4th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 912, 524, 527
Text – Acts 4:12
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
A DANGEROUS NAME
He was the most evil wizard in hundreds & hundreds of years. He was so feared, in the wizarding world, that most characters in the Harry Potter novels referred to him as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” It was considered that dangerous even to speak his name.
At the other end of the spectrum is the hymn, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, & drives away our fear.” (LSB 524:1) The key phrase is this – “in a believer’s ear!” While Jesus’ name may be precious to children of God it is a most dangerous name to many others. It’s a name they never want to hear or speak.
We find that in the book of Acts, chapter 5: “Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. ‘We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!’ he said. ‘Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about Him…’” (Acts 5:27-28 NLT)
Did you notice how the high priest only referred to Jesus as “him.” He never once spoke the name. The other thing to recognize is that the high priest was criticizing the apostles for the fact that they have been speaking the name of Jesus. The high priest & his cohorts realized that Jesus is a dangerous name – dangerous to their own self-interests.
Do you know what your self-interests are? For example, do you enjoy being the center of attention? Do you prefer not to be the center of attention? Almost everyone falls into one category or the other. Do you know how the name of Jesus is dangerous to those self-interests?
You see, when the name of Jesus comes up in casual conversation, most Christians will
see themselves in the category that agrees with the sermon hymn – “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!” They do so because they understand that’s the “correct” answer. The struggle we have is when the Law challenges our own self-interests.
If we like being the center of attention, the name of Jesus challenges us to make Him the center. If we don’t enjoy being the center of attention, the name of Jesus will challenge us to remain in the spotlight long enough to bring everyone’s attention to Jesus.
Those are two opposite personalities, or self-interests – you might say extrovert & introvert – yet the same name of Jesus challenges each in different ways. The name of Jesus challenges all people to put themselves last in order that Jesus can then put them first. Do you know what your self-interests are? Do you understand how the name of Jesus challenges you?
It’s important to understand that life isn’t all – “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds.” Life is hard because true living always involves spiritual warfare. If you are a child of God there’s no way to avoid that, because even if you aren’t fighting, the devil is. You might lay down & let him roll right over you, but there’s still a war going on, & you are the victim.
Due to the Christian heritage handed down to us by our forefathers people are not yet marching through our land beheading those who dare to speak the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, each of us here today is in danger of losing our faith in the name of Jesus. I’m not saying you’re this close to losing it, but you are under attack. Satan does hate you & he longs to destroy you!
Do you know what your self-interests are? Do you understand how the devil is working to use them against you? If you love being the center of attention, you might realize one day that you’ve taken over the spotlight & Jesus has moved on without you.
If you really dislike being the center of attention, so you fail to speak the name of Jesus, you might wake up day to find that everyone important in your life has moved on without Jesus. Two opposite personalities, or self-interests – you might say extrovert & introvert – & though the devil tempts each of them in different ways, his goal for both of them is the same. He comes to steal & to kill & to destroy. Satan comes to wage spiritual warfare, & if you are a child of God you have been drafted in the name of Jesus to fight.
That doesn’t necessarily mean buying an AK-47 & learning to blast a hole in every unbeliever you meet. Jesus came to earth in human flesh specifically for the purpose of doing battle against Lucifer & his minions, but Jesus didn’t blow everything up in the process. In fact, Jesus came to die. That is how God did battle against the spiritual forces of darkness.
Jesus put His own self-interests behind Him, in order to put your self-interest in front of Him. You might guess that you & God have a different opinion regarding what your self-interests are. In today’s reading from the book of Acts, Peter & John end up in jail for teaching in the name of Jesus. Here’s what kicked off that series of events:
“Peter & John looked at him intently, & Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, ‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up & walk!’ Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand & helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet & ankles were instantly healed & strengthened.” (Acts 3:4-7 NLT)
Did you catch what the lame man saw as his own self-interest? He looked at Peter & John eagerly expecting some money. Instead, in the name of Jesus, the man was healed. His own self-interests were not met, but once he was healed he entered the temple walking & leaping & praising God. “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds.”
But the high priest & his cohorts saw the same event very differently:
“So they ordered Peter & John out of the council chamber & conferred among themselves. ‘What should we do with these men?’ they asked each other. ‘We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, & everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.’ So they called the apostles back in & commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:15-18 NLT)
The lame man, & the church leaders, were responding to the exact same event, even to the same name. Neither of them had their own self-interests met, but their responses were very different. In the end, that is what makes the name of Jesus so dangerous. By the very nature of unbelief, some people simply cannot accept it.
The name Jesus means that He will save people from their sins. As irrational as it sounds, not all people are willing to be saved. Yet we share the name of Jesus because it is the only name by which anyone can be saved. As Jesus Himself said,
“My sheep hear my voice, & I know them, & they follow me. I give them eternal life, & they will never perish, & no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:26-28 ESV) It is a dangerous name for it is a two-edged sword. It divides people into two camps, the sheep & goats, the saved & the lost, those who come into the light & those who remain in darkness.
The way of Jesus is the way to perfection, holiness & eternal life. The way of Satan is stealing, killing & destroying, which results in eternal death. The character from the Harry Potter novels, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” certainly fits the paradigm of Satan.
Praying in public, in the name of Jesus, is not politically correct today. Those who preach tolerance as the eternal good are unwilling to tolerate Jesus’ name. Many Christian churches today refuse to display even the empty cross in their sanctuaries, for fear of offending people. Don’t even think of putting up a crucifix with Jesus’ dying body upon it.
Yet, the sermon text for today makes a very ex-clusive statement. It does not allow for any diversity when it comes to salvation: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There are always going to be people with us who take offense at that name.
In Acts chapter 3, St. Luke quotes Moses by writing: “‘The Lord your God will raise up
for you a Prophet like me from among your own people. Listen carefully to everything He tells you.’ Then Moses said, ‘Anyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from God’s people.’” (Acts 3:22-23 NLT)
To a believer’s ear the name of Jesus conveys the very peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. To an unbeliever’s ear the name of Jesus, at best, only brings excuses & confusion. The same name draws some people in while it drives other people away. To those who do not believe it is a dangerous name, yet we cannot help but speak the name.
For, as St. Paul wrote: “…how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 NLT)
Unfortunately for unbelievers, they do not have the saintly nature offered to them by God’s Holy Spirit. They’ve rejected it, along with the name of Jesus. In that rejection, their self-interests are always ungodly – for no one without faith can please God.
On the other hand, fortunately for those of us who do trust in Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit has created within us a saintly nature. And that nature does have an awareness of the godly self-interests that the Holy Spirit has put within us.
Those self-interests long to be in the house of the Lord. They desire to praise His holy name. They rejoice in opportunities to share Christ’s love with everyone in need. Keeping those self-interests alive, in spite of the onslaught of the unbelieving world, is why we gather in our Lord’s house each week to receive His blessings, of forgiveness, life & salvation.
Like the lame man, we also need to be healed each week from the effects of sin. No matter what the world may tell you, there is no other name, than Jesus, by which we can be healed. Amen.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, & drives away our fear. It makes the wounded spirit whole & calms the heart’s unrest; ’Tis manna to the hungry soul & to the weary, rest. Dear name! The rock on which I build, my shield & hiding place; my never failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace. Amen.
April 19 2015
“Knowing We Are Known”
1 John 3:2
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you in the name of Him who KNOWS you, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.
To be known can be something really special. Especially if it goes way beyond a simple knowing of someone’s name. Really knowing someone involves intimacy, and all that is packed in that word:
· Familiarity and trust
· Closeness and understanding
· Caring and tenderness
· Affection and relationship
To be known by someone in this world might involve some or all of those items I’ve just listed. These are what we depend on for having a sense of love and acceptance toward one another.
When scripture says that God loves us, something much greater than these all combined is going on. So, when John writes “See what kind of love the Father has given to us,” He is writing about a different kind of love, an incarnational love, that actually lives and abides with us and in us. It is the kind of love that knows exactly who and what we are, top to bottom, inside and out. That love even allows us to drive nails through it attaching it Jo a device of extreme cruelty to die. Then God raises it on the third day to proclaim peace to those who mourn what they have done.
This is the love that the apostle talks about: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1, ESV) Nevertheless, that love can be unknown, not because God has not made it known, but because of blatant unbelief.
But those who receive the message, who believe in the name given above all names, these God knows and loves through His Son Jesus Christ. This is how the children of God KNOW THEY ARE KNOWN. God reveals it to them. Moses was concerned about this very thing for himself and for God’s people being led out of Egypt. Listen to this discourse between the Lord and Moses:
“And he [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:14–16, ESV)
“How shall it be known?” That is an interesting question in view of what the world purports today. The world wants to lay claim to the love that belongs only to the children of God; and they want to do it without KNOWING THEY ARE KNOWN!
They want to say they know God and are blessed by Him while actually denying His power. What they see of Christ, they want. So they try their best to mimic the works done by the saints. They have no idea that on the Last Day the One who knows all things has also said:
““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV)
So, “KNOWING WE ARE KNOWN” is not about what we think or feel or do. “KNOWING WE ARE KNOWN” is about revelation and God’s real presence with us. Being known by God is transformative in the children of God in the sense that they deplore sin, even hate sin, and want nothing to do with it. Children of God find sin in themselves especially inexcusable, and unworthy of love. Even so, they are relieved to hear the voice of their Savior say: “Peace to you.” Then, pure love is revealed and the words for our meditation comfort us:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2, ESV)
Yes, Jesus, the Christ of God has chosen to make Himself known in us. In theological terms this is called the MYSTICAL UNION. John refers to this union in the first chapter in real presence terms. “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3, ESV)
The Greek word (koinonia) is the very same word used in the union of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Supper. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, ESV)
It is that union wherein God in Christ comes and identifies Himself in sinful man to redeem sinners, call them out of sin, and give them new life, His life, actually living in them. It is an incarnational and eternal gift that will not tarnish, fade, or diminish over time because of who the giver is.
The gift, though eternal, can be stolen, chocked out, abused, refused and even rejected on our part. That is all on us. The reason why is because God has chosen to make Himself known in these last days through His Son who is revealed most definitively and clearly through the written Word that God caused to be written over a 1600 year period so that we would have an account of what He was doing for us. But not only what He was doing, but how He was doing it, for us, for all mankind. He has even connected that Word with visible elements to assure and convey the function of His life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension into the very life of sinners in the here and now.
But let no one be deceived; these means of conveying God’s grace and mercy and life can be rejected. More and more, they are being cast off as useless in a world trying to take ownership of something they know nothing about. How can it? The very means by which the real thing is given is being rejected. And that is the very work of anti-christ that even John speaks of.
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:2–3, ESV)
Oh how good it is to “KNOW WE ARE KNOWN!” You see, KNOWING WE ARE KNOWN gives us insight of faith that the world and those not known do not and cannot have. The message of Jesus confirmed by the Spirit is clear:
“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:5–6, ESV)
I think I might have heard a few groans when I read that. It should make us groan. It reveals a truth that’s hard for us to deal with because of our sinful human nature. When are we ever without sin? … Never!
That is the point the Spirit of God present in the children of God is making. There is never a moment that we are without sin. In fact, because of the sinful human nature, we share in the sin of all mankind. Oh, gee, I hate that. I don’t want to accept that. But it is true. I know it is true. My own heart bears witness against me. So how can we be comforted by these words from the apostle? We are caught in God’s trap.
Part of confession of sin, is realizing what we are really confessing. When Jesus appeared to His children after His Resurrection, the world did not see that. When absolution of confessed sin comes to us, it is like Jesus appearing to us and saying “Peace to you. See my hands and my feet.” The Holy Spirit in us comforts us with those words and assures us that we are God’s children now. The world doesn’t see that, and it cannot, because it does not know Him. Hear again the words of the Spirit:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2, ESV)
Simply said; God isn’t finished with us yet. His love is transformative and eternal. God’s Word active through His Spirit in us continues its transformative work. Like the brilliance of His glory, it reveals sin in us so that we might recognize our Own unrighteousness, confess it for what it is, and turn away from it to the light that gives life and rescues from sin. This is a lifelong process, as long as we do not shrink back and away from it.
“KNOWING WE ARE KNOWN” we do not shrink back because we have come to know how good it is to be known by Him who reveals Himself, shows us His sinless hands and feet and brings to remembrance why these wounds were necessary. It was done for us, and not only for us, but for the whole world. It was so that we might be cleansed from all unrighteousness.
John says: “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3, ESV) Isn’t that assuring and comforting? It’s the hope in Him that purifies. When God Himself knows us in His Son Jesus Christ, we are in a state of having been purified of sin from beginning to end. And yet, that inner work goes on in us as an “already-not-yet-tension,” no matter what the world, or our feelings tell us.
· Love knows us completely.
· Love loves us completely.
· Love purifies us completely.
· Love knows us to be like Him.
This is precisely why God appeared in human flesh. Love, so Amazing! Love, so divine! “KNOWING WE ARE KNOWN” is the best thing that can happen to a person. It is incarnational abiding love so amazing, so divine. Amen.
Now may He who knows us keep our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus now and to life everlasting. Amen.
2nd Sunday of Easter – B LSB #474
Text – 1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, & the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
WALKING IN THE LIGHT
“And when the 6th hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour.” (Mark 15:33 ESV) Hopefully those words still sound familiar. I know it’s the season of Easter, but we shouldn’t forget, or dismiss, Good Friday so quickly. For three hours, on that afternoon, darkness hovered & brooded over the whole land.
There is so much darkness in our world today, yet it’s a different type of darkness than that which gathered about the cross of Golgotha that Friday afternoon. The darkness of Good Friday was an expectant one. Evil was hoping to see the demise of God’s only-begotten Son.
Its hopes were crushed on Easter morning. The darkness we have in our world is a vengeful sort. It’s already lost the battle for eternity. Out of spite & hatred it seeks nothing more than to destroy as much of our heavenly Father’s creation as possible.
After the fall into sin, of Adam & Eve, the word darkness appears throughout Holy Scripture, front to back, portending either judgment or evil. In today’s reading from the book of 1st John, attention is turned to the reality of sin in the lives of God’s children. Sin, sadness & sorrow punctuate our times. They perforate our peace. They pound our hopes & our dreams.
Yet, “…if we walk in the light… we have fellowship with one another, & the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Walking in the light then is God’s answer for our troubles. It’s our Lord’s answer for the darkness we experience. Walking in the light repairs & restores our relationships with each other, while our guilt & shame is washed away.
Those seem like pretty miraculous results, but our lives so often do not feel miraculous.
Instead, in spite of being forgiven, our lives are too frequently beat down by the darkness of life in this broken world. What you need to realize is that your feelings are not a reflection of the true reality. Your feelings are twisted by the same corrupting influence that caused Satan to rebel against God.
In the “tolerant” culture in which we live, people like to think that everyone can have their own truth. Such thinking is totally irrational, because if everyone did, absolutely nothing could be real. In other words, if you are not a truth in my world, then you cease to exist?
The only way you can make everyone’s truth real is to redefine truth as something that is not the truth. In the old days, that was referred to as a lie. However, God does not leave His children living a lie, so in the Bible He makes it clear where truth comes from. St. John wrote of Jesus as the Son of God was praying to His heavenly Father:
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17 ESV) In the 1st chapter of John, the Apostle wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV) So if God’s Word is truth, & that Word is God, then God is truth. You may remember Jesus saying something to that effect.
As a result, to say we can all have our own truth is to believe & to act as if we are god. In case you aren’t connecting the dots that is a lie. To claim that everyone can have their own truth is to claim that we can establish reality. Unfortunately, sin is a reality. Adam & Eve did establish that. Apart from Christ, You & I too are only capable of establishing sin & darkness.
God created light. Our only hope for doing good is to walk in it. We cannot create holiness. We can’t create any sort of good reality without the power of our heavenly Father working through us. And what amazing grace it is that our heavenly Father wants to do exactly that – work through us to bring good reality into this broken world. In fact, Easter morning is the beginning of that new & eternal reality. As the Word of God says, “…in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-21 ESV)
Adam brought sin & death into our world. Jesus brings, “…life & immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:10 ESV) Jesus is the first human being to die & be raised from the dead – never to die again. We could say that for human beings, & for all creation, heaven actually begins with Easter morning. Jesus’ resurrection was the 1st act of the new creation.
As children of God, we already have eternal life here & now. Walking in the light is how you & I participate in that new creation already today. That is a pretty miraculous thing, yet our lives so often feel anything but miraculous, even when we are walking in the light, which is certainly not always the case. Good Friday is past. Easter has arrived, but darkness hasn’t left.
The Apostle, in the 1st chapter of 1st John, is writing to his fellow believers about the struggle of living as a Christian in this sinful world. Living in the light of Christ is to call oneself a Christian. Walking in the light of Christ is to actually be a child of God. Walking in the light is what God’s children do.
So what is walking in the light? It could be summarized as – receiving the faith created in us by God’s Holy Spirit. You could say that walking in the light is making our lives one of continual repentance. To walk in the light is to turn away from sin & to trust in the good news that Jesus does save sinners.
Turning from sin & putting your trust in Jesus is not a one-time moment of conversion thing, but is the daily substance of Christianity. The good news of the Gospel is for every day & for every moment. Repentance is to be the continual posture of each of God’s children. That posture of repentance is all about turning to our Lord in humility. Satan’s entire plan involves one of two things. Either, he encourages us to reject humility if we are still facing our Lord, or, he deceives us into turning away from our Lord all together. To claim that we can have our own truth, apart from Christ, is an example of a lack of humility. To deny our sin, in any way, is an example of turning away from our Lord all together.
Walking in the light, on the other hand, is first & foremost about turning towards Jesus in humility. Unless our posture, in regard to our Lord, is one of a repentant heart, nothing that we attempt to do for Him will be pleasing to God.
A lot of Christian churches spend incredible amounts of time in teaching their people all the different steps to being good parents, or good spouses, or good children, in other words – how to live god-pleasing lives. Yet, many either neglect, or take for granted, the primary & foremost activity each child of God needs to put into daily practice – turning to Jesus in humility.
Walking in the light seems like the easiest thing in the world to do. “Oh, I already believe in Jesus. Now I’m going to conquer the world for Him.” Many a Christian’s faith has died in thoughts, words & deeds similar to those.
Do you remember these words from Matthew 26: “Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same.” Thirty-nine verses later, St. Matthew writes, “Then [Peter] began to invoke a curse on himself & to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed.”
In the verse immediately following, we’re told, “And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And [Peter] went out & wept bitterly.” It is a sad, crushing & yet moving event in the life of Peter. We know from later events that it was a moment when Peter realized he needed to get back to walking in the light.
So he did, & Peter continued as one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus. Judas also was
confronted with the realization that he had fallen away from walking in the light. Christ offered him the gift of a repentant heart, but sadly, Judas’ pride would not allow the attitude of humility to enter his heart.
Instead, Judas chose the way of darkness. In doing so, he cut himself off from fellowship with other children of God, & he rejected the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin. His sins were forgiven, but Judas was unwilling to accept the mercy & grace of His Savior to believe that good news.
There are literally billions of electronic communications going all around the world each day. Yet, research is showing that people feel more disconnected than ever. They have little sense of value, or of belonging. If you believe in God, the sermon text tells us part of the problem, if not the whole problem. It is the failure of people to walk in the light of Christ.
That is what’s leaving so many people feeling disconnected, cut off & all alone. They’re not allowing their Lord & Savior to create the fellowship they so desperately seek, & which they were created for. A vengeful darkness is hovering & brooding over their heart & soul. It’s like a lion seeking to devour them, but they no longer hear the roar.
In John’s day, there were many false teachers in the church, who were very spiritual & religious men. John wrote this letter to warn the people in the Christian Church of the danger. Things are very similar today with the number of false teachers who are active in our culture, & in what appear to be Christian churches.
Our task, especially in this dangerous time is simply to walk in the light by confessing our sins & receiving the forgiveness & cleanness that Jesus offers to us in His blood. If we remain connected to the Vine He will bear fruit in our lives. Let us humbly turn back to Jesus, & Him alone, once again. There we will find light & rest for our heart & soul. Amen.
Walking the way, Christ in the center telling the story to open our eyes; breaking our bread, giving us glory: Jesus our blessing, our constant surprise. Jesus the Vine, we are the branches; life in the Spirit the fruit of the tree, heaven to earth, Christ to the people, gift of the future now flowing to me. Weeping, be gone; sorrow be silent: death put asunder, & Easter is bright. Cherubim sing: “O grave, be open!” Clothe us in wonder, adorn us in light. Jesus is risen & we shall arise: Give God the glory! Alleluia! Amen.
Easter Celebration – 2015 LSB #461
Text – 1 Corinthians 15:1
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…
Photographs, alarm clocks & sticky notes don’t look at all alike. They’re made in vastly different ways. They have very little in common except the purpose for which they’re used. All of us are in need, every now & then, of being reminded about certain things.
We use photographs to remind us of people we love when they’re not able to be with us. We use alarm clocks to remind us it’s time to wake up, get moving, or to be somewhere else. Sticky notes come in handy for reminding us of just about anything under the sun. If you can write it down the sticky note can remind you of it.
Thousands of years ago already the Apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to be about the business of reminding people of things they tend to forget. What the people of Corinth needed to be reminded of, is the same message that brings us together, here, this morning. At least, that’s how God sees it. What’s your reason for being here today?
For people who consider themselves to be Christian, it’s obviously pretty hard to forget Easter. So it’s not the day itself St. Paul wants to remind us of. Rather, it’s what the event of Easter implies for all of history, for all of mankind, & for everything else in all of creation. You see, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is THE central fact of all history.
Once sin brought death into the world only God could fix the problem. Mankind has been trying, for all of history, & has not prevented one person from dying. The people of our nation have spent trillions of dollars on health care & every single American who has ever lived has died. In order to fix the problem of death, God had to re-create His universe, re-create His planet earth, re-create His human race. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was the beginning of that re-creation. That’s why Jesus’ resurrection is THE central fact of all history. For all who believe in Jesus as Savior, it is the turning point from eternal death to eternal life. Makes you wonder why anyone would need to be reminded!
That takes us back to the reason for being here on Easter Sunday. God has His reasons for our presence & we have our own. Unfortunately, the two are often not related. We might be here because family wants us to. Others are here out of a sense of guilt or shame. Some are here just because it’s a big day, sort of like the biggest church party of the year.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…” Because of our sinful nature, even God’s children need to be reminded of why God has brought us here. We have spiritual Alzheimer’s, or spiritual chemo brain. Because of sin not a one of us is capable of great things, without Christ.
Yet, Easter is all about great things; things too vast for you or I to comprehend. So all of us need to be reminded of what the event of Easter implies for all of history. First off, since Easter is the turning point from eternal death to eternal life, our lives are no longer just about the here & the now. Because Jesus rose to live forever so will His followers.
There is absolutely no excuse for any of us to be acting like Ebenezer Scrooge. If you’ve never heard, he was a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Not a very favorable character reference for anyone, let alone for a child of God.
We already have, as our eternal inheritance, vastly more than we can ever accumulate in this broken world. Matthew, the former tax collector, probably delighted in recording these words of Jesus, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20) After Jesus’ resurrection, Matthew knew well the transition from scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner, to a man who would willing lose all his earthly possessions in order to follow & die for Jesus.
That is what the event of Easter implies for God’s children. As Jesus taught, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) God’s message to us, at Easter, is very different from the world’s message. God has His reasons for allowing us here & for bringing us here this morning.
Easter is on the calendar every single year. The problem is it’s only one day each year. So, we need to be reminded that Easter was not just a one-time event that ended after 24 hours. It was the beginning of a whole, & radically, new era. It was the beginning of a new creation, one that would start with God’s re-creation of the human race.
Jesus, His prophets & His disciples, raised numerous people from the dead, but every one of them would die again. Jesus rose & He will nevermore be touched by death. When the Last Day arrives, all true believers will be raised from the dead to follow their Savior into eternal life. But that doesn’t mean we just quit living until that day arrives.
A lot of confirmation students take it that way, however. Once they’ve confirmed their faith in Jesus, they just sort of stop living. It’s like they quit growing & breathing, & become stale & dead in their faith. They feel like they’ve graduated & they don’t really need Jesus anymore. To people in those shoes, St. Paul wrote:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…” Yes, Easter is all about great things; things too vast for you or I to comprehend, but that doesn’t have to mean we give up learning about & growing in our faith. Living in this broken, sinful world offers daily opportunities to grow stronger & wiser through the struggles of temptation & our actual sins. Our spiritual muscles won’t grow, however, unless they’re fed appropriately. Just as an athlete needs more than exercise & sugar to excel; so we need more than temptation, with a quick prayer now & then, to take up our cross & follow Jesus.
We need to be reminded of the new identity that our heavenly Father gave us at Baptism. He adopted us there & made us His children. We are the branch & Jesus is the Vine. As we remain connected to this new Adam, Jesus, who is God’s re-creation of the human race, we then grow in faith & understanding.
We stay connected to this new Adam, Jesus, through receiving His body & blood in the Lord’s Supper. We stay connected to this new Adam, Jesus, through hearing & through learning the Word of God. As we stay connected to Jesus, we will bear much fruit. As we disconnect ourselves from Jesus we will end up bearing no fruit, or even bad fruit.
As he writes to the church at Corinth, St. Paul is not sharing the Gospel message with them for the first time. They’ve heard it before & apparently have begun to forget it. They’ve apparently slacked off in applying it. Maybe their desire to be in the house of God has been waning. Maybe their love for their neighbor has grown cold.
In any event, we need the same rebuke for our failure to live the real life that St. Paul is concerned with, which is our Gospel heritage. You’ve probably heard the events of Easter a countless number of times. Is there a good reason you need to be reminded of this again? If the message of Easter is simply one & done, then why are you here?
If, on the other hand, it is a continuing progression of life in the faith, then we need to be here for our own benefit, as often as possible. St. Paul is a perfect example of the power of the Easter event to change lives. He was, & had been, persecuting the Christian Church for years. Then Christ appeared to him, as Paul was on the road to Damascus. With crushing realization it was revealed to Paul that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Therefore, Jesus Christ was the Son of God that He claimed to be, & through persecuting His Church, Paul had been persecuting God’s very Son, the Creator of the world. Yet, His heavenly Father saved Paul from hell.
There was no other explanation than grace, as Paul wrote: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, & His grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:10a ESV) Paul had seen Jesus, so he proves the authority of the Gospel by its effect in changing him from one persecuting Christ to one following Christ.
St. Paul had preached the Gospel to the Church at Corinth, & well they knew if they were adhering to it as they should. We also know well whether or not we are following Christ with vigor, or if we’re just limping along on our past association with a church. For that reason, being reminded of the power of Christ’s resurrection in our lives is a good thing.
Receiving a gentle rebuke, now & then, is always a good thing. God can work through them to nudge us back onto the path to eternal life. It is easy to drift away & slowly lose the faith without even being aware of it. Satan wants us to give up hope; to focus on our weakness instead of upon Christ’s strength.
The devil would have us believe that Jesus might as well be dead. Thus we sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives… He lives, He lives, who once was dead…” If you are a child of God you once were dead as well. The Apostle Paul certainly had been spiritually dead.
Because Easter, right now, is inevitable, Satan goal is to make it a one & done event. He’ll allow us to show up on this day as long as we leave it at that, & forget about Christ the rest of the year. To which St. Paul counters: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…” By that last phrase, “…in which you stand…” we realize that Paul is working from the standpoint that the people of Corinth are still children of God. They are still standing in the faith. They simply need a gentle reminder to think again of all the great things the Easter event implies. Believing in Jesus as Savior, is the turning point from eternal death to eternal life.
That applies to our emotions, our intellect, our relationships, our physical health & certainly to our spiritual life. Everything that is broken in this world can be overcome by the resurrection from the dead & our entrance into heaven. The OT reading spoke of it like this:
“It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad & rejoice in His salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:9 ESV)
The devil is trying to convince us that we’re the 1st born child of Ebenezer Scrooge & we haven’t fallen far from the tree. His implication is that our lives are hopelessly lost. One reason we recite the Apostle’s Creed is to counteract Satan’s lies & temptations:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, & the life everlasting.” If you’re paying attention to those words, you are being reminded “…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…” Amen.
Jesus lives & grants me daily breath; He lives, & I shall conquer death; He lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there. He lives to silence all my fears; He lives to wipe away my tears; He lives to calm my troubled heart; He lives all blessings to impart. He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same; oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: I know that my Redeemer lives! Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet