Easter Sunday

March 31, 2013

“What Difference Does Easter Make?”

1 Corinthians 5:6-8


Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8



The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central event of human history.  It makes a difference in our lives.  It is the difference between life and death.  It is the difference between freedom and slavery.


God set Israel free from slavery in Egypt after sending ten plagues.  The last plague was the Passover.  God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn of every Egyptian family.  The angel of death did what he was sent to do.  He killed the firstborn of every Egyptian family.  Every single family suffered except for those families who had put the blood of the Passover Lamb on the tops and sides of the doors of their homes.  Wherever the angel of death saw the blood he passed over.  The blood of the Passover Lamb is shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.


The Passover was celebrated for fourteen hundred years before the events of that most holy week when Jesus, our Passover, was betrayed into the hands of sinners to be crucified under Pontius Pilate.  Every year at Passover, as the lamb was eaten with unleavened bread with bitter herbs, God’s people celebrated, not only their past deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but their future deliverance – and the deliverance of the whole world – in the coming of the Savior who would shed his blood, suffer and die for the sins of all people, and rise again on the third day.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover.


There are two closely related features of both events: the event that took place in Egypt about 3,400 years ago and the event that took place in Palestine about 2,000 years ago.  In both events, God and his people triumph over death and slavery.  The triumph over death is where the blood marks the door.  The child of Israel who was being delivered from Pharaoh’s cruelty could listen and hear the angel of death strike down the firstborn of every Egyptian family.  He could watch as the angel of death passed over his family.  He would know that it was on account of the blood marking the door.


Just so, the Christian sees death all around him, reads about it, witnesses it, and even suffers it – but he knows that since Jesus died for him and rose again, death is but an empty form with no power to hurt or destroy.  The Christian knows he has eternal life, just as surely as Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.


The second feature of both events is setting the people free.  In the events described by Moses in the Book of Exodus we read of how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt.  Moses stretched his hand out over the Red Sea and God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind.  God turned the sea into dry land and the children of Israel left Egypt on dry land.  When Pharaoh’s army chased after them in horses and chariots, God had Moses stretch out his hand over the sea again and it returned to its full depth.  The enemies of God’s people drowned in the sea.  The children of Israel walked across on dry land with the waters of the Red Sea as a wall on each side of them. 


Just so, the Christian is set free from the slavery of the law, of sin, and of the fear of death.  We live under the forgiveness of sins.  The law shows us our sins and threatens to punish us.  But it cannot wash over us and drown us in our guilt because the wind of the gospel blows against it, keeping it at bay.  We walk past the law’s accusations with confidence that the blood of the Passover Lamb has delivered us and will keep us from being enslaved again to fear and death.  We are children of God!  The law cannot punish us, sin cannot claim us or control us, and the devil cannot make us afraid.  He is a whipped enemy.  We live a new life, a life under grace, a life in which no spiritual power can destroy us, which means that the law cannot condemn us.


The Passover of the Old Testament Church is no mere historical detail for us Christians.  The children of Israel put the blood of the lamb around the doors of their houses to signify that it was by the shedding of the blood of the Passover Lamb that they were set free.  They ate unleavened bread to signify that they were making a clean break with their past.  Bread with yeast would have brought the yeast from Egypt with them.  Unleavened bread would not.  It was a total break.  Nothing from Egypt would go into the Promised Land.  The blood around the doors kept the angel of death away.  The bread without yeast symbolized a life of freedom from the past.


Freedom from death and freedom to live are twin sides of the same thing.  The blood is freedom from death.  Jesus is our Passover.  He died and rose again.  The blood of the Passover Lamb keeps the angel of death from striking us dead.  His blood marks our door and the angel of death passes over us.


With freedom from death comes freedom to live.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is our deliverance from slavery.  It is our Exodus.  Christ’s resurrection is God pronouncing us forgiven of our sins.  It was our sins Jesus bore when he suffered on the cross.  He bore them fully.  He suffered the full punishment God’s justice required.  He succeeded in taking our sins away.  The proof is his resurrection from the dead.  Had Jesus failed he would have remained dead in the grave.  Christ’s resurrection is God absolving us and setting us free from our sins.


What could be more precious than this freedom?  To live under God, the God of justice who sees everything, judges righteously, whose name is holy – to live under this God at peace with him without fear of being judged because we are free from the terror of the law and the power of sin!  Who would despise such a life?


But people do.  The children of Israel pined after what they had left behind, even though they were slaves in Egypt.  They whined and complained against God and Moses, preferring their old life of slavery.  And so it is today.  People are baptized, confirmed, go to church, attend the Lord’s Supper, confess the Creed and remain enslaved by the sin from which Jesus set them free. 


“Your glorying is not good,” Paul wrote.  There was a member in good standing of the congregation in Corinth who was having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife.  This was a serious sin.  It was a sin against the Fourth Commandment.  He was dishonoring his father.  It was a sin against the Sixth Commandment.  He was having an incestuous relationship with his step-mother.  The man should have been told to repent.  But he wasn’t.  He continued to flaunt his perverted and dishonorable relationship right out in the open.  The congregation did nothing about it.  He remained a member in good standing.


“Your glorying is not good,” Paul said.  How can you boast about being the church while condoning and even defending sin?  When God set Israel free from slavery in Egypt, he instituted the feast of the Passover, also called the feast of unleavened bread.  Easting bread without yeast signified that they would take nothing out of Egypt into the Promised Land.  The life of freedom in Christ means turning our back on the life of this world.  It does not mean combining the Christian faith with elements of competing faiths.  It does not mean compromising the Christian faith so that it is acceptable to those who reject it.  St. Paul writes:


Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.


“Well, nobody’s perfect.  So the man had an affair with his father’s wife?  Are you saying you haven’t sinned?  Nobody’s perfect.  Why do you judge those who have had abortions?  Do you think this was easy for them?  Why do you judge sincerely committed adults who live together without getting a marriage license?  Who are you to impose your narrow definitions of marriage on them?  Why do you judge homosexuals?  Why you probably have members of your own family who are oriented this way.  Why do you put people down because they’re different from you?”  And so the Church is pressured to change what she teaches so that the world won’t object.


But wait a minute!  Who suffered and died for us?  Who rose from the dead triumphant over our sin and death?  Who set us free?  Who reconciled us to God?  Who is our Passover?  Did he offer his life up on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins in order to keep us bound in sin?  Or did he suffer and die to set us free?  What does his resurrection mean?  That we should cling to the sins for which he died?  Or that we should claim a life of purity, sincerity, and truth?


God forgives sinners.  He does so freely by his grace.  Sinners cannot rid themselves of their own sins.  Only the blood of the Passover Lamb can do that.  Sinners cannot give themselves new lives to live.  Only Jesus, the risen Lord, can give us new lives to live.  But to embrace what God’s word clearly identifies as sin; to defend it; to insist that one can live openly and without repentance in a way that God’s word forbids is to deny the Passover Lamb.  It is to deny the gospel itself.


It won’t happen immediately.  But it will happen.  When you look at the tragedy that has befallen many churches in the past generation you see how the leaven came in and slowly but inexorably worked its way through the entire batch of dough.  False doctrine is at first tolerated and then it is given equal rights with the truth and finally it overcomes the truth.  The leaven of legalism is when the gospel is turned into a new law that we must do.  Before long what Jesus did for us on the cross is set aside in a dusty corner where nobody goes.  The leaven of antinomianism is when the law is simply denied.  Before you know it, every kind of sin is being sanctified so that those who condemn sin are condemned for it.  The only sin is the sin of judging unrepentant sinners.


But God does.  Every Christian must know this.  God condemns unrepentant sinners.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is our absolution.  It is our freedom.  It is new and eternal life for us.  The new life is not lived in service to what enslaved us.  Jesus said, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.  If the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed.”  This is why we rely so closely on the forgiveness of sins freely given to us for the sake of Christ, our Passover.  The forgiveness of sin is not the acceptance of sin.  It is the very opposite.  Our sin was covered by the blood of the Passover Lamb. 


We celebrate Easter every Sunday here in this place.  We celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  We don’t want to imitate a world that is on its way to hell.  We don’t want to welcome its malice and wickedness into the Church.  Rather, we ask our gracious God to purge it out of us.  By Christ’s death and resurrection God has set us free.  We pray that he keep us free in his saving truth.  Amen