4th Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 569 tune 348, 666, 711
Text – John 10:5
A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
THE VOICE OF STRANGERS
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV) In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus reiterates that point, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God created them male & female.” (10:5-6 NASB)
There are many people in our nation today who would have you believe otherwise. The company that makes the beer Bud Light is suffering right now because they listened to the voice of strangers. They listened to ideas that are contrary to the voice of the true Shepherd. That Shepherd is Jesus Christ, who loved the world enough to die for the sins of all.
The makers of Bud Light are never going to die in order to give you life. They only love you for your money. They only love the trans community for their money. Jesus is not about money. He’s about rescuing us from the brokenness of this world. We can see that brokenness in the widespread, deep-seated human sense of alienation from our bodies.
In 2021, Americans spent over $10 billion on cosmetic surgery. That same year, they spent over $72 billion while trying to lose weight. Gender transitioning surgeries are far behind at just under $2 billion. The money spent reveals just how dissatisfied Americans are with the way we look & how we feel about our physical selves.
That reality is not surprising. It is not mistaken nor is it caused by mental illness. This sense of alienation from gender & from our appearance has real spiritual causes. It cannot just be treated cosmetically, surgically, or with counseling. What people truly are reacting to is the ugliness of the human heart & soul. That is what causes confusion & despair & depression, to the point where some take their own lives. People in those shoes are listening to the voice of the ultimate stranger – Satan. Jesus described the Devil’s purpose at the end of the Gospel reading for today, “The thief comes only to steal & kill & destroy.” (John 10:10a ESV)
By contrast, do you remember what the voice of Jesus promises immediately after those words? “I came that they may have life & have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b ESV) Rather than driving us to despair, Jesus brings healing to the ugliness of the human heart & soul. He brings a radical transformation of our whole person, beginning with peace for our conscience.
Through His death & resurrection, Christ redeems our body, transforms our mind, &, as the prophet Ezekiel wrote, “…will give you a new heart, & I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart & give you a tender, responsive heart.” (36:26 NLT) That heart knows the voice of the Good Shepherd & it follows Him.
There are literally millions of strange voices sounding out in our world today. They’ve always been there, but social media has given them an immediate platform to inundate our world. This makes it more important than ever to know the voice of the Good Shepherd so you can distinguish from the voice that climbs into the sheepfold by other means than the door.
God has given His Word to teach us what is good & healthy according to His design. It’s like a lighthouse, which is there to warn ship captains of the dangerous waters & shallow depths. Yet, the Word of God does not only bring warning. It also brings good news of great joy. It is that good news, not the words of warning, that is able to give us a tender, responsive heart.
The world, apart from Jesus Christ, is not able to offer us true or lasting good news. The unbelieving world offers us nothing but the voice of strangers. The lack of civility in our own culture is but one sign of many that the world is simply dead & dying. When Jesus rose from the dead, He was not just proving that He had conquered sin & death. The Son of God was also beginning the creation of the new heaven & the new earth, & He was doing that in His own human flesh. His risen body & blood are not of this world, but of the next. They are forerunners of the things to come in heaven itself.
Chapters 5-9 of John’s Gospel are forerunners of this morning’s Gospel reading. For three years Jesus had been battling with the false shepherds among the Jews. They denied that He was true God. They rejected His teaching. They rejected His miracles. They had just scorned the blind man, whom Jesus healed, & they cast him out of the synagogue.
Jesus searches for the man & reveals Himself as God. Then Jesus explains in the hearing of some of the Pharisees: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may see, & those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39 ESV) The sight & blindness are spiritual, pertaining to the truth about Jesus.
Those Pharisees respond to Jesus in unbelief: “Are we also blind?” (John 9:40b ESV) Jesus answers, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” (9:41 ESV) Jesus is equating an admission of blindness with repentance, an admission of sin. In claiming that they see, those Pharisees are denying that they need forgiveness.
Jesus does not mince words. In response, He turns to the Pharisees & tells the parable of today’s Gospel reading. The one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but rather climbs in by another way is a thief & a robber. This man is certainly not the shepherd. The shepherd is known to the doorkeeper, who lets him in by the door.
Likewise, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice. They follow him when he calls. The sheep, however, will not follow a stranger, but rather will flee from him. In other words, the sheep of God, those who trust in Yahweh, do not follow the voice of strangers. The “sheep” in this parable are the people of Israel. The man born blind is one of the sheep. He received sight from Jesus & believed in Him. Through Jesus he received eternal life. Yet this same man was cast out of the synagogue, by the Pharisees. God’s sheep were being scattered & destroyed because their appointed shepherds fed themselves rather than the sheep.
To summarize this sermon we’ll say this, Christians are to flee the voice of false shepherds because those false shepherds will only abandon them to the wolf, who is the devil. Rather, listening to the voice of Jesus grants us abundant life because He came to defeat the devil. People saying anything else are working for Satan & trying to obscure God’s love.
Jesus is the only God who dies for His people that they may live. As He said, “I am the way & the truth & the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the door to eternal life & glory. Anyone who attempts to get there, any other way, is a thief & a robber.
Into a dangerous world, where strangers climb into sheepfolds & hired hands run away, the true Shepherd comes. The beauty of His coming is that the Shepherd calls to His sheep & He knows us by name. Even when we do not know a thing about shepherds, Jesus still calls to us in a voice we recognize. He gathers us together & leads us in the Way.
The one thing that saves us is not what we know about shepherds but that our Shepherd knows us: “He calls His own sheep by name & leads them out,” (John 10:3 ESV) to eternal glory. There, we will never be dissatisfied with the way we look or how we feel about our physical selves. In heaven we will fully be all that God created us to be, & we will be at peace. Amen.
O little flock, fear not the foe who madly seeks your overthrow; dread not his rage & power. And though your courage sometimes faints, his seeming triumph o’er God’s saints lasts but a little hour. As true as God’s own Word is true, not earth nor hell’s satanic crew against us shall prevail. Their might? A joke, a mere façade! God is with us & we with God – our victory cannot fail. Amen. LSB 666:1, 3.
3rd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 474, 476, 352:1, 4-6
Text – Luke 24:21a
But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.
BUT WE HAD HOPED
What if you knew a different Jesus? Most of us here have been children of God for a long time. We are now very accustomed to the Jesus of the NT. We’ve been taught & we have learned so many things about Him that it’s almost impossible for us to think of Jesus in any other way.
Those opening sentences should probably make you nervous. It is good, right & salutary for you to always be leery of any false teaching from your pastor. If you cannot think of Jesus in any other way than the NT teaches, that is a good thing, however, that is not the experience of the two who were traveling on the road to Emmaus. The NT had not been written yet.
They knew Jesus personally, & they knew a different Jesus than do you & I:
“And they said…, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed & word before God & all the people, & how our chief priests & rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, & crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.’” (Luke 24:19b-21a ESV)
Can you feel their dilemma? Their hopes were crushed because the Jesus they knew had failed to save them. The Jesus they knew was like the Detroit Lions. He’d won just often enough to get their hopes up & when everything was on the line Jesus did not just lose, He suffered a crushing defeat. But we had hoped & now our hopes are destroyed!
What if you knew a different Jesus? How much would that change your life? You don’t have to look far to see. Crushed hopes & dreams are everywhere across our land, not just among fans of the Detroit Lions. Thousands of people’s lives have been shattered by shootings. Inflation has raised prices for everything by 20 to 50% in one year. Almost every industry is short of qualified or competent workers. News coverage is at best completely unbalanced, & at worst it’s fabricated. Our political class has no interest in governing between multiple viewpoints. They only want to exercise power & control, & we keep electing them.
We’ll go through some of God’s commandments. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy – church attendance is falling rapidly in America. Honor your father & mother – respect for authority is seldom being taught in homes or schools. You shall not kill – beginning with abortion, all the shootings & euthanasia being legalized, life has little value in our nation!
Martin Luther explained the 6th commandment like this, “We should fear & love God so that we lead a sexually pure & decent life in what we say & do, & husband & wife honor each other.” The United Nations is now backing recommendations to normalize sex with minors. That is a pretty far stretch from husband & wife love & honor each other.
You shall not steal – that’s God’s version, but in this country it’s no longer stealing if the value of what you take is not significant enough. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor – that would shut down every major news channel & newspaper in this country.
When you take stock of where things are at among the human race, especially in our nation, it is easy to believe that your hopes have been crushed. “But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21a ESV) The two, on the road to Emmaus, knew a different Jesus. If you look at our nation & give up hope, you too know a different Jesus.
I’m not saying that you should find hope in our human government or even in our constitution. I am saying that no matter how corrupt our government & people become there is still hope, the greatest of all hopes, in the real Jesus – the Jesus of the NT. The two on the road to Emmaus had given up hope because Jesus was not who they thought He was. They knew a different Jesus. The people of our nation, as a whole, have given up hope because neither do they know the Jesus of the NT, & we see that loss of hope everywhere. You & I can know how much, believing in a different Jesus, would change our lives simply by looking at the crushed hopes & dreams, & the lawlessness, of our nation’s people.
It should be very clear how different your life would be if you knew a different Jesus. The evidence is all around you. In this reading from St. Luke, Jesus also makes it very clear what the solution is to our crushed hopes & dreams:
“And He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, & slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things & enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses & all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
When you understand it correctly, the entire OT points ahead to Jesus, & the entire NT points back to Jesus, showing us how He fulfills the OT. Foolish ones that we are we need the NT to show us who the real Jesus is. Then, what we see going on around us & even in our own families, no longer crushes our Christian hopes & dreams. Rather, it encourages them.
St. Peter, who was well acquainted with trials & suffering, wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)
Christ’s purpose was to suffer & die. If you believe otherwise, then you know a different Jesus. And if we believe it is not our purpose to suffer fiery trials, then we know a different Jesus. Confirming that, Peter goes on to say, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory & of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14 ESV) That is knowing the real Jesus, the One who personally paid for your sins on the cross. That is the Jesus who knows you, as we hear in the OT at Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him.” (ESV) Jesus adds to that at John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, & they know me.” (NLT)
That we must suffer in this life because of sin causes some to think that God is sadistic, torturing us for His own twisted pleasure. Certainly there are human beings who do that, but that does not apply to our heavenly Father. Mankind brought sin & suffering into the perfect creation that Yahweh had made.
If Jesus had to suffer to save us, why should we be spared suffering since we are not greater than our Master? God’s Word is clear that our Lord is able to bring good even out of suffering. Most any human being can bring good out of pleasant things. It takes the Creator of the universe to bring good out of suffering & trial.
This reading from St. Luke highlights that the two on the road to Emmaus had not yet learned that lesson. It’s written to help us learn it as well, & it is a difficult lesson to learn. When their eyes are finally opened to recognize Jesus, it is then that He instantly disappears.
However, now they still see & know Jesus by faith instead of by sight, & they immediately return to Jerusalem to tell the others. Have you ever been disappointed by events in your life? Absolutely! We cannot live in this world without experiencing disappointment. The disconnect between God’s promises & our own, limited perception can be discouraging.
That’s why God’s Word shares this message of the road to Emmaus to strengthen & encourage us to simply trust our heavenly Father, in all things, in all times. We are still on the road to our heavenly & Jesus is with us on that way, by faith if not by sight. Still today He knows His sheep, & His sheep know Him. Amen.
Who are you who walk in sorrow down Emmaus’ barren road, hearts distraught & hope defeated, bent beneath grief’s crushing load? Nameless mourners, we will join you, we who also mourn our dead; we have stood by graves unyielding, eaten death’s bare, bitter bread. Who is this who joins our journey, walking with us stride by stride? Unknown Stranger, can You fathom depths of grief for one who died? Then the wonder! When we told You how our dreams to dust have turned, then You opened wide the Scriptures till our hearts within us burned. “Alleluia! Alleluia!” Is the Easter hymn we sing! Take our life, our joy, our worship as the gift of love we bring. You have formed us all one people called from every land & race. Make the Church Your servant body, sent to share Your healing grace! Amen. LSB 476:1-2, 5.
2nd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 545, 700, 922
Text – John 20:22
And when He had said this, He breathed on them & said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT
“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man & his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.” (Genesis 3:8 NLT) “One day Cain suggested to his brother, ‘Let’s go out into the fields.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, & killed him.” (Genesis 4:8 NLT)
“The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, & He saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently & totally evil.” (Genesis 6:5 NLT)
“Then he began to invoke a curse on himself & to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’” (Matthew 26:74-75a ESV)
“Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, & place my finger into the mark of the nails, & place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25b ESV) Each & every one of us has our own stories to tell, of times & events in which we refused to receive the Holy Spirit. That is par for the course with you & with me & with all sinful human beings.
Those are not the sort of times & events we like to think about. They are certainly not the things we brag about. Yet the Word of God describes them from Genesis to Revelation. We need to hear & take to heart the failures of mankind throughout history, because human beings have a tremendous predisposition to arrogance & independence.
Remember these words, “Peter said to [Jesus], ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ All the disciples said the same thing as well.” (Matthew 26:35 NASB) Arrogance & independence make for bad company, & that is illustrated by the shorthand that many of us know, “Pride comes before the fall.” The full length version is at Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, & a haughty spirit before a fall.” (ESV) Even as children of God, on this earth, pride & arrogance are the default attitude of mankind. And the truth is, they always lead to death, which only God can overcome.
To overcome death is why the heavenly Father sent Jesus. Now, Jesus is sending His body the church to carry that victory out & into the hearts, the minds & the lives of human beings across the world. And since the wages of sin is death, the tool given to us by Jesus is the authority to retain & forgive sins. That is how we wage war against Satan & his demons.
Declaring that a person’s sins are forgiven is how you & I are to spread life. It’s how God works through us to counteract death. As Martin Luther liked to emphasize, forgiveness brings life & salvation. Does that seem a bit too much for us, still sinful human beings, to accomplish? It most certainly is. That’s why Jesus has breathed the Holy Spirit upon us.
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them & said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” (John 20:21-23 ESV)
Yahweh is almighty & all knowing & present everywhere. He is more than capable of working through you & me to accomplish the salvation of the Lost. John’s Gospel recalls for us the events of Thomas’ unbelief in order to demonstrate the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to give life to a human being who is dead. And dead is what Thomas was.
Up until Jesus personally appears to him, Thomas was blocking the Holy Spirit. He was refusing to receive Him. That unbelief was preventing Thomas from carrying the message of forgiveness out & into the hearts, the minds & the lives of people whom God desires to save. You may already believe that God’s Son rose from the dead, but you can still block the Spirit from working through you to save others. Arrogance & independence make for such bad company because they block the Holy Spirit. They block the repentance that turns us to receiving the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel reading from John can be the Holy Spirit’s way of asking, “Today, how are you blocking Me?” In a general way, that question should be present in every sermon & in every Bible Study. On a personal level, all believers struggle with it, & eventually, it could lead to losing faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin.
In the big picture, every congregation also struggles with blocking the Holy Spirit. As Jesus led His disciples to His own crucifixion, & they resisted the very thought of it, Jesus also leads congregations on the road of trial & suffering. Like His disciples, we resist the very thought of it, even though Jesus promised it earlier in John’s Gospel:
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (16:33 ESV) Even though Jesus has already conquered sin, death & the devil, on a day-to-day basis God still needs to give us life. He does that through the Holy Spirit. As God breathed into the dust that became the living Adam, daily, He also breathes into us the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus breathes into His followers & brings the Christian Church to life. At your Baptism, God breathed the Holy Spirit into you, bestowing the unique set of talents & abilities that would be required for the calling God gave to you. Already then, He knew what your entire life would entail, all the joys & all the sorrows.
A simple example is this. When children do something wrong, they feel fear because they are “in trouble.” In their minds, normal family life is suspended because their parents are upset with them. Will they get an angry lecture? Will privileges be taken away? Most importantly, they wonder, “When will things get back to normal?” For all God’s children, the Good News of our forgiveness, life & salvation is normal. In that state of grace is where Yahweh Himself has called us to live. Likewise, the whole Christian Church on earth has been called to live in that state of grace. Though Satan attacks us, there is peace between us & God.
That peace is what many current unbelievers are looking for. Since God’s Law is written in their hearts, they too are wondering if God has nothing more for them, than an angry lecture. It’s our privilege to share with them where they can find the peace of God – in Christ Jesus. You have authority from God to share that He is at peace with them because Jesus died & rose again.
For those who are arrogant & independent, you have authority from God to share the news that they are in grave danger but there is still hope if they will only receive the Holy Spirit. As any of us live in arrogance & independence, we are blocking the Holy Spirit. That blocking of the Spirit can be temporary & it can be eternal.
We share the news of that grave danger, not to attack people or give them an angry lecture. We share that news in the hope that they will see God’s grace & forgiveness at work in our own wretched lives. Thomas, who by his own confession was not a believer in Jesus’ resurrection, upon seeing Christ alive confessed, “My Lord & my God!” (John 20:28 ESV)
Adam & Eve returned to God. Cain did not. The unbelieving world in the days of Noah perished eternally, yet Peter wept & returned to God after His denial of Christ. Some will be saved, & others will not. That is not where we find our hope. Rather, as Peter wrote in the Epistle reading:
“Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1:3 ESV) God’s words of forgiveness assure us that we continue to be welcome in His family, the newly created human race. The creation of that new human race began with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, & it continues today as we hear the Word of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast; let us all in Thee inherit; let us find Thy promised rest. Take away the love of sinning; Alpha & Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty. Finish then Thy new creation, pure & spotless let us be; let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee, changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love & praise. Amen. LSB 700:2, 4.
Easter – 2023 LSB #470 v.1-4 & 9
Text – 1 Peter 1:3
Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
Now that the lights are on, let’s stop & look around. Isn’t the church beautiful? Look at all the flowers, so brilliant & fragrant, what a sight! And how about the entrance song, wasn’t it wonderful to hear the “Alleluia” again? And that resounding hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” it practically lifts us right out of our seats. Do any of you get goose bumps?
Easter almost explodes with hope. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Take a moment to savor this experience. [inhale deeply as though enjoying the scene & the smell of the lilies. Then after a few seconds] That’s it. Amen.
[leave the pulpit & sit down for a moment before continuing] Did some of you think, “What do you mean, that’s it? I got up this morning & came to church for that!” Others thought, “That’s the best sermon I’ve heard him preach – short & to the point. And the best part is – we might get out of here early! Yes!”
What if that was the end of Easter? For some, it is. It’s about smelling the flowers & taking in the goose bumps of the day. After that, Easter doesn’t matter too much. On the other hand, if Easter is about some profound, eternal truth then this worship service really does matter.
But how much does Easter matter for you? How much does our celebration of Easter matter for the people we encounter in our day-to-day life? We’re living in a time when people are fond of saying, “You have your truth; I have mine. Maybe Easter celebration turns you on, but don’t tell me it is God’s truth,” they say.
“Jesus? Buddha? Mohammed? Didn’t Pilate ask, ‘What is truth?’ Truth is whatever I
& my friends make it out to be.” That’s how many people look at it today. Easter & Jesus may be “true” for you, but not for everyone. To address that viewpoint, we first have to ask ourselves a basic question. How much does Easter matter to us? How much does Easter impact you & me? Will our celebration of it matter for anyone else?
If I go there, this is going to be a longer sermon! St. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV)
We couldn’t agree more! In fact, it’s because Jesus did die & rise for us, that we can be assured that our sins are forgiven & we truly do have eternal life. For you & me Jesus allowed Himself to be beaten & flogged, tortured & taunted. For us, Jesus allowed a crown of thorns to be pounded into His head.
Most important of all, it was for each of us personally that Jesus laid down on a fateful Friday, allowing His hands & feet to be nailed to a wooden cross. Bang. Bang. Bang. At any time, the Son of God could have said, “That’s it! I’ve had enough. I’m out of here!” But for you, for you, for me, Jesus not only endured the cross – He died there.
He died to pay for all of our sins. He was then laid in a tomb, & just when it looked like everything was lost, just when it looked like this Messiah was only a cruel joke, just when it looked like – that was it – then it happened. Jesus rose from the dead. St. Peter wrote:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead & glorified Him, & so your faith & hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:18-21 NIV)
Yes, Easter matters… to you… to you… to me! As followers of Jesus, we believe this is the truth. St. Peter wrote, “You have purified yourself by obeying the truth.” That’s what we believe, but others can still wave us off. Remember, some people believe that “truth” is merely an opinion. It’s nothing more than a creation of the community you hang with.”
We at St. Matthew Lutheran are a community & as part of the body of Christ, we live by faith. We trust that God’s Word is the truth. We believe this word of resurrection is the truth & is true for all. Our eternal destiny depends on this word of faith, that “God has given us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Let’s turn the sermon. What will it look like to others because Easter matters to us? Will it look like this? Once the service is over, we pretty much leave Easter behind in the parking lot & drive off to our daily lives. Are you headed to the big traditional dinner at Grandma’s house? Do you go out for brunch? Maybe you even ate brunch right here!
If you’re really lucky, you’ll get a nap in this afternoon! But then, as much as those things may be a blessing, by three or four o’clock, life has pretty much returned to normal. Easter is over & done with for another year. If Easter matters, will it look that way?
When we live as though Easter matters, we put a high priority on being community, on our life together as the body of Christ. We continue coming to God’s house hearing His Word & receiving our Lord’s Supper. We continue to be fervent in daily prayer & devotions: “Lord, we believe Your word is truth. Help our unbelief!”
When Easter matters, as a church we continue to do good works in our community. We make sure that the school has excellent teachers & we volunteer to keep things running. We put extra in the collection plate to take care of the needs of foreign mission work. We commit our time & energy to helping our young people go to the national youth gathering.
When Easter matters to us, it not only matters to all of us. It matters to each of us personally. The German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once said, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths & canceling our plans by sending us people with claims & petitions.”  Since Easter matters, will you allow your plans to be interrupted by God? Of course you will, but will you thank God for that?
For example, what if you & your spouse go out for what is supposed to be a nice, quiet brunch. It’s only the two of you. No children, no distractions, just some time alone. Then, after being seated at the table, you notice that your waitress is a daughter of this congregation.
You know this girl, even though she hasn’t been in church for a while. Do you pretend not to recognize her? When Easter matters, you’re concerned when your sister in Christ misses out on the grace & forgiveness that our Lord offers in the Divine Service. Do you spend time talking with that young woman? Do you let her know that God misses her?
Or, perhaps you allow God to interrupt your schedule long enough to visit some of our members who are shut-in & can’t attend church. Take them a plate of cookies. Visit with them & read a Psalm together, or pray with them. That’s an excellent way of caring for others within this faith community, & a loving way to live our daily life – thus showing that Easter matters.
When we think of taking Easter along, into our daily lives, what can be more daily than going to Meijer or Kroger? What if we’re walking down the aisles, & all of a sudden, there he or she is – your neighbor & they’re hurting. Maybe they’ve been laid off & can’t find work, maybe their spouse has left them, or there’s been a death in the family.
The easiest thing to do is putting your head down & passing by without saying a word. But when you live like Easter matters, when you take the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead seriously, you do not avoid them. Rather, you say something like: “John, I’m sorry about your job. Jennifer, I can only imagine how much you’re hurting. Julie, even though we take comfort that Bob is now with the Lord, it still must be hard to be alone. May I pray for you?” Your loving concern, motivated by the belief that Easter matters, will then matter to that person.
People will continue to say, “Oh, Jesus & Easter, that’s your opinion.” But when you live your life like Easter matters, people will get curious. Co-workers & friends, maybe even family, will say things like, “Why are you always spending so much time helping others? Why are you always caring for people? What makes you live that way?”
St. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15b NIV) Then you can say, “You want to know why I’m different? I’ll tell you the truth. It’s Easter. That Jesus rose from the dead matters to me & I pray that Easter will someday matter to you.” That is it! Amen.
O sons & daughters of the King, whom heavenly hosts in glory sing, today the grave has lost its sting! That night the apostles met in fear; among them came their Master dear & said, “My peace be with you here.” On this most holy day of days be laud & jubilee & praise: to God your hearts & voices raise. Alleluia! Amen.
 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together [San Francisco: Harper, 1954], 99)
Good Friday – 2023 LSB #’s 451, 447 v. 16-21
Text – Revelation 21:1
Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the 1st heaven & the 1st earth had passed away, & the sea was no more.
It is Finished
“I will be their God.” Those words do not have a surprising ring to most Christians, but they should. The Lord God Himself is saying these words for the same reason He says anything: because you & I need to hear His word, “I will be their God.”
Have you always acknowledged Yahweh as your Lord God? Think hard now about your life. He isn’t our God all the time. Too often as good things happen we attribute it to “luck,” our own hard work, cunning & wisdom. When evil things happen, do you want to shake your fist at the heavens in anger, demanding an answer for why a ‘loving God’ allows these things?
You complain to the One who is there with you in the midst of evil! You & I have not always related to Him as God, but Good Friday shows how He will be our God.
If we were created with feet for any reason other than getting from place to place, it is to walk with God. That time Adam & Eve spent walking with God in the garden is something so familiar you can imagine it even though you weren’t there. You can imagine feeling the blades of grass beneath your feet. You can imagine the “feet” of God walking with you.
You can almost hear Yahweh’s conversation with Adam & Eve. How wonderful it must have been to talk with God! Do you imagine it? Suddenly the entire picture changed – Adam & Eve fall into sin. Would He still be their God? The Lord told Satan, but Adam & Eve heard it & we hear it too. At Genesis 3:15, God said:
“I will put enmity between you & the woman, & between your offspring & her offspring; He shall crush your head, & you shall bruise His heel.” That’s where we are tonight. From the sunny skies of paradise to the dark, black clouds of Calvary; from intimacy with God in the garden to separation from God by judgment & death. Tonight, the serpent’s head is crushed. Evil is defeated, but at what cost? God’s Son is hanging; He is calling out, “It is finished.” Have you considered what is finished? “It is finished.” What is finished?
All things on earth begin & all things end. People are born, people die. The music starts, the music stops. It’s interesting that we so often celebrate beginnings while endings are mourned. Is Good Friday that kind of mournful ending? “It is finished,” Jesus cries out. Tonight we ask, “What is finished?”
The answer – the dark scene of sin. Images of paradise can once more enter our mind. Listen again to the Epistle reading, Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the 1st heaven & the 1st earth had passed away, & the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha & the Omega, the beginning & the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, & I will be his God & he will be my son.
When God says in verse 6, “I am the Alpha & the Omega, the Beginning & the End,” it means that He was there when the skies of paradise were sunny & communion with His children was perfect. When He says, “I am the Alpha & the Omega, the Beginning & the End” it means that His presence spans the dark times too, Good Friday & all of our mournful times.
Good Friday times are mournful but not, definitely not, a mournful end as the world views death. When the Lord God says, “I am the Alpha & the Omega, the Beginning & the End,” He invites us into images of a new paradise. On dark Good Friday God gives a vision of a brighter future. Hear it again: “He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”
What is finished? Paying the price for our sins is finished on the cross. You are reconciled to God. Paradise will be restored. How do we know? Listen to this from Revelation’s vision of our wonderful future: “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:5a ESV)
He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true. And He said to me, ‘It is done!’” (Revelation 21:5b-6a ESV) Jesus has earned your forgiveness. “It is done.” His death opens a glorious future, & the words are written to give us hope. “It is finished.” “It is done!” says the “Alpha & the Omega, the beginning & the end.” (Revelation 21:6b ESV)
The philosopher Nietzsche is infamous for writing “God is Dead.” Those words were intended to be provocative yet, Nietzsche’s intent behind them was to say that God may as well be dead if He makes no difference in your life. Do you live as if “God is dead?”
Jesus did die & we know the promise of a new heaven & a new earth. That makes all the difference for Christ-followers, though we are still plagued with evil & sorrow. You & I see creation fall into ruin before us. Sorrow comes & tears are shed, but the dark scenes of our life are not the final scene, because God did indeed die, not as Nietzsche thought, but on the cross.
God did die. And because He died, & wrote for us words of a new heaven & a new earth… because “it is finished” & “it is done,” you & I have glimpses of glory even in the darkest of our times. The full effect of Jesus’ death won’t be realized until that last day, but until then, our heavenly Father is our source of joyous & confident hope.
“I am with you,” He says in Matthew 28:20. He is with you to hear your prayers, with
you to speak comforting words, with you to grant the nourishment of His body & blood, with you to wipe away every tear from your eye. “It is finished.” “It is done.” “I will be their God.”
Tonight, the scene is dark as we mourn the result of our sin, & what that sin caused our Messiah to endure. We mourn the fragmenting of our relationship with the Creator & we miss those walks through the garden. We remember the suffering & death of our Savior. We remember what He taught & what His life means to every moment we spend here on earth.
In a world where it’s easier to tear down & start over, Yahweh has made Himself the God of restoration. Tonight, the Word of God restores you to Him. Tonight, He is our God & we are His people, even though we often fail to honor Him as God. Tonight, the dark scene begins to brighten because “It is finished.” Our tears glisten with hope.
“I will be their God. I am making all things new. Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true. And He said to me, ‘It is done!’” (Revelation 21:5b-6a ESV) Amen.
Save us in our soul’s distress; be our help to cheer & bless while we grow in holiness: hear us, holy Jesus. May Your life & death supply grace to live & grace to die, grace to reach the home on high: hear us, holy Jesus. Amen. LSB 447:16 & 21.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet