Easter Sunday Sermon
April 5, 2015
“Christ’s Resurrection: The Forgiveness of Sins”
St. Mark 16:6
But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. Mark 16:6
Few events in the history of the world are as well documented as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There were literally hundreds of eyewitnesses. Efforts to disprove it always fail. Many reject the evidence of Christ’s resurrection because they disbelieve in the possibility of a man rising from the dead. They believe in their materialistic and anti-supernatural biases. They should consider the fact that many of those closest to Jesus rejected the reports of his resurrection when they first heard it. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, when he appeared to his disciples, some doubted. In St. Luke’s Gospel, the disciples did not believe the reports of the women who told them what the angels had said. In St. John’s Gospel we have the famous account of Thomas boasting that he would not believe until he put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ pierced side. And in St. Mark’s Gospel, after the angel tells them that Jesus is risen and that they should tell his disciples, and Peter, that he will meet them in Galilee, they quickly leave, saying nothing to anyone. Clearly, they did not believe.
The two Marys and Salome illustrate for us the fact that the denial of the resurrection of Jesus is not an intellectual exercise. It’s not as if they soberly considered the evidence, weighed it, and decided that, no, Jesus did not rise from the dead. They were afraid. That’s why they didn’t believe. Their fear prevented them from even considering the miracle that had just taken place.
What were they afraid of? They had witnessed death. In many ways it was an ordinary death. Jesus’ heart stopped beating, his lungs stopped breathing, his brain stopped functioning, and his body became cold. It was buried in a tomb. He was as dead as anyone else who has died.
But in other ways it was a most unusual death. He had personally raised several people from the dead. Was this not strange, that he who had proved his power over death by raising the dead should now die?
And the manner of his death! That was cruel. It is one thing for a good man to die a peaceful death or for an evil man to die a hard death. But for an innocent man, a man against whom nobody could issue a credible charge of wrongdoing to die such a brutal, painful, and shameful death! That would strike fear in the most pious heart!
Because there is one thing death tells us, even if we haven’t gone to church faithfully, even if we didn’t learn our catechism, and even if we slept through the sermons we heard. Death tells us that we are sinners who deserve to die. You don’t have to have this taught to you. Death reveals guilt. That’s why people deny it, prettify it, use euphemisms to describe it, and avoid confronting it. There is an intimate connection between death and sin. Even people who don’t believe they are sinners feel its wages when they are confronted with death.
The women knew that Jesus was no sinner. Yet they had seen him die. That he was innocent was beyond any question. He was innocent and died as if he were guilty. They knew that.
So they went to the tomb early in the morning to give him respect in his death that he was denied in the final hours of his life. They went to anoint a dead body. There had been no time to do so before sunset on Friday and they couldn’t do it during the Sabbath, so they came early Sunday morning to anoint their dead friend and teacher. They were looking for death and they heard the word of life and they were afraid.
The angel told them not to be afraid. He told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. The angel – God’s messenger – told them that he who was crucified was risen but they remained bound by fear.
It is not enough for us to know that Jesus is alive. We need to know what it means. An innocent man died and rose from the dead. Why? Muslims deny that Jesus died on a cross. They argue that Jesus was innocent. Since he was innocent, God would not let him die such a terrible death. So they deny both the crucifixion and the resurrection. They insist that it was Judas who died on the cross.
How do we answer them when they argue that God could not have permitted an innocent man to die such a death? We agree with them! Jesus did not die simply as an innocent man. He died as an innocent man bearing the sin of others. In fact, he died as the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world. Here is the prophetic testimony to this truth, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53:4-6,
Here is the apostolic testimony to this truth, from 2 Corinthians 5:21,
And again, from Galatians 3:13,
God made his innocent Son a curse. He made him sin. He imputed to him, reckoned to him, laid upon him the sin of the entire human race. The innocent One became guilty, not by committing any sin, but by having all the sin of all sinners of all time reckoned to him. Here is how Martin Luther describes this in comments he made on Galatians 3:13. He wrote:
“You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.” Did his crucifixion accomplish its goal? Did Jesus succeed in taking away the world’s sin? What his obedience good enough? Was his suffering sufficient? “You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen.” What can this mean? It can only mean that he succeeded in doing what he set out to do when he went to the cross to suffer for our sins. Had he not removed our sins he would have stayed dead. Had he not succeeded in justifying us by his bitter suffering and death, he would have remained in the grave. His resurrection is God absolving all those for whom he died. Here is how St. Paul puts it in Romans 4:25,
They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins takes away our fear of death.
Sin brings death. Forgiveness brings life. The connection is undeniable. Many live lives without forgiveness. They do not believe in the gospel of the free forgiveness of all our sins for Christ’s sake. The live they live is a living death. There is no true peace, no true joy, no real hope. There is only the satisfaction of whatever cravings can be satisfied for the time being until they eventually lose the ability to enjoy life and face eternal death all alone and afraid.
We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead this morning and every Sunday morning because this miracle defines our lives. Our lives gain their value from the forgiveness of our sins. This sets us before God as saints. We are righteous before God because Christ took the blame for our sins and gave us the credit for his obedience. This wonderful exchange – our sins for his righteousness – was accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection, given to us in our baptism, and receive by us through faith. It means that we are friends of God. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He forgives us. Every time we come to him to confess our sins he forgives us for Christ’s sake. When we face sickness, we know he is not punishing us. When we face death, we know we have nothing to fear. When life deals us losses we know we cannot lose what matters the most because he who died for us is risen from the dead and intercedes for us at the right hand of God.
We seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen. He is here in his holy church. Here is the forgiveness of sins and the gateway to eternal life. Here God removes our fear and sets our hearts at peace.
Rolf D. Preus