4th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 474, 480, 478
Text – Acts 4:1-2
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests & the captain of the temple & the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people & proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
PROCLAIMING IN JESUS
Were you thinking about the words? As you were singing the sermon hymn, did you give any thought to what exactly you were doing? In verse 3 you were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead! “But short was their triumph; the Savior arose, & death, hell & Satan He vanquished, His foes….” LSB 480:3.
While singing, you were doing what Peter & John were doing thousands of years ago, although you have not been arrested – yet. It’s not a pleasant thought for us who are very accustomed to the life of luxury in which we live. In the time of Peter & John even the emperors did not have the conveniences of life that you & I enjoy & take so for granted.
This life of ease that we have makes it difficult for us to seek first the kingdom of God like Peter & John were doing. Prison time did not deter them from speaking about the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Prison time did not deter them from speaking about the hope that all mankind has in the life hereafter because Jesus did not rot in the grave.
Here is the Apostle Paul’s take on it: “How, then, might they call [on Him] on whom they did not believe? And how might they believe [on Him] of whom they did not hear? And how might they hear without one proclaiming?” (Romans 10:14)
A visitor, looking for hope in this broken world, could be watching the livestream, or be here in person. You might not greet them or say hello, but you can still proclaim the sure & certain hope that God’s children have simply through singing the hymns. “…The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high; He lives, yes, He lives, & nevermore will die. O, where is your sting, death? We fear you no more; Christ rose, & now open is fair Eden’s door. For all our transgressions His blood does atone; redeemed & forgiven, we now are His own.” LSB 480:3-4. If you are not singing, might a visitor conclude that Jesus’ resurrection has not overcome the sorrows, the struggles or the brokenness of your life?
In Philippians 4:4 we find these words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (ESV) That is so contrary to our attitude toward life because we focus so much on the temporary things that are passing away, which moth & rust are destroying & which death is swallowing up. Rejoicing is so contrary to our attitude because we are living by sight.
The Word of God calls us instead to live by faith, & when doing so then we find a multitude of reasons to rejoice. When living by faith we find a multitude of opportunities to proclaim in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And it is not just a resurrection from the dead. It is also a resurrection from all the brokenness of this life, however long it may be!
Day by day, moment by moment, the children of God are being re-created into the new creatures that we will fully become at the resurrection of the dead. Sadly, our attitudes don’t always reflect that. Sin has broken us beyond repair, so death must come in order that eternal life may follow. The old is passing away. The new has come, but we see that by faith alone.
If you find yourself down in the mouth & unable to sing, think about this – God the almighty holds us accountable for our shortcomings & failures. That thought, by itself, will put you even further down in the mouth, but with God that thought is never alone! Do you know where He holds you accountable?
Yahweh, the supreme being of all the universe holds you & me accountable for our sins & He does so in His Son Jesus Christ. God holds us accountable on the cross at Golgotha & for that every human being ought to be eternally grateful. It is that gratitude which motivates us to love God instead of ourselves. It is that gratitude which motivates us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It is that gratitude, & that gratitude alone, causes us to sing with joy, “He’s risen, He’s risen, Christ Jesus the Lord; He opened death’s prison, the incarnate, true Word. Break forth hosts of heaven, in jubilant song…” LSB 480:1.
And that gratitude flows out of the gift given to you by God Himself. Maybe you don’t open that gift every day. Maybe you’ve forgotten what Easter really means! Maybe you just don’t understand what salvation is all about. It’s very likely that one reason we lack gratitude is that we don’t really understand the gift that God has given.
Pastors throw around the word “salvation” so often that it’s become a cliché among those of us who follow Jesus. What is salvation? What does that word mean? Can you explain it to someone who does not follow Jesus? What do you think of when you hear the word? What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “saved by the blood of Jesus”?
I believe that most Christians think of salvation only in terms of ‘no more sin.’ That certainly is a great thing, but it is far from the only thing! It is a very incomplete picture of what salvation is & what it means for you!
In the reading from the book of Acts we heard that Peter & John were come upon by the priests & the captain of the temple & the Sadducees. These “leaders” were greatly annoyed because Peter & John were teaching the people & proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. So they arrested them & put them in prison until the next day.
On the next day their rulers & elders & scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest & Caiaphas & John & Alexander, & all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” The “this” they are referring to was covered in previous chapter of Acts.
Now Peter & John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer… And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple… to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter & John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, & said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver & gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up & walk!” And he took him by the right hand & raised him up, & immediately his feet & ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood & began to walk, & entered the temple with them, walking & leaping & praising God. (Acts 3:1-8 ESV)
Peter demonstrated the nature of salvation. Peter says this man was saved, not just healed. He received wholeness, strength & health. All who enter heaven will exist in complete wholeness, strength & health. No vitamins or medicines needed. No more health insurance will be necessary. No deductibles & co-pays. Exercise & weight training will be unneeded.
One of the effects of sin is that we can barely understand what it is to live without sin. We view salvation as “forgiveness of sins” right now & as “eternal life” after we die. We look at salvation as something that is spiritual, but not physical. We don’t really look at ourselves as being saved in the here & now.
With heaven, there certainly is a lot more to look forward to, but don’t let your eyes overcome your faith in this life. In the reading from Acts 4, we learn that “salvation” is a matter of both soul & body & heart & mind.
Having salvation means that evil can no longer harm us in the ultimate way, which is eternal death. While moth & rust destroy the temporary things of this life, evil & its results are also temporary for those who trust in Jesus as Savior from sin. Salvation is what brings health & life & peace into human beings, & on the Last Day into all of creation.
In Christ – is the realm in which there is shalom, of which resurrection from the dead is a given. Resurrection is a demonstration of the essence of shalom. The healing of the crippled man is a demonstration of the essence of shalom. Singing praises to God & singing of what Jesus has done to make you & me new, those are a demonstration of the essence of shalom. Yet, the Jewish leaders were outraged because Peter & John explained the cause of the crippled man’s healing.
Our current president, in his Easter message to the nation just weeks ago, never once mentioned the name of Jesus, but he did mention the Easter bunny. If he was worried about offending those who do not follow Jesus, he should have skipped the Easter message all together. There is no point in talking about Easter if we leave Jesus out of it.
Someday, people in this country are going to end up in prison for proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Churches have already been discriminated against through the pandemic lockdowns of our government. We should not be surprised that these things are happening. The world hates us because it hates Jesus, & it hates the teachings of Jesus.
Increasingly, our culture is calling evil good, while it is calling good evil. Yet, we need to keep in perspective these attacks on Christians who are simply living out their faith in Christ. The evil in this universe, in this country, & in our own hearts & minds, has already been defeated. For those who trust in Jesus the effects of evil are only temporary.
The wholeness in us wants to proclaim what Jesus has done in our lives so that He can accomplish the same in the lives of others. The wholeness in us wants to proclaim the life & the blessing & the joy that we receive from our Father in heaven. Through His life, death & resurrection Jesus has returned that wholeness to His creation.
No matter what the world may do to us, this wholeness, or salvation, is ours through faith “in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Then sing your hosannas & raise your glad voice; proclaim the blest tidings that all may rejoice. Laud, honor & praise to the Lamb that was slain: with Father & Spirit He ever shall reign. Amen. LSB 480:5.
3rd Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 912, 553, 490
Text – 1 John 3:1b
The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
THE REASON WHY
“It’s time to brush your teeth.”
“Because we brush our teeth after we eat.”
“Because we want to have healthy teeth.”
“So, we can keep on eating.”
“Because eating is necessary to live.”
Have you heard conversations like that? Maybe you were one of those children. Maybe you still are one of those children. Today, a lot of adults are asking “Why?” Why are so many people in our nation so angry? Why has the national conversation turned so nasty & so loud? Why has violence become so expected & so accepted as the norm?
Plenty of people are blaming Donald Trump. There are plenty of people trying to blame white supremacists. Others are blaming the radical left, who seem to hate everything that was good about America. Our politicians have become elitist members of society who hide behind their protective walls & no longer rub shoulders, on a daily basis, with the average citizen.
After many years in the driver’s seat, the Christian Church got lazy here in this country. We seem to have lost the ability to connect with a broken & hurting world in order to draw them to the love of Jesus Christ. Churches & parents have failed to form their children in the Christian faith. The younger generations of our society have been shaped far more by the culture than by Christianity. And the culture we live in is certainly no longer shaped & molded by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our culture is drawing the broken & hurting away from the love of Jesus.
All of which has left us wondering, “Why do so many people in our country despise the teachings of Jesus? Why do our people insist upon inventing their own truth? Why don’t they long for the life that comes only from their Creator?” The apostle John gives the answer in the Epistle reading: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”
In recent years, people have tried making the case that unbelievers like Jesus, they just don’t like the people who follow Him. The sermon text today speaks very strongly against that lie. If you truly love Jesus, you understand why His followers sin in so many ways. Those sins have been true throughout history, yet the church has often thrived in spite of them.
To truly love Jesus means to understand how fallen, corrupt & sinful all of His followers are. To truly love Jesus means you understand that He died for us because of how fallen, corrupt & sinful we are. Christians don’t love Jesus because He’s such a nice guy. We love Him because He took the punishment that you & I deserve.
People who say they love Jesus, but not His followers, apparently think they are better than us. To truly love Jesus means you understand yourself as the apostle Paul did, when he wrote, “The saying is trustworthy & deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)
The “cancel culture” in the U.S. wants to cancel anything they define as unacceptable behavior. It they truly loved Jesus they would realize that they need to begin with cancelling themselves, instead of others. That’s what submitting to the will of God is all about, it’s about surrendering our own will. It’s about cancelling our own will in order to accept the will of God. Cancelling my own will can also be seen as a form of repentance, because my will, apart from Christ, is always headed in the wrong direction – the direction away from the heavenly Father. To repent is to turn back to the Creator & to His will for our lives, whatever that will may be.
Jesus taught much about the will of His Father in the sermon on the mount. Hopefully, you recall these words, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, & then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 ESV) It’s pretty clear there why the cancel culture has no use for the teachings of Jesus. He calls us to cancel ourselves first.
The apostle John explains why the cancel culture does not know, understand or love Christians, & it actually has nothing to do with our sins. The cancel culture does not know Jesus so it cannot know those who trust in & follow Jesus.
However, before we wash our hands of the cancel culture, we should remember that in the sermon on the mount, Jesus also teaches, “Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) Like St. Paul, we are the foremost of sinners, yet our calling is to love sinners as Jesus loved us.
That was demonstrated well back in the days of Martin Luther King Jr. The movement he led faced brutal opposition, yet Rev. King insisted upon non-violent protests. His followers paid a heavy price, as did Rev. King when he was murdered. In spite of that, they held to their principles & eventually won the sympathies of many across our nation.
Fighting fire with fire does nothing positive. Instead, it burns everything down, including the souls of those who practice it. That is the work of Satan. Anarchy is his goal. Might makes right is his motto. Cancelling good wherever it exists is the devil’s battle plan, & his work has become very apparent, in our day, all over this land.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Christ led a non-violent movement against the false religious teachings, not just of the Jewish leaders in His day, but against the false teachings & against the false hearts of all mankind throughout history. His followers have often paid a heavy price, as did Jesus when He was executed.
It was Jesus’ mission to die for this world. It is our mission to die to this world, so that we may live in the next. To this day, Jesus longs to gather us together under His wings. He was born to peasants & spent His first night on earth in a manger. This arrival, in absolute humility, was designed to draw us to Himself in love.
Almighty God could have simply cancelled the entire human race, yet He became one of us in order to lead us back home. Now, He calls us to gather around His Word. It’s a Word that teaches – marriage is a relationship between one man & one woman for life.
It’s a Word that teaches – God designed & created everything there is out of nothing. And since God created our planet & everything in it, we should value all of it & take care of it simply because it is a gift to us from God.
Yahweh calls us to gather around a Word teaching that our battles are not against flesh & blood. Donald Trump is clearly not the enemy. Neither is the radical left. Those who are attacking God’s children are those who have rejected God’s teaching & therefore the very love & life that God offers on the cross & in the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is still reverberating through time. It is affecting our lives right now, this very moment. If Jesus did not rise from the dead there’d be no reason whatsoever for us to gather here this morning. Jesus’ suffering, death & resurrection have had a positive effect on our lives.
His resurrection is also reverberating through the hearts & minds of those who do not
trust in Jesus. Those who refuse to trust in the Creator find their identity in rebellion against Him & against His teachings. Because those who do trust in God are a constant reminder of the heavenly Father, those who refuse to trust in God also find their identity in rebellion against us & against the values & beliefs instilled in us by the Holy Spirit.
The world does not understand Christians, because it does not understand the nature & the love of the true & living God. Indeed, the world rejects its Maker in favor of itself & its own arrogant self-understanding. Rejecting God’s creation of the universe & substituting the theory of evolution is a classic example of mankind’s arrogance.
Until we are called to the glory of heaven, life in this sinful world is under the shadow of the cross. As Jesus taught in the Gospel of John:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.” (15:18-21 NLT)
The reality of the Cross in the Christian’s life must be taken seriously, but even under the Cross, God’s lavish love for the undeserving can still be seen. In 1900 the Boxer Rebellion erupted in China. Westerners gathered in Shanghai & other provincial capitals to seek asylum. There were daily reports of missionaries & faithful Chinese Christians brutally murdered.
Then came the blackest day of all. Up to 100 missionaries sought refuge in the courtyard of the Shansi governor, not knowing he was a leader in the uprising. All were executed. The question “Why?” trembled on the lips of more than one missionary. The need had been so great & now this waste.
In the grim stillness one missionary returned to his home 300 miles north. Soon, a stranger visited him. With his hard face & authoritarian bearing, he asked, “Do you remember the foreigners who sought protection from the governor of Shansi province?” The missionary replied, “I have heard.” The stranger sat silent a few minutes, then said, “I am captain of the bodyguard. I was in charge. To me, it was nothing. I am accustomed to killing. The governor does not like foreigners.”
“When they gathered at his door asking for protection, he replied, ‘I can protect you only by putting you in prison.’ So he put them in prison, but his hatred only grew. Then he gave me my orders. We led them out into the prison courtyard & lined them up. The governor told them they were all to be killed.” Scarcely breathing the missionary urged, “What happened next?”
The captain replied: “The strangest sight I have ever witnessed. Husbands & wives turned & kissed one another. Parents, smiling, spoke to their children of ‘Yesu,’ & pointed to heaven. There was no fear. They faced their executioners & began singing. And singing they died. When I saw how they faced death, I knew this ‘Yesu’ of whom they spoke must be God.”
“Can God forgive my so great sin? Is there nothing I might do to atone for my wrong?” The missionary thought of his close friend who’d been among those killed, & replied, “Our God, whom we serve, is a merciful God. Your sin is great, but God’s mercy is greater. This Jesus is His Son who came to earth to die for sinners like you. I too am a sinner.”
“Because Jesus died for you, God can forgive you.” The captain listened closely. Strange words these, to a mind schooled to hate, to kill: “Love… Forgive… Life.” What he understood he accepted. It was late when the captain left. The missionary sat thinking for a long time. Fresh in his mind were hundreds of new graves strewn across China.
But no more was he asking the anguished, “Why, Lord, this great waste?” The harvest had begun. God works in mysterious ways, which are often incomprehensible to us. If we truly respect Him as Lord & as God His incomprehensible ways will not be a problem for us. Yes, we may struggle. That too should be expected if we truly understand the depths of our sin. It’s not even wrong to ask, “Why?” but at some point we have to let it go & trust that God knows what He is doing & that He’s working all things together for the good of those who love Him. So John writes:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, & 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.” On the last day, once our bodies are raised or changed, sin will neither cloud our vision nor our ability to comprehend. We will most certainly recognize that day when it happens!
In this life, the unbelieving world will never understand us. The Holy Spirit has to convert them first, if they will allow Him to. And the reason why they will never understand us is that they do not know Jesus. Every day it is a blessing to thank our Lord that we do know Him & that He knows us. Amen.
O Christ, our hope, our hearts’ desire, Creation’s mighty Lord, Redeemer of the fallen world, by holy love outpoured: How vast Your mercy to accept the burden of our sin & bow Your head in cruel death to make us clean within. O let Your mighty love prevail to purge of our pride that we may stand before Your throne by mercy purified. Amen. LSB 553:1-2, 4.
2nd Sunday of Easter – B LSB # 469, TLH #207, LSB # 702
Text – John 20:24-25
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands & put my finger where the nails were, & put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”
UNLESS I SEE THE NAIL MARKS
March Madness just ended six days ago, & as usual, some of the games went right down to the wire, to the last second shot. Victory & defeat hung in the balance, waiting for the man with enough character to take that final shot.
During the 1990’s, Michael Jordan was the undisputed champion of the last second play. He had the nerves of steel required to put it up with confidence, in your face. Michael Jordan had no doubts about his ability to make the play. And he would do it over & over again, as often as necessary.
While playing for a championship, there are an endless number of challenges to a player’s character. They must adapt their offensive & defensive game; they must balance their ability to play aggressively or with patience. The coaches & players of the other team are always looking for new ways to attack the enemy, to unbalance their game, to drive them into defeat.
In consequence, there’re many opportunities to doubt. And whether you doubt your own ability, or that of your teammates, once you go down that road you’ve already lost the battle.
Our own daily experiences are filled with opportunities to doubt. Graduation is rapidly approaching for the high school & college seniors. Invisible in all the excitement of the last few weeks of school, are the countless number of new opportunities ahead, to succeed or to fail.
Along with those opportunities come the struggles between confidence & doubt. At one moment, you’ll be confident you made the right decision. The next moment you’ll doubt
that very same decision. The analogy that life is like a roller coaster comes from just those sorts of experiences.
Parents also struggle with confidence & doubt. Did they spend enough time with their child? Did they teach the correct values & priorities? Did they give the proper advice? Confidence & doubt – life alternates between them, no matter how much you work at smoothing out the cycles.
Psychologists believe that one the reason professional sports are so attractive is that the challenges of the game mirror the challenges of life. Yet, sporting events bring those challenges into a much sharper focus. Whether your team wins or loses, the key play of the game often becomes very obvious.
It can be discussed, argued & debated right down to the finest detail. You can watch it over & over again on instant replay. You can examine & dissect every aspect of what went right, or what went wrong; where your team succeeded or where it failed.
Unfortunately, real life is not the artificial world of professional sporting events. Real life doesn’t have referees watching every move. You can’t turn on the instant replay & run it over again to examine in detail what happened. There are no timeouts, & often no coaches to guide your decisions.
In our lives, few things are as clearly in focus as the key play of a big game. Whether you succeeded or failed commonly takes years to discover, & in our culture, where families are increasingly being separated, there are often not even teammates to lean on or to commiserate with. Confidence or doubt! PAUSE
Today’s gospel text deals with a man often referred to as “Doubting Thomas.” He struggled with confidence or doubt, & what we can learn from his struggles is not irrelevant to our lives. The struggles of Thomas are not just some dusty old story, from a gothic old book. Thomas did not have cameras, athletic trainers or agents to help him struggle with confidence & doubt. Thomas simply belonged to a rag-tag team of disciples that even Scripture records as failing more often than not. And their coach, well, He’d just been crucified.
No player had ever come back from that type of injury. Sure, they’d seen Jesus raise other people from the dead, but now He Himself had died. Who could possibly make that last second shot now? The game seemed to be over & the crowds were leaving.
This talk from His teammates about Jesus being alive certainly seemed like nothing more than wishful thinking. Doubt had won the battle in Thomas’ mind. Unless he saw the nail marks, he was not going to be duped into some fantastic story about a resurrection.
He himself had studied under God for three years. He’d lived with Him. He’d learned from Him. He’d been so confident in following Jesus, & now Jesus was dead. Three years appeared to have been totally wasted. That’ll do a number on anyone’s ability to place confidence in someone’s promises.
Have there been times when you have struggled with doubt? Do you have confidence in God’s promises to protect & save you from Covid? Do those questions play a role in your thinking, or do they seem irrelevant? Maybe you believe that you’re capable of taking care of yourself. Maybe you’ve never been admitted to the intensive care unit.
Our lives have very different stories, yet they also have much in common. Success & failure, confidence & doubt have entered each of our lives. Generally speaking, our stories are very similar to each other, & also very similar to the lives of Jesus’ disciples. We even have much in common with Adam & Eve.
How often have you seen something that looked too good to refuse? Others maybe
warned you about it, but you had all the answers. If you’ve ever been there, listen to Genesis 3:6, “…when [Eve] saw that the tree was good for food, & that it was a delight to the eye, & that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit & ate...”
Before Eve committed that sin she was holy. All of us can make mistakes, & some of them lead to severe consequences, either for us alone or for those with us. Once you’ve made a few of those, doubt can become a real problem. “Once bitten, twice shy” is a saying that comes from experience. It means that doubt has made its presence known.
And doubt easily leads to cynicism. Life in this sinful world can harden a person’s heart because this life is not fair. It’s not easy. There’re many things in this world that look good to us, but have the power to enslave or even kill. There are other things that, in spite of how delightful they look on the outside, will destroy our families.
Sin is not just some cute little problem we can wink at & laugh about off to the side. Sin has destroyed our world. It has destroyed God’s creation. The doubt we suffer with is merely a symptom of the rotting core within. Unless I see the nail marks, I will not believe!
Do you recognize that attitude? Have you experienced that cynicism in person? Faith is the opposite of doubt & cynicism, & faith is a gift from God. Eventually, Thomas does see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, & Jesus tells him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)
Is your doubt & cynicism causing you to wait until you see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands & feet? Each of us is waiting for the things that will satisfy our desires & needs. Yet, not all of those things will be good for us spiritually. Not all of those will be as harmless as we 1st think.
If things that are sinful were so obviously harmful, they would not be a temptation. They must “look good” on the outside in order to be tempting, but like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, on the inside our sinful desires will destroy us. Jesus tells us to let go of our sight, & to put our hopes in what we do not see. What we do not readily see is how God strengthens us through the miraculous power of His Word & Sacraments. It takes faith to see that. A cynical heart easily rejects them.
What we do not readily see is how God looks at the entire picture of our lives & works out all things to the good of those who love Him. It takes faith to see that. A cynical heart quickly becomes bitter & surrenders to despair.
Because God knows there will be times when things seem absolutely hopeless, He doesn’t require anything of us for our salvation. That’s why Jesus Christ did everything. He understands that no matter how good you are, no matter how often you attend church or study His Word, there will still be times when you are completely helpless.
If eternal life depended on us, in any way, we’d never get anything but eternal death.
Our promises to be faithful always fail, because we’re not capable of keeping them, not even with God’s help. The Son of God had to become man in order to keep our promises for us. He was faithful unto death, & out of His love for us, He then grants eternal life to all.
The only question remaining is, “Do you believe that?” Do you believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son? If you believe that it’s true, then you have eternal life, regardless of whether or not you keep any promises. PAUSE
The sort of love with no strings attached is difficult to believe. It’s a love so contrary to the kind we have for anyone; you can bet Satan will tempt you to doubt that it’s true. That’s why it’s important not to walk away from the relationship God has created with you. In that
Relationship God will shield you & protect you from doubt & unbelief.
Through the study of God’s Word, He will strengthen your faith & your will to resist
Satan’s temptations. He will remove your guilt, & the despair & cynicism that guilt brings. God will wash you to make you pure, & He will free you from the hopelessness of your sins. He’ll create in you a clean heart & renew a steadfast spirit within you, all by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, for it was in Christ that our sins were paid for.
It was in Christ that all of God’s law was perfectly kept. It is in Christ, that we are even now, perfect, holy & capable of pleasing God with our actions. Apart from Christ, we are nothing.
As Jesus came to Thomas & showed him the marks in His hands, He told Thomas to stop doubting & believe. That may sound too good to be true, but God is more powerful than all of our doubts. God is more faithful than all of our failures. Jesus was risen from the dead & Thomas declared it so with his strong confession, “My Lord & my God!”
Thomas did believe after all. Thomas did have faith in his Savior, & Scripture never mentions that Thomas put his finger in the nail marks. Merely the words of his Lord, “Stop doubting & believe,” were able to create & sustain belief even in the heart of a doubting Thomas. Amen.
Like the golden sun ascending, breaking through the gloom of night, on the earth His glory spending so that darkness takes to flight, thus my Jesus from the grave & Death’s dismal cave rose triumphant Easter morning at the early purple dawning. Though I be by sin o’ertaken, though I lie in helplessness, though I be by friends forsaken & must suffer sore distress, though I be despised, contemned & by all the world condemned, though the dark grave yawn before me, yet the light of hope shines o’er me. Amen. TLH 207:1, 3.
Easter Sunday – 2021 LSB #’s 457, 490, 461
Text – Mark 16:8
And they went out & fled from the tomb, for trembling & astonishment had seized them, & they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
LOVE THAT ENDS OUR FEARS
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
The Gospel reading announces to us that Jesus is risen from the dead; perhaps the most joyous & hope-filled statement in the whole Bible. Yet, the reading ends with the women running away from the tomb, astonished & afraid. What is going on? I thought this was Easter.
The women in Mark’s resurrection account are afraid, at least at first, because they are living in the real Easter. The Easter that surrounds us in our culture & in the stores this time of year could not possibly make someone afraid. A cuddly bunny rabbit. A fuzzy little chick. Bright spring flowers & butterflies. Colored eggs. I hope I’m not scaring any of you.
The commercialized Easter of the United States has to be the most unscary holiday the world has ever seen. But in Mark’s Gospel, there is fear, there is bewilderment, because these women are not standing in a Hallmark store. They were standing in a tomb for the dead. The women in Mark’s resurrection Gospel are living in the real Easter.
They have known & have followed, the real flesh-and-blood Son of God, Jesus Christ. Their lives are full of real struggles, real worries, real disappointments, painful failings & guilt, real heartaches, & real dangers. In Jesus Christ, they found hope in the face of it all. Or, perhaps, they had found hope in the face of it all.
Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God & the Savior of the world. They had believed Him. Yet they also saw Him arrested & tried, tortured & crucified. No bunnies or fuzzy chicks appearing. It is a dangerous tale, a passionate & heroic tale of suffering, sacrifice, blood & tears; tears of life & tears of death. What was going on in the tomb of Jesus? These women were standing at the intersection between life & death, between heaven & earth, between hope & despair. Everything hung in the balance. Everything depended on this tomb being empty.
Dear friends, how many movies have you seen where the fate of the whole world depends on whether the main characters can overcome? That’s Hollywood, but the women in Mark’s Gospel, they are standing in that grave for real. Everything for them & for the whole world depends on this place, this tomb, & the man who, the last time they saw Him, was dead.
And now . . . the stone rolled away . . . the man dressed in white . . . these overwhelming words: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth. He has risen. He is not here!” It’s not a stretch to believe that the women left the tomb astonished & yes – afraid.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating if we could talk to these women? Some day we will. We could hear in their own words of that fateful morning. We could ask: Mary, Salome & Mary, why were you so afraid that you did not speak a word? You didn’t even obey the command of God’s angel to go & tell the disciples! What changed things? What took your fear away?
In Mark’s Gospel you are trembling with fear. Later on, you & the disciples become bold witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.
If we could ask them, & if they could answer us, we’d probably find there were all kinds of fears churning within them that morning. Some were beyond our experience like standing in the grave of a man who was dead & is alive again, or like being spoken to by an angel. But I’m sure that some of their fears were much like the things you & I have come to fear.
They worried that their lives & their struggles had no real meaning. If such a beautiful life as Jesus’ could end in rejection & shame & death; if all of their hopes & their own labors could so quickly be overturned, ruined, snuffed out . . . was there really any point to any of it? Was there any true & lasting meaning in life? They had set their hearts on Jesus’ promise of a coming kingdom, on the beautiful calling of denying themselves to love others. Jesus’ love for them had filled their lives with meaning, but now, everything they’d been so sure of had seemed to collapse before their eyes . . . & they were afraid.
They worried that they were not good enough. Actually, they knew they were not good enough. They knew their weakness, their sinfulness, their failures. They were afraid of being rejected by others, & they were afraid of being condemned by God.
Jesus had welcomed them; shown them such mercy & love. Jesus had pronounced their sins forgiven, & now they wondered if it was too good to be true . . . & they were afraid. Like us, the women worried about all the things they had lost – & might still lose. Perhaps they had donated large amounts of money to the support of Jesus & His disciples. Now, it was gone.
They had given up months, maybe years, of their lives following Jesus. Was that wasted? Perhaps they feared what life would take from them in the years to come: their husbands, their children, their health, their sight, their savings, their friends?
Life is full of losses. Jesus had assured them that one day, all good things would be restored. God would gather His children at His great banquet table forever. They would receive from the Great I Am an eternal inheritance. Jesus had promised them:
“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne... everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold & will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:28–29) The promises of Jesus had replaced their fears with hope & peace & joy.
But with the events of the last days, everything had been thrown into confusion . . . & they were afraid again. Yes, the women’s hearts must have been whirling with all kinds of fears that 1st Easter morning. Those fears were about to be changed. The empty tomb, for a moment, was shocking & unsettling. It stirred up all kinds of fears, but Jesus was alive again. Jesus had risen from the dead.
Just as we begin to wonder why there should be fear & trembling on the joyous occasion of Easter, the risen Jesus begins His marvelous work of appearing to the disciples & the women to transform their fear into joy & faith. With the same enormous love that led Him to the cross, the risen Savior now lovingly begins His work of changing their fears into hope & joy forever.
What was Mark thinking as he ended his account of this scene with the statement, “for they were afraid”? Why does Mark stress the women’s fear in his Gospel? Because he wants you to reflect on the way in which the living Jesus is able to transform that fear.
In the Gospel reading, the women have an empty tomb, an angel, & a promise. But this will not be the end of the story. Jesus did come back to life. He has risen from death. Soon after this account, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene to transform her fears & her tears into joy. She exclaims, “My Teacher!”
Jesus will appear to Peter, to the other disciples, to two men from Emmaus, to Thomas, & at one point to more than 500 believers at the same time! Fear will give way to joy. Fear will give way to hope. Fear will be replaced with boldness & purpose & meaning.
Jesus stands alive again forever & ever, triumphant over sin & death. He has opened to you the way to eternal life; He has burst open before you the gates of paradise. The one who looks upon you with such enormous love, who loved you even to death on the cross, He is alive forever, to continue caring for you with His enormous, perfect love.
St. John wrote, “…perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Jesus does not leave us trapped & alone in our fears. Jesus is risen! Truly, He is alive forever. Still today, our risen Lord comes to us as His people. In His Word, He shows Himself to us. “My brothers, my sisters: Behold! I am alive. I loved you to the cross. I loved you to the tomb, & now I love you in the resurrection. I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Today, throughout the world, to people weighed down by fear, the risen Jesus comes in His body & His blood. Take heart, He encourages us. I love to be with you, & you will be with me forever. Take heart, there is purpose to your life – my purpose. Take heart, Messiah assures us, your sins are forgiven in my blood, you are accepted by my Father.
Take heart, He promises you, though your life be full of grief & loss, I will restore all things in the life which is to come. Jesus is risen from the dead & the age of resurrection has begun. The day when Jesus will raise all the dead, giving eternal life & joy to all believers – that day is close at hand.
As we await that day, our Savior’s enormous love provides us with some of the greatest gifts that we could receive: true love, lasting purpose in life, relief from all our fears. Today, let the songs of Christ’s resurrection fill the world.
There are many fears in human hearts, even in the hearts of Christians. But there is a living Savior who transforms our fear. One day, He will cast out all fear forever so there will be nothing but joy & love & endless praise. To this Savior, who was slain for our sins, & raised again in triumph & majesty, to Him be honor, glory, & praise, today & forever. Amen.
Jesus lives! The victory’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; this shall be my confidence. Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal; this shall calm my trembling breath when I pass its gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense; Jesus is my confidence! Amen. LSB 490:1, 5.
Good Friday – 2021 LSB #’s 450, 451, 452
Text – 1 Peter 1:18
…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold.
JESUS’ LOVE & THE MEANING OF LIFE
With the Christian church around the world, tonight, we observe the solemn occasion of Good Friday: the crucifixion, sufferings & death of Jesus Christ. The theme tonight is that Jesus’ saving death has restored true meaning to life even before heaven. What does the shedding of the precious blood of the sinless Son of God mean for sinners like you & me?
It means being reconciled in forgiveness to the God who created us & loves us. Yet, the death of Jesus for sinners means many others things as well. Christ, by His cross, has won many wonderful blessings in this life as well as the next. Tonight, I want to focus on one precious gift that our loving Savior has restored to us by His death: true meaning in your life right now.
Peter wrote: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” What does he mean that you are ransomed from “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”?
Peter’s point is more than that our forefathers were sinners, & they passed down to us sinful ways of life, so that we need to be rescued from our sin. Although that is exactly right, our Lord’s death on the cross certainly does rescue us from our sin & its guilt, here Peter did not say that Jesus’ death rescues us from the sinful ways we inherited from our forefathers.
In this text Peter wrote that Jesus rescued us from the futile ways of our forefathers. Futility is an important biblical word. Futility is the concept that the book of Ecclesiastes uses in its famous opening lines: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Or, as some translations say: “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity!” The Bible teaches that God created our world very good, & He created human existence in the world to be rewarding & fulfilling & meaningful. But the Bible also teaches that when our 1st parents disobeyed God, & sin & death entered the world because of them, God cursed the creation & subjected it to futility & decay, that is, to the meaninglessness brought by death & time.
Apart from Jesus, & the rescue from death that He purchased for us by His blood, there is truly no lasting meaning in this world. People come. People go. People build, & fires or nature or time destroy what they build. People accumulate experiences & memories, but soon they’re gone, & sooner or later, all is forgotten. They are forgotten. It’s been like this for centuries.
It was like this for your great-great-great-great-grandparents. Do you know much about them – even their names? And it continues to be like this for us. These are the “futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” The world goes on & on & on, but never gets anywhere.
The book of Ecclesiastes calls the futile existence of this life “a chasing after the wind.” Like a dog chasing its tail – in the midst of it, he may think he’s accomplishing something, but as you look on, you raise your eyebrows & chuckle. However, if all the successes & struggles of our entire lives have no more purpose & meaning than that, it’s not a funny thought at all.
Can you define the purpose of your life? Where are you going, or maybe I should say, where are you getting to? A hundred years ago, 2000 people climbed on board an ocean-going ship – a passenger ship, a high class ship. It was built strong & beautiful, intricately detailed, meticulously prepared for its maiden voyage. You know its name – Titanic.
The ship’s horns blew, & it set out into the open sea. People on the dock cheered & waved. People on deck cheered & waved. Then, everyone on the ship threw themselves fully into the work & the amusements of the voyage. Do you know where they were going? You do know . . . they were going to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Most were going to an icy death – their bodies lost until the end of time. They would never see their loved ones again, not here on earth. Yet, they played shuffleboard. The ladies drank tea & talked about the latest fashions. The men smoked cigars & talked business.
The cooks prepared Peking duck, & asparagus with a fabulous cream sauce. Some passengers made a fuss about the cabins they were assigned & did everything they could to move to better ones. Down in steerage, hundreds of poor immigrants were packed in like sardines, yet they, too, clamored for the best spots. They amused themselves with card games & whiskey.
In the boiler rooms the firemen & the engineers labored away at their assigned duties. Up top, on the sunny deck, passengers & ship attendants arranged the deck chairs just so, in order to visit with one another, to catch the breeze just right, to catch more of the sun or less of the sun, to have a better view of the ocean or a better view of the interesting people on the ship.
All that until the 4th night of the journey when the ship was sliced open by an iceberg, filled with water, tipped on end, & sank into the icy sea. Who cares who won the card game – how well the boilers were operated – whether the cream sauce on the asparagus was just right – whether it was the very best cabin or something a little less – how the deck chairs were arranged?
As it turned out, these things were not at all important. In fact, given the way the trip ended, the entire journey was meaningless & futile. We know where they were going, but they did not. Now, here is the amazing thing. We also know where we are going. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage, but our generation is not humanity’s maiden voyage.
Generations have come & gone before us. Generation after generation, people lived – some well, some not so well, some prospered, others scraped by, some lived in beautifully kept homes, others in ramshackle dwellings, some were wise, some foolish, some worked hard, some hardly worked, some liked to have a good time, some couldn’t even stand it if others had a good time, some were always true to their word, others you couldn’t count on anything they said, some had great achievements, others very few. These many, many generations have gone before us. They lived, like us, & like we most certainly will, they died. What was the point of it all – their lives? Did any of it matter? Do we have good answers to questions like those?
Philosopher Peter Kreeft writes:
“Of the 21 great civilizations that have existed on our planet, ours, the modern West, is the first that does not have or teach its citizens any answer to the question why they exist.” And he continues, “A [nice] way of saying this is that our society is pluralistic & leaves us free to choose or create our own ultimate values. A more candid way of saying the same thing is that our society has nothing but its own ignorance to give us on this, the most important of all questions.”
Tonight the image of the cross of Jesus Christ is set before God’s children. In subdued awe & praise we behold the Lamb of God – pure & holy, despised & bloody, dying for you & for me. Is that just one more futile image from a futile world – a good man, cut off in the prime of life – another sad story, to add to the tall, tall stack of sad stories this broken world has seen?
As the disciples beheld Jesus suffer & breath His last, it looked to them like a devastating scene of meaninglessness. It looked to them, at the moment, like another dead-end death which made everything that had come before pointless. Except, as you already know, the Lord Jesus did not remain dead.
By His innocent suffering & death, & by His glorious resurrection, Jesus Christ has changed all the equations. As the precious blood of Messiah is shed, the curse on this creation is removed. The saving death of Jesus Christ matters – supremely. And because of His death, everything else now matters as well. Finally, our lives have meaning that lasts – forever.
This single act of Jesus’ obedience brings meaning to the many acts of His brothers & sisters. This moment, the death of Jesus our Lord, brings meaning to our entire lives. Dear friends, you have been “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Do you see the meaning that Jesus now fills your life with? What is the reason we’ve been given for our existence? God has placed us here to know Him & to enjoy His love, forever. And our God, so full of love, has placed us here to love one another.
In whatever stations God places us, in all the vocations to which He calls us, we are here to love; to encourage one another in our battle against sin, to give ourselves for the good of others, as Jesus Christ gave Himself up, so completely, for us.
Our purpose is to love our parents, our siblings, our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our boss, co-workers, customers & clients, our pastors, our fellow church members, our politicians, our dearest friends, even our harshest enemies.
Behold the cross of Jesus Christ & you behold the meaning of life. There, by the obedience of Jesus, by the loving act of Messiah, joy has come into the world that will never end. And through that, true meaning has returned to God’s creation. To get personal, it means that your life matters no matter what your circumstances may be.
When we live in obedience toward God & in love toward others, when we pour ourselves into the work of our daily vocations, God will crown our efforts with lasting significance.
The Bible refers to the lives of God’s people as “fruit.” Our lives are like trees, planted by God, & we are here to bear fruit. Fruit is good, nourishing & sweet, but once picked, because of sin’s corruption, it does not last. It ripens & then rots & then it’s gone.
The death & resurrection of Jesus have changed everything. Jesus says if we remain in Him, & He in us, we will bear much fruit, & it will be “fruit that will last.” God will take up the works & the moments & the love of our lives: He will weave all these things into His beautiful purposes, His enduring, everlasting purposes, & will make them count. Your everyday life, because of Jesus’ cross, is already bearing fruit that will last. Dear friends, your good works could never save you. That’s why Jesus went to the cross, to win for you the forgiveness of your sins & eternal salvation. But His cross also means this, that your life is no longer empty of any lasting purpose.
Your good works, your life, they matter; they count & they will matter forever. That’s why the Apostle Paul writes: “My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
When it seems as if your life is getting nowhere; that your efforts are pointless; when the drudgery & the endless details of day-to-day living have you weary & worn down – look to the cross. Trace on yourself the sign of the cross. Recall the death of Jesus Christ for you.
Then, be strengthened to press on, knowing that, in the Lord, your love & your labors are not in vain, but are accomplishing the loving, everlasting purposes of Almighty God. They are fruit that He is working through you & they will last.
For God has ransomed you from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or spot. Amen.
Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man & Son of God. Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost: Christ, the Rock of our salvation, is the name of which we boast; Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built. Amen. LSB 451:3-4.
Note: The Greek adjective mataios (“futile, empty”) is directly related to the Greek noun mataiotēs (“meaninglessness, emptiness, vanity”) used by the Septuagint to translate Ecclesiastes 1:2.
Note: Peter Kreeft’s comment regarding the unconcerned meaninglessness of the modern West comes from his book Three Philosophies of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989), 20–21. In enumerating twenty-one great civilizations, Kreeft is following the categorization of historian Arnold Toynbee.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet