to? Did he want to suffer the pain and the challenge that went with the persecution? Probably in many ways no. But He did suffer it, He gave up all because He knew that in Jesus his joy was complete.
Christians, that is true for you. As you wait to see Jesus face to face, His place in heaven doesn’t detract from the joy that is in Him, that joy that He is for us. And that joy is the joy that has overcome all things, all sin, all death, the devil himself. That joy is the joy that has overcome every sorrow. And hear once more what He says, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” He has given that joy to you. It’s yours. No one can snatch from you. No one. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Five Hundred years ago today, a lowly Augustinian monk who had been born in tiny Eisleben Germany, educated in Eisenach and Erfurt, then called to be a professor at the newly formed Wittenberg University, made history. This unprivileged theologian stood before royalty and the honored, and before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire himself and they demanded his response. Would he take back the writings that he had published over the last three and a half years? Would he recant of all of his criticisms of the Pope and the Church? Would he quit causing all of this trouble and just leave it all alone? The day before, the question had been asked and this monastic had demurred. He had asked for more time and consideration. But not the moment arrived and he couldn’t delay a response any more. If he would recant, things could go very smoothly for him. I they didn’t he would be an outlaw, at risk of death anytime and in any place. What would his answer be?
I’m guessing most of you know the end of this story. That monk, one Martin Luther, stood before prince and Emperor and made that great confession in which he is reported to have said: “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”
As Luther continued his work in the Reformation, he proved his conviction of those words. He proved time and time again how his conscience was bound by the Scriptures, captive to the Word of God. And as he did so, there were some times he expressed and confessed that conviction in a way that was gentle and full of sympathy. Other times he lashed out like a vicious animal at his opponent. But no matter the circumstance, he showed his desire to be faithful.
As we reflect on that steadfastness, it’s a good reminder. It’s not often that we have the threat of death in view of our confession. I can imagine that no one in this sanctuary has ever experienced an immediate attack on their existence if they confessed their faith. And yet Luther stood firm in the midst of that. And he stood firm in his writings, too. As he did so, he reflected that he saw himself as an under-shepherd of Christ, one called to pastor the flock. And in that vein, as I was looking at the lesson for this week, I found that Luther said this: “The true shepherd must keep watch. He must be zealous in the Word. He must give consideration to consciences, to comfort the sad, strengthen the afflicted, lest they despair, call back those who wander away… The worthless shepherds, [Christ] says, will do none of these things, because they no longer have the Word. That has been taken away from them. Both staffs have been broken. But when the Word is absent, all preaching is in vain. In fact, such preaching is most harmful and (like a terrible poison) destructive to souls.”
As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we need those good shepherds, don’t we? We need those who will guide us and speak that Word to us. We need those who will comfort the sad, strengthen the afflicted, but call back those who wander away. And of course, most of all, we need our Good Shepherd. We need the One whose Word Luther spoke about. We need that Word as we do walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We need the rod of that Law to strike us in our sin, to tell us of how we have fallen short, and how we truly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. But we also need the staff of His Gospel to draw us back to Him, to show us that running away in our fear of what we deserve only puts us at peril, but safety is in His flock, under His loving care. To put that concretely, safety is in the covering of His righteousness in baptism, it’s in the provision and meal of His Holy Supper. It’s in the hearing of His voice. As He says, “They will listen to my voice.” And why? Because we see that He is that Shepherd who has laid down His life for us. The Devil, the World, our own sinful natures seek to draw us away into death, into suffering, into peril. But He jumps in front of our enemies, puts Himself between them and us. I’m sure you could picture a frothing wolf seeking to devour sheep, and the shepherd putting Himself in the path of that wolf, or the pack of wolves, to prevent the harm to the sheep. And I’m sure you can imagine the harm that could come to the Shepherd in that.
And that’s what we see on the cross, that’s what we see on Good Friday. But on Easter we see our resurrection in His care for us. We see the truth of what He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now as I say that, I think there are two things that are noteworthy with regard to our own understanding and application of this.
First, I think we can understand that this sacrifice isn’t logical. You know, a couple of weeks ago I discussed the prevailing mindset around us and how it’s losing rationality. As important as it is for us to seek to live rationally in many ways, there’s a reality where God’s logic isn’t our own. And it’s demonstrated in His generosity. I think I’ve pointed this out before, but you see how irrationally generous God is. I was reminded of this as I was teaching our Adult Information Class this week. We were talking about the Seventh Commandment not to steal, and as we did so I was discussing Luther’s explanation. Do you all remember that? What is the Seventh Commandment? You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbors money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.
As I was talking about that, I was reminded of a story about someone who went to a developing country. While he was there, he went to the marketplace. Now, if you are familiar with how that often works, markets in many countries operate on the assumption that you negotiate. You ask for a price, the seller tells you one, but then you haggle. So this person, knowing the generosity that God had given him both spiritually and in terms of material blessings, asked the seller the cost. When the seller told him, he gave that much to him. The seller said, “wait, no! You don’t need to do that!” But the person said he did. Why? Because of God’s generosity to Him.
And you see that in this description. You see it in the shepherd laying down His life for His sheep. That doesn’t make sense, right? The human laying down his life for the animal? And you see it in other illustrations the Lord speaks too. Like the parable of the sower, the sower is ridiculous to be so wasteful as to cast seed on the ground where it’s not going to grow. Or there’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan risks his life to help the wounded man. He then gives generously toward the man’s care. And they were strangers! So, Christ’s generosity to you!
So that’s the first application, is understanding just how generous to you this Good Shepherd has been. The second, I think fits really well into our current climate. I’ve spoken a bit over the past few weeks about the sort of prevailing philosophies around us. We’ve also talked specifically about something called Critical Theory in Bible Class. Now these philosophies, especially Critical Theory have at their understanding that everything breaks down to power. There are those in power who oppress those who aren’t in power. In our time this gets broken down especially in view of categories like race, gender, sexual identity, etc. What groups have historically had means are seen as those who also have had power and so have oppressed those who don’t. And of course, there is truth in that we as people are cruel in our sin. We seek to grab and grab for ourselves. But the understanding is that this power needs to shift hands. Think about how good it is for us to hear of this Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the Sheep. Think about what this tells us about power and about authority.
To go back to something I’ve brought up fairly regularly, I was teaching my class for Concordia last week. In the class we were talking about vocation and how our roles in so many aspects of life are determined by Fourth Commandment relationships. Now if you’re remembering which is the Fourth Commandment, that’s to honor your Father and Mother. But if you remember your confirmation teaching, you remember that’s not just about your parents. No, it tells us about authority relationships altogether. In fact, understood properly, it tells us about how authority is properly used.
So, to make that point, I read Ephesians 5:20-6:9 with the class. If you know that, that’s the passage where Paul tells wives to be submissive to their husbands. Of course, that’s anathema in our day. But I always try to make the point that we don’t get it. I was making that point, when one of the students asked—and understandably— “Don’t we have to acknowledge that there is some sexism here?” And I said, “That’s exactly it! We think there is because we think that the call to submit is a call to be oppressed. And we think that because we think it’s all about giving men power. But look at what the men are called to do: ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ If we understand that, we see that authority isn’t about a power grab, it’s about love and sacrifice and service.”
That’s what our Good Shepherd shows us. Power isn’t about serving oneself. Authority isn’t about serving oneself. No, it’s about laying down one’s life for those under his care. That’s the second application. In our day, we need to understand power for it’s proper use, the use our God Himself shows us in Christ.
So, as we see our Good Shepherd, carry that into the world. Carry that message of sacrifice, of generosity. Carry that message of the Good Shepherd who gave Himself for you. And know that voice of the Shepherd who tells and promises you of this love that He has for you.
As we reflect on those events Five Hundred years ago, what we see is that under-shepherd Luther understood that. That’s why he had to stand on that Word. That’s why he couldn’t go against his conscience. May our God bless us with that same steadfastness. But may He do so in that same knowledge. That knowledge that this Christ is that Good Shepherd who lay down His life for us, for you. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” The doors were locked. Why? For fear of the Jews. The doors were locked for fear. Put yourself in their shoes. Of what were they afraid? They were afraid that the people who had crucified Jesus would come and attack them and harm them and kill them too. They were afraid because it appeared that their hope in Jesus was misplaced. They were afraid because it looked like the teachings against Jesus were going to win out. They were afraid because it looked like death had the final word over Jesus. This Jesus who had called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, death at the hands of this crowd had appeared to have won. And so they were afraid. They were afraid of death. They were afraid of the death of their church. They were afraid of the death of their culture. They were afraid of death to their bodies. They were afraid of death.
And as we see them alone in that room, we can understand that they’re not alone, are they? We, too, fear death. Don’t we? Some of us fear death in that we fear what’s beyond this life, and what it will be like when we stand before the Lord. I’ve certainly had those moments where my mortality struck me, and I feared. I feared because I reflected on all that I’m called to by my Lord, and how I haven’t done it. There is a real fear there for many of us.
Some of us maybe aren’t afraid of actually dying, but are afraid of the pain that could come beforehand. If you’ve ever been with someone going through the process of dying, it’s very hard. If you see the pain they’re enduring, you can see their discomfort and frustration. You maybe know the sleeplessness as they can’t rest. And there is a real fear to experience that firsthand. Or even if it’s not pain that comes immediately before death. All pain is a manifestation of death in some way. As the world has fallen into sin and death has entered into the world with it, death manifests itself in various and sundry ways. Pain is one of those ways, illness is one of those ways, suffering is one of those ways. And some of us fear all of those. We fear death.
Some of us fear that pain and bodily death not so much for themselves, but for their loved ones. In the midst of the pandemic, many people have expressed not their own fear of getting the coronavirus, but the fear that they might get it and transmit it to a loved one. They fear, then, that the loved one might suffer from it or die. There is a fear there.
Or some of us look around at the world and we see the crumbling of the beauty of Western Culture. We fear the death of that culture, of a way of life that has brought so much value to so many people. It’s not perfect, but no way ever can be in this world. But it seems fleeting, and the consequence could easily be extremely harmful and destructive. And so, there is fear of the death of the culture.
And along with it, some of fear the death of the Church. We look around at how many people used to line our pews. We see how many churches had to be established because there was such a great need for new congregations and a great need for more pastors. But now it’s the opposite. Now you see congregations closing left and right. You see pastors having to serve two or three congregations because those congregations can’t afford their own pastor. And you see the effect this has on people altogether. Three is a fleeing from the faith, and it seems to be increasing in its volume. If it keeps on this way, the Church could die. We fear death.
We fear death, and to be fair, there’s some appropriateness to fearing death. Death isn’t what God wanted for the world when He created it. Death is called an enemy by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. On last Sunday, we heard the reading from Isaiah which called death the “covering cast over all peoples, the veil spread over all nations.” Death isn’t good. So it’s understandable that we fear death, just like those disciples feared death. But yet, what do we hear Jesus saying to them? “Peace be with you.” “You who fear, who fear death, peace be with you.” How could they have peace? How could this Jesus speak peace? Because He had been raised from the dead. And being raised from the dead meant what about death? It meant that death had been overcome. It meant that death had become a defeated enemy, death no longer had power. It meant that death had met its death, and now it has become a servant to the One who has mastery over it. That’s the peace that this Jesus could speak.
As Jesus had been crucified for sin, the cause of death had been forgiven, and He overcame that enemy of death. So, Christians, that peace be with you. Don’t be afraid of death. Don’t be afraid of the death of your body. Don’t be afraid of the death of the Church. Don’ t be afraid of the death of the culture. Don’t be afraid of the death.
Now as I say that, what thoughts are running through your mind? “Easy to say, Pastor! How should I not?” But as I say that, if I could take a second and apply Law and Gospel to this—you know those old trusty Lutheran words, Law and Gospel. The Law telling us what we are to do and how we deserve condemnation and hell from God because we haven’t done it. The Gospel telling us what God has done for you in Christ, that He has forgiven your sins, and won for you life and salvation in Him. Why do we respond that way? Because we hear it as Law. You hear it as me telling you to do something. You hear it in the same vein as the First Commandment—which is where this falls. Think about that commandment. What is the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. And what does mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. So, on the one hand we think, “I can’t do this!” Like I said, “How should I not?!” But I don’t want you to hear this that way. Of course, ultimately I can’t control how you hear it, but I want you to hear it as an invitation of the Gospel. Trust in Jesus, don’t be afraid of death.
You see, there is Gospel here. Trust and believe in Him. Trust and believe in the fact that He has overcome death. Trust and believe in the fact that if your body dies, it will be raised again by Him on the Last Day to eternal glory. That’s His promise to you in your baptism. You were buried with Him into death—you already died!—and were raised in His resurrection. And that resurrection will be to live with Him, where there will be no more death. Don’t be afraid of the death of this Culture. Christ sits at the Right Hand of God the Father. He reigns there. If what we call Western Culture burns to the ground, He can raise up some other shell equally or even more suitable for carrying the message of His Word to the coming generations. He got it to us, and He’ll keep it going. In the same way, don’t fear the death of the Church. Christ will sustain it. It’s never been up to you to do it anyway. He is the One who, in fact, has promised that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. Don’t be afraid of this death.
Now, as I preach that Gospel, it’s interesting how there is often a response to this. As I proclaim the message that this relies upon God and not us, just as we proclaim that message that Christ has won our salvation, we haven’t earned it, we haven’t worked for it, we haven’t deserved it, as we say all of these things about God, what’s our natural human response? “But are you saying I shouldn’t do anything about this? That I should just let myself die, or I should just let the culture go to hell in a handbasket, or that I should just stop telling people about Jesus and let the Church fall by the wayside?”
Absolutely not! No, you have a call from God to love your neighbor as yourself. As you do that then, you ought to be faithful in telling your neighbor about Jesus. Not to get points with God—after all, Jesus did all you need to be saved—but because your neighbor needs to hear of the love of God for him or her too. And you should voice the confession of the church in our culture because this creation is constructed in the frame of His will for it, in the structure of what His commands and Law tell us. It’s best for the world if it lives according to that Law. And care for your neighbor. As we look at something like the pandemic, socially distance, understand how you can try to do things to prevent unintentionally contaminating them with the virus. And take care of your body—don’t neglect your neighbor in the midst of it, don’t neglect what is necessary for your faith—but do care for the gift that it is. You know, don’t throw yourself in front of a figurative bus or harm yourself intentionally. All of that is instructed by God. And all of it can be hard to know how to do exactly in a way that is most faithful.
But when you take it seriously, it will eventually crush you in the fear that you haven’t done enough. Why? Because you never can. It finally isn’t in your ability and control. And so, God has desired you to know that He has done it for you. So, I’m not telling you to do nothing. The preaching of the Gospel is often mistaken for that. But what it does, what I am trying to do is to comfort you in the midst of your fears. What I’m trying to do is helping you to see that as Christ stood in the room with those weary and afraid disciples and spoke His peace to them, He wants you to know that peace too. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have died for your sins. He wouldn’t have been raised defeating death for you. He wouldn’t give His body and His blood for you to eat and drink. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have given you a pastor to proclaim all of this into your hearing. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have given John to write down what we heard this morning.
And think about those words that John wrote. Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Jesus gave John that you would believe. Jesus gave John that you would hear of His work of overcoming death for you. And He overcame death for you so that by believing, by fearing, loving, and trusting in Him above all things, you would have life in His Name. Not by your work of believing, but by His work on the cross, proclaimed into your ears, poured over your body in baptism, and fed to you in His Holy Supper creating faith in your heart in the knowledge of His victory, His trustworthiness, and His resurrection life for you. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read, especially these words: “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
As we look around, if you’re like me, you have a sense as you look at the world where it feels like chaos. If you look at the goings on of things, they feel unstable. If you look around at our country, it’s divided and tense. If you look at our culture, it feels ungrounded. I touched on this a couple of weeks ago when talking about lies around us and the truth. But what we see is that this is a byproduct of what we call Postmodernism.
To give an oversimplified explanation of this, what has happened in Postmodernism is that people have said that we can sort of understand the world like we do about reading a book. Think about how reading books goes. If you read a book with a group of people, you all sit down in that group, and everybody says, “I liked x,y, and z about this book, and it means a, b, and c to me.” And of course, what’s the upshot of that? You can’t tell a person that x, y, and z can’t mean a, b, and c to them, right? If that’s what that means to them, who are you to say? So, Postmodernism, in a way has said that this is not only true of books, but of the whole world itself.
As you look at the world, you see various things. As you see them, you see them only as you do and are able to. I can’t see the world as you do. I don’t know if you ever thought about that as a kid. My wife and I have both said that, that we remember being young and wondering if someone else saw colors the same way we did. You know, if my visualization of blue is the same as yours. The reality is that we could never know. Postmodernism, in a sense, says that we can’t, and so this is true for every person individually. It says, to take the next step, that you can’t, then, tell someone something that is true for them.
That’s where we are having so much of the challenge with so many things. I as a white person can’t understand exactly what life is like for a person of color. I as a man can’t understand exactly what life is like for a woman. Right? There is some truth there—like I’ve said, every heresy is grounded in some aspect of truth. So, we have a mentality where you have your truth and I have mine. I can’t tell you what’s true for you. You can’t tell me what’s true for me. And so, think about the consequences in this. If there is understood to be no over-arching truth, no—what Postmodernism calls— no one metanarrative, what happens? Everyone creates their own, and what happens then? Well, a lot of things, but one of those is that you get ideologies. Now, Merriam Webster defines an ideology as a “a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture.” Now, that’s a fairly neutral definition to the word, which is appropriate for a dictionary. But think about how that’s a problem when all those little ideologies are in conflict. Or think about the problem if that systematic body of concepts is not true.
I was listening to a speaker this week talking about how much of an issue this has created. He was saying that so much of the anxiety that we feel in the world right now actually comes down to this. In view of these conflicting ideologies, what is right, and what is wrong? How do we determine that? How do we deal with that? Things that we have known to be right have been “deconstructed.” Some things we have known to be right are being attacked—for example the centrality of the stable two parent, mother-father home, to a balanced society. This is being attacked and torn down. These are being attacked due to ideologies. And what the speaker said is that as you see these ideologies, when you poke them, there’s a harsh response. As he put it, “People don’t like it when you poke them in their axioms,” that is when you provoke them to think about the things they hold as assured truth. If you push on that, people wrestle with seeing that their understandings are on shaky foundations. People can’t handle that.
And of course, as I’m saying that, I completely understand that there are those who would accuse us in the Church of being provoked if our beliefs are challenged. But I think you see how this is happening when the Church pushes back against the ideologies of our time. There is a significant reaction.
As I say all of this, let’s shift this understanding to why we’re here this morning: the resurrection. As we talk about “poking people in their axioms,” I don’t think any event in history challenges ideologies in any way close to the way Jesus’ resurrection does. Look at how the disciples react when this starts to sink in. They go to the tomb, they look in and they’re in shock. Mary sees Jesus Himself, and doesn’t recognize Him—and of course, that could be due to some supernatural reason where she is prevented from seeing Him. But a part of the reality of what has happened hasn’t sunk in. Why would this man standing before her be Jesus? Look at what she keeps saying: “I don’t know where they have laid Him!” What does she mean? “I don’t know where they took His dead body! I don’t know where they moved it!” There is confusion there, isn’t there? And I’m referencing Mary in particular, but we don’t get the impression and Peter and John are much more on top of it. In fact, John tells us they weren’t. And why? “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
They didn’t understand what Scripture had told them. Their axiom was being poked. Their understanding of the truth didn’t allow for people to rise from the dead. Which, I think, to be fair, we can all appreciate. I’ve said this before, but how many people have you witnessed that have risen from the dead. You’ve maybe seen people who were revived, who had some kind of death or near-death experience, that sort of thing. But how many people do you know that were in a grave dead from a Friday to a Sunday morning that were raised from the dead? None, right? So, this is a fair truth to hold to. Until it’s not. And this was the point when it wasn’t.
But they should have understood it. They should have understood what the Lord had revealed to them in His Word. They should have understood that the Scripture was telling them that “He MUST rise from the dead.” And do you hear the necessity there? That word must means that. This had to happen. It was necessary that this happen. Jesus had to rise from the dead. He had to die for sins, and He had to rise again showing forth His victory over death. But as we experience a sin-fallen world, as we experience a world where people don’t rise from the dead, that’s something that pushes against us, isn’t it?
But think of the implications. If this is true—which obviously we believe it is in a very real sense, we believe this body of this God-man Jesus literally and truly died and was literally and truly reanimate—and so think of the implications. Think about what that means for those Scriptures that speak about it. Think about how that informs us to take those Scriptures seriously. And I’ve explained before how we have good reason to trust those Scriptures from a historical perspective. I’ve explained how that gives us reasons to trust that this Jesus truly did rise. And so think about the implications.
Think about what that means for your life. The reality is that we often don’t treat this as true. We often don’t respond as though we believe it. We doubt. We waiver. We sin. I think about the rite we have in the hymnal for Individual Confession and Absolution. In that rite, there is language about how we have not let God’s love have its way with us and have not loved others as ourselves. If we really believed this, if we really understood the Scriptures telling us that Christ MUST rise from the dead, that wouldn’t be true. Think today about what that means. Think about how this is earth shaking—and I don’t just mean at the tomb, where the earth shook and the grave was open! Think about how this is a reality that resets all others. It’s Copernican, like the shift that went with understanding the earth as revolving around the sun, right?
It means that my sin is so bad that the God who has created the world has had to enter into it, take it upon Himself, and die for it. It means that as He did that, He earned the way to heaven and eternal life for me. It means that no matter how hard I try, and how good I might try to be, I couldn’t do it myself to get there. It means that as Jesus rose, that sin really is forgiven. It means that as He has risen, death really is overcome, and it’s no longer something to fear, but, as I’ve said, a useful servant to God. And what a blessing to think about in the days of a pandemic, no? Yes, this resurrection really disrupts all the ways that we push against this God who has created us.
Sadly, this is why we see the reaction we see in the world. The world can’t handle it. The idea that there would be a God who has created all things, but not evil, who takes our sin and rebellion so seriously that He demands the justice of death for it, but yet who loves us so much that He Himself suffered that justice and that death in our place, that idea is untenable in the world Either that God must be like something else, or He musn’t take sin seriously, or He couldn’t love us so much that He comes into this world and becomes man like us, no matter the case, the world can’t handle it. It pokes their axioms too much. It pokes them like we see in the reactions now.
But Christians, this resurrection tells you that this Christ can handle the world. It tells you that He can handle even you in the care and love that motivated His resurrection. And so, this means you don’t have to react like the world when the world tries to poke your axioms. Why? You have a certain, solid foundation for interpreting the world. You have the promise of the God who has defeated death. That brings certainty and security to your existence. It brings certainty and security to your future. And it brings certainty to your own resurrection. Even if this world would try to tell you that it’s too chaotic. What you can tell them is that there was chaos in the world at the beginning – the world was formless and void. But you know that God who brought order to that chaos. And as the world fell into a different chaos with sin, this resurrection brings restoration to that. That as there is this chaos now, the chaos of the challenge of suffering, of pain, of death itself, the resurrection shows you the God that has overcome all of it by becoming man and taking it upon Himself. And that frees you to do so much more. It frees you to love, just as this Christ has loved you and been raised to prove that love to you. Amen.
Allelulia! Christ is Risen!