Easter Sunday| Rolf D. Preus| April 24, 2011| 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. St. Mark 16:6
There is always somewhat of a conflict between what we believe and what we see. We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. But we don’t see it. Have you ever seen anyone die and then bodily rise from the dead? Oh, we hear about near death experiences and some people swear that they have died and come back to life. But do you know anyone who has really and truly died so that anyone looking at him would agree that he is dead and then come back to life three days later? No, you don’t. That just doesn’t happen. It’s outside of our experience.
But it did happen. It was experienced. It was witnessed. The Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side. Water and blood flowed from his pierced side. He was dead. He was not merely sleeping. He was dead. His heart stopped beating. He stopped breathing. His body became cold. His dead corpse was put into the tomb and a huge boulder was placed at its entrance. It was too big for two women to move by themselves. Jesus was dead and buried.
On the third day he rose from the dead just as he said he would. The women saw him. Later, the disciples all saw him. As many as five hundred people saw him at the same time. They saw him who was crucified, dead, and buried. He had risen from dead. They saw him. They touched him. They heard him. They ate with him. The same Jesus who suffered and died on Good Friday rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.
It was a bodily resurrection. It was not merely a faith event, as some religious con artists like to portray it, as if Jesus’ body remained in the tomb but he rose from the dead in the hearts of those who loved him. No, it was a real historical event that happened in space and time. Our Christian faith depends on the historicity of this event. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead we Christians are fools for saying that he did and we trust in a lie. But we don’t trust in a lie. What we believe is what they saw.
Jesus brought immortality to light. His gospel is a gospel of life. But those to whom it was first proclaimed did not believe it. They were afraid. Stuck in unbelief they heard the angel and rejected his words. Jesus had died and risen from the dead. His messenger proclaimed this good news and the women were still afraid. Their senses belied the message.
That would change. Soon their senses would experience what they had never experienced before and what none of us has ever experienced either. They would see and hear and touch the risen Lord Jesus. They would see and feel and hear evidence that the Jesus who suffered and died on the cross was now alive. They experienced his death with their senses. They would experience his resurrection with their senses as well.
But we won’t, not at least this side of eternity.
About twenty five years ago, in the State of Missouri, a group of very religious Christians were praying for one of their number who was dying. After she died they kept on praying and praying that she would live. They refused to bury her. They just kept believing and praying and praying and believing. And she stayed dead. They kept on praying and her body started to smell and the word got out to the health authorities that these people were praying around a decaying corpse. It was a rather awkward situation for everyone concerned.
That’s because people don’t rise from the dead. It just doesn’t happen. But it did. And it will.
See the place where they laid him. He’s not there. He got up and walked out of the tomb on his own power. That’s history. That’s what happened. The lady in Missouri stayed dead. But Jesus rose from the dead.
He’s not the only one. The widow of Zarephath had a son who died and was raised from the dead. Jesus raised from the dead the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But bodily resurrections have been very rare. It goes against nature and experience. Dead people tend to stay dead.
This is why Easter is such a wonderful day. The death of Jesus was unique and so was his resurrection. Jesus is not the only one to have died and risen from the dead. But Jesus is the only one whose death and resurrection actually have direct bearing on us. For the history has meaning. It is not just bare bones facts. It is facts that provide us with an unshakable foundation for our faith.
St. Paul explains. He writes in Romans 4:25 that Jesus our Lord was “delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” The Lord Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses. He was not merely a man sent by wicked men to suffer and die. He was the Lord God sent by his Father to take our place and bear our sins. Our offenses were why he died. That’s what the inspired words say: “Who was delivered up because of our offenses.” Why then did he rise from the dead? Why was he raised? Because of our justification, that’s why. He took away the offenses for which he died. Had he not taken the sin away he would not have been raised. He was raised because we were forgiven, justified, by his death for us. Christ’s resurrection is God’s declaration that we are justified for Christ’s sake. Christ’s resurrection is God’s absolution of all those for whom he died.
Now this is no mere academic knowledge. This is our life. This is the truth upon which our lives are grounded. Because we don’t experience a bodily resurrection – just the opposite. We get sick. When we’re young we can do all sorts of things without even thinking. There comes the time when we can’t do so things even when we put our minds to it. Our body wears out in front of our eyes. Eventually, we die. We all die. And we see, feel, and hear no evidence that will stand before a judge or jury to prove that we will live beyond the grave. We don’t experience this resurrection.
If you’re looking for evidence of a bodily resurrection, look to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There it is. Don’t look for evidence anywhere but there. The only sign that Jesus was willing to provide for our faith is the sign of Jonah. Just as the great fish swallowed up Jonah and spit him out on the third day, so Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. That’s the sign – the miracle – that substantiates what we Christians believe about God, ourselves, and our future.
Our bodily ailments aren’t just nature taking its course. Our dying bodies are divine judgment. You can’t avoid this conclusion. As the pastor prays at the graveside committal ceremony:
In the midst of life we are in death, of whom may we seek comfort but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins are justly displeased?
We see death and we see sin and there’s no breaking the bond. It cannot be done. God has spoken. “The day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” “The soul that sins it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” So we experience the wages of sin when we experience the loss of our youth, our health, our vigor, and ultimately our lives. Satan cries out his accusation and screams divine judgment at us as if he has the right to speak for God. He sees our suffering and he shoots his arrows into our flesh to raise questions in our minds about where we stand with our God.
And our God’s messenger speaks. He points us to where Jesus of Nazareth was laid. He tells us that he who was delivered over because of our offenses has been raised because of our justification. This is how his death becomes our life. The bond between sin and death cannot be broken. This means that when Jesus takes away our sins he also takes away our death. His resurrection proves it. His resurrection guarantees the resurrection of those who belong to him, those who trust in him, those who are baptized into union with his death and resurrection. Jesus said to Martha, shortly before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)
This is how St. Paul can write in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The death of the body is called a sleep because it isn’t real death. Christians don’t die. No, the bond between sin and death cannot be broken. When Jesus took away our sins he took away our death. It was one and the same thing. This is how Jesus can say to us: “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Ah, but we’re trapped in these dying bodies and we can’t stop them from dying. Every illness, every pain and ache, everything that doesn’t work as God made it to work tells us that these dying bodies are dying because we are full of sin. And so our pain brings us more pain. Ironically, it is often the Christians – who alone have the forgiveness of sins because they are those who believe in Jesus who alone gives forgiveness of sins – who suffer the most guilt in connection with their suffering. They understand the body between sin and death. They know that their bodily pains are just natural. They are the results of sin. So they feel pain and feel guilt along with it.
To these Christians the angel speaks. He points to where they lay Jesus’ dead body. He tells us that he who was crucified is risen. This resurrection is our absolution. This means that we will rise on the last day. These dying bodies will become bodies that cannot die. No more will we suffer pain. Everything will work just as God designed it. Our ears will be keen, our eyes will be sharp, our legs won’t get weary, and we will not be overcome by sadness, bitterness, or guilt. Death will be swallowed up by life. The victory that Jesus won on Calvary was ours through faith. Now it will be ours by sight. We will feel and see and hear and touch and experience as fully as can be experienced that abundant life that was hidden under the suffering of Jesus.
This is what Easter means to us. This is a hope that cannot disappoint us. It is guaranteed to us by God’s word. This is why we listen to the message of the angels this morning and every Sunday morning. We come here to our home and lay claim to what our Lord Jesus has done for us. And we fear neither sin nor death. Amen