4th Sunday in Lent – A LSB #697 to tune #673
Text – Ephesians 5:14b
“Awake, O sleeper, & arise from the dead, & Christ will shine on you.”
The title may seem to be getting ahead of things. Easter doesn’t arrive for another three weeks, but the season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, so I thought it might be wise to actually think ahead & prepare. I’ve got a question for you. What does it mean to arise from the dead? It seems like a straightforward question.
We know that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified. We know that on the Last Day everyone who has died will be raised from the dead. Yet, in the 5th chapter of Ephesians St. Paul is writing to people who were alive almost 2000 years ago. He’s not talking about Jesus’ resurrection & the people he wrote the letter to are long since dead & still buried.
What kind of resurrection was the Apostle writing about? “Awake, O sleeper, & arise from the dead, & Christ will shine on you.” How does that apply to you, & to me, & to the people we interact with in the course of living in a sin-filled world? Does the call of Christ to arise make any difference that you can see? Should you expect to see a difference?
When a man ends up beaten, robbed & left for dead along the road, the Good Samaritan stops to care for him. He doesn’t rely on health insurance to pay for the man’s care. The Samaritan pays for it himself. Jesus teaches His listeners that it is the Samaritan who loves his neighbor, & the man left for dead, the one in desperate need, is the neighbor.
As He tells the parable, Jesus teaches us that the call to arise should make a difference in the life of a child of God: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV) When we hear the Law of God calling us to do something, in effect, it is as if Jesus were calling us to arise from the dead! Without God, we have no power to rise. Yet, our heavenly Father doesn’t call us to life simply to believe in Him, but to live in Him. Unbelievers find life in luxury, or in sports, or in self-fulfillment – the things that moth & rust destroy. People who believe in Jesus are called by the Holy Spirit to find our life in Christ: “…now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what the Holy Spirit calls us to life for, to be a godly neighbor which is a costly venture. The Good News is that Jesus is the epitome of the Good Samaritan. He has rescued us from the darkness. The challenge is this, “Are you too busy with the things of this broken world to walk as children of light?”
In 2 Corinthians 4:18, St. Paul wrote this of children of the light: “…we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Our heavenly Creator has called us to care for all the things of His creation, but not to worship them. All of this building, every single possession you have, even the greatest cities on earth, they are all transient. Throughout history, congregations & entire nations have come & gone. The physical body that you & I live in today, can easily be gone tomorrow.
As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, & who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled & used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” (2:18-19 ESV) St. Paul counsels us to, “…walk as children of light.”
So God the Father gave us this commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 ESV) “For six days work may be done, but on the 7th day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2 ESV) Does that penalty seem rather harsh? Not if you’re already dead! Remember this thought from earlier, “When we hear the Law of God calling us to do something, in effect, it is as if Jesus were calling us to arise from the dead!” Yahweh’s command to remember the sabbath day is simply another word from your Lord calling you to rise to life from death. As Jesus said, “…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV)
For another example of dead behavior, listen to these words from the Gospel reading: “So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes, & I washed, & I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’”
Those leaders in the church were doing anything but calling people from death to life, as they should have been. In fact, they were denying the very Son of God, apart from whom they could do nothing. In spite of their claim to see, they proved themselves to be blind. So be very careful when the devil begins tempting you to find any other thing to do on Sunday morning.
Do you recall what Jesus said in the closing verse of the Gospel lesson? “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, & those who see may become blind.” (9:39 ESV) It’s quite easy, hearing of the hatred & intolerance on display across our country, to fall into Satan’s trap of heartless fault finding.
When tempted in that way we should remember the 1st words of Jesus once He began His ministry after His baptism: “‘The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, & those who were sitting in the land & shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach & say, ‘Repent, for the reign of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4:16-17 ESV)
When our Savior calls us to repent, He is calling us to arise from the dead so that He might shine upon us. We live in a world that truly is lost in darkness. Even if you don’t see it, or agree with it, that is taught by Holy Scripture as fact. For Christians, the temptation is always to revert to darkness & death. We live in the midst of those who cut themselves off from the light, who wantonly live in the depravity of sin. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “…it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Seven out of ten Americans claim to be Christians, yet only one in ten make decisions based on the worldview the Bible teaches.
It’s clearer than ever that each member of our church needs to be in regular Bible study. That’s why St. Paul is reminding us in the reading from Ephesians, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” You can’t walk that way unless you’re connected to the Vine, which is Christ, & Scripture says that Jesus is the Word.
Christ is the Word of life, & at your baptism He called you out of darkness that you might, “Awake, O sleeper, & arise from the dead…” Jesus called faith into being so that you have & live a new life. Staying connected to the Vine allows that life to continue. Cutting ourselves off from the Vine will eventually bring death.
Association with darkness is clearly harmful to the child of God. Christ is able to renew us, even raise us from the dead if necessary. Therein lays our hope, in the power of God to create life both physical & spiritual.
Rather than the darkness of sin, our Lord calls us to the darkness of Good Friday, through which we receive the light of His forgiveness won on the cross. Through baptism we are made children of the light, bearing the fruit of righteousness, goodness & truth, exposing the deeds of darkness in our own lives, in the lives of fellow believers, & in the lives of the lost.
We expose the darkness, not out of spite or superiority or anger, but out of love, just as Christ loved us, exposed our sin, took it upon Himself & then crucified it on Golgotha. Each day we awake in the grace of our baptism. Each day is a resurrection from death, a rescue from the deeds of darkness, a deliverance from the clutches of the evil one. This is also our prayer for unbelievers, that the light of Christ would awaken them, expose their deeds of darkness, & make them fellow children of light. Just as it is the light that produces fruit in our lives, so it is the light of Christ, the gospel, that enlightens the unbeliever & calls him to faith & a life of good works. “Awake, O sleeper, & arise from the dead, & Christ will shine on you.”
Whether or not you see a difference in this life, from the call of Christ to arise, is difficult to evaluate or measure. Every one of us is unique & God has created all of us with our own plan & purpose. However, there’s no doubt at all that there will be a vast difference in the next life, & there’s no way you’ll fail to notice. Jesus is calling you with open arms. Amen.
Awake, O sleeper, rise from death, & Christ shall give you light; so learn His love, its length & breadth, its fullness, depth & height. For us Christ lived, for us He died, & conquered in the strife; awake, arise, go forth in faith, & Christ shall give you life. Amen. LSB 697:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet