THE POWER OF THE EASTER PROMISE
Easter – 2022 LSB #’s 457, 466, 478
Text – Luke 24:6-7
He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, & be crucified, & the 3rd day rise again.
THE POWER OF THE EASTER PROMISE
Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed!] Alleluia! This morning we’ll begin with a story about a nice wooden bookcase in the living room of some friends – & about the power of a promise. Yes, the power of a promise.
These friends bought a leather sofa, & the company that made the sofa made a promise – if you buy a warranty to repair damage to the leather but you don’t end up using the warranty, in 7 years you would get credit for $180. The husband & wife talked about it, & they bought the warranty. The husband forgot about the promise, but the wife did not.
Seven years went by. Seven years. The couple did nothing (except live their lives & sit on the sofa). At the end of that time, the husband had forgotten completely about the promise, & in fact, did not believe his wife when she told him about it.
But they went back to the store where they bought the sofa; taking their receipt with them (the wife was also very good at keeping receipts). They asked for the promise to be kept, & the store kept the promise. With the $180 the couple bought a nice wooden bookcase that was on sale, & to this day it stands in their living room (with the sofa, by the way).
When the husband walks through the living room, as he sees the bookcase, he often remembers how they got it, & is amazed at the power of the promise. He had not believed it, but the promise was powerful, whether he believed it or not.
The reading this morning from Luke 24 puts on display the power of a promise. It’s a promise that was good because of who made it. It’s a promise that was good, even though people forgot that the promise was made, even though, when they did think about the promise, some people just knew that the promise wasn’t any good after all. But the angel said to the group of at least five or six women that 1st Easter morning, “Remember. Remember how He spoke to you. Remember what He said would happen. Remember the promise.”
And the promise came true in power back then. That same promise is true also today. Ponder this reading with me & marvel at the power of the Easter promise. We’ll start with something obvious. A promise is only as good, as powerful, as the person who makes it.
So, when we reflect on this reading, we can ask, “Who is the powerful person? Who are the powerful people?” I’ll start by saying that it’s not the holy angel, oddly enough. Angels are powerful, but this one is just a messenger. He does nothing but speak to the women (though he does terrify them, which holy angels do really well). The promise’s power is not with the angel.
Here’s another obvious thing to say, but this one is more important. The powerful people in this reading are not the women, & not the apostles nor the others with them on that 1st Easter. What the reading shows, in fact, is the weakness, even more, the impotence & complete inability & helplessness of the women & the men who were there.
We’re not pointing fingers or mocking them. None of us would have been any different if we had been there. But when you think about it, it’s almost funny, in a way. Luke writes that the women rested on the Sabbath, which is what they normally would do. They thought that life was still going on the way it had gone on before.
They rested on the Sabbath, & then thought it was their turn to do the work. In their minds, nothing had changed since Friday afternoon. In their minds, nothing had changed since evil had done away with their teacher & master. Nothing had changed – so they came to do their duty for the corpse. It’s very beautiful in a way, & brave & loving, yet completely, utterly wrong. They didn’t even know that He was the Lord, but He was. So Luke writes that they entered the tomb, but they did not find the body of Jesus. The angel’s words to them show how unaware & helpless & confused they were: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”
They’re in a place with tombs, & they’re at one particular tomb. And we all know – just as they did – how it works when people die by crucifixion. Governments are good at killing people; the Romans were very good at it. What sort of people do you find in a tomb? Dead ones, & they believe Jesus is dead.
Do these loving, confused, wrong-headed women have anything to do with the Easter promise? Nothing at all. In fact, they are living as if the promise had no power, as if the promise was never made. The apostles come off worse, in a way. The women tell them about the empty tomb, & what the angel told them, & about the promise. But it doesn’t do any good.
Luke writes that the women’s testimony “seemed to the apostle an idle tale.” Peter runs to the tomb (it’s not very far – half a mile or so). He sees there is no corpse, but all he can do is marvel as he goes home. He doesn’t get it – not yet.
So, here’s the point again. The power of a promise does not reside in the people to whom the promise is given. The power comes from the one who makes the promise. In a beautiful way, this Easter story shows us, actually shows us, that no one is saved because of their own efforts, their own sincerity, or their own anything.
The powerful promise was there but the women & the men had nothing to do with providing its power. The power comes from the one who made the promise. That’s why the angel told the women, “Remember!” Remember what you have forgotten, what you did not believe. Remember that He told you, while still in Galilee, that these things must happen.
These are the things that had to happen. Jesus told you: He would be delivered into the
hands of sinful men, He would die on a cross, & on the 3rd day ... today ... He would rise – dead no more – never to die again. It must happen, the angel said. It was the Father’s plan, & Jesus promised it. It happened because, as we’ve been reflecting during the season of Lent on the Gospel of Luke, Satan & Pilate & everyone else meant it for evil ... but God meant it for good.
Jesus – who preached good news & healed crippled hands – was betrayed into the power of sinful hands. And sinful hands are strong. They do evil things. You know that; so do I. Our own hands are too often sinful ones. Sinful hands crucified Jesus.
The evil of injustice, mockery & blasphemy came against the innocent Son of God, & it had to happen. It was necessary, though no one at the time knew why. Jesus was numbered among the transgressors, with a criminal on His right & on His left, & in front & behind & before & after – all the way down to this very day, to you & to me.
Jesus is in His own category – pure, holy, perfect, innocent, and righteous. But God’s plan was for Him to take our place, to die when He did not deserve to die, to take the evil of the world upon Himself ... so it would not come against you. This way, your sins would not cling to you or be fastened to you. God’s plan was for the evil to be fastened to Jesus – fastened to the cross.
The plan did not end there. Jesus had to rise because He came to bring light into darkness, to drive back the power of evil. The unexpected, strange, saving promise meant that God would take the evil & use it for good. Through the resurrection, death was undone. The tomb was opened & no body was there.
That is the promise, & it happened because of the one who made it – Jesus, in the power of the Father’s plan. Easter is not about the women, or about the apostles, or about you or me. It is about the Almighty One who made & kept the promise. As He promised, Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!] Alleluia. And the power comes from Him, not from them or from you. Yet – the power was for them. The power is for you. Luke’s gospel shows the beginnings of this, especially in the lives of Mary Magdalene & the other women. The power of the Easter promise is a power to turn things around, turn them upside down, reverse & transform lives, then & now & forever. The power of the Easter promise transforms people from darkness to light.
It may seem strange to say this, but the 1st life transformed by the promise ... is the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. When He came so long ago at Christmas, He came in a certain way. It was God’s plan from eternity; it was the willing choice of God’s Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus came in a certain way – lowly & vulnerable.
And although He had power – just ask the people that He healed! Jesus moved toward the time when He would set His power aside, lay it aside & be numbered among transgressors. In a mystery that we can’t actually understand, Jesus emptied Himself to become weak & vulnerable. He was mortal, & they killed Him. Evil seemed to have the last word.
But the power of the promise that Jesus Himself has made transformed Him as the Father raised Him from the dead. Don’t misunderstand – He is still Jesus – still the God-Man, but now the lowliness is gone. Not the gentleness but the lowliness & the weakness are gone. God is still our human brother but He is no longer mortal. He can no longer die.
He lives ... forever. That was the plan, that was the promise, & it has come true. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father’s power & rules & reigns in the power of the Easter promise. Humble no more; powerful to save, to save even sinners whose hands were so willing to put Him to death. The power of that promise emptied the tomb.
And right at the tomb, you can see the power of the Easter promise beginning to turn the women around, turn their lives right-side up. They come, thinking they have work to do, work for the dead Jesus. But the angel says to them, “You’re too late! The work is done! Remember! Remember the promise He made.” Luke simply writes, “And they remembered Jesus’ words.” That doesn’t mean only that in their brains they recalled what Jesus had said. It’s that they remembered; they realized; they believed. And the change begins. Their agenda is gone. Their plans have vanished, like fog burned off in the warmth & sunlight of the day.
They literally turn around! Luke wrote, “And they remembered Jesus’ words & returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven & to all the rest.” What were the women saying to each other after the promise turned them around? I wish I knew. Luke only says they were changed; they returned & spoke to the eleven & the others.
The gospel reading stops at verse 12. Stopping here gives us a chance to remember something about promises that are filled with power, about promises of any kind, really. A promise – any promise – is an invitation to trust, to faith, to extend an open hand. The promise says, “You have nothing – let me give you everything.”
The awful mystery is that not everyone trusts the promise. The women began to trust right away, but it took some time on the 1st Easter before the apostles began to be transformed. Why? I don’t know, & no one else does, either. Why do promises come to some people, but the power never gets to work because it is not met with faith?
All we can do is remember & speak the promise. Then we trust in its power to transform. It did transform the apostles, of course. As you read the NT book of Acts, you see that the Easter people of Jesus were not perfect. They frequently faltered. But the power was there, the power of Jesus to forgive & restore helpless people like Mary, Peter, & many others.
That power is available today, this morning, because the promise remains the same. All the evil of the world – Jesus took it & overcame it. Jesus died faithfully carrying out God’s plan to take evil & use it for good. Rising from the dead, Jesus broke the power of death, & the power that sin has to accuse & to separate you from God. Make no mistake. Sin is evil, & every day sin separates people from God. But Jesus lives, & He has the power, the authority, to forgive, to restore & to preserve – Mary Magdalene, Peter, me & you.
This promise is for everyone. Right here & right now I offer you the promise & invite you to believe it, once again, to trust it. The promise turned the women around – literally & spiritually. Today, you & I can turn away from thinking that our lives belong to us or that our need for Jesus isn’t all that great, or we know best what to make of our lives & our world.
Whatever form it takes, turn away from pride or unbelief or despair & receive forgiveness. Be restored. Be changed. What will happen when we do that? Some things we know for sure. God will forgive you, for Jesus’ sake, because He died & rose. As far as the east is from the west that’s how far Christ has removed your sins from you.
And God will welcome you, no matter what your past, no matter what you have done. Peter fell as far away as you can fall, but Jesus turned him back, claimed him & welcomed him. God does the same for us through the power of the Easter promise.
What else will happen in my life or in yours because of Easter? To be honest, only God knows the whole answer to that question. Because of Easter, all bets are off. If God can take all the world’s evil & mean it for good, who knows what He will do with me or with you?
I don’t know what blessings & opportunities await you. But I do know this. Jesus lives! He is at work. He never quits. He will be working all the way till the day of His return in glory, the day of the final transformation. By His almighty power He will raise you from the dead, & will give to all who trust in Him a pure & beautiful & strong eternal life – one that’ll never end.
It will be life with God & with one another, in a renewed world, the new heaven & earth. This is the power of the Easter promise because God made the promise, & He meant it for good.
In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For three long days the grave did its worst until its strength by God was dispersed. He who gives life did death undergo; & in its conquest His might did show. Go spread the news: He’s not in the grave; He has arisen this world to save. Jesus’ redeeming labors are done; even the battle with sin is won. Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy; death’s fearful sting He has come to destroy. Our sin forgiving, alleluia! Jesus is living, alleluia! Amen. LSB 466:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet